Monday, 31 October 2016

Reflection Zone: Exodus - standing on holy ground

This week take some time to stand on ‘Holy Ground’.  
Before moving into a time of reflection,
quite intentionally take your shoes off
and feel your feet on the floor.
Light a candle -
to represent the burning bush in front of you.
Kneel or sit down while focusing on the flame.
Allow the thoughts which float into your mind to float out again as you concentrate on the light.
Be aware of your breath
as you inhale and exhale.
In the silence, watching the flame flickering, imagine the words
‘I Am’ 
being said, with conviction, three times over:
‘I Am’… ‘I Am’… ‘I Am’…
Know that in this moment you are in the presence of God.
Every time your mind wanders imagine the words are repeated again.
‘I Am’… ‘I Am’… ‘I Am’… 
Continue with this reflection for around fifteen minutes.
Allow the God of the present moment to consciously remain with you
after you have reverently blown out the candle and put on your shoes.
You may choose to put your palms together in a prayer position
in front of your heart and bow your head in thanks
before leaving this ‘Holy Ground’.
‘I Am’… ‘I Am’… ‘I Am’…

[a reflection from 'Spill the Beans']

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sermon Sun 30 Oct: Wk9 'Freedom'...WMRBW

1st READING: Exodus 1:1-14
2nd READING: Exodus 2:1-25
3rd READING: Exodus 3:1-15

SERMON ‘Go down Moses’
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.

We’ve zoomed through the Book of Genesis:
explored the beginning of all things,
and met up with some folk on the way –
Noah, called by God to rescue animals,
and preserve that which was good about creation;
Abraham, called by God to travel in faith from his home in Haran, off to unknown territory...
Abraham whose descendants would be many.
We briefly met with Isaac, the much-looked for child of promise,
and discovered just what Abraham was prepared to give up to follow God.
Here we are now, in the Book of Exodus, in the land of Egypt,
and encountering those descendants of Abraham now living under the yoke of the Pharaoh –
slaves shoring up the economy of Egypt.
But how did we move from promise to imprisonment?

Let’s go back a little:
Abraham and Sarah eventually die, and the story continues with Isaac.
He eventually marries and has sons Esau and Jacob.
Jacob is a bit of a con-merchant, a shyster,
always on the lookout for ways of gaining an advantage.
He cheerfully cheats Esau out of his birthright, for the price of a plate of lentil stew.
Esau’s not the sharpest tool in the took-kit.
Later, Jacob manages to cheat Esau again, stealing the blessing intended for Esau,
and, in the process, quite happily deceiving his old dad, Isaac – who’s frail and nearly blind.
Naturally, the brothers fall out, there’s a rift, and then separation.
Eventually, after many years, there’s reconciliation.
But from this point, Esau’s effectively out of the picture.
Jacob marries, and has many sons and one younger son, especially, is his favourite –
and this favouritism causes a big stooshie:
big enough that Andrew Lloyd Webber saw fit to create a musical:
‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ 

The brothers get so annoyed with this wee brother, that they decide to kill him.
In the end, they decide to chuck him down a well, but traders happen to be passing,
so they sell him into slavery instead.
Lesson here: if you're a younger sib., don’t be annoying!
Joseph ends up in Egypt.
He gets a reputation for dream interpretation,
and, happily Pharaoh happens to be having some quite troubling dreams.
Joe helps out and is richly rewarded for his troubles, organises a plan for upcoming famine,
and, when it comes, manages to keep Egypt from going hungry.
His brothers are sent to Egypt to find food,
eventually reunite with Joseph, and all settle happily in Egypt, with the Pharaoh’s blessing.
And that’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of Exodus.

Years pass, and Joseph and his family prosper.
Generations come and go, the Hebrews have grown in number...
and Joseph’s story has been long-forgotten.
We find ourselves in a time where a new king is on the throne,
a new king who thinks something needs done about all these Hebrews living in Egypt...
a new king who creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust:
‘if war breaks out, they will join our enemies.’
Clearly, for the powers that be, these immigrants need controlled.
Some things don’t change...
And so, the Hebrews are forced to become slaves –
and the country prospers on the back of slave labour.
In the words of the old spiritual:
When Israel was in Egypt land
Let my people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go!

Yet in the midst of their oppression, the Hebrew population grows.
They are worked harder.
And then, a plan for gradual genocide is put into place:
kill off the male children, and you gradually kill off the race.
It is in this place and time, that a boy child is born –
but hidden, not killed.
Eventually the child is too hard to hide, and to give it at least some small chance of surviving,
the desperate plan is hatched to float him down the Nile in a water-proofed wicker basket.
Ironically, the child is rescued by the daughter of the very one seeking the destruction of the Hebrews: Pharaoh, and is raised as a prince in Egypt –
which Disney saw fit to create a movie – it’s great, I happily recommend it!
The child is named ‘Moses’.
As we discover, in the rest of our readings, this child has a destiny:
Go down Moses
Way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh to
Let my people go!
Moses is to liberate God’s people from slavery and oppression.

But there are a few twists and turns before that eventually happens.
The child, reared in the privilege and pleasure of the palace, becomes a man:
knowing of his Hebrew heritage, but having grown up, culturally, as an Egyptian.
He has a foot in both camps, if you like.
This changes.
One day, wishing to see where his own people were,
he watches an Egyptian beating one of the slaves.
He is moved to action, and kills the Egyptian.
He hopes nobody has seen.
His hopes are dashed and news gets around.
Mistrusted by the Hebrew slaves,
and having betrayed the Egyptians who raised him,
Moses now belongs in neither camp, and is forced to flee.
Eventually he marries, and settles down, and yet, never fully belongs:
his first child is named Gershom, which means ‘a stranger there’.
Years pass.
Pharaoh dies.
Moses tends his father in law’s flocks...
And then, one day a strange thing happens:
the God of the Hebrews is revealed to Moses –
he spies a bush, on fire, and yet, not burning up,
or, as our Church of Scotland motto notes:
‘it was not consumed’
An odd sight indeed, and Moses, being curious, daunders up to have a closer look.
Even stranger, a voice seems to be coming from the bush,
a voice that knows his name.
To demonstrate just who Moses is listening to,
the voice then instructs Moses to take off his shoes –
this is a gesture of humility:
Moses is told that he stands on holy ground,
and is being addressed by the god of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
So, here we have the man who at one time felt he belonged to both Hebrew and Egyptian cultures;
the one who was later alienated from both,
now being shown where he truly belonged - where his true identity lay,
by the God of Abraham.
And, with that revelation of belonging comes a task:
God says:
‘I have heard my people cry... 
I have come to rescue them...and... 
I am sending you to do it.’
You can picture Moses standing, or possibly prostrating himself, listening to God saying:
‘I this’
and ‘I... that...’
and even, possibly nodding along thinking:
‘Good stuff, good on you, God.’
So, it’s got to be bit of a jolt when God talks of liberation
and then says Moses is the man for the job.
What then follows is an awesome list of reasons given by Moses as to why
this plan of God’s is a very bad idea.

Excuse one: the humble bumble –
‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh...?’
Who is Moses to do this???
Well, he's a former high-ranking member of the royal family.
Who else could do this?
So, that excuse won’t wash.

Excuse two: the need for I.D. papers.
Essentially, after the ‘who am I’ fails,
Moses says ‘who are you?’ to God,
asking for God’s name on the basis that the Hebrews won’t believe him
unless he gives them the name of God.
But God won’t, can’t, be boxed in by a name.
Instead he says
‘Tell them, ‘I AM has sent me.’
Otherwise translated:
‘I will be what I will be’
You can’t pin God down.

Beyond our readings for today, the excuses continue.
And each time Moses makes one,
God rebuts.
Says Moses: ‘What if they don’t believe me?’
God responds: ‘Show them this sign, and then this one.’
Says Moses: ‘But I’m not particularly eloquent – and, I stammer.’
God responds: ‘I’ll help you speak.’
Says Moses: ‘Please send someone else.’
God responds: ‘aaaaaargh... okay, your brother Aaron is on his way to meet you.’

This story, of the calling of Moses, stands in stark contrast to the call of Abram.
Abram, without any lengthy havering, packs up his family and worldly goods, and sets off.
Moses, on the other hand, is desperate to run swiftly in the opposite direction.
And you can’t really blame him: the task he’s given is pretty overwhelming.
Basically he’s to: ‘tell ole Pharaoh ‘let my people go!’
Moses is asked to go before the seat of great power and to challenge that power:
to decry the abuses of slavery and oppression in Egypt,
right there in the very court of Pharaoh.
To place himself in great danger.
And, to do so, for a people who may, or may not, throw in their lot with him.
He’s seen by one side as a traitor, and by the other, as a colluder in oppression.
The job isn’t going to be much fun.
Go down Moses
Way down in Egypt land
Tell old Pharaoh to
Let my people go!
Eventually, he agrees, heads back down to Egypt, encounters the hard-hearted Pharaoh,
God brings a host of plagues upon the land, and finally, finally, liberates the Hebrews.
They head out from Egypt and on, in time, to the Promised Land.

Throughout the bible, there are many stories of God calling people
out of their everyday lives, to follow in faith.
Some go willingly,
others, like Moses, go much more reluctantly.
Moses, and later, the prophets, and much later, Jesus,
are given the task of speaking up –
of challenging institutional power:
power that has been gained, and maintained at the cost of others lives.
We find, in the story of Moses, that God is on the side of the powerless –
seeking to liberate the captives.
Hundreds of years later, a young rabbi, at the beginning of his ministry,
will stand in a local synagogue and read the words from the prophet Isaiah:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
because he has anointed me to bring 
good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 
And, having read it, this young rabbi will say:
‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
That same young rabbi will challenge authority, to tell those in power to
‘Let my people go!’
To demonstrate, in word and in deed, what the kindom of heaven on earth would look like;
to show the people of God that they are called to speak truth to power,
to tell those who are modern-day Pharaohs to ‘let my people go!’
...As God's people, each one of us is called by God to share the good news that liberates -
that liberates all who are bowed down,
all who are held captive in whatever way;
to proclaim God’s love to those who are powerless, those who are vulnerable.
How will we respond to God’s call?

Let’s pray:
In the wilderness of life we find holiness. 
In the wilderness of our hearts we seek godliness. 
In the empty places, and the busy places: 
God is...
God will be who God will be.
As we seek, we find unexpected blessings, unanticipated presence, 
for where we go God is with us: 
faithful companion
as we travel along the road of faith...Amen.
                                               [prayer adapted from Spill the Beans]

...and a wee soundtrack to the sermon...

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Contacts, information, events...

The minister will be on leave from: 
late afternoon of 16 October and will be back on Fri 28 October

Pulpit supply and funeral cover: 

Sunday 23 October: we welcome the Rev. Linda Walker, Education, Mission and Discipleship Development Officer for Hamilton Presbytery

Funeral cover: will be provided by the Rev George Shand who can be contacted on 01899 309400.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact Jenny Worthington on 01899 850274

News, events, and general notices:

Wednesday 19 October, 12.30pm: Lunch Club will be held in the Church Hall. All welcome! Soup, sweet, tea/coffee, good conversation. Cost £5. Please let Jenny Worthington know by Mon evening if you'd like to come along.

Sunday 23 October, evening worship: 6.30pm at Wanlockhead Community Centre. Join us for this all-age friendly, informal service. Tea/coffee and a chance to catch up with folk after worship. All welcome.

Readers wanted for Remembrance Sunday service: if you would be willing to read poems/ extracts provided by the minister for this special service of Remembrance, please get in touch with her.

Sermon Sun 16 Oct Wk7: 'Never too late'...WMRBW

1st READING: Genesis 18:1-15; 22:1-14  
2nd READING: Micah 6:6-8

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.

We know the beginnings of this story:
Abram and his family live settled, comfortable lives in the great city-state of Ur.
At some point, the patriarch of the family, Terah, decides to move his clan –
to travel to Canaan.
They get as far as Haran, and, either tired of travelling, or liking what he sees,
Terah settles his family there. They prosper at this place that seems to be
a trading and travelling crossroads.

Year follows year, and, as is the way of things,
Terah dies – the older generation has now passed away,
and we meet Abram, at a crossroads in his own life.
Settled, and comfortable, he’s called by God to leave Haran and travel into the unknown –
to move out from his place of comfort and trust in God’s promise of
a new future,
a new and great destiny,
a new beginning – starting with the promise of a child.
Obediently, he complies, taking wife, nephew, slaves
and his great riches along for the journey.
As he travels, his wealth increases.
Years pass.
Many years.
He and wife Sarai are growing old, and wondering just when the promise of
a child might be fulfilled.

Still more years pass.
He and his company have many adventures, some good, some less so.
Sometimes his actions are a little less than heroic.
Nevertheless, flawed human that he is, in faith, he continues to follow God.
And this morning, in our first reading, we find Abram,
now called ‘Abraham’, encamped at a place called Mamre by ‘great’ trees.
It    is   hot.
Unbelievably hot.
He sits by the entrance of his tent, not doing very much.
As he sits, he’s suddenly aware of three strangers nearby – they just seem to be there.
Perhaps he’s nodded off and not noticed their approach, but now, he’s very alert.
In the energy-sapping heat of the day, Abraham’s all action:
he rushes over to the three,
meets them, and in the gesture of a servant, in humility, he bows deeply before them.

Now, hospitality was a sacred act in those days,
and Abraham’s very much following the custom:
‘Don’t pass by, come wash your dusty, weary feet;
come and rest awhile, 
come eat and be refreshed.’
And so, the strangers agree.
Given Abraham is a wealthy man, with many servants,
it’s interesting just how hands-on he is in ensuring that his guests are comfortable...
and it’s no quick cup of tea and a garibaldi:
preparations are set in place and the meal will take time – bread needs baked,
and, when the most tender calf has been chosen, it needs time for cooking.
Once the meal is ready, again, Abraham accords them honour:
they sit and eat, he stands, as a servant would.
Does he know that there’s something more to these strangers than might appear?
Or, perhaps he’s just an excellent host.
And, now, as they eat, they talk, and it’s a curious conversation indeed:
they seem to know quite a lot about Abraham and Sarah.
In the course of the conversation, with Sarah quietly eavesdropping and hidden from view,
one of the strangers reveals that the longed-for child will be born over the coming year.
Now remember, she’s been waiting awffy long, has our Sarah.
She’s feeling her advanced years.
She’s possibly just quietly written off this particular promise...
You can forgive her for basically bursting out laughing and saying ‘aye, right.’
But the stranger then says, rather pointedly, to Abraham,
‘Why did she laugh? Is anything too hard for the Lord?’
And now she’s afraid – she’s been caught out.
She’s not sure who these strangers are, but...they’re not your everyday visitors.
And, in the midst of this visit, Abraham and Sarah realise that somehow, in these strangers,
God is in their midst...

A year passes.
The longed-for child arrives and is named ‘Isaac’ – meaning ‘he laughs.’
If the previous laughter had been disbelief, here is joy at last.
The child grows and flourishes and is very much loved –
more precious than all their riches.
And here, the story should end, happily...
but it doesn’t.
We move to a hard and horrifying chapter in the story.
Once again, God speaks to Abraham – but no words of promise or destiny here;
in fact, almost the opposite.
‘Go, take your son, whom you love, sacrifice him as a burnt offering.’
It’s like a great big divine punch in the gut.
You can almost see the light going from Abraham’s eyes,
as his son, and the promise of numerous descendants,
appear to be snatched away from him.
And Abraham, obedient even in this, sets out the next morning
to do this most terrible of all biddings.
It is not a short journey.
Hour after unremitting hour,
day after day, after day, they travel on.
How heavy the feet of Abraham drag along the stony path, how heavy his heart?
Although obedient, is there somewhere deep inside of Abraham that’s
crying out to God and asking:
‘Why this, of all things?’
Still he travels on, and finally arrives, walking up the mountain-side
with the source of so much happiness, his beloved child.
‘Where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?’ says Isaac.
‘God will provide it’, says Abraham, not wanting to frighten the boy.
As the tension builds, an altar is built...
final preparations are made,
the knife appears...
And then, a messenger from God intervenes:
‘no,     don’t     do it!’
In the horror of it all, Abraham looks up, sees a ram, takes it, and sacrifices it.
The Lord has provided....

What the heck do we do with this story?
What on earth is God doing?
Why on earth doesn’t Abraham stop for even a moment and go:
‘What? Are you kidding me, God?’
What kind of emotional and psychological scars does Isaac bear after this?
How could he ever trust his father again, I wonder?

The biblical scholar, Phyllis Tribble calls this kind of bible passage a ‘text of terror.’ 
And she’s right.
This particular text makes our blood run cold, makes us ask:
‘Why, God? Why?’
There are no fluffy, rainbow unicorns here,
only agony and awfulness and so many hard questions.
Where can we find ‘good news’ in this Abrahamic episode?
How do we reconcile this seemingly violent God
with our understanding of the God who is love?

There are no easy answers here, but I'll do my best to try and unpack this.
Abraham lives in a violent world – perhaps this is why hospitality is such a sacred act:
a pact that, in protecting and caring for the other,
at some point, you, too will be protected and cared for.
It's a way of stemming the violence, even if only for a short while.
Abraham is surrounded by a variety of different cultures,
with different customs, and different gods.
What links these cultures is that the various gods seem to require blood,
and the practice of child sacrifice is widespread.
So, when God speaks to Abraham,
while it’s an horrific request, perhaps he’s not so surprised:
this is what gods require,
this is what they ask.
And, falling into the prevailing cultural mindset,
he heads off to do that which seems to be required.
It’s the only explanation that I can come up with, when it comes to his compliance,
because, it’s curious to me that, in other circumstances,
he’s quite happy to challenge God about things –
to even barter with God to spare the lives of people.
But here, when God asks him to sacrifice his child, he’s utterly schtum;
meekly and uncomplainingly, he gets on with it.

This passage is often referred to as ‘the testing of Abraham’.
And down through the centuries, Abraham is lauded for his heroic and sacrificial faith,
is seen to have passed the test with flying colours...
but, I wonder: did he?
In contrast with those other gods, the God who calls Abraham is
not some deity made of wood or stone - this god is quite different.
Perhaps the test is not so much about child sacrifice and of a bloodthirsty god...
perhaps this test is the opposite:
God doing something completely counter-cultural and, in a hard lesson,
teaching Abraham that what’s required is to be counter-cultural.
Perhaps the test is one about breaking the cycle of violence –
of stopping the practice of child sacrifice?
But, perhaps there’s more to it, as well:
perhaps this test is one to show Abraham how to live sacrificially:
in a world of injustice and corruption,
in a world of callous indifference and casual cruelty,
in a world of ‘me first’ and self-aggrandisement...
to live in such a way that the prevailing culture is challenged,
or, in the words of the prophet Micah – as you live your life, you purposefully choose
‘to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.’
Perhaps this is another lesson about choices and trusting God –
just as long before there was that first lesson about choice
and trusting God, way back in the Garden.

Just as Abraham lived in a world of violence, so, it seems
as we listen to the news, do we.
A world in which
wars, atrocities, unspeakable violence still happen;
a world in which words are used as battering rams in political discourse;
and the scapegoating of those deemed to be ‘not like us’ continues;
a world in which, in a different way, child sacrifice still happens –
for children are the flotsam and jetsam found lying dead on Greek beaches,
or found wounded in the streets of Aleppo...

Choices are made every day:
to hate, to harm, to kill ...
to tear down, to destroy human beings who are created in the image of God.
We could choose to make such choices:
to care only for ourselves,
to seek power and wealth at the expense of others,
to bring folk down,
to refuse to question power’s demands.
Or, we can hold on to the wild, counter-cultural thought that,
even in the midst of horror, there is always hope:
and that, as we choose to love, to create,
to welcome the stranger and to share our food,
as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,
so God will provide a way out of the prevailing culture of horror;
and replace songs of mourning with life-affirming sounds of laughter.

Perhaps this part of Abraham’s story teaches us
that it’s never too late to trust in God, and to choose a different way –
the way of life in all its fullness,
and, in the face of evil, to continue, in faith, to affirm God’s goodness...
To his name, be all glory, honour and praise. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Wordworks: writing group meet up


The writing group meets 
Thursday 13 October... 
7pm, at the Colebrooke Arms.

All welcome. See you there!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Sermon, Sun 9 Oct, wk6: 'Faith'... WMRBW

1st READING: Genesis 12: 1-9
2nd READING: Genesis 15

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.

Out of interest, a quick straw poll:
hands up if you’ve seen ‘The Sound of Music’?
Most of you...
If you can remember...
cast your mind back to the very, very beginning –
the opening sequence of the film...
Imagine the lights have all dimmed, you’ve got your popcorn,
or chocolate, or ice cream at the ready, and you’re nicely settled in...
The scene opens – and you’re flying high, high in the sky –
as if on wings of an eagle you swoop among the clouds.
Great mountains – the Alps - come into view,
in the background, flutes mimic the breeze,
there’s the sound of subdued horns playing,
and somewhere, a church bell rings...
you’re moving faster now as the music begins to build,
and as you look down, through the clearing clouds,
a green meadow on a hilltop...
and a tiny, tiny figure.
The camera moves from the vast cinemascope of alps
and zooms in at speed, on the figure –
da...da... da... daaaaah...
and, as she comes into close range,
the music breaks over you:
the woman spins around, dramatically bursting into song:
‘the hills are alive...’
and ‘bang’, there you are – right into the film.

It’s possibly one of the most extraordinary openings to a movie –
and yes, it is one of my favourite movies.
But that opening sequence – from vast, amazing panoramic view,
to sudden focus upon an individual...
is, in a sense, what’s happening here in the Book of Genesis...
although... without the flutes and brass and Julie Andrews bursting into song.

For the first 11 chapters of Genesis,
it’s as if the set in this particular drama is the entire world
and the action itself is huge in scope, exploring big themes:
the great stories of creation,
the not quite so great stories of humans messing up –
stories of violence and corruption and rebellion.
There’s destruction on a global scale by flood –
this, as an attempt by God to try and start afresh,
to wash all the muck and mess away.
But then, it’s followed by a rainbow promise that,
no matter how badly humans mess up,
such great devastation will not happen again.
But – even despite the flood,
despite the new start,
the old pattern comes back:
immediately following the flood story, humans manage to mess up yet again –
and we have a story of human pride, seen in the building of the tower of Babel,
resulting in the scattering of human beings around the world,
and the fracturing of common language into many languages –
from Babel, we get ‘babble’.
So, here we’ve had big, broad, brushstrokes of stories –
stories which, while differing in details, all follow a pattern:
God creates,
humans mess up.

But then, in Genesis, chapter 12, the focus begins to change:
from looking at the wider world,
the camera zooms in...picking out an individual –
and now, Abram, and his family are in close view.
It’s as if God decides upon a different course of action:
‘if punishing all the earth was an ineffective means of dealing with sin, 
perhaps establishing a relationship with one individual would work.’ 
                                                      [Mark Throntveit, Working Preacher] 
Moving from general, to specific,
God takes this particular individual and his wife,
and chooses to work through them –
to call them,
to bless them,
and, in so doing,
through them,      
to bless others.
Through choosing Abram, God begins the work of building, once more:
building a relationship with all human beings.
God begins the work of reconciliation:
‘This quest for relationship is the purpose that drives God's choice, 
God has called Abram into service, and he will become the means 
by which God's ultimate purpose for the salvation of all will be realized.’ [Throntveit]

But just who is this Abram, the main protagonist of our story?
What do we know of him?
Well, we get a little background in chapter 11:
he’s the son of a chap called Terah.
And, tracing his roots, if I have my sums right,
Abram’s about tenth down the line from Noah.
There are also a couple of brothers.
Originally, they were all living in a place called Ur – an early, and great city-state.
There’s a couple of schools of thought on where that might have been:
southern Turkey has a claim,
but it’s also possible that it may have been to the south of Iraq.

Anyway, at some point, Terah decides he wants to head off, to travel to Canaan.
The family never actually get there;
instead, they cheerfully settle at a place named Haran.
Things seemingly work out well for family seem to prosper.
Eventually, Terah dies at the end of chapter 11.
And, here, at the beginning of chapter 12,
God has already called Abram,
asking him to leave his country,
his people,
and his father’s household –
basically, to leave the comforts of home, and everything he’d ever known,
and head off to an unknown destination.
‘Go’ says God...
and then several promises follow this request to leave:
‘‘I will make you a great nation...’
‘I will bless you...’
‘I will make your name great...’
‘all people on earth will be blessed through you.’

Now, if this were actually a Hollywood film,
the next bit of the story would probably have been portrayed
quite a bit more dramatically –
perhaps flashing lights,
great choirs of angels singing,
and Abram falling to his feet, making some memorable speech.
But this isn’t the movies and none of that happens.
God makes the request, and in the very next sentence, we hear:
‘so Abram left, as the Lord told him.’
But he doesn’t go alone:
his nephew Lot heads off with him, as does his wife Sarai.
And he doesn’t go away empty-handed:
the family’s done well for itself –
and Abram’s not leaving without all the possessions –
and the people that they’d acquired while living in Haran.
It’s quite a substantial company,
with quite substantial goods.

Again, if this were a movie,
surely there’d be dramatic depictions of this first part of the journey,
and of adventures on the way.
But no.
Simply, ‘they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.’
Abram then starts exploring the land,
checking it out, from north to south,
building the occasional altar on the way.
And, at the end of our reading in chapter 12,
he’s way down south, and will move into Egypt due to a famine.
Over the next few chapters he manages to increase his wealth –
a way of symbolising God’s blessing –
has a run in with the Pharaoh and is ordered to leave;
heads back up to what will become known as the Promised Land;
parts company with Lot, then rescues him when he’s taken captive;
and continues to increase his wealth along the way.
That’s the whistle-stop tour until we finally arrive at chapter 15.

From the original call and promise –
including that of becoming a great nation –
many, many years have passed.
Abram and Sarai have continued to follow God –
sometimes brilliantly well,
sometimes less well...
They’ve been faithful.
And they’ve waited a long time for some sign
of that bit about becoming a great nation...
there’s been a suspicious lack of the sound of the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
At the beginning of chapter 15, Abram is told by God, that God is his great reward.
And, in response, Abram virtually says to God:
‘that’s all very well...but what’s the point? Where are the offspring?’
Sure, he’s become a hugely wealthy man,
but has it, and the decision to follow this God,
been worth it when, in the end, it’ll be his servant who’ll end up inheriting?
Abram, who has taken such a great step of faith,
who has taken God at God’s word and followed the call
over many adventures, and many years... Abram’s needing a little reassurance.
Moving Abram out from his tent,
the vast night sky, filled with countless stars, is shown to him.
‘Look at that – count the stars, if you can –
your offspring will be as numerous as the stars.’
And Abram’s faith is restored – and possibly not just on that particular night.
The stars were there, always a reminder of the promise.
It would happen.
And the years to the final fulfilment of that promise stretched out to another 14, at least.

We’ll hear more of Abram next week,
Abram, who will later be renamed ‘Abraham’,
meaning ‘ancestor of many nations’.
Meantime, what do we learn here about God:
of God’s relationship with human beings,
and of our relationship with God as we journey in faith?
God  doesn’t give up.
Despite the initial break in the relationship way back in the Garden,
despite the widening of the relationship gap by human beings...
God doesn’t give up on wanting to be in relationship with us.
And tries again and again and again...
until, a change in the way of seeing things
moves God to focus in on the particular...
to begin building a relationship with human beings on
a one on one basis, starting with Abram.
To begin with a call to follow, to trust...
and to be met with a response:
a willingness to see what might happen.
To begin by sharing a blessing with one but not hoarding the blessing –
for the one blessed becomes an agent of blessing...
until all human beings are blessed...
To change from working on a broad canvass and working in,
to working on a smaller frame and working out.

We glimpse the grace and the generosity of God:
the promise is given to Abram before he even does anything...
and the promise is for all,
not to be jealously guarded,
not to be locked away and used only for some...
God is gloriously, generously profligate – everyone gets a share of the blessing...
God doesn’t give up –
even when we mess up.
God longs for us to respond to that call to come back –
to be in relationship with him –
to walk with him wherever he takes us.

As we hear again the story of Abram,
we’re reminded that we, too, are part of the story:
for we are the inheritors of the promise.
Here and now, we’re a part of the great ongoing story of God’s people –
a called people:
called to journey in faith;
called to struggle to believe in a world of doubt and cynicism;
called to make a path of love in a world of hate;
called to walk the way of peace in a world of violence;
called to offer hope in a world of despair.
And whether we succeed or fail, ...
in faith, we can take heart.
The writer, Max Lucado says that:                        
‘Faith is the conviction that God knows more 
than we do about this life and he will get us through it.’

Abram lived his whole life journeying in faith –
he saw glimpses of the promise,
but the promise was grand in scale,
and meant for much longer than merely his own lifetime.
And there’s the nub of it:
nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense
in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore, we are saved by love...

In faith, we take heart –
because the God who created the world out of nothing
and raised Jesus Christ from the dead
will not give up on us,
has not given up on us,
and will work through us for the life and well-being of this world.
We share in God’s blessing to be a blessing.

Let’s pray:
Journeying God,
May our faith be a little more wild,
and a little less guarded.
May we wonder a little more,
and fear a little less.
May we dip more than a toe
in the great sea of faith.
And, when we reach out to hold something,
may we find you already holding us.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Harvest 2016 - more pics

A wee sample of some of our
Harvest Thanksgiving
happenings on Sunday...

(Some great pics of the kids, but in keeping with good Safeguarding practice, these won't go up until I have parental permission to do so...) 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Sunday 2 October: of herds and harvests

A glorious day to celebrate our Harvest Thanksgiving!  

 Great fun, with some special 4-legged visitors, helping to spread
the word about Send a Cow, a great project set up by UK farmers
to help farmers in seven African countries.

We've been thinking about cows
and Send a Cow in our school assemblies and all five schools have been awesomely creative -
making the cows that came to visit us this morning.
Along with making cows, the children had also gathered together
a good sized mound of dried and tinned goods for us to take to the local food bank.
Well done, our five schools and thanks for all your hard work and generosity.

During worship, I shared a variation on an old story called
'Stone Soup':

Let me tell you an old, old story...
Once upon a time, a long time ago three friends were travelling
through a strange land.
After long days of travelling, they had used up all their resources.
As they walked along a muddy lane, they talked:
‘Ahhh, how I would love a good dinner tonight’ said one.
‘Yes, and a bed to sleep in,’ said the second.
‘Hmmm, but all that is impossible,’ said the third...
‘We must keep moving on.’

Not long after they’d said this, the lane swung round, near the top of a hill.
Before them, a little way on, in plain view, was a small village.
Their eyes brightened at the thought of possible food and rest from kindly villagers.
‘Maybe we’ll find some food here,’ said the first.
‘And a barn to sleep in,’ said the second.
‘No harm in asking,’ said the third.

Now the people of that place were fearful of strangers.
They had seen the travellers as they’d come ‘round the corner by the top of the hill.
When they saw that the strangers were heading for their village
each villager hurried to hide any food.
Sacks of barley were quietly hidden under the hay at the back of barns.
Buckets of milk were lowered down the wells.
Old quilts were spread over the carrot bins.
They hid cabbages and potatoes under their beds,
and hung their meat in their cellars and carefully covered the hatch with a rug.
By the time the travellers had arrived in the village,
every morsel of food had been safely hidden.

Door to door went the three friends, asking each villager for a bit of food,
but everywhere, they found the same answer:
‘I would love to share, I truly would, but I don’t have enough food even for myself.’
Every door they knocked on, they were met with sighs,
and attempts at hungry looks, and
‘No’ after ‘no, after ‘no’.
When they asked if there might be lodgings –
or even a spare corner of a barn to kip in -
they were told that all the beds were full,
and that there was not even space in their barns.

The friends found themselves
with nowhere to stay,
and nothing to eat.
All they had was their wits.
They looked at each other, and quietly smiled.
Then, walking to the middle of the village square,
in full view of the villagers, the first of the friends called out:
‘Good people! We are three hungry travellers,
traveling in a strange land. We have come to your village
and you, too, are hungry –
for we have asked you for food, and you have none.
Well then, let us make food for you: we shall have to make stone soup!’
The villagers looked confused.
The traveller continued:
‘Have you not tried stone soup before? It’s simply delicious?’
The villagers all shook their heads.
But they were willing to try some of this strange soup – and, learn how to make it.

Clapping his hands together, the first traveller said:
'Now then, we’ll need a large iron pot,'
The villagers brought the largest pot they could find. How else to cook enough?
'That's none too large,' said the three friends,
'But... it will do. And now, water to fill it and a fire to heat it.'
It took many buckets of water to fill the pot.
A fire was built on the village square and the pot was set to boil.

'And now, we’ll be needing one of these...’ said the first traveller.
and with that, he pulled out from under his coat a round, carefully wrapped bundle.
The villagers watched, as he gently unwrapped it.
A large, smooth grey stone emerged from the cloth.
The villagers’ eyes grew round as they watched
the traveller drop the stone into the pot, and lick his lips.

'Any soup needs salt and pepper,' said the second of the friends, as he began to stir.
Children ran to fetch salt and pepper.
'Stones like these generally make good soup.' said the second traveller,
‘But ahh, if there were carrots, it would be much better.'
'Why, I think I have a carrot or two,' said a villager, and, running off,
she quickly reappeared with her apron fill of carrots from the bin beneath her red quilt.

'A good stone soup should have cabbage,'said the third traveller
as he sliced the carrots into the pot.
'But no use asking for what you don't have.'
'I...  I think I could find a cabbage somewhere,' said another villager,
and she hurried home.
Back she came with three cabbages from the cupboard under the bed.
The first traveller looked up from the simmering soup:
'If we only had a bit of beef and a few potatoes, this soup would be
good enough for a rich man's table'
The villagers thought that over.
They remembered their potatoes and the sides of beef hanging in the cellars.
They ran to fetch them.
A rich man's soup – and all from a stone.
It seemed like magic!

'Ah,' sighed the third friend, as he stirred in the beef and potatoes,
'if we only had a little barley and a cup of milk!
This would be fit for the king himself.
Indeed, he asked for just such a soup when last he dined with us.'
The villagers looked at each other.
The travellers had entertained the king!
'But – no use asking for what you don’t have,' the third traveller sighed.
The villagers brought their barley from the lofts,
they brought their milk from the wells.
The travellers stirred the barley and milk nto the steaming broth
while the villagers stared.

At last the soup was ready.
'All of you shall taste,' the three friends said.
'But first a table must be set.'
Great tables were placed in the square.
And all around were lighted torches.
Such a soup!
How good it smelled!
Truly, fit for a king.
But then, the villagers asked themselves,
'Would not such a soup require bread – and a roast – and... cider?'
Soon a banquet was spread and everyone sat down to eat.
Never had there been such a feast.
Never had the villagers tasted such soup.
And fancy... made from a stone!

They ate and drank and ate and drank.
And after that, they danced.
They danced and sang far into the night.
At last they were tired.
Then the three friends asked:
'Is there not a barn where we could sleep?'
'Let three such wise and splendid gentlemen sleep in a barn?
Indeed not! They must have the best beds in the village.'
So the first friend slept in the teacher’s house.
The second friend slept in the banker’s house.
And the third friend slept in the mayor’s house.

In the morning, the three friends awoke, gathered their
few possessions, and met in the square.
The once fearful-of-strangers villagers gathered around them.
‘Won’t you stay a little longer?’ they asked.
The first of the travellers smiled at them,
and gently took a familiarly wrapped bundle out from his coat.
The stone.
‘This is for you’ he said,
‘But it will only work if you all cook together
and if everyone brings something to the feast.’

The villagers, now fully understanding what the three friends had done,
nodded, and smiled at them warmly.
'Many thanks for what you have taught us,' said the mayor, shaking their hands:
'We shall never go hungry, nor shall we be lonely, or afraid,
now that we know how to make soup from a stone.'

Having said their goodbyes, the travellers moved on from the village.
About a mile down the road, they stopped as they spotted a smooth, grey stone.
Looking at the others, the first of the friends picked up the stone,
found some cloth, and gently wrapped it, then tucked it under his jacket.
‘Just in case,’ he said, grinning...

From our reading in Second Corinthians:
‘Each should give what they have decided in their heart to give – 
not reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
so that in all times, having all that you need, 
you will abound in every good work...
Now God who supplies seed to the sower
and bread for food will also supply and increase
your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of righteousness.
You will be made rich in every way 
so that you can be generous on every occasion...
your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.’

Amen, and thanks be to God for his generous providing.