Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sermon 26 June, Wk 4 Galatians series 'Fruit'

In the shadow of Thursday's EU referendum...

Psalm 16;   Galatians 5:1, 13-25

A million years ago, when I was an older teenager –  yes, it really was a long time ago –
I had a habit of cutting out and collecting
wise sayings with a twist, bad puns,
and deeply philosophical questions and statements, such as:
‘Do red corpuscles live in vein?’
[I never said they were good!]
‘Be odd, for God.’
At one point, in youth group, we were exploring the very same passage
from Galatians that was read earlier, and thinking about the fruit of the Spirit.
I remember our Youth Pastor looking at us all at one point, and observing:
‘God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts’
A saying that I immediately took note of and added to my collection .
The expression made such an impact upon my younger self,
that thereafter, every time I walked past a block of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut
chocolate in a shop, Galatians 5:22 and 23 would pop immediately into my head.
I’ll be curious to see if that now happens to you...

Having begun Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we’ve covered
a wee bit of ground now – and we’re beginning to move into the home straight.
We’ve been thinking of themes around
change and transformation;
of unity and diversity;
of being clothed in Christ.
We’ve thought about grace,
and we’ve thought about religious codes – or laws.
Paul talks a lot about law, and especially within this letter to the young churches
in Galatia, who have been beset by those who would impose old religious laws upon them.
Paul has been urging them to break free of these shackles
that they’ve bound themselves in and, in our text this morning,
Paul brings home the message of living in the freedom of Christ:
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’
He then talks of what it is to be called into this freedom:
and it’s not a freedom from all responsibility ...
rather, this freedom is found within the context of community,
of relationship...
a freedom that has love at the centre,
a freedom that shows the fruit of that love in service to one another;
a freedom that can see the old law boiled down to this:
to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.
To love and serve your neighbour is part of a communal, mutual giving:
building one another up,
growing, blossoming, flourishing together.

Paul is particularly keen to emphasise this context of mutual love and service,
this context of ‘commonweal’ –  a guid Scots word...
He’s keen, because he’s addressing a community
that has been seriously at odds with one another:
split and riven by divisions about what it is to be a ‘true’ follower of Christ.
And the arguments that they’ve been having have been harsh and bitter and destructive.
Paul is alarmed by what’s been happening to these young faith communities,
communities that he’d shared the gospel with;
communities that had grown in faith, and strength and love;
communities that were learning the way of peace by following the Prince of peace;
communities... who were now so at odds with one another that they are seen to be
‘biting and devouring one another’,
and if they continued down this path they would destroy each other.
To stem the flow of violence and self-destruction of these faith communities,
Paul reminds them to ‘live by the Spirit’,
to be ‘led by the Spirit’ rather than living under the law.
He reminds them of the fruit of the Spirit:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But note what begins the list: love.
Love is the starting point – where God is, there is love.
Love is the root which enables the fruit to flourish.
And Paul is not saying don’t disagree with one another,
remember he recognises diversity within the unity...
Rather, Paul would seem to imply that by seeking to live in, and be led by the Spirit –
even amidst differences of opinion –
the community will work together to find a way
to accommodate one another so that all may flourish:
they may occasionally disagree, but through the Spirit they can
find a way in which to do so healthily,
to do so in a loving manner.

While it seems a life-time ago, it was only 21 months back,
that I stood here in front of you all, conducting worship –
but worship done whilst preaching as sole-nominee to
hopefully become minister of the parish.
Then, as now, it was a couple of days after a referendum.
Then, as now, there were campaigns run from both sides
of the debate that were less than savoury:
name-calling, taunts, sometimes sheer bullying,
tactics aimed to instil fear,
tactics used to cover up lack of any concrete policies...
Then as now, communities began to divide down opposing lines;
then as now, families found themselves on different sides of the fence;
...then as now, in the aftermath,
there are those who rejoice at the result,
and those who are dismayed.
And then, as now...
we, as the community of love -
each one of us having voted in different ways for what we believed was genuinely
the best way forward for Scotland, or the UK -
then as now, we must model love.
We must love one another – no biting or devouring one another...
we must love our neighbour – the neighbour we know who may
have voted quite differently from us;
we must model love, and show the fruit of the Spirit
in our conversations,
in our communities:, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,’
let us live in that freedom so that we work towards
restoring harmony,
rebuilding fractured communities...
let us live in that freedom by serving one another in love –
showing to our friends,
our neighbours,
a positive way forward as we, as a nation, walk through a new way of being in the world.
Whichever way we voted on Thursday, we still have to live with one another:
how can we find ways to practice the fruit of the Spirit
as we get on with the business of living?
Where might we demonstrate kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control...?
How might we find ways of living joyfully, and at peace, with one another?
As we live into the freedom we’ve been given,
remember to listen to the voice of the Spirit,
guiding our steps,
urging us onward in the way of love...

As I was pondering what to say today, I remembered an old story –
and, I don’t think I’ve shared it with you, but if I have, bear with me!
It’s a story about a community of monks...
The community had once been a thriving order, but over the years had fallen on hard times.
Only 10 monks and their Abbot remained, and most of them were quite elderly.
They were also dispirited, and sometimes crotchety,
and occasionally would fall out with one another;
...the joy seemed to have gone out of the place.
The Abbot decided one day to go walking in the woods that surrounded the monastery,
pondering how he could reconcile his brothers to live in peace.
In the deepest part of the forest lived a hermit and the Abbot found himself
drawn to seek the hermit out and ask for his advice.

The hermit welcomed this brother in God, listened in silence to the Abbot’s story
of bickering monks and then commiserated with him.
The Abbot asked the hermit what to do.
But the hermit shook his head,
‘it is a difficult situation, brother, I am not sure what to advise you...
but what I do know is that Jesus is among you.’
They embraced, and the Abbot headed back to the monastery.

Upon returning, he called the brothers all together and told them of his meeting with the hermit.
Trying to recall the conversation, the Abbot, a little muddled, told them
‘the hermit said that Jesus is one of us. I’m not sure what he meant.’
They sat silently for a while, prayed together and went off about their duties.
But as they went about their work, each one began to wonder
about the hermits words...and if it was true:
was Jesus one of them... and if so, who?
Could it be the Abbot?
Or Brother Philip, or perhaps Brother Benedict or...
For days, each of the monks puzzled over which one in their midst might be Jesus...
And as the days turned into weeks,
and the weeks turned into months,
still the mystery held their attention:
‘which of my brothers is Jesus?’
And as they pondered, a strange thing happened:
they began to treat each other with more and more respect,
on the off-chance that one was indeed Jesus.

By the end of the year, the community had become a place in
which each member held extraordinary respect and love for the other –
indeed, love and joy seemed to radiate from them.
What had been a place of brotherly bickering
had become a place of healing and reconciliation as each served the other...
For as each served the other, there indeed was Jesus.

People passing by the monastery would often linger,
as they found themselves strangely compelled by the place.
Occasionally, they would meet one of the monks working in the gardens
or walking in the woods,
and in conversation would discover that Jesus was in their midst.
Folk found themselves drawn to come and spend time there,
to play, and to pray, and to bring their friends with them...
knowing that they would find welcome
and perhaps, even Jesus, at this place...
a place in which joy had returned
and a growth in numbers,
all seeking to find Jesus in the midst of them.   ...  ...

As I stand here, looking at all of you,
I echo the words of the hermit:
‘Jesus    is among us.’ ...

And so, as we look at one another here this morning,
let us see Jesus in the face of each other...
And as we go back into our homes,
 to our places of work,
or places of play and rest,
or as we walk along the street...
let us see Jesus in the faces of the ones we encounter.
And as we do so, may the fruit of the Spirit blossom in abundance...
and may we build, in our small way, communities of love - this day, and always,
based on the great love of God, revealed in the Son...
and, in so doing, bring in God’s kindom.

Let’s pray:
Christ, our brother
Help us love one other
As you have loved us.
Help us live in, and be led by your Spirit,
bearing fruit that brings blessing upon us,
our families,
our communities,
as we seek to walk in your way of peace.
We ask, in your name,

Friday, 24 June 2016

It's nearly here: the UCPC Manse Garden Party

It's back! The annual Manse Garden Party Sat 25 June...


Come along to our annual Garden Party: bring a friend, and bring some sunshine...all welcome.
A fun, and fund-raiser for the work of the church.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Sneak preview: July, August, September

Worship 'sneak preview':     

Travelling as God's community on a journey of faith: see below...
Fancy a wee peek at what's coming up in worship over the next few months?
Readings and hymns now posted up until 31 July and soon to be updated 
to include end of August. 
[Click on the tab above!]

Some dates for your diaries:
'2nd Sunday' Summer services:
Evening worship at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington, 6.30pm
12 June, 10 July, 14 August, and 11 September.
All are welcome to come along to these shorter, reflective evening services.  
A time of prayer, silence, and singing. 
N.B. 10 July service will be a simple communion service 

'4th Sunday' services:
Evening worship - in Leadhills/Wanlockhead, 6.30pm: 
26 June, 24 July, 28 Aug, 27 Sept
All-age, informal and relaxed time of worship - 
for the young and the young at heart, all welcome.

5 June -3 July in morning worship - Sermon series:
5 weeks in which we'll be exploring Paul's Letter to the Galatians

FROM/ Sun 28 August, 2016 - 20 Aug, 2017:
'We Make the Road by Walking'

Beginning on this Sunday, for a year, we'll be breaking the year into
quarters, and exploring some well-known and less well-known stories 
from our faith tradition. 
As God's people, gathered in the Upper Clyde villages, we'll walk together through: 
  • the stories of Creation,
  • follow in the footsteps of some early heroes of the faith in the Old Testament,
  • journey through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
  • and travel with the disciples as they begin to share the good news of
    Jesus a
    nd build communities of faith around the known world. 
Alongside our Sunday morning worship, there'll be: 
  • a weekly 'food for thought' on the service sheet and blog as an aid for
    ongoing personal reflection through the week.
  • a monthly evening discussion group, alternating between:
    Crawford [the Manse], Abington [Church Hall], and Leadhills [Hopetoun Arms]
  • a quarterly Sunday pot-luck lunch at the Manse, towards the end of
    each quarter, with an opportunity to 
    discuss themes and questions coming
    from the stories/ readings we've been exploring over that time.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sermon, 19 June, Galatians series wk 3: 'Make the world more beautiful'

Not at all where I'd originally intended upon going with today's        
reading...but in the light of this last week's events...sometimes
original intentions need changed.

1st READING: Psalm 22:19-28
2nd READING: Galatians 3:1-5, 23-29

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.

There’s a lovely children’s book called ‘Miss Rumphius.’
The story is told by wee Alice, and it’s about the great-aunt
who she’s been named after.
Sometimes great aunt Alice is also known as ‘the lupine lady’,
or called by her formal name: Miss Rumphius.
When great-aunt Alice was the same age as wee Alice,
she’d visit her grandfather who was an artist and who also lived by the sea.
Sometimes he’d let his little grand-daughter help him when he was working.
At other times, she’d sit on his knee, and he’d tell her
stories of all the adventures he’d had travelling around
the great, wide world to faraway places.
She vowed that she, too, would live by the sea,
and that, like her grandfather, would travel to faraway places.
"That is all very well, little Alice, "said her grandfather, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 
And so, little Alice grows up, and indeed, travels far and wide,
just as her grandfather had done.
And having come to the end of her travels, she settles down by the sea.
But she always remembers her grandfather’s words about making the world more beautiful.

It’s when she falls ill, and is laid up in bed, that she looks out of her window
and spies the lupines she’d planted the year before, swaying in her garden –
blue and purple and rose... beautiful.
And thinks again of her grandfather.
And so, Alice – Miss Rumphius – makes it her mission to plant lupines:
around her house,
around her village,
all along the highways and byways, and beyond.
As time passes and seasons change the lupines blossom into loveliness –
giving cheer to all those who see them.
Giving hope to all those who feel hopeless.
Spreading beauty just as her grandfather had asked.
The story ends with great-aunt Alice handing on the baton to her wee great niece.
"When I grow up," wee Alice tells her, "I too will go to faraway places and 
come home to live by the sea." 
"That is all very well, little Alice," says her aunt, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 

‘Make the world more beautiful’
It’s a fine sentiment, in a world that currently feels
jangly, disjointed,
harsh, and ugly.
We see the headlines shouting at us from the newspapers,
or blaring from the screen;
hear rhetoric and hate-speech,
watch as the world seems to be careening dangerously towards
the edge of a waterfall where it may well land on jagged, pointy rocks
at the bottom and be splintered into thousands of shards.

I can’t even begin to make sense of the targeted hate-crime
against LGBT folk last weekend,
nor the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox,
nor of football hooliganism,
or the ongoing war in Syria,
and the millions of displaced, dispossessed people
struggling to escape death because of that war.
Then there’s Vladimir Putin and his dangerous posturing,
all the uncertainties around the upcoming American election,
not to mention our own referendum next week
and the vitriol and negativity and fear-mongering
coming from both sides of that particular debate.
‘Make the world more beautiful.’
It’s a fine sentiment...
but how can we when the world feels so dark and full of fear:
fear that breeds intolerance, hatred, violence;
fear that freezes the very blood in our veins;
fear that saps us of our energy and robs us our joy?
It feels so hard to fight against the fear.

And then, we read the words of Paul,
to the young faith communities of Galatia;
words written to correct some issues that had gotten a
tad out of hand, yet nevertheless, words that spoke to a climate of fear:
fear of deviating from religious rules.
Words written in a time of Roman rule:
where there was a well-ingrained fear of deviating from secular rules.
These were words written to people subjected to a mighty, conquering oppressor;
words written in a time where the distinctions of
race, culture, status, gender, and faith mattered in society –
and where Paul states that they no longer do.
It’s a time where to question the authority of Rome was to risk your life –
where you hoped you’d be okay if you just kept your head down and got on with it;
a time where emperors were supposed to be worshipped as gods
and, where to be a follower of Jesus would put you outside the
bounds of Roman Law.
A time, where, like now, it was easy to cover yourself in the clothes of fear,
even with the strange stability that Roman occupation brought.

And so Paul writes:
‘You are all sons (and daughters) of God, 
through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you 
who were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ’
In this climate of fear,
he reminds them of their baptism:
of whose they are;
of the faith they professed when they were baptised;
of the faith that broke the chains of legalism and set them free;
of the faith, and of the act, that washed the old away,
that chased the darkness out;
of the faith that stripped away the ragged clothes
of fear, of suspicion, of division
and which clothed them in Christ:
the light-bringer,
the life-giver,
the love-bearer,
the liberator.

Paul’s words remind us,
that in our baptism, we belong to Christ, just as the Galatian Christians did.
We belong to the One who lived his life
so freely,
and so fully,
that those who preferred darkness and diminishing others were driven to kill him.
I’m minded of the words of the philosopher, Albert Camus, who said:
‘the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become 
so absolutely free, that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’

Jesus’ life, was an act of rebellion.
To live freely and fully, as Christ did, and to rebel against the chains of fear,
makes this world a more beautiful place:
for it denies the power of fear its opportunity to choke the life of the world
completely into dull, deathly submission.

To live freely, to live into our baptism, and to be clothed in Christ,
is to see life differently:
to live in faith, not fear –
hope, not hate...
It is to seek the freedom of others...
to see the face of Christ in others regardless of the self-made distinctions
that society, and fear, try to create.
And to behold the face of Christ is a beautiful thing.

In the service of welcome, which greets guests at the beginning
of each week on the island, the Iona Community talks of
‘seeing Christ in the stranger’s guise’.
In our baptism, clothed in Christ, we are called to see others
as if they, too, are clothed in Christ.
In doing so, we go against a prevailing culture that seeks to put up walls,
or to name those we don’t know as
‘terrorists’ or ‘economic migrants’
or a thousand other labels...
To be clothed in Christ is to stand against the fear and hate and darkness
that wants to divide and conquer and destroy.
As a community of faith, we stand together, as brothers and sisters in Christ,
pointing to him,
pointing to freedom and light –
and that his light is never overcome...
And, clothed in Christ, as we point to him,
we show the world a different way of seeing
and of being:
we point to a different ending to the story,
as we focus on God’s love and goodness,
and, as we, through our baptism, wear that love and goodness –
share that love and goodness,
it's like the scattering of lupines...
blue and purple and rose,
bringing beauty into a world struggling so hard to find it.

Clothed in Christ, we are heirs to the promise that God made to Abraham:
we share in his blessing and as we do,
so we share the blessing as we love God and love others –
as we turn our own focus from fear to God,
whose perfect love casts out all fear.

Earlier this week, poet Maggi Smith –
no, not Dame Maggi –
published a poem online, which has subsequently gone ‘viral’ –
meaning, it’s turning up everywhere on social media.
It speaks to the complexity of the time in which we live,
and it speaks of beauty.
I’ve substituted a word, out of good manners,
but otherwise, this is what she wrote:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real [s**thole] dump, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right?
You could make this place beautiful.
                                                               Maggi Smith

Earlier in the service, water was poured into our baptismal font,
and after the service ends, I invite you to come and dip your hand -
or your fingers into the water - to remember that you have been
clothed in Christ and need not fear.
Remember: it is for freedom that we have been set free in Christ:
set free, and called to bring in the kin-dom of heaven on earth:
to make this place –
this planet, this country, this parish,
one another...beautiful.   Amen.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sermon, 12 June: Galatians series, wk 2/ 'The Shock in Antioch'

Continuing our series on Paul's Letter to the Galatians...
last week - transformation and change
this week - unity and diversity

1st READING: Psalm 5:1-8
2nd READING: Galatians 2: 9-21

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

The ‘rumble in the jungle’...
the ‘thrilla in Manilla’...
Foreman, Frasier, and Ali –
perhaps the greatest boxers of all time,
and whose rivalry, skill, and power
awed, stunned, and entertained millions back in the day.
Ali, who was buried on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky,
was more than ‘just a boxer’, however.
Since his death, the airwaves and the internet
have been filled with retrospectives, and clips.
Many of them naturally focusing upon his prowess in the ring,
but more than a few noting that this physically powerful man
was also funny, articulate,
and used the power of his fame  – or notoriety –
as a vehicle for social change.

An Olympic gold medal winner in 1960,
the story, told by Ali, is that he came home from Rome,
went into a restaurant,
and was refused service because of the colour of his skin.
Marching out of the place, he headed for the Ohio river,
took off his gold medal,
and threw it into the swirling waters in disgust.
Throughout the rest of his life Ali championed civil rights,
believing and fighting for a society that would include and embrace all.
And because of his belief in a free and fair society,
he was no stranger to controversy –
from the ‘Establishment’, of course,
but occasionally, from those who were also championing civil rights –
who felt he should follow their way of doing things.
He was a powerful and passionate man – a great humanitarian -
and I think the world is a little less sparkly with his passing.

This morning, in our passage from Galatians,
we meet two heavyweights of the faith,
who, according to our text,
lock horns over ways of doing things –
of living out the Christian life:
we come across a face-off between Peter – the ‘Rock’ –
and Paul – ‘the persecuter'.
And in a nod to Ali and co., let’s call this meeting
the ‘shock in Antioch’.

Last week, we talked about the gospel and of transformation and change;
this, in light of Paul’s anger at what had transpired
since he’d last spent time with the faith communities in Galatia.
A quick re-cap:
a group had come along, after Paul had moved on
to preach the gospel to others.
This group had basically told the new believers
that they had to meet certain conditions in order to be ‘of the true faith’;
these conditions being an acceptance of Jewish rites – circumcision –
and of following the law laid down in the Torah.
It was ‘Jesus plus the law equals proper belief.’
And the young in the faith, wanting to follow Jesus,
had bought the ‘Jesus plus’ formula that this
group had brought among them.
Paul was horrified:
he is quick to rebut the erroneous teaching.
He reminds the Galatians that the gospel is ‘good news’:
is Jesus, and...
only Jesus -
not ‘Jesus and something else’.
No works,
no law,
just pure, and utter grace from God:
the freedom of forgiveness,
the freedom of new life –
life in Christ.
The old had gone,
the new had come.
And, telling the Galatians his story,
his ‘road to Damascus’ experience,
he reminds them that,
the power of God’s love in Christ alone
was what had transformed him from persecutor to preacher.

The gospel, as we heard last week,
is about change and transformation.
And there’s more:
it’s about welcoming all,
building bridges, not walls.
As Paul continues in his letter,
he tells the Galatians of meeting with Peter –
first, in Jerusalem, and later, in Antioch.
Things initially seemed to be going well in Antioch.
Peter was meeting with the new believers,
in fact, Peter was eating with the new believers...
Peter, who before his encounter with Jesus
would never have ritually defiled himself by eating with non-Jews.
For Peter, there has been a change:
Jesus has broken down the barriers between Jew and Gentile,
uniting them in himself.

Peter had previously had a vision of ‘clean and unclean’ foods,
had seen God clearly blessing non-Jewish followers of Jesus,
such as the centurion Cornelius.
Peter had discovered the inclusive love of God for all,
not just the chosen few.
But there, in Antioch, he has a wobble:
a group sent by the disciple James, comes from Jerusalem to visit.
Peter is suddenly conspicuous by his absence
amongst the Gentile converts,
afraid to be rebuked by this group from Jerusalem.
And his actions cause others around him to wobble –
those disciples who had a Jewish background
also withdrew themselves from their fellow believers in Christ,
with Paul almost spitting out in disgust:
and ‘even Barnabas was led astray.’
Good, solid, faithful companion that he was,
when someone like Peter –
someone who had spent years in the company of Jesus –
comes to town and acts in a certain way,
then, out of respect for his authority and experience,
you’re not likely to stand up and go:
‘um, Peter, I’m not sure this is such a great idea.’
You’re not likely to...
unless you’re Paul, that is.

Paul’s not afraid of making a stand,
not afraid of rocking the boat.
As he, himself writes to the Galatians:
‘When I saw that they were not acting in line 
with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all...’
and then he goes on to show how he publicly called out Peter.
Paul does seem to have a bit of a habit of getting folk
to pin back their ears and listen to him.
But, in this particular matter, Paul is right
and Peter’s done a ‘Peter’ and messed up.
Paul’s one tough cookie –
he’s determined to demonstrate
the all-encompassing wideness of the gospel:
that God’s love is for everyone.
To remind even Peter, that great pillar of the faith,
that in Jesus, all barriers are broken down –
although different, yet all are one in Him:
Paul says:
‘I have been crucified with Christ 
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’

Transformation and change, yes,
along with unity in diversity.
Here Paul is showing
to Peter and his companions from Jerusalem...
to the Galatians...
to us,
that faith is about expanding the way we think,
is about refocusing the way we think;
it reorients the heart and soul and spirit.
Within the all-embracing love of God,
in faith, having been loved by God,
we love God in return –
and, in faith, extend that love to all humanity.
‘Through death and resurrection, Christ comes 
to dwell in the human heart and to produce a community 
based not on social distinctions but on love.’ [Wendy Farley, FOTW, 136]

Another nod to Muhammad Ali:
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky.
Interesting things seem to happen in that city.
The great 20th century spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, was a monk.
He had spent his life rejecting the world,
encircling himself in silence, and prayer, and meditation.
One day, away from the monastery, and wandering the streets of Louisville,
Merton had an epiphany, a lightbulb moment, if you like.
In his book, ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,’ he writes:
'In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, 
in the center of the shopping district, 
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization 
that I loved all these people, 
that they were mine and I theirs, 
that we could not be alien to one another 
even though we were total strangers...’
Merton goes on:
There is no way of telling people that 
they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, 
the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire 
nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, 
the person that each one is in God’s eyes. 
If only they could all see themselves 
as they really are. 
If only we could see each other 
that way all the time. 
There would be no more war, no more hatred, 
no more cruelty, no more greed...’

A gospel of transformation and change.
A gospel of welcome: of unity and diversity.
A gospel of love...
Love is not always easy.
And there are times when loving some folk is particularly challenging.
Perhaps a way of walking in love is trying to imagine how God sees them;
and of trying to walk in someone else’s shoes –
to try and imaginatively enter into that person’s life;
to wonder, and to ask what their story might be
before we make a quick judgement.
Loving people when they do things differently
to the way we might prefer is also challenging...
but in love, first ask just ‘why’ they may be doing things that way.
And then, there are those we may see in the media –
people in positions of power who have misused that power in shocking ways –
whether ruling their land with an iron fist of fear...
or ruling the roost at home and making everyone walk on eggshells.
How do we find a way to acknowledge that even those we see as unlovely
are nevertheless, beloved of God -
even though God may weep at the choices they make?
How do we love certain others, when they don’t love in return?
How do we love those who have caused us deep, deep hurt?
So often, it feels easier to harden our hearts;
to become judge and jury;
to choose the way of violence, of vengeance...
or, depending on our situation, of using passive-aggression.
So often, the way of love is held up as weak, as ‘wishy-washy’.
Choosing to love is the hardest thing that we can humanly do.
Choosing to love
is costly.
Choosing to love
is choosing to follow
in the footsteps of the One
who knew what it was to love fully –
even unto death...
Choosing love is an act of faith and an expression of hope:
a hope that reaches beyond death and sees new life –
resurrection and reconciliation.
Paul was using fighting words when he challenged Peter.
In a similar way to Muhammed Ali,
this powerful, passionate, and articulate man
used the power of his fame
– well, his notoriety –
as a vehicle for social change:
However, as he continued defending the good news of the gospel –
Paul was also using his power to effect spiritual change,
by showing the gospel of life-giving grace for all.

For Paul, the gospel – the news of God’s love in Jesus -
spoke of a love wider, bigger, than we can ever fully understand.
A love that, every day, has a new beginning
as we die to self and allow Christ to live in us.

Let us, as Christ’s community, choose to walk in love now, and every day:
learning to find the beauty and wonder in God,
and in one another,
and let love be our prayer in action.  Amen.

Sneak preview: upcoming worship notes for June, July, August

Worship 'sneak preview':     

Travelling as God's community on a journey of faith: see below...
Fancy a wee peek at what's coming up in worship over the next few months?
Readings and hymns now posted up until 31 July and soon to be updated 
to include end of August. 
[Click on the tab above!]

Some dates for your diaries:
'2nd Sunday' Summer services:
Evening worship at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington, 6.30pm
12 June, 10 July, 14 August, and 11 September.
All are welcome to come along to these shorter, reflective evening services.  
A time of prayer, silence, and singing. 
N.B. 10 July service will be a simple communion service 

'4th Sunday' services:
Evening worship - in Leadhills/Wanlockhead, 6.30pm: 
26 June, 24 July, 28 Aug, 27 Sept
All-age, informal and relaxed time of worship - 
for the young and the young at heart, all welcome.

5 June -3 July in morning worship - Sermon series:
5 weeks in which we'll be exploring Paul's Letter to the Galatians

FROM/ Sun 28 August, 2016 - 20 Aug, 2017:
'We Make the Road by Walking'

Beginning on this Sunday, for a year, we'll be breaking the year into
quarters, and exploring some well-known and less well-known stories 
from our faith tradition. 
As God's people, gathered in the Upper Clyde villages, we'll walk together through: 
  • the stories of Creation,
  • follow in the footsteps of some early heroes of the faith in the Old Testament,
  • journey through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
  • and travel with the disciples as they begin to share the good news of
    Jesus a
    nd build communities of faith around the known world. 
Alongside our Sunday morning worship, there'll be: 
  • a weekly 'food for thought' on the service sheet and blog as an aid for ongoing personal reflection through the week.
  • a monthly evening discussion group, alternating between:
    Crawford [the Manse], Abington [Church Hall], and Leadhills [Hopetoun Arms]
  • a quarterly Sunday pot-luck lunch at the Manse, towards the end of
    each quarter, with an opportunity to 
    discuss themes and questions coming
    from the stories/ readings we've been exploring over that time.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

2nd Sunday Summer Services: Taizé worship 12 June

'2nd Sunday' Summer Services

Can't make morning worship?
No need to worry!
'2nd Sunday' evening services are back...
in June - Taizé-style worship;
July - simple service of communion;
August, and September: tbc

6.30pm at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington: 
Take time out to 'be' as we gather together for worship in the simple, uncluttered style of Taizé.

It's a time for:
candles and contemplation,
music and meditation,
silence, simplicity, singing...
Worship in an unhurried pace,
with time to reflect.
A quiet space in the midst of the busyness of life
to help recharge, refresh, renew yourself for the week ahead.

What is Taizé-style worship?
Over the course of the service, you'll encounter:
brief Bible readings;
gentle, easy to learn chants;
times of quiet [in fact, as few words as possible].
If traditional, wordy worship is not for you, come and experience something a little different.

Some background on the Taizé Community: 
Taizé is a small village in eastern France and one of the wonders of the Christian world.
Far better known in continental Europe than it is in Britain, for over 50 years,
it has been the home of a Christian monastic community made up of over 100 brothers
from around 30 countries, speaking many different languages and, uniquely, belonging
to several different Christian denominations.
Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, Orthodox and others live and pray together,
share a simple life and welcome the tens of thousands of visitors who come to spend time
with them every year from all over the world.

The Community describes itself as a "parable of communion", living proof
that it is possible for Christians from all denominations to overcome the divisions
of the past, to live, work and worship together, united by their shared trust in Christ.
Taizé has developed a unique style of meditative singing which focuses
on the repetitive chanting of short phrases from the Bible and other Christian texts
in a range of languages.
The three daily services also include short Bible readings and prolonged periods of silence.
Learning to listen to God in the company of others is at the heart of prayer at Taizé.
It is almost impossible to recreate the unforgettable experience of a Taizé service
outside the Community, but thousands of Christian churches, communities and families
across the world do take inspiration from what they have found there.
The songs, in particular, are widely used.
Taizé Services by Upper Clyde Parish are loosely based on the pattern of worship
used by the Taizé Community. A mixture of repetitive chants, scripture readings,
spoken prayers and long silences, they provide an oasis of peace,
a chance to stop and dwell with others on the presence of Christ.
If wordy worship is not for you, if you enjoy stillness and simplicity,
Taizé Worship may well be what you are looking for.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Thursday, 9 June 2016

UCPC Guild trip to Moniave

A great day out was had by the Guild and friends. We travelled down to Moniave in the Community bus, ably driven by Alison K.  Heading down the Dalveen Pass, when we arrived in Moniave, it was straight to the Stackyard. We met up with Gordon Stewart, and heard about - and saw - his amazing collection of 3 500 jam jars, gathered over many years. His earliest piece dates back to the 1830's, and it was great to see such a diversity of styles and decoration. Having had a good wander through the collection, we then had a gentle daunder over to the Glen Whisk Cafe, where we had a fabulous spread of soup, sandwiches, and selection of fabulous baking. Thereafter, having stopped to look at some glorious blooms, we hopped back on the bus, and headed home by another way - up the Mennock. A great day out, and brilliantly organised!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sermon, 5 June: Week 1 of Galatians series - 'The only thing constant is change'

Beginning a 5-week series on Paul's Letter to the Galatians...

1st READING: Psalm 146
2nd READING: Galatians 1:1-24

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.

‘The only thing constant, is change.’
So said the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus
nearly two and a half thousand years ago...
Ironically, over the ages, various people have quite happily adopted,
adapted, and had his saying attributed to them...
pretty much proving the very point that Heraclitus was making...

‘The only thing constant is change’
This theme of change, of transformation,
is at the very heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians,
possibly Paul’s earliest surviving letter.
Scholars think that it was written about 15 to 25 years
after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The recipients, the Galatians, were a cluster of faith communities
that had sprung up as a result of Paul’s earlier missionary efforts.
He had come,
had shared the good news of God’s love in Christ;
they had listened,
had come to faith,
had been transformed.
Their lives had changed as they entered upon this new faith journey,
and walked in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples.

‘The only thing constant is change.’
...Change and transformation.
Over the next few weeks, as we look at this letter of Paul’s,
we’ll see how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
had the capacity to transform the lives of these very early Christians,
we’ll also see how this good news of Jesus – the gospel –
had the capacity to transform the lives of those around them,
as they lived out their lives in faith, hope and trust –
bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
And today, we’ll see how God, in Jesus,
had transformed Paul’s life,
his understanding of faith,
his understanding of how to live his life...

But before we get to Paul’s transformation,
let’s look at the opening of his letter,
and perhaps it might be helpful if you open up to our passage in Galatians...
Like any good letter, Galatians begins with a salutation – a greeting:
here we have who the letter is from,
and, to whom it’s written.
Now, remember, his audience know him -
Paul’s been there before,
he’s shared the faith with them...
and yet, right at the very beginning of his letter,
Paul pulls out some big guns:
he sets out some credentials – if you like:
‘It’s me, Paul – I'm an apostle sent from God.’
You can almost feel a big black pen underlining this, emphasising it,
and possibly, his unwritten words:
‘so pin back your ears, and listen, folks, because this is important.’

Having got their attention,
Paul proceeds with a blessing of grace and peace, in Christ’s name –
Christ, who gave himself ‘to rescue us from the present evil age’...
And without wasting any time for gentle pleasantries, such as
‘hope all’s well with you?’
or ‘how are Mildred and Effie doing?’
he’s straight in there:
‘Hi, Galatians, it’s me, Paul, apostle: blessings on you.
I’m astonished at what you’re doing!’
....If they weren’t listening before, they certainly are now.
But, what is it that they’re doing?
It all centres around the gospel –
but, which gospel are we talking about here?
Paul talks of the Galatians turning to a ‘different gospel’
they've been listening to others who have
seemingly sowed seeds of confusion.
Apparently, a group referred to by scholars as the ‘Judaizers’,
have come in,
have seen Paul’s handiwork,
and have decided that he’s been preaching a watered-down
version of the gospel...or, if you like,
he’s been doing things a little differently from how it’s aye bin...
This group, preaching a different gospel –
a gospel that Paul is quick to condemn as no gospel at all –
are wanting the non-Jewish Galatians to follow their particular ways and customs:
for example, for the males to be circumcised;
to follow the Law and the Prophets.
Not for them any fancy new ways –
basically, they’ll let these Galatian non-Jews come into the faith,
but really, these new folk will just have to fit in.
The Judaizers are not prepared to make any changes that would make
the faith path a little easier to walk along for these younger members in the body of Christ.
They’re putting conditions on the gospel:
yes, it’s good news, but only if you do it our way.

Paul’s hard work of bringing the Galatians to faith
is being undermined, and he’s incensed.
For him, the whole point of the gospel is that it’s
about change and transformation –
about liberation from the Law and freedom in Christ.
And these are themes we’ll come back to a little more in depth, in a couple of weeks.
At the moment however, we have, in essence, a stream of writing
by Paul centring on the gospel:
He had shared with them the gospel, which they’d joyfully received.
He had then gone on, to share the faith with people in other areas.
Others had subsequently arrived, adding to, and, as Paul states, ‘perverting’ the gospel.
He urges the Galatians to turn back to the gospel he shared with them:
the gospel of Christ...
a gospel of grace – unconditional grace;
a gospel not made up in the minds of humans
but a gospel received by Paul from Christ himself ...
a gospel that Paul had previously not only denied, but had vigorously suppressed:
a gospel that is utterly about transformation.

Paul makes his case for the transformative power of the gospel
by reminding the Galatians of his own story.
He was a man of deep religious conviction:
zealous in his faith,
proud of the tradition that had been passed down to him by his father...
and for generations before that.
He was a rigorous student –
he had surpassed his peers in knowledge of the faith.
He had persecuted those who dared to challenge it.
Had tried to destroy this new faith springing up around the man, Jesus...

However, while pursuing God with all his restless energy,
it was God who caught up with, and called Paul –
called him into a different understanding
of his faith,
of his God,
of the man, Jesus.
On the road to Damascus,
on his way to root out the Jesus people,
Paul encountered Jesus, and his life would never be the same again.
While ‘the only thing constant is change’,
even so, God took and used Paul’s personality:
his restless energy,
his passion,
and transformed them from being tools of terror,
and  harnessed them to be used in the service of Christ,
and in the sharing of the gospel:
the gospel, that, God’s love was such, that he became one of us;
experienced what it was, what it is, to be human.
Showed, in the way he lived, and loved,
what it was to be truly, authentically human;
showed the transforming power of God’s love
in his love and care for human beings –
especially those discarded, or deemed dispensable by society.
Showed the wideness of God’s mercy and grace
and that it was freely given for all...
and, at the last, showed a love that could transform even death itself...
Paul was passionate about the transforming power of the gospel,
for he knew what it was to have been rescued and transformed;
he knew what it was to be known among other followers of Christ as:
‘the man who formerly persecuted us,’ who was
’now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy’

It can be easy to listen to other gospels:
gospels that tell us we don’t measure up...
gospels that tell us that the only way we can receive God’s grace
is by keeping all the commandments,
making sure we do this, or that, or the other;
gospels that have conditions put upon them.
And sometimes, we take these kinds of gospels on board,
try to tick all the boxes,
and jump through all the hoops –
hope we get a gold star
and our ticket to heaven,
as long as we just work away at it.
We take these different gospels on board because it seems really hard
to accept that God’s grace is freely given,
that God’s grace comes without strings attached,
that God has called us for his own
and that we are his beloved...
and that, in his love, we are transformed.
It’s almost as if we’re afraid, fearful, perhaps even suspicious:
after all, you don’t get something for nothing, do you?
But that’s the essence of the gospel, the good news.
We do get something for nothing:
God’s love freely given.
We love, because God loved us first.
And perfect love casts away our fear.

‘The only thing constant is change’ 
Change is a discomforting, disquieting thing.
But we need not fear change:
we are the people of change, of transformation.
And as we embrace God’s good news,
embrace God’s transformational love,
not only will we be changed,
but those around us will be as well.
Mother Teresa once said:
‘I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, 
or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do 
whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. 
I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. 
I used to believe that prayer changes things, 
but now I know that prayer changes us, 
and we change things.’

Shortly, we’ll share in bread, and in wine.
We’ll remember the one who had – who still has
the power to change, to transform lives.
The journalist, Linda Ellerbee once said:
‘What I like most about change is that it’s a synonym for ‘hope’. 
If you are taking a risk, what you are really saying is, 
‘I believe in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.’

As we share in the meal that Jesus gave us,
we remember that, in holy mystery, it is a meal of hope;
a meal which transforms us, as it nourishes and strengthens us
to live out our faith in a world that is constantly changing,
a world where we share the gospel – the good news –
of God’s constant, faithful love:
a love that has the power to transform‘this present evil age’
into a foretaste of the kin-dom of heaven on earth.
And, as the Psalmist proclaimed:
'Happy are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.'   Amen.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

UCPC Writing Group - inaugural session

It's a new dawn,
it's a new day,
it's...a new group:
a writing group, to be precise.
Whether putting pen or pencil to paper -
or tapping on a Tablet -
come join us around the fireside as we blether, read, listen, and encourage one another to do some writing.
Meeting monthly, at the Colebrooke Arms, from 7pm.
Wherever and whatever place you find yourself in your writing,
come along - we are all learning together!