Sunday, 31 July 2016

Contacts, information, events...

The minister will be on leave from: afternoon of 24 July - Wed 3 August 

Pulpit and funeral cover: 

Sunday 31 July: we welcome back the Rev. Sandy Strachan - formerly NHS Chaplain in Dumfries.

Funeral cover: will be provided by the Rev Rachel Dobie, who can be contacted on 01899 229244.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact Jenny Worthington on 01899 850274

News, events, and general notices:

Sunday 31 July: Your last chance to choose your favourite hymn for our Songs of Praise service on 14 August. A box is in the vestibule, with pen and paper – just write down the hymn/s that you’d like to hear, and we’ll see what we can do!

Thurs 11 August, 7pm: 'Wordworks' writing group will meet at the Colebrooke Arms, Crawfordjohn. All welcome to come and share - suggested writing prompts for this meeting:
summer holidays, a piece of music/memorable music, handwriting, a quotable quote - in any style.

Sunday 14 August, 10.30am: 'Songs of Praise' service
and later/
at 6.30: ‘2nd Sunday’ evening worship, at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington. 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.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Coming soon: Songs of Praise service

It's time to nominate your favourite hymns from CH4, for our Songs of Praise service...
8 hymn slots to be filled. Put your entry into the wee box in the vestibule 
from now thru until the end of worship on Sun 31st July...

Monday, 25 July 2016

Contacts, information, church notices...

The minister will be on leave from: afternoon of 24 July - Wed 3 August 

Pulpit and funeral cover: 

Sunday 31 July: we welcome back the Rev. Sandy Strachan - formerly NHS Chaplain in Dumfries.

Funeral cover: will be provided by the Rev Rachel Dobie, who can be contacted on 01899 229244.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact Jenny Worthington on 01899 850274

News, events, and general notices:

Sunday 31 July: Your last chance to choose your favourite hymn for our Songs of Praise service on 14 August. A box is in the vestibule, with pen and paper – just write down the hymn/s that you’d like to hear, and we’ll see what we can do!

Thurs 11 August, 7pm: 'Wordworks' writing group will meet at the Colebrooke Arms, Crawfordjohn. All welcome to come and share - suggested writing prompts for this meeting:
summer holidays, a piece of music/memorable music, handwriting, a quotable quote - in any style.

Sunday 14 August, 10.30am: 'Songs of Praise' service
and later/
at 6.30: ‘2nd Sunday’ evening worship, at Holy Trinity Chapel, Lamington. 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.

Sermon, Sunday 24 July: Listening for the heartbeat of God

Gospel passage: Luke 11:1-13

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...

It had been a busy day.
So many things to see,
so many places to explore,
so many games to play,
and now, after a cheerful supper,
the little one had curled herself up on the sofa –
cosy, content.
Eyelids began to flutter,
blonde head began to droop.
Quietly, gently, her dad moved across to the sofa,
and began to pick her up.
Blue eyes half-opened,
and a drowsy protest from the tiny 4 year old:
‘I not a-seep’.
She snuggled into her daddy as he carried her
up the stairs to her room,
and smelt the familiar, comforting pine scent
of his aftershave.
As he bent down to put her into the bed,
she snuggled closer to his chest,
looked up at him, and smiled.
‘I can hear your heartbeat.’
He smiled, leant in and listened...
‘And I can hear your heartbeat.’
He kissed her on the forehead,
tucked her under the covers,
and, by the time he had crept out the door,
she was sound asleep.

Over time, it had become their bedtime ritual.
Each night, as she cooried into her daddy,
she would say
‘I can hear your heartbeat’
and he would respond
‘And I can hear your heartbeat.’

Years passed.
The interesting teenage years were navigated successfully,
and eventually, it was time for her to leave home,
go to uni...
make her way in the world:
make her mark on the world.
A career.
And then, a chance meeting one day
turned into a planned dinner the following week,
turned into conversations, laughter,
shared joys and pain...
turned into the one she wanted
to spend the rest of her life with...
turned into her turn to gently pick up
her own half-sleeping child
and carry him up to bed.
Old bedtime rituals remembered one night –
as her son snuggled into her on the way
to bed, she smiled, and said:
‘I can hear your heartbeat’
The little boy looked up at her,
snuggled closer,
and then, suddenly alert,
said ‘and I can hear your heartbeat too!’
And so, an old ritual became new,
and, as she’d put her son to bed,
and say the old, familiar words,
she would often think of her dad
back when his hair was still brown,
his face, as yet unlined from living.
Now his hair was snow,
his face, full of years.
He had moved a couple of blocks away
a few years after her mother had died.

One crisp, blue-sky autumn day, she had popped in to spend time with her dad,
found him lying in the kitchen, having slipped.
Shaken, and sore, he’d hurt his knee...
couldn’t quite find the strength to get back up.
She looked at him,
suddenly realised just how frail...
how fragile he was.
How he’d...somehow shrunk
without her seeing it.
She knelt by him,
helped him, half-carried him,
to his bed...
As he gingerly got into his bed,
he leant into her, for support,
and then stopped...
Looking up at his grown daughter’s face,
he smiled
at life that had now come full circle:
‘I can hear your heartbeat’, he said.
She tucked the covers over her dad,
knelt at his bedside, put her head on his chest...
time stopped for a moment,
and then, quietly, she said:
‘and I can hear your heartbeat...’*

The story is one of deep love –
love so intimate, so close,
that you can hear the other’s heartbeat.
The story is one of trust –
a trust that allows the other to carry you
in their arms.
It’s a story that’s passed on,
down through the generations of family –
of old familiar words said
alongside long-familiar actions:
of a parent’s love for their child,
of the child’s love for their parent...
the hospitality of the heart
that makes the other welcome.

In our gospel passage this morning,
we find Jesus praying...
and the disciples, observing.
As is the custom of disciples following a rabbi,
so, Jesus’ disciples ask him – their rabbi –
to teach them to pray.
Perhaps they knew some of the old prayers –
used by those who led the worshipping community at the synagogue.
Perhaps, they’d caught snatches of prayer-words from the Pharisees,
who could be heard praying loudly in the Temple.
And they certainly knew that John, cousin of Jesus,
John, the prophet,
John, the one who baptised,
had taught his own disciples to pray.

‘Lord, teach us to pray...’
Are they asking him for the right formula,
the right words and phrases,
the right form of words that they could then
remember and recite?
To learn it so well that they don’t
even need to think about it as they say the words.
‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ they say...
and Jesus begins, not with a formula,
but with a person:
the person of God...
God, who Jesus, their rabbi, addresses, here,
and many times elsewhere in scripture,
as ‘Father’.

‘Lord, teach us to pray, they say...
and Jesus answers with
‘call God ‘Father’’.
and by doing so,
in pointing to God,
in portraying the God of the heavens
and the earth
as ‘Father’,
as loving parent,
he makes a radical statement about
what prayer is:
it’s about relationship, not rote learning.
Even so, he sets out a template to help them
begin the conversation with the One
they are told to call ‘Father’.
A template that reminds them
who they are praying to – ‘Father’
the nature of the one they are praying to – ‘holy’
the basics of what to pray for –
God’s kingdom to come,
God’s will to be done in the same way that it’s done in heaven...
a manifesto of liberation, in two brief statements – for to ask that the kingdom come
and for God’s will to be done,
is to ask for a world in which
love is the rule of life –
a love for God, and for neighbour, and for self...
a love that is so close to God,
that God’s very heartbeat can be heard,
and, with each beat of God’s heart
justice and mercy meet
and pain is ended,
and hunger is no more,
and every tear is wiped from every eye...

And it’s a template that reminds them
to pray for their own needs –
for ongoing trust in the one who
will supply their needs,
their ‘daily bread’;
for a life lived as someone forgiven, and forgiving;
for the freedom from temptation...

‘Teach us to pray’, they ask...
and Jesus gives them a way in which to begin
a conversation with the One who yearns for them – and for us –
to ask, to seek, to knock at the
door of the Father...
the Father who doesn’t answer with
snakes or scorpions, but who responds
with the gift of the Holy Spirit;
the Father who is so close to us,
who is nearer to us than breathing;
the one who loves us
and who would pick us up,
carry us in his arms,
and hold us so close,
the he can hear our heartbeat,
and we can hear his...
The one who loves us so much,
that, in Jesus, he became human –
showed us who to love
and how to love...
Jesus, the very heartbeat of God,
made human.

‘Teach us to pray,’ the disciples ask...
‘Teach us to pray,’ we ask...
What is prayer?
An ongoing conversation with one
who is our friend –
‘a friend who knows our every weakness’
and yet still loves us;
What is prayer?
it is part and parcel of an ongoing friendship –
the best kind of friendship
where worries and joys are shared,
where words tumble out breathlessly,
and where there are companionable silences,
sitting at ease in each other’s company.
What is prayer?
An act of love,
an act of trust in two parts:
a willingness to put ourselves into the
hands of the living God...
and God’s willingness to offer us hospitality: open the door of his heart
and bid us enter in
as his beloved children.

Let’s pray:
Loving God, teach us to pray as Jesus prayed –
not by rote,
but through the building of a relationship with you, our Father...
Teach us to pray early in the morning and
during the watches of the night.
Teach us to pray in times of elation and in
times of deepest anguish.
Teach us to pray in desert places
and in holy places.
Teach us to pray patiently and persistently.
Teach us to pray humbly and graciously.
Teach us to pray with a childlike spirit,
in love and trust.
Teach us to pray 'Let your will be done'
with courage and faith.
Lord, teach us to pray.
For your name's sake. Amen.

*based on a story told by Father Michael Renninger

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sermon 17 July: 'Mind full, or mindful?'

In our earlier 'thinking about' section in worship, many smiles as bowls of M&M's were passed around the pews...
M&M = Martha and Mary!!

1st READING: Psalm 15
2nd READING: Luke 10:38-42

SERMON ‘Mind full, or Mindful?’
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 an old poem – a poem by A. A. Milne, he of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ fame.
It’s a classic tale, in verse, of  someone who’s a wee bit distracted, and it’s called:
‘There was an old sailor my grandfather knew,’
which I’m going to read now for your delectation and delight.

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn't because of the state he was in.

He was shipwrecked, and lived on an island for weeks,
And he wanted a hat, and he wanted some breeks;
And he wanted some nets, or a line and some hooks
For the turtles and things which you read of in books.

And, thinking of this, he remembered a thing
Which he wanted (for water) and that was a spring;
And he thought that to talk to he'd look for, and keep
(If he found it) a goat, or some chickens and sheep.

Then, because of the weather, he wanted a hut
With a door (to come in by) which opened and shut
(With a jerk, which was useful if snakes were about),
And a very strong lock to keep savages out.

He began on the fish-hooks, and when he'd begun
He decided he couldn't because of the sun.
So he knew what he ought to begin with, and that
Was to find, or to make, a large sun-stopping hat.

He was making the hat with some leaves from a tree,
When he thought, "I'm as hot as a body can be,
And I've nothing to take for my terrible thirst;
So I'll look for a spring, and I'll look for it first."

Then he thought as he started, "Oh, dear and oh, dear!
I'll be lonely tomorrow with nobody here!"
So he made in his note-book a couple of notes:
"I must first find some chickens" and "No, I mean goats."

He had just seen a goat (which he knew by the shape)
When he thought, "But I must have boat for escape.
But a boat means a sail, which means needles and thread;
So I'd better sit down and make needles instead."

He began on a needle, but thought as he worked,
That, if this was an island where savages lurked,
Sitting safe in his hut he'd have nothing to fear,
Whereas now they might suddenly breathe in his ear!

So he thought of his hut ... and he thought of his boat,
And his hat and his breeks, and his chickens and goat,
And the hooks (for his food) and the spring 
(for his thirst) ...
But he never could think which he ought to do first.

And so in the end he did nothing at all,
But bask on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl.
And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved -
He did nothing but basking until he was saved!

So    many    things.
So many choices,
so many tasks and responsibilities.
In the end, the poem about our sailor is a warning that could come
straight out of a management training manual:
it demonstrates the dangers of being so distracted by tasks,
that you end up attempting to do too many things at once, with the result that,
at the end of the day, or week, or year,
all you’ve actually succeeded in doing has been to chase your tail.

Rule One of management:
if there’s a list of tasks, prioritise,
and no matter what occurs during the day,
come back to that task -
rather than beginning something else then leaving it,
starting another job, and leaving it...and so on.
The theory goes that by following this principle,
at the end of the day, or week, or month, even if you’ve only managed
to complete just one job on the list,
at least one job has actually been completed...
and, it will also be the most important of all of the tasks,
Job done.
Cross off item from list.
Move to next job.

Focus and prioritising is important.
And last week,
and this week,
while we’ve had two very different stories,
both, in their own way, share a common theme:
about practising hospitality.
Last week, it was the good Samaritan –
who, in his encounter with the man on the Jericho road,
enlarged a traditionally held understanding of what it was to be a good neighbour.
In providing comfort, help, and unstinting kindness
to someone seen as a traditional enemy,
the Samaritan demonstrated a radical hospitality:
hospitality at its extremes.
Hospitality which Jesus tells his listeners, that they must ‘go and do likewise.’
They are to practise active hospitality.

In contrast, our text this morning, placed as it is within the home
of Martha and Mary, is a more intimate and comfortable domestic scene.
A beloved friend arrives and we see, in the sisters,
two different responses to this arrival.
Martha, surveying the scene, makes the choice to head off to the kitchen:
pots to put on,
and people to feed...
‘People’, because this is not just a cosy meal for
three... there’s also the matter of feeding his 12 mates,
the disciples, who’ve also come along.
There’s work to be done.
She disappears,
but, I suspect, even as the disciples and Mary gather around and listen to Jesus,
you can still hear noises just out of sight:
chopping of veg,
hiss of food being put onto hot skillet,
clatter of dishes being gathered to feed the hordes.
So many things.
So many choices:
what to serve,
where to seat everyone,
is the wine okay or should she just quickly nip down to the market?
Where are the chickpeas for the hummus –
does Jesus actually like hummus?
And, is she right in remembering that Judas is gluten-free?
And...why is Mary being such a slacker?
Surely she should be helping?
It’s not fair.
It’s not right!
...and the pots and pans in the kitchen crash and clatter a little more noisily,
accompanied by heavy sighs.
...until, in the midst of all the things she has on her plate,
Martha snaps and marches into the other room –
points accusingly at Mary,
and drags Jesus into the domestic drama that she’s in the midst of:
‘Don’t you care, Jesus? 
Tell Mary to come and give me a hand, Jesus. 
It’s just not right’
In one fell swoop she’s managed to successfully do several things:
first, it’s a classic piece of triangulation.
Instead of directly communicating with the person she’s having a difficulty with,
her sister, Mary, Martha brings another person into the equation, Jesus.
In a sense, it’s pretty passive-aggressive behaviour:
he can sort it, because, surely, Mary will have to listen to him.

Second, it’s also a classic case of public shaming:
rather than quietly come and ask Mary for help,
Martha bursts in and points the finger at her in front of everyone...
in front of their beloved friend.
And third, in doing both one and two, she loses sight of her primary task:
that of being hospitable.
Through both triangulation and public shaming,
she puts the honoured guest into a socially awkward situation:
‘Lord, don’t you care?’

So many things.
Too many things.
And Martha’s mind is full of them all.
She is no longer mindful of the initial task.
And Jesus looks at this harried and harassed friend and yes, he does care.
As he looks at her with love and pity,
he knows her so well, that he sees what’s really going on,
what’s really occupying her oh-too-busy mind.
Instead of rebuking her, there’s a kindly repeat of her name:
‘Martha, Martha...’
So many things...
too many things...
unnecessary things that caused her to lose focus:
‘You are worried and upset about many things’
says her friend,
‘but only one thing is needed.’
That one thing is to remember to keep focused upon him –
to remember that the choice she made had initially been based around
her love for her friend,
and to care for him in the most practical way she knew how:
to feed him – and his friends.
To break bread together,
to share food and friendship together...
He indicates Mary, sitting at his feet –
Mary, whose love for her friend has been shown
in spending time with him,
listening to him.

Now, before we go anywhere else with this reading, it’s important to note
that Jesus isn’t playing action and reflection off against one another:
it's not a competition.
As we saw last week, Jesus is very much about encouraging active engagement –
‘go and do likewise’.
In this story, however, Jesus is demonstrating that reflection is also needed...
and whether it’s action or reflection,
what’s important is to not lose sight of what it is you’re doing,
and why you’re doing it.
Or, to flip it around:
of what it is you’re not doing, and to go and do it.
And at the core of both being and action:
is the motive of love –
last week, hospitality shown in love of neighbour;
this week, hospitality shown in love for God.

There are days, weeks, months, when we feel overwhelmed by all the things:
so many things –
too many things.
Our minds, so full, that they’re buzzing.
Days, weeks, months,
when it feels like we’ve just somehow lost the plot.
In our gospel text today,
Jesus moves from the house of Martha and Mary,
out of the page,
and into our homes,
our hearts,
our oh-too-busy minds.
And in loving care and kindness,
says our name – twice –
and reminds us that there is only one thing needed:
to focus our hands,
our hearts,
our minds...
on him:
to love him –
and from that love, everything else will flow.
Food will go on the table,
stories will be heard...
However we entertain Jesus in our heart’s home,
however we welcome him in,
we meet with him in love:
what we do, or how we are is an expression of that love.

We come back to M&M’s –
because at some point you knew I’d have to get another chocolate reference in!
M&M – Martha and Mary:
different, yes, in the way that they responded to Jesus.
And we need both Martha and her practical gifts,
and Mary and her more mystical gifts.
But, like the M&M’s – though different, yet, inside, what fills them,
and the way they choose to respond to Jesus,
is – or should be – love:
which focuses upon the one thing, the greater thing –
responding to, and being in, God’s presence.
There’s an old saying that recognises this:
'hands to work,
and hearts to God...'
because, Lord knows, we need both fed spiritually and physically,
in order that we go and do likewise to those we meet and welcome
into God’s hospitable kingdom.

How would we react if Jesus chapped at our door, wanting to visit with us?
And actually, he does...
Would we think of physical hunger that needed to be fed,
and rush off to our kitchens?
Would we hunger to hear more at his feet,
just in case there was something else we might
just need to know, before we went out and followed him?

...So many things.
Too many things.
And only one is needed.
However we respond to Jesus’ invitation to welcome him in,
whether in action, or contemplation,
let us choose the better part:
which is, to focus our eyes on Jesus -
to be mindful of him,
in all we think, and do, and say... this day, and every day. Amen.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Coming soon: UCPC Songs of Praise

It's time to nominate your favourite hymns from CH4, for our Songs of Praise service...
8 hymn slots to be filled. Put your entry into the wee box in the vestibule from
now thru until the end of worship on Sun 31st July...

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Sermon 10 July, 'The God who does not pass us by'

1st READING: Psalm 25:1-10  
2nd READING: Luke 10:25-37

THINKING ABOUT... time for reflection:
'The road to Jericho'
Today we tell – and dwell on – a familiar tale,
the story of the Good Samaritan...
and in the sermon a little later, we’ll think about caring as a vulnerable venture,
risking all for love -
and we’ll be thinking about what it feels like to be vulnerable.... And so, in order to do a little pre-sermon scene-setting, I wonder now if we might retell the story:
to imagine the story as if we were the one who was passed by,
the one left by the side of the road...
to try to imagine how that might feel?
It might help, as we try to enter into the story, to close our eyes,
to picture the scene in our mind’s eye.
And, as we place ourselves in that picture...
to feel the heat,
and taste the dust,
as we pick our way through the stony, twisting path....
the ruts, and the rocks...

Although your pace is steady you already feel exhausted.
Wiping sweat away, you keep walking.

A stony road,
a scorching day,
a long but necessary journey.
White sunlight splitting the rocks by the roadside;
Heat ...shimmers and dances in the distance
under a hard, blue sky.
All is quiet,
yet    not    a peaceful quiet.
The air crackles with expectation.
An almost imperceptible sound
as a pebble falls onto sand...
Hair prickles at the back of your neck
as you feel eyes watch your every move.

Picking up the pace, you curse yourself for travelling alone.
It had seemed important at the time, to make this trip...
but now you wonder if it was such a good idea.
The road twists and turns and the journey feels unforgiving.
Around a bend there are people standing, watching, waiting.
You push down your fear and keep moving.
No use.
Mocking laughter as they block your way.
Four of them -
and you lick your lips nervously
waiting for what you know instinctively
will be a bad outcome.

It begins.
Harsh words.
Pushing, shoving.
Fists and feet connecting with flesh;
pain raining down upon your fallen body
until you just can't move.
Blood and agony.
Stripped, robbed.
Left for dead.
Utterly alone.
Utterly helpless.

In the distance,
You groan,
waiting for them to finish off the job.
But these footsteps quicken and are gone.
The shadows begin to stretch.
Someone else passes by...
and is gone.

Later – much later -
cool water is pressed to your lips.
Wounds washed and dressed amidst kind words.
Although, you notice something odd about the way they speak.
You feel hot tears falling down your face.
And then, just as everything swims out of focus
and into blackness, you see a donkey....

Waking up several days later on a comfortable bed,
the innkeeper's wife tells you the story
of the one who didn't pass by.
Surprised, your world-view is challenged
as you realise that the one you thought of
as an enemy...
is ...human.

SERMON/ ‘The God who does not pass us by’

It was a few years back now, but I remember the story well:
A very dramatic story of courage...
A split second act of utter bravery:
The act, you might say of a Good Samaritan.
It was winter in New York.
A man was standing with his two wee girls on the
platform of a subway station waiting on the train.
Suddenly another man on the platform, apparently suffering from a seizure,
stumbled and fell off the platform and landed on the tracks.                                    
At that same moment the headlights of a rapidly approaching train appeared.
Acting quickly, and with no thought for himself, the father of two
jumped down onto the tracks to rescue the fallen man
by dragging him out of the way of the train.
But he immediately realized that it was coming too fast to get the man off the tracks
And so he pressed the man into the hollowed-out space between the rails,
spread his own body over him,
protecting him as the train passed over
the both of them.                                                
With just mere inches, the train passed above them,
coming close enough to leave grease marks on the rescuer’s knitted cap.
When the train came to a halt, he called up to the frightened onlookers on the platform.
"There are two little girls up there. Let them know their Daddy’s OK."

The rescuer became a national hero.
What he had done was remarkable:
he had no obvious reason to help this stranger.
He didn't know the man.
He had his young daughters to think about.
What he did was at severe risk to his own life.
But a human being was in desperate need,
and the man, seeing this need, was moved with compassion,
and did what he could to save him.
People were deeply moved by his selflessness, and they marvelled at his bravery.
"The Subway Superman"- that's what the press called him...
But one newspaper headline described the man in biblical terms.
It read, "Good Samaritan Saves Man on Subway Tracks."

I remember the story - this story of this subway Samaritan
I remember the conversations around it.
And I remember the question that came up time and again in these conversations:
‘What would I have done, if that had been me – would I have done what he did?
Would I have been a 'Good Samaritan' that day?’

In thinking about our gospel reading this morning
and of that so-very-familiar story of the good Samaritan, I suspect
that a lot of people think that this is exactly Jesus’ point:
the question he asks in the parable is a way of getting us
to examine if we would be willing to help,
to take the risk,
to be like the Samaritan.
But I wonder if that's what Jesus was really saying?
Let's take another look at it.
The story is told by Jesus on his way to Jerusalem in response
to a lawyer’s questions about inheriting eternal life and trying,
in his precise lawyerly way, to work out exactly what was meant by the term ‘neighbour’.
How far did neighbourliness extend – in effect:
what did Jesus determine to be the reasonable limits of what it was to be a neighbour?

The story, as we know, is about a person travelling to Jericho –
on what was a notorious stretch of road.
Beaten, robbed, left for dead.
In desperate need of help.
And who is passed by:
And, shocking to his listeners,
the very people who would have been expected to help... pass by.
But another shock is just around the bend.
The one who stops comes from a group despised both
racially and religiously by the Jews –
a Samaritan.
In the normal course of events these two groups of people
would have nothing to do with each other:
They are bitter enemies...
Better to die in a pool of blood on the road than to be touched by a Samaritan.
And yet, Jesus, in the telling of his story, casts as the hero...
one of ‘these’ enemies– a Samaritan.
A human being so moved by pity that he chooses not to walk by,
but who, instead, tenderly cares for the injured man...
who extends the boundaries of what it is to be a neighbour even to his enemies.

Having told that story, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer,
asking him to define who the neighbour is.
So utterly hated are Samaritans, that the lawyer can’t even bring
himself to spit out the word "Samaritan."
He simply mumbles,
"The one who showed mercy."
"Go and do likewise," says Jesus.
Now, as I said before, some people think that what Jesus is saying in this story is,
"OK everybody, I want you to go out and be just like that Good Samaritan.
He cared for someone in need;
I want you to imitate him. Go and do likewise."
But there are two problems with this.

The first problem is that if this were really Jesus' point,
then he probably would have told the story differently.
He would have made it into a simple moral example
and left out all that troubling Samaritan business.
What he would have said is:
that there was a man in trouble,
and three people passed by who could have helped.
The first one didn't,
and neither did the second,
but the third one did,
so be like the third one and not like the first two.
...But this isn't a simple moral story.
It's a parable, and parables always have something shocking, surprising, unexpected,
something to be wrestled with and puzzled over, and in this story,
it’s the fact that an unwanted, rejected Samaritan is the one
who shows mercy to his enemy.
Now that really throws a monkey wrench into any simple explanation.
There's something deeper going on here than merely,
"OK folks, go out and be like that good Samaritan."

The second problem is even more significant.
If Jesus' point is that he wants us to imitate the courageous compassion
of the Good Samaritan, the sad fact is we can't do it.
That is why the story of our New York subway Samaritan is so remarkable
and almost incredible:
almost none of us would have done it.
In general, it is simply not in our nature to forget ourselves and risk everything for a stranger.
Quite a few years ago now, an experiment was conducted with some
ministry students in the United States.
Researchers gathered the students in a classroom and told them
that each of them had an assignment.
This assignment was to record a talk about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The thing was, the recordings were going to be done in a building on the
other side of the campus, and because of a tight schedule, they needed to hurry to that building.
Unbeknown to the students, on the path to the other building, the researchers
had planted an actor to play the part of a man in distress,
slumped in an alley, coughing and suffering.
And so the scene was set:
the students were going to make a presentation about the Good Samaritan.
But what would happen, the researchers wondered, when they actually
encountered a person in need?
Would they be Good Samaritans?
Well, no, as a matter of fact, they weren’t.
Almost all of them rushed past the hurting man.
One student even stepped over the man's body as he hurried to teach about the
Parable of the Good Samaritan...

It’s easy to look down at these students who couldn't put the
Parable of the Good Samaritan into practice, but really, I wonder
whether any of us would have done better?
Simply knowing in our minds what the right thing to do is,
doesn’t mean we can do it.

If we are going to be Good Samaritans, then this will mean
more than a change of mind.
It will take a change of heart.
And that's what this parable is about:
a change of heart.
And it raises a question – what makes some people more compassionate than others?

I suspect that we only really learn about compassion when, in a sense,
we’ve been like the person in the ditch – or on the subway tracks.
When, at a point of need in our lives, others were there for us...
Others who chose not to pass us by,
and in that act of showing compassion for us,
taught us how to be compassionate.
And that’s the point of Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan.
What the lawyer discovered -and what we discover, too-
is that we can’t stand on the side-lines and figure out how to be good,
defining our terms- is this person my neighbour or not-
figuring out just what we have to do to inherit eternal life.
Despite all of our religious virtues and attitudes, we just can’t do it.
We’re helpless to be Good Samaritans on our own strength.
In other words,
we are the person in the ditch,
the one who lies helpless and wounded beside the road,
the one who needs to be rescued.
And along comes a Good Samaritan,
a Good Samaritan named Jesus –
despised and rejected-
who comes to save us,
speaks tenderly to us,
lifts us into his arms,
and takes us to the place of healing:
while we were still God's enemies,
God saw us in the ditch and had compassion,
and in Jesus, came to save us.
So, the question is not the lawyer's,
"What is the definition of 'neighbour'?"
The question is:
who has been a neighbour to us?

Jesus Christ has been a neighbour to us.
The crucified one has been a neighbour to us.
God made flesh -
God, who does   not pass us by...
and whose Spirit,
gives us the strength -
the beginnings of an understanding about compassion,
to go ...
and do likewise.

Let’s pray:
Compassionate God
We are too often afraid of being vulnerable
Of not being in control
Of not having power.
We thank you that in Jesus
definitions have been overturned...
And that the true transforming power is not about might and strength,
but about having the courage to be vulnerable.
We thank you that you chose not to pass us by and have brought us to the place of healing...
May we, in turn, not pass by others.
In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

2nd Sundays@Holy Trinity Chapel - 10 July: simple communion service

'2nd Sundays'@Holy Trinity Chapel Lamington

Summer evening services on the 2nd Sunday of the month are back once more, in the lovely surroundings of the historic 
Holy Trinity Chapel.
We meet again this Sunday at 6.30pm 
Come along for space, simplicity, and for sharing in the bread and wine of Communion...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Sermon, 3 July, Wk 5: Galatians series: 'Ordinary words, made extraoardinary'

The last in our Galatians series...

1st READING: Psalm 66:1-9; 16-20
2nd READING: Galatians chapter 6

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.

On Friday night, I had the immense privilege and pleasure
of going to an event in Biggar Municipal Hall – it was a concert of sorts.
A poetry concert called ‘Shore to Shore.’
The poets were:
Imtiaz Dhaker;
the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy;
the national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke;
and our own Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay –
seen in action yesterday at the Scottish Parliament.
It was a great evening, watching and listening to these amazing talents,
whose skill with words saw us, at different times, laugh out loud,
cause us to nod our heads in recognition of particular life experiences;
put fire in our political bellies;
and also...leave us sitting in stunned silence, our collective breath    
taken away by sheer artistry and skill.
All this, done by finding and gathering and placing words together:
rhythm and rhyme,
language and lyrics,
stories in sonnet form...
glittering, fragile jewels of words
taken and shaped and crafted into new creations.
Old words become new.
Ordinary words made extraordinary.

Over these last five weeks, we’ve worked our way through Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Beginning with a salutation – a ‘hello, it’s me, Paul’,
moving into a short blessing,
and then, wasting no time with small talk:
torrents of words scatter over the pages of Paul’s letter,
as he looses the cannons of his theological arguments upon the Galatians.
It’s a fierce fight for the truth of the gospel...
a fight against other words which had been portrayed as a gospel,
but which, rather than being new words of gospel liberation,
were old words,
dusted down and made to look new –
old words that reinforced old systems,
old hierarchies,
old burdens.
Old words that Paul is astonished and horrified that the Galatians have paid heed to.
And because they have listened, here, in his letter,
Paul gathers together all the old words...
and, through the lens of the Cross, takes them, shapes them,
transforms them into new words –
ordinary words, made extraordinary.
It is here, in these last stages of his letter to the Galatians,
that Paul particularly works on this theme of ordinary made extraordinary;
of a new creation.

But first, let’s have a brief recap of the letter:
Throughout the letter to these beloved people with whom he has shared the gospel,
Paul has woven his words together – has crafted them in order:
to encourage, to cajole,
to remind the young communities of faith of the power of the gospel
to change and to transform;
to create community even within, especially within, diversity;
to be liberated from the shackles of the law, so to demonstrate
new ways of being in the world.

Paul is gathering his words together,
forming them and shaping them
to tell his Galatian brothers and sisters in Christ
that to be in Christ is to be a new creation.
To be clothed in Christ is to put on love
and to  wear that love out into a world so much in need of God’s love.
To be in Christ is to demonstrate God’s love through spiritual fruit:
countering hate with love,
hopelessness with joy,
aggression with peace,
impatience with patience,
unkindness with acts of kindness,
evil with good,
loss of faith, with faithfulness,
hubris with humility,
and so on.
To be in Christ, is to be counter-cultural:
it’s a new way of being,
it’s a new way of doing.
It’s breaking the old patterns that have brought back-breaking burdens
causing misery and death...
and instead,
it brings new life,
it brings freedom,
it brings joy.

This is why, earlier in his letter, he’s so frustrated with the Galatians –
and more to the point, angry with the group
who have come along after him into the area,
and who’ve made additions to the gospel ...
who’ve stirred up divisions,
who’ve put conditions upon God’s love,
who’ve made burdens for the Galatians to toil under with all
the arguments about adopting Jewish ways –
and of requirements for males to be circumcised.
Paul reminds the Galatians that the gospel comes without any bolt-on extras,
he reminds them that they are one in Christ,
that the law is a thing of the past:
that the law is no longer -
that they are free from the burden of wondering if they’ll ever measure up.
He reminds the Galatians that old has gone;
all the countless ways of having to tick boxes have been swept away –
‘what counts is a new creation.’

Paul’s letter is written to show the Galatians God’s acceptance of them –
they are no longer strangers, but friends;
this, through the reconciling life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The letter continues by showing the Galatians God’s ongoing love
and continued acceptance of them;
of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit given to them, and in that act,
showing that they are brought into God’s family as sons and daughters;
Paul uses his words to tell them of faith that works within
the context of lives lived in love...
of faith that blossoms and grows fruit –
not just in their own lives,
but through them, fruit which changes the lives of those around them;
Paul reminds them of the freedom they’ve been given...
a freedom to serve others in and through the love of God.
Paul writes to remind the Galatians of the new thing God is doing in their lives:
‘With the new Spirit-given life of the Messiah, the old world has fallen away – 
has died on the Cross – and the new creation has been born.’  [Harkins, FOTW, 212]

The earlier part of the letter is Paul at the height of his theological powers of persuasion.
This latter part of his letter moves into the more practical day to day business
of living the Christian life, showing what life in the Spirit –
what life in, and as, a new creation looks like;
showing how Christians live together;
showing how, in Christ, divisions are healed and how followers of Christ
can be one without being clones.
And, Paul’s words are not just pertinent to the Galatians, they ring
just as true for Christians down the ages:
It was while reading Galatians that Martin Luther had his great spiritual awakening...
And it was while listening to a sermon, that John Wesley’s heart
was suddenly ‘strangely warmed’ –
he became acutely aware of the transformative power of God’s love in his own life;
understood in both head and heart that he was indeed a new creation
as the love of God flowed through him.

The whole framework of living in the new creation,
of living as a new creation, is one of love.
Prompted by God’s love, the practical aspect of living in love
is that we carry one another’s burdens.
We understand that love is to be shared –
understand that, in God’s new creation, we live within community...
for that is what it is to be the new creation that is the body of Christ.
Another practical aspect is avoiding comparisons –
‘I’m a better Christian than he or she is because I do x, y, or z.’
Or the alternative –
‘They do so much, that it makes me look pretty rubbish...’
Instead, we focus on God, living our lives for him –
producing fruit in the way God calls each one of us to, in our own particular way,
using our own particular gifts...
again, different, yet one in Christ.
In all things - with love as our measure, and our compass,
we ask ourselves the hard question as to our motivation for doing things –
why am I really doing this...?
is it the loving thing to do?
Is it of God?
Does it reflect the new creation?

And, living as a new creation in Christ,
living in the new creation,
so different to the old ways of doing things, is hard, according to Paul –
he talks of the potential for weariness, even while encouraging the Galatians to
‘not become weary in doing good,’ doing good ‘to all people’
both within and without the faith;
recognising that this is both our calling and our joy.

A wee note about the last section, as Paul begins to sign off. He says:
‘See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!’
Basically, Paul would dictate his letters to a willing scribe.
Here, however, he’s taken over:
he wants to add his own personal touch – while he’s frustrated with the Galatians,
he loves them enough not to be embarrassed by his poor hand...
and also, even in this, he is giving of himself to them –
they will hold the very words he himself has written.
 As to the ‘large letters’ he’s apparently making –
there are some scholars who speculate as to his eyesight: was he short-sighted?
Alternatively, back in the day, not everyone who read was necessarily able to write.
Perhaps Paul’s ‘large letters’ are a sign of an unpractised writing hand.

Paul’s own life is a witness to what he’s been writing to the Galatians about:
he himself has been changed completely – transformed:
the old Paul has gone...the persecutor and punisher of Christians;
the new Paul has come...the preacher and teacher, sharing the good news:
the good news of the power of God’s love
to take the old words of religion
and through Jesus the Word,
to shape them and transform them into new words:
ordinary words, made extraordinary...
life-giving words that have the power
to shape and transform us and those we encounter;
Love-giving words,
showing God’s new and living way,
words which herald in God’s kindom, both now, and for all eternity,
the God, in whom all our hope is founded.  Amen.