Monday, 29 February 2016

Sermon, Sunday 28 Feb: Lent 3 'It's the way you see a thing'

READING Isaiah 55:1-9; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Let’s pray:
Let 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.

Sometimes, it’s the way you hear a thing:
My much-loved, and much missed, grandmother had a raft of stories
that she’d tell me when I was growing up.
One such story involved ‘a very bad German’.
Over the years, when I’d visit Nan, invariably,
the treasure-trove of family stories would come out,
and at some point, the story about the bad German would be dusted off, and re-told.
And I would listen,
and wonder,
and, truth be told,
puzzle quite a bit over the story of this German –
for you see, according to Nan’s story:
‘once, when you were very little, 
there was this very bad German - nearly killed ya’
I never understood why the German wanted to kill me:
had I done something terrible?
Committed some outrageous act that had driven this German
into a frenzy?
Which, frankly, seemed bizarre, for, as Nan said, I had been ‘very little’.

As I said, for years, I puzzled over this story –
and had a healthy respect of Germans!
And then, one day, over dinner at Nan’s, the story was once again shared.
The story that I’d grown up with all    my    life.
The story about the fearsome German...
And it was as if I were hearing it for the first time,
for what my Nan had actually been telling me down through the years
was not a story about some bad German with murder on his mind,
but something completely different.
You see, my Nan had a habit of running her words together;
what she’d been saying to me, for years and years was that:
‘there was a bad germ...and it nearly killed you’...
Well, that certainly changed my perspective on Germans, at least!!
As I said, sometimes, it’s the way you hear a thing.

And sometimes, it can be the way you see or understand a thing:
for my Nan also had a particular saying that, in a nutshell,
showed her understanding of God -
when hard times came, when bad things happened, she’d say:
‘Ah, Nik, God plays funny tricks’.
In our gospel passage for this morning, there’s a wee bit of a
variation of that understanding of God going on.
Jesus is amongst a crowd, teaching, and within the crowd,
there were some who decided to tell Jesus about the latest outrage
that Pilate had committed.
Apparently some Galileans had gone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem –
to go to the Temple to make their sacrifices.
However, for this band of pilgrims, the visit didn’t end well:
Pilate, wanting to show the locals who was in charge,
had decided to demonstrate his power by not only killing these pilgrims,
but also, compounding this, by tainting the purity of the Temple itself:
the blood of the pilgrims was mingled with their sacrifices.
Basically, Pilate was desecrating the Temple.

We don’t know why the Galileans were killed:
they may have been radicals,
or they may just have happened to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But, their story was being told to Jesus – by this small group within the crowd...
what would he say?
What would he think?
Would he call for insurrection?
Instead, Jesus calls them out, by picking up, and challenging,
a prevailing attitude - and turning that attitude,
that way of understanding God and of how God worked,
completely on its head.

It’s the way you see a thing:
and the prevailing culture held to the conviction that
if good things were happening in your life –
like being married, having lots of sons, being wealthy –
then all of these were signs that God was pleased with you.
All of these blessings were your well-earned reward for good behaviour.
God’s magic abacus of measuring up was going your way:
But the flip-side to this understanding, this way of thinking about God,
and how God worked in the world,
was that if bad things were happening in your life –
such as being single or widowed, being childless, being ill, or being poor –
then really, you were just reaping what you deserved for obviously living
a bad and unholy life.
God was punishing you because you were clearly not toeing the line.
...And so, when this small group in the crowd almost breathlessly
can’t wait to tell Jesus the story of the murdered pilgrims,
what they’re really doing is pointing their fingers at those same pilgrims and saying to Jesus:
‘so, see those pilgrims: they can’t have been that good or holy then, 
given that God saw fit to kill them. 
So, what do you think they did to be punished eh, Jesus?

You know, we have a term for this, for what this wee group was trying to do:
we call it ‘victim blaming’ –
and Jesus is having none of it.                                                                
‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners 
than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!’
And he turns it back to them.
Shows them their focus, their attitude, is all kinds of wrong –
they need to rethink,
for repentance is just that:
a change of heart, a change of mind –
a change in the way you see God at work
in yourself and in the world –
a change that is so deep and profound,
that you can’t help but be changed.

Jesus is telling these folk, with their view of the God
who gives out milk and cookies and gold stars for good behaviour,
or who mercilessly beats folk down for bad behaviour...
that they’re wrong – and that they need to view God in a decidedly different way:
while victim-blaming may be the way of the world,
it is not the way of God.
He challenges his listeners to see the God who is merciful and compassionate
and who, if he were a gardener,
would be doing his darndest to do all he could for a fig tree that was seemingly
not really up to much.
As Jesus says elsewhere, God did not send him for the righteous,
but for the sinners, for the least, for the ones on the edge, for the marginalised:
to be on the side of the victims...
so much so, that he turned his face towards Jerusalem,
and to the Cross:
to death...
and, to resurrection.

It’s the way you see a thing, the way you understand a thing:
and here, in the midst of what is a very rich passage to be digging into,
we could spend quite some time exploring that great ages-old question:
 ‘why did God allow this bad thing to happen?’
But we see from Jesus’ response, that the question has a faulty premise –
a faulty notion of the nature of God –
It’s less about pointing fingers at others,
it’s less about pointing fingers at God...
What’s happening in this text is that, in a sense,
Jesus is saying ‘yes, bad things happen’ – Pilate is a cruel and tyrannical ruler;
the tower at Siloam may have been built with human error...
[as for natural disasters – tectonic plates move and shift
and happen to send shivers along the earth’s crust where people choose to build.]
Bad stuff happens.
What Jesus is doing in this passage is acknowledging that it does,
and challenging those listening to him about how they respond –
and reminding them, through the story of the fig-tree
that God is there in the midst of the bad stuff,
at work, bringing light, and mercy,
and the grace of another chance –
That, rather than focusing upon the bad,
to look for God, and perhaps,
even to be agents of God through their response to the bad stuff, to tragedy.
As the prophet Isaiah reminds his listeners:
they are 'to seek the Lord while he may be found’
and, that 'the Lord is near.'
It’s in that seeking of the Lord, that we understand that even in the valley of death,
yet he is with us.

Being a Christian is no magic guarantee that we’ll sail through life
untouched by some of the harder things.
It also doesn’t mean we don’t experience joy.
What this particular bible passage teaches us is that we don’t get a free pass –
and, that, bluntly:
‘The idea that only good things happen to good people should have been 
put to rest when Jesus was nailed to the Cross’ [Amy Richter]

Good stuff happens.
Bad stuff happens.
And in all of it,
in the midst of what it is to be human,
God is with us.
In that knowledge, how do we see God,
and how will we respond as those who walk in faith:
by pointing fingers at others, or at God?
Or, by reflecting upon our own relationship with God;
by following the One who showed us that God is nearer to us than breathing;
and responding to others with that same grace, compassion,
mercy and love that God, in Jesus, has shown to us?

Monday, 22 February 2016

Sermon, Sunday, 21 Feb: Lent 2 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'

READING Ps 27; Philip 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

SERMON ‘Feel the fear, and do it anyway’
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.

An old black and white photo:
The scene is a shipyard.
The city: Berlin.
The year: 1936.
A crowd of workers pack together on the dock, 
clad in overalls and some in suits.
It’s the launch of a new naval training vessel, 
and the occasion has brought 
with it a special guest.
The workers are standing, 
all looking in the same direction – 
towards the front, and their right.
Their faces are filled with joy and elation
as they cheer the object of their attention –
a man, who is off-camera.
But, given what they’re doing, 
the identity of their special guest is clear:
for, each worker has a hand outstretched in the NAZI salute:
Hitler is visiting, and they’re thrilled 
to receive him.
...But stop. 
On the back of your service sheet is the photo,
which I’d invite you to have a look at...

In the midst of the crowd
you might notice something unusual.
Each worker has a hand 
outstretched in the NAZI salute
Each one.
In a sea of salutes, stands a lone man,
arms firmly crossed against his chest.
In the upper middle of the photograph, 
August Landmesser makes what is a 
lone, quiet act of protest amidst the crowd.
He is the quiet conscience of the picture –
a witness, demonstrating that not everyone 
is toeing the line of Chancellor Hitler and his National Socialist party.

Landmesser, had, in 1931, joined the party. 
Like many others around him, it was a pragmatic decision, 
in the hope of landing a job in the Depression and 
post-war time of economic meltdown in Germany. 
But pragmatism gave way to matters of the heart: 
August met Irma.
They were engaged in 1935.
But they were forbidden to marry.
You see, Irma was Jewish and the government had been busily bringing in 
a swathe of racial laws.
Non-Jews could not marry Jews.

Although Irma and August were two little people 
caught up in a greater political machine, they didn't let it stop them.
Their hearts were very much committed to one another:
faithfully, and firmly, they stood together as a couple despite horrendous pressures.
In 1937, a year after the photograph at the shipyard, 
August was arrested for ‘dishonouring the race’.
Acquitted, he and Irma very publicly continued their relationship.
August was arrested again in 1938, and sent to a concentration camp 
for 2 and a half years, and was later conscripted into a 
penal army regiment to fight in the war.
Irma was held by the Gestapo, spent time in several camps, 
before finally arriving at Buchenwald.
Neither survived.
The photo, however, does: 
It stands as a testament to utter courage –
the courage to look squarely into the face of a regime,
and challenge a system of power that was corrupt;  
and in their so doing, 
to act as a community conscience.

Our gospel reading this morning is about types of power – 
systems of governance, if you like – 
and of courage:
of One who looked each type of power squarely in the face 
and chose a different way – a different kind of power.

At the beginning of our passage in Luke, 
we see religious power embodied in the form of some Pharisees.
Whether for good or for ill, they come to Jesus 
to warn him off doing what he was doing – teaching and healing; 
to warn him to leave the area.
And here’s another layer of power:
these representatives of the religious establishment w
warn Jesus that the local political establishment is after him,
for Herod, son of Herod, is seeking to kill him – just as he’d killed John the Baptist.
But we know that Jesus is leaving the area –
he’s passing through, and, although he is ministering to people as he travels, 
his face is firmly turned towards Jerusalem...
where he’ll encounter first-hand the other power player in this story –
for Jerusalem is under a different jurisdiction;
the province of Judea is directly under Roman rule, with Pontius Pilate as it’s prefect.

So, we have several layers of power here in this passage, 
and it would seem that, in a couple of cases at least, 
they’re beginning to get a little bit twitchy about this wandering rabbi.
It’s not a coincidence that the verse immediately 
preceding our gospel text has Jesus saying:
‘there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.’
Such words are guaranteed to stir up the powerful to action –
such words are guaranteed to move those in power - those who are used to being ‘first’
to do all in their power to make sure they remain in poll position,
to keep their power and to ensure that those who are ‘last’ 
stay right where they are – at the bottom.
And here’s the thing:
with his words, and in the manner in which he lives out his life and calling, 
Jesus is challenging the default understanding of power.
Herod is referred to as a ‘fox’.
And I suspect that there are those of you who've kept chickens, 
who know first-hand just how utterly destructive a fox can be.
A fox almost seems to make a sport of killing everything in sight...just because it can.
Similarly, Herod, like his father,
seemed to take delight in killing –
to hold the power of life and death in his hands,
to use his power to instil fear;
to take what he wanted whenever he wanted it.
He was a weak, corrupt, puppet king, using what little power he had, 
to serve his own ends, and to prop up his particular insecurities.
He used his power to bring advantage to himself and his cronies, 
rather than to serve all of his subjects.
In modern terms, he was all about favouring the one percent.
For everyone else, the 99%, 
Herod’s power brought only hardship, misery, occasional imprisonment, and death.
In calling Herod ‘that fox’, Jesus was calling out the abysmal leadership that Herod displayed.
And, the message Jesus gives to the Pharisees to take to Herod,
is one that demonstrates a different understanding of power and of kingdom:
in contrast to Herod, Jesus, through his ministry of teaching and healing,  
is bringing life, and hope, and liberation – 
a kingdom in which those on the edges are brought into the centre...
in fact, a kingdom of the least, the marginalised – the ones who are powerless.
A kingdom where, unlike the favoured few of Herod’s, 
all are beloved and protected.

In contrast to ‘that fox’ Herod,
Jesus puts himself on the side of the vulnerable, the oppressed:
he portrays himself as a ‘mother hen’ –
but this mother hen is ready to gather up his people under his wings; 
to love, to care for and to tend them.
In Jesus’ way of looking at the world – 
while the fox may seem the more powerful, it doesn’t win;
ultimately, the chicken does for this is the topsy-turvy kingdom of God –
where real power is seen as vulnerability –
to be real,
to be an immensely powerful thing.

And it’s what gives us the strength to turn our faces toward Jerusalem -
or, our equivalents of Jerusalem -
it’s what helps us to take on systems of power single-handedly
by using the power of love and of sacrifice.
To be prepared to be vulnerable is to have courage by the bucket-load.
And it’s what we’re called to.

As we walk the road to Jerusalem, each of us is faced with choices – 
each of us, no matter what we may think – has some small modicum of power.
How we live our lives can affect the lives of others, for the better, or for the worse.
We may never be faced with the kind of near-impossible situation 
that August Landmesser found himself in...
we may never face institutions of power in the same manner that Jesus had to...
But... how do we use our power wisely and well, 
and with courage to further God’s kingdom,
to show God’s mercy and justice,
and to demonstrate God’s love for the least, the most vulnerable?
Some of us may very well challenge corrupt institutions – 
governments and organisations – that choose to mis-use their power ...
we may find ourselves writing or speaking to political representatives
asking just why there’s been such a marked rise in poverty in the UK, 
and a rise in food banks...
or we might use our power to challenge the ‘powers that be’ 
concerning the high proportion of homeless veterans, 
given the sacrifices they’ve made in serving the country...
we might choose to use our power by boycotting multi-national companies 
as a challenge to unethical business practices – the use of child labour, for example.
Alongside that, we might choose to source out more local food, 
and items that we need – as a way to help our local economy, 
and as a way to help the environment.
At a different level, we may choose to use the power we have to be kinder to one another...
perhaps to visit that neighbour in our village that nobody really bothers to talk to 
because he or she is deemed to be a wee bit odd...
or we might use the power of our imaginations to walk a while 
in someone else’s shoes, rather than to criticise them without thinking – 
for none of us really know what burdens others may be carrying: 
in this, how do we use the power we have, 
in our small corner, to help share one another’s burdens?

To walk the road to Jerusalem is hard, for it involves sacrifice,
moving from our comfort zones.
At times, it’s about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
But, we can take courage –
for the One who calls us, protects us, holds us close –
gathers us up...
and it is in his love, that we find the courage to continue 
walking with him, and where we also, oddly, find our joy. Amen.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Sermon, Sunday 14 Feb - Lent 1/ 'Marked as God's own'

Sermon for the first Sunday of Lent

Readings: Ps 91; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

SERMON/ 'Marked as God's own'

I don’t know about all of you, but it feels as if we’ve only
just finished with Christmas...and yet, here we are, moving into Lent and the journey towards the cross, and onwards to the resurrection hope of Easter:
so, in the interests of good community and family relations, I might as well make the following public service announcement and warn you that - you’ve only got 313 shopping days left until Christmas.

On Wednesday evening – Ash Wednesday -
a small group of us gathered here to mark ourselves with ashes.
Before we made the sign of the cross on our palms,
we were reminded of life and of mortalitywith the traditional words:
‘from dust we come, to dust we return...’
And, as ashen crosses were etched onto each outstretched palm,
or on the back of the hand, we were also reminded of whose we are
as the following words were said:
‘you are marked as God’s own’.

Marked as God’s own...
Identity is a powerful thing.
Have any of you ever watched the T.V. show ‘Who do you think you are’?
For those of you who haven't, the basic set up is that
you watch some famous person delve back into their family history.
Often there’s some interesting twists and turns,
and always, throughout each episode,
an outline of a family tree is shown, and is added to over the course of the show.

And it’s as if Luke, writing the story of Jesus,
is creating a bible version of ‘Who do you think you are’ 
for Jesus in the verses immediately before our text this morning -
it's always interesting to see what comes before and after a
passage, so we can see a bigger picture, or have a better sense of the context.
Here, Luke’s setting out Jesus’ credentials, if you like –
pre-empting any questions from his readers along the lines of
‘So who does this Jesus think he is then?’
There, in the gospel, Luke shows us in a long genealogy
Jesus’ family tree which runs from Joseph of Nazareth,
through 74 other names, stretching finally all the way back to God.
Son of Joseph...
a whole lot of names...
Son of David...
even more names...
Son of God...
In this long, long family tree, Luke demonstrates where Jesus comes from,
who Jesus is, and shows that he is marked as God’s own -
God’s son.

Having established Jesus’ identity, Luke then moves the story:
family tree gives way to barren wilderness.
Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert where he stays for 40 days –
40 days, echoing the 40 years that the children of Israel
wandered with Moses in the wilderness after their liberation from slavery in Egypt.

We heard in the reading that Jesus’ time in the wilderness was a time of testing:
we know that there are temptations put before him by the devil.
To avert his hunger, he’s challenged to turn stones to bread;
in his weakened state, he’s challenged to take control over all the kingdoms of the world;
to test God’s protection, he’s challenged to leap from the highest point of the Temple.
These are the obvious temptations outlined in this passage,
however, the greatest temptation that Jesus is faced with is much subtler:
and it concerns his sense of identity.
Probably the most powerful word in the whole story about the
temptations in the wilderness is the word ‘if’.
Such a little word, but so much hangs upon it.
As the devil places the various temptations before Jesus, he states:
‘IF you are the Son of God...’
The devil is daring Jesus to prove that he is, in fact, God’s Son.
And of course, were Jesus to accept the challenge
it would demonstrate the seed of a doubt:
is he marked as God’s own?
Is he God’s Son?
If he takes the challenge, then, he fails –
for he has lost his integrity, lost his sense of identity:
but Jesus rises above the challenge put before him,
he quotes scripture and leaves well enough alone.
He doesn’t need to prove who he is: he already knows.

Of the bread into stones: ahhh, how tempting it would be to
not only stave off his own hunger,
but alleviate the hunger of the world...
all who are starving would have bread from stones:
it seems right,
it seems reasonable,
and yet, it’s a quick fix –
it doesn’t address the deeper issues of why folk are starving in the first place;
it side-steps the systems that cause poverty.
In going for the quick fix, while initially folk would be fed, it would prop up unjust and corrupt systems: the poor would remain poor,
the rich would continue to exploit.
To go for the quick fix would undermine
God’s justice, and in the end, not bring about God's kindom for all
in a way that was fair and right.

Of controlling all the kingdoms of the world:
this is very much tied in with identity,
and at the heart of the temptation is a great lie:
a lie about the nature of power,
and a lie about ownership:
Jesus, as Son of God, is already ruler of all –
he does not have to bend the knee to gain control...
But, also, the kind of control implied in the temptation is of power being dictatorship –
power being taken, and used as a weapon to crush and to subjugate.
That kind of power is rejected by Jesus:
that kind of power is not the way of God.

And of testing God – again, identity is at stake here:
is God faithful? To test God would imply that perhaps God is not...

Overall, then, the passage is very much concerned with testing Jesus’ identity:
with the devil, through the challenges, saying:
‘Go on then, just who do you think you are?’
And not in a friendly, enquiring way, but in a way aimed at completely
undermining the mission and ministry of Jesus before it even gets off the ground.

The wilderness is a testing place, a place of transformation;
a place, too, of insight.
From the wilderness, Jesus emerges,
stronger, perhaps with a deeper sense of who he is:
a sense that he is indeed marked as God’s own –
is God’s Son.
Unique and loved by God and called for a specific purpose:
to show, in his life,
in his encounters with people,
in his arrest, crucifixion, and death...
and, in his resurrection
what it is like to be fully alive in God –
and to show humanity a glimpse of glory:
the kindom of heaven on earth.

Identity is a powerful thing.
And we, as followers of Christ, are marked as God’s own.
As we follow the cycle of a church year which is designed to reflect and follow
the story of Jesus, we arrive, every year, at this time of Lent –
where we move into the wilderness,
where we ponder temptation and our identity,
where we re-orient ourselves to God a little more consciously,
as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Who do we think we are?
The apostle, Paul, reminds us in his Letter to the Romans:
it is as we confess that ‘Jesus is Lord’
that we acknowledge and own our identity in Christ –
it’s the simple, yet profound, statement of faith
which identifies us as marked as God’s own –
‘All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
And, in this season of Lent, we have the time and space
to reflect on that identity and how we are living as those who are God’s own.
What are those things in our lives that cause us to become distracted –
that make us turn our focus from God?
What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?

In the story of Jesus’ temptation, we read that,
having faced the challenges put before him:
and, having stayed true to who he was –
affirming his identity,
keeping his integrity,
that he went out from the wilderness and began living into his calling,
calling disciples, exercising his ministry.
From the wilderness time of reflection, he is moved to action.

Marked as God’s own,
as we move through this season of Lent,
let’s allow ourselves to take up the gift of time –
to reflect on whose we are,
to listen to the still, small voice of God,
to re-orient our faces toward the One
who loves us and who has called us into being.
May this season of Lenten reflection
help us grow in faith and in the knowledge of the One who loves us;
may it move us to live into our own calling,
as we take up anew our identity of Christ’s body in the world.

Writer and social activist, Edwina Gately wrote the following poem,
entitled ‘Called to become’, which I share with you for further
Lenten reflection about your identity as one of God’s own:

You are called to become
A perfect creation.
No one is called to become
Who you are called to be.
It does not matter
How short or tall
Or thick-set or slow
You may be.
It does not matter
Whether you sparkle with life
Or are as silent as a still pool.
Whether you sing your song aloud
Or weep alone in darkness.
It does not matter
Whether you feel loved and admired
Or unloved and alone
For you are called to become
a perfect creation.
No one's shadow
Should cloud your becoming.
No one's light
Should dispel your spark.
For the Lord delights in you.
Jealously looks upon you
And encourages with gentle joy
Every movement of the Spirit
Within you.
Unique and loved you stand.
Beautiful or stunted in your growth
But never without hope and life.
For you are called to become
A perfect creation.
This becoming may be
Gentle or harsh.
Subtle or violent.
But it never ceases.
Never pauses or hesitates.
Only is—
Creative force—
Calling you
Calling you to become
A perfect creation. 

Identity is a powerful thing:
As you travel through this wilderness season of Lent,
remember that you are marked as God’s own,
and He will never leave you, nor forsake you.
And may you have a blessed journey as you seek God, and live in his love.  Amen.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Sermon, Sunday 7 Feb: Transfiguration Sunday

A sermon for Transfiguration Sunday...

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Cor 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43

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

and cloud
and bright, dazzling light.
The glory of God revealed:
shimmering upon the mountain top -
mysterious majesty.
Awe - full...full of awe - in what is the original intent of that word.

To see God, face to face, leaves its mark upon Moses:
when he comes down from the mountain
his face glows with the fire and fabulousness
that is God,
and the people wonder, and are afraid,
and yet, are compelled to listen to him as he shares with them
the conversations that he’s had with God.

To see the glory of Jesus revealed leaves its mark upon Peter, James, and John:
dazzled by the divine identity that is their rabbi, Jesus,
seeing his true glory revealed, and told to ‘listen to him’,
when they come back down from the mountain...they’re reduced to stunned silence.
And even while on the mountain, Peter is reduced, in his shock, to babbling nonsense.
Amazed with what he’s seeing - though not quite comprehending -
he wants to hang on to this experience, this ‘wow’ moment;
to set up tents and stay there:
to hold the moment forever...which is not possible.
And once this fleeting glimpse of glory has gone,
Jesus gathers them up and takes them back down into the valley,
back down into the hustle and bustle
and noise and need
of a different reality.
When they come down from the mountain they’re met by a large crowd,
and the pleas of a father for the healing of his son -
who is presumably living with epilepsy by the description given.

Our mountain top passages are strange:
sometimes, there’s a temptation to skip over them entirely,
to find passages that feel...a little safer, a little more...normal.
How  are we to make sense of them?
...Do we need to make sense of them?
Can we just accept that there is mystery here,
and that, this side of heaven, we can’t ever fully comprehend?
So, I could just finish the sermon here,
and we could get our cup of tea a little earlier than planned!
But given I’ve been away for a few weeks, perhaps that’s cheating.

‘Transfiguration’ - the name given to what happens to Jesus on the mountain top;
the name given to our gospel passage;
the name given to the Sunday before we begin the season of Lent in our church year -
well, if you’re Protestant, at least.
‘Transfiguration’ - What is meant by the word?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, to:
‘Transform into something more beautiful or elevated’;
while the Mirriam Webster Dictionary states that it’s
a :  a change in form or appearance :  a metamorphosis
b :  an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change
And both make reference to the Christian feast that marks this account of
Jesus on the mountain top with his inner disciples -
Peter, James, and John.

Often, when the account of the Transfiguration is preached,
it’s preached as a corrective to folk who, to use that old saying:
‘are so heavenly-minded, that they’re of no earthly use.’
It’s preached in a way that says,
‘okay, you’ve had your five seconds of ‘wow’, now, best crack on
with bending your shoulder to the wheel of Christian duty.’
It’s preached as if there’s an either/ or:
sometimes discounting the mountain top entirely.
And it’s important that we do take on board that we can’t just pitch our tents
on the mountain top of glory and stay there...
it’s important that we do take on board that, as followers of Jesus,
yes, we do have work to do...
This is not a passage that’s meant to be used as a tool for beating ourselves up,
nor as a long, unending list of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’,
nor as a tool to measure our spiritual worth by the things we get out and ‘do’ -
It’s not an exercise in holy productivity.

I think the passage is less ‘either/or’ and more ‘both/and’.
The passage is about balance -
about taking time to delight in and be amazed at the God of glory...
about seeing things in a different way because we’ve seen what could be.
It brings focus and meaning to the way we follow in faith
as we move from mountain top to daily life.
Sure, we get a spiritual recharge,
but we gain an understanding of who we are,
and of our calling and mission as the people of God.
In seeing God, face to face,
we see the world,
we see our reality,
and we see the reality of our neighbours
for what it is...
and it motivates our response to bring in God’s kindom.

Reflection on God’s glory evokes glory-inspired reaction... or, it should do.
We need both mountain top and valley, reflection and action;
we need -
to fall on our knees, and worship,
and to get up and stand with our dispossessed neighbour -
to live in the glory of the sacred
and in the good news of the kindom.
And in it all, God is our source, our centre - the ground of our being.
And from that centre, from being grounded in God’s glory, all else flows:
Our ‘doing’ isn’t about gaining gold stars or merit points so that we get to heaven...
our ‘doing’ comes from already ‘being’ -
in God.

On the mountain top - God’s glory was revealed.
Jesus’ divine identity was made known in stunning, eye-splintering light.
And in the light of God’s self-revealing glory,
both Moses, and the disciples were made more fully aware of themselves -
of the content of their character -
to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King, a man who had also
been up to the mountain, and seen a vision of God,
and a vision of what God’s kindom looked like.

In the light of God’s self-revealing glory -
in our own glimpses of glory on the mountain top,
what do we see revealed -
of God,
of God’s created world around us,
of ourselves?
Transfiguration?  Transformation?
Romans, chapter 12, reminds us that we're
not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed -
and to be transformers, as we share the light of God’s glory all around us -
for the light of God’s glory is for all:

Preacher, Mary Luti, notes that:
The merciful pleasure God takes in Jesus, 
the joy of God’s goodness that glows 
like a million suns, 
is Peter’s origin and destiny too. 
It is the origin and destiny of the whole creation. 
It is our destiny.
We were all made in ecstasy 
and intended for ecstasy. 
Glory, and its lovely twin, Joy, 
is the permanent subtext of our lives. 
We were called and gathered for praise, thanksgiving, and freedom – 
for visions, for dreams, and for ...worship [Mary Luti]

Filled and inspired by the fire of God’s glory,
our call as followers of Jesus, as God’s people,
is to show, in word, deed, and in awed silence,
that God is at work saving the world.
It is to ‘testify... that grace is even now sparking in the stubble, 
glory is already lighting up the mountain, 
and all people, strangers, kin and enemies, 
are even now being plucked from death, 
included in the sweep of mercy, 
and brought home to sit at the table of peace.
Our calling is ... to see beyond ordinary sight. 
To see the world’s suffering unflinchingly, 
exactly as it is, and to see God already working...
and by our fearless announcement 
bring hope to everyone who swears 
all hope is lost.’ [Mary Luti]

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, in his ‘Mountain’ speech:
Our calling is to point to ‘streets flowing with milk and honey’
as we witness God’s glory,
and because we have witnessed God’s glory, we are moved
‘to be concerned about the slums down here,
and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.’

Our calling means we must open ourselves to fire.
To be transfigured, transformed,
as we remember God’s glory and generosity
in the face of a world which tells us that
God’s people are diminishing, failing,
and will soon be a rare, exotic, and possibly, extinct, species.
Our calling is to stand as God’s people and not be afraid -
for we have been to the mountain top, and we have seen God’s glory -
and we are not ashamed of the gospel - the good news.
Good news that transforms the
law of finger pointing, death-giving judgement,
which crushes all, into lives lived fully;
good news where we see glimpses of glory -
where we see what could be and where we work towards
the fulfilment of all things as a community of hope..
Good news that shouts out in joyous proclamation and in quiet whispers,
that God’s love is for all,
that God’s love transfigures and transforms
both the sinner and the sinned against,
mends the broken-hearted,
lifts up the oppressed:
Good news that is life-giving and life-changing -
for it is the news that cries out that
God’s grace abounds.

We can’t stay on the mountain.
But we can’t not go up to the mountain - for there, the glory of God is revealed;
for there, we see God face to face, and hail the power of Jesus’ name;
for there, we are reminded that we are God’s own -
...  God’s own for the world,
called to share in the bringing in
of God’s marvellous light of transformation.
Thanks be to God.

Let’s pray:
Loving God, whose love we live to serve,
so that all the world may see the wonder of it,
take hold of us again as we worship here,
and give us the mind of Christ,
so that we may rediscover your presence
in the community around us,
and recognise your Spirit at work
in every act of human kindness,
in every plea for justice,
in every call to service
and in every challenge to our complacency.
Take hold of us again,
fill us with love for each other
and our neighbours,
and by our faithfulness, let your justice,
joy and peace extend to more and more,
so that the thanks and praise we offer now
may increase, to your glory and our delight,
now and for evermore. Amen.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Pancakes, pancakes, everywhere...

Kicking off Lent with suitable pancake panache, at the manse on Tuesday the 9th of Feb.
Some rather scrummy fillings, and later, some good blethers by the fire.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Reflection Zone: Ash Wednesday

'If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the past and future to meet us in the present. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God: That we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. That where two or more are gathered, Christ is with us. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.'
(Nadia Bolz Weber, in 'Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People')

 Just a reminder: a short service,
including musical meditation and the marking of ashes,
will be held in the church at Abington this evening at 7pm.
All are welcome.  

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016

Our Ash Wednesday service will be held in the church at Abington from 7pm, Wed. 10th Feb.
A quiet, reflective time in which to prepare for the season of Lent.

Come, begin the Lenten journey to Jerusalem...

Monday, 8 February 2016