Monday, 14 November 2016

Contacts, information, events...

The minister will be on leave from: 
Mon 14 November to Mon 21 Nov.

Pulpit supply and funeral cover: 

Sunday 20 November: 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 Moira White on 01659 74621

News, events, and general notices:

Wednesday 16 November, 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.

Saturday 19 November, 10.30am: Annual Guild Morning Tea. This will be held in the Roberton Village Hall. Home baking, craft stall, tombola, and morning teas... come along and bring a friend!

Sunday 20 November, after morning worship: 
   Advent/Christmas edition of the Parish Magazine has now been produced and is available today.
   Dee Yates [editor] is looking for volunteers to help with distribution around the villages as per the
   previous editions. Many hands makes light work!! Thanks for helping.
   Advent Calendars:  There’ll be an opportunity to buy some Advent calendars after worship –
   not just any Advent calendars, but containing fairly traded chocolate. The calendar itself tells
   the real story of Christmas. If you’re looking for a small treat for a young person you know –
   or, for yourself – make sure to pick one up. Cost £4, with all proceeds going into church funds.

Thursday 24 November, 7pm: Upper Clyde Kirk Session meets in the Church Hall.

Saturday 26 November, 12-3pm: Advent mini-retreat: 'What are you waiting for?' 
Advent is the waiting time; the weeks leading up to the birth of Jesus.
As we head into what can be a busy [and stressful] time, this short Advent retreat provides an opportunity to catch your breath, and take time to prepare mentally and spiritually for the
coming of the Christ-child. We start with a simple lunch: soup, a roll, and a cuppa, and then
move into a more reflective space...Why not join us?
For catering purposes, please let Nikki know by the evening of Thurs 24 Nov. [t. 01864 502139]

Sunday 27 November, evening worship: 6.30pm at Leadhills Village Hall. Join us for this all-age friendly, informal service. Tea/coffee and a chance to catch up with folk after worship. All welcome.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Sermon, Sun 13 Nov: Remembrance Sunday 2016

Ephesians 6:10-18 and Matthew 5: 43-48

[all turn to post-sermon hymn #710: '"I have a dream," a man once said']

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.

‘I have a dream’, a man once said, 
‘where all is perfect peace; 
where men and women, black and white, 
stand hand in hand, and all unite 
in freedom and in love.

Wondering if human beings could ever be a people who could truly live in harmony,
whether human beings could truly put aside their differences and love those who were enemies,
hymn-writer Pamela Pettit wrote the hymn that we’ve just turned to.
While specifically referencing the great speech given by Martin Luther King,
there’s a timeless quality, too, about the words Pettit wrote.
Although war and conflict seem to have been the default way of being
in the world for millennia, yet, alongside that view,
there have been those who dared to look for other ways to be:
those who have dared to dream of peace.
In 1914, when war broke out, it was optimistically bandied about
that this would be ‘the war to end all wars.’
That was the dream being sold: peace.
Was it possible to live in peace, to 'stand hand and hand'
and live 'in freedom and in love'?
Could living without war be something worth fighting for?
And, on a global scale, people responded to the call
to see an end to war.

It was the age of new empires –
French was spoken in Polynesia and the Congo,
German, in West Africa and Samoa
Britannia ruled the waves and the map was covered with
a pleasing amount of pink –
well, pleasing if you were a part of the British Empire, at any rate.
Alliances were made, and the empires jostled for power.
Each of the powers vied to demonstrate their superiority over others:
culturally, economically, militarily...
Each wanting to make their nation great,
pointing fingers at those who were different and saying:
‘we are better than you’,
‘we are more civilised than you’,
‘we are stronger than you.’
Each working for their own interest.
When the klaxons sounded, and war began,
on a global scale, people responded to the call
to show up the other nations;
to show to these others,
just how much better, more virtuous, more entitled
their own particular nation was to take, or to hold on to, power.

But in this world of bitter strife
the dream can often fade;
reality seems dark as night,
we catch but glimpses of the light
Christ sheds on humankind...
It was a time of innocence, and a time of cynicism.
For those many individuals who responded to the call –
whether out of a sense of duty, patriotism, or a sense of adventure,
there were those buoyed up by the thought of tidy profit:
corporations and shareholders quietly rubbing their hands
in anticipation of growing fat on the proceeds of death.
War is a strange business,
but a business, nevertheless.

Whatever the many reasons that propelled nations to sound the guns in 1914,
by 1916, the war is bogged down – literally, and strategically.
Since February, a long and terrible battle has raged at Verdun.
The French Army is pinned down by a sustained and strong German assault.
Meeting with allies, it’s decided that the British
will launch an offensive to the north near the River Somme,
to relieve the pressure on the French.
Along an 11-and-a-half-mile section of the Front,
18 Divisions of the British Army prepare for battle.
For the most part, they are young volunteers from every corner of the Empire,
with little experience of combat.
Across the field, the Germans know that a large-scale attack is imminent.
Lieutenant Frederick Bursey, of the Royal Field Artillery, writes in his journal, on June 23:
‘The Huns put up a board yesterday in their front line trenches and on it 
was pinned a paper with the following: 
“We know you are going to attack. 
Kitchener is done, Asquith is done. 
You are done. We are done. 
In fact we are all done.”’ 

After a long week of constant preparatory bombardment on the Germans,
the whistle sounds on the first of July, and all those fighting on the British side,
including Irish, Newfoundlanders, South Africans and Indians,
go ‘over the top’ of the trenches and into a hail of bullets and barbed wire.
It is utter carnage
and at least one man dies every 5 seconds.
By the end of this first day, 57 470 British casualties are reported, including 19 240 deaths:
15% of all British losses over the course of the entire war.
Private Frank Lindley, of the 14th York and Lancaster Regiment would later recall that day:
‘You could hear the bullets whistling past and our lads were going down, 
flop, flop, flop in their waves, just as though they’d all gone to sleep. 
I was in the first wave. There was no cheering, we just ambled across, 
you hadn’t a thought; you were so addled with the noise. 
Bullets were like a swarm of bees round you – 
you could almost feel them plucking at your clothes.’

Fierce persecution, war and hate
are raging everywhere;
God calls us now to pay the price
through struggles and through sacrifice
of standing for the right.
As the battle rages, on both sides of the trenches,
are those who believe that God is on their side –
that God is British... or German;
are those who have made God into some kind of tribal deity,
completely ignoring that all people are God’s people.
And that, God is in the business of reconciliation, not war.
It is why, in our gospel passage, Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head:
not only should you love your neighbour, you should also love your enemy...
Later, this will be teased out further by Jesus:
your neighbour will not just be
those who live next door,
those who look like you,
speak like you,
think like you...
the idea of neighbour will be expanded to take in all people –
even those you struggle with;
those who, in the privacy of your heart, or in the public sphere,
you call ‘enemy’.

...War is not of God,
war is what humans do to each other.
But, God is not absent from war –
and even in the mud and blood of the trenches
and in the crater shelled hell of ‘no-man’s land’
God could be seen:
seen in tiny acts of kindness and compassion –
the reassuring voice of a sapper quietly talking of home to an enemy who lay dying:
seeing the person created in God’s image, not just ‘the Hun.’
God could be seen, in acts of sacrifice, where friend would push friend out of the way,
and take the brunt of a shell-blast, laying down his life for his brother;
God could be seen in the love of a son writing letters to his father,
wanting to spare him the reality – letters containing:
‘no word of the fighting, 
just the sheep on the hill’*
For as much as acts of kindness and compassion were shown,
as much as a life was given for another,
Jesus said:
‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

So dream the dreams and sing the songs,
but never be content;
for thoughts and words don’t ease the pain;
unless there’s action, all is vain;
faith proves itself in deeds.
We are called to see the image of God in one another;
called to love those who are easy to love,
and called to love those who, for whatever reason, are our enemies.
Love conquers hate –
this is what Jesus knew, this is what the apostle, Paul knew.
It’s easy to lash out at those who disagree with us,
who aren’t like us...
who don’t like us -
and, over the entire course of human existence, this has been the default pattern.
But we are called to break that pattern.
To put on God’s armour:
the belt of truth which breaks the lie that some are lesser than others;
the sword of righteousness, that swings through the misuse of power
which puts people down on the basis of race, or gender, or orientation,
or whatever way they may be seen as ‘different’.
We are called to lift one another up, in love.
Called to put on the shoes of the gospel of peace –
for that is God’s vision for humanity:
that we live in peace with God and each other.
And, in a world in which, this year, and possibly, this week,
seems to have grown that much darker,
we are called to take up the shield of faith:
and to believe that the darkness will not, can not
ever, ever win...
for the Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has never put it out
no matter how dark,
no matter how ferocious the attack.

Wherever we are in our small corner, we hold to the dream of peace,
God’s perfect peace;
That is our battle:
we are called to fight and make real that vision of a world in which
all can live without fear,
in freedom and in love, 
where each can see the face of God in the other.

Lord, give us vision, make us strong,
help us to do your will;
don’t let us rest until we see
your love throughout humanity
uniting us in peace.        Amen.

*Earlier in the service, prior to the Act of Remembrance, we heard poems connected with 
the Battle of the Somme. The reference above is from 'In Memorium' by E. A. Mackintosh.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Wordworks Writing Group: November meeting


The writing group meets on Thursday 10 November,
7pm, at the Colebrooke Arms.

This month's writing prompts are:
*signs of a misspent youth
*the elements: air, or earth
*Remembrance [Day, or themes]

Or bring anything that you happen to be working on...

All welcome. See you there!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Sermon Sun 6 Nov, Wk 10 'Getting slavery out of the people'...WMRBW

1st READING: Exodus 20:1-21
2nd READING: Matthew 22:34-40

SERMON ‘Love God, and do what you like’
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o God our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Picture the scene:
the wind is blowing mightily.
The very air is alive with crackling tension.
Thunder thunders,
lightning flashes,
there is a sound of trumpets in the air....
swirling smoke and cloud cover the mountaintop.
Far down below, in the shadow of Mt. Sinai, people huddle together trembling, afraid...
trying to find a little distance from the terror and the noise
and the all-pervading, utterly terrifying,
voice of the all-powerful God.
Too much.
It’s all too much to bear – and if they hear much more,
the people feel that they will surely die....

The description of the giving of the ten commandments is certainly not filled
with fluffy bunnies, pretty butterflies, or people skipping merrily along the way.
Nor, for that matter, does it feature Charlton Heston in glorious cinemascope,
with his long, grey beardy locks blowing in the wind –
as much as I, and Hollywood, certainly would like it to.
Rather, it is quite literally awe-some; designed to make you pay attention.
Something big is happening here, something of tremendous importance:
God... speaks.
The people of God tremble.
They think of death...
and miss the point completely:
God speaks:
ten words.
Words of life, not death.
Words of liberation, not captivity.

But surely, ‘law’ and ‘liberation’ in the same sentence must be a bit of an oxymoron:
are contradictory?
Don’t quite compute.
Or, do they?
An Orthodox Jewish reading of the ten commandments has as the first commandment:
‘I am the Lord you God who brought you up out of the 
land of Egypt, out of bondage and slavery.’ 
Bill Wylie-Kellermann, writing for the magazine Sojourners asks:
‘This is a command?’
And he continues, by answering his own question:
that it’s a command that focuses upon the identity of the people of Israel...
and of what God has done...
it’s a command that implies to those who have ears to hear it:
‘Know that whose you are precedes what you do.’   
You    are    God’s    people...
this, then, is how to live as God’s people...

But are the 10 commandments merely just a bunch of
rules and regulations designed to spoil our fun?
As someone who’s been a very keen student of church law,
of course, I’d be inclined to say ‘no!’
And I’d add, that law – rules, regulations, codes of practice,
however you might describe them –
often get a bad press, which, I think, is a little unfair.
On the other hand, it is fair to say that the manner in which the
Ten Commandments are phrased don’t seem to help:
‘thou shallt not...’ is not the most positive of starting phrases, after all.
The phrase is a little like a verbal slapping before you’ve actually done anything.
‘Don’t do that!’
‘Stop it!’
It feels almost designed to beat us into submission...

The ‘thou shallt nots’ are all too easy to caricature, and in doing so,
misrepresent what I believe to be the actual intent of the commandments.
At this point, I’m hoping you’ve all been given a copy
of ‘the positive 10’ in your orders of service ...[copied below]
When I stumbled across this version of the commandments,
it really helped me see them with fresh eyes – and do feel free to take them
home with you and pin to your fridge. On the back of the service sheet,
in the ‘food for the journey’ section, you’re invited to sit with the
commandments over this coming week...
and I’ll be interested to hear where some of your thinking takes you!

Now, let’s go back to that comment about knowing ‘whose you are’ preceding
‘what you do’...                                                          
And while we’re at it, let’s also lose the word ‘commandment’
in the original context the Ten Commandments were known as the ‘decalogue’
‘ten words.’
The ten words are almost a foundational document of liberation:
And that liberation is founded on relationship.

Let’s have a look at the first four commands, or ‘words’...
These first four ‘words’ concern God in relation to God’s people,
and the people in relation to their God...
Just ‘whose’ are these people?
They belong – are in relationship with –  the One who freed them from captivity,
who took them out of Egypt, and on a journey into the wilderness wastes,
a journey where daily, they saw God’s saving hand at work:
keeping them fed and watered on the way.
A rocky journey at times, and this is not just a comment on the terrain:
Mumblings, murmurings, complaining:
even doing a little revisionist history concerning their time in Egypt –
to the point where some were inclined to believe that slavery, on the whole,
was actually pretty darned good.

But now, at the foot of Mt Sinai, they are no longer Pharoah’s:
they are God’s particular people, and God begins the process of
guiding them into a particular way of being.
Having liberated them for a particular purpose,
they are now in the process of learning what it is to live in relationship with God...
and, as we look at the other six ‘words’,
learning how to live in relationship with each other - their neighbour.

Ten words,
calling God’s people to serve God, and each other, in love,
Ten words that are a radical call for commitment to God and to neighbour...
and extending to all creation.
Ten words that continue to confirm my growing suspicion that God is indeed a Presbyterian.
After all, these words enable life to be lived decently, and in good order...
God, in the giving of these words to the ones liberated from Egypt,
provides a way in which order is created out of the former chaos
and reinforces that, even in the wilderness, life can be meaningful, and fruitful.
Importantly, that in the midst of it all, that there should be time to rest:
a clear message that there is more to life than work –
that we are defined by being in God, not by what we do.

These ten words paint an alternative picture to the Israelites previous life in Egypt:
a place where there was little interest in regeneration and rest, and no freedom....
In contrast to the Egyptian custom,
the commandments don’t sanction a human king or a leader to assert power over,
or demand allegiance from the people.
The community isn’t going to be defined according to the whims of power-hungry
human rulers. Instead the commandments demand loyalty and obedience to God alone.
The commandments also serve to formalize the connection and the
relationship between the realms of God and this particular people.
As Patrick Miller eloquently expresses it:
‘...neither community, nor deity have separate existences 
once the covenant is established. Even though both experience 
real abandonment on the part of the other for a time, they are forever linked.’

But what about us, the spiritual descendants of the children of Israel?
What about us, God’s people, the church...
God’s living stones...
called into community...
called to tell God’s story?
We certainly haven’t been released from captivity in Egypt...
And given the sudden drop in temperature over the last couple of days,
it’s not as if we’ve been stumbling about the searingly hot desert wilderness of Sinai.
So, what might these ten words have to say to us in our situation,
as we sit comfortably in our seats here in church?

I’m fairly sure that most of us here are aware of the ongoing talk of the church
being in a kind of terminal decline.
Of talk concerning how we, in the Church of Scotland in particular,
no longer seem to hold the privileged place in society that we used to,
when it came to having some kind of public influence.
Everything seems to be shrinking away...
the glory days seem so long ago.
In that sense are we, in a different way to the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness?
Is there a small sense of terror, as we watch the depletion of resources
and of the depletion of people and skills, of time and talents?
And like the Israelites, do we long for a return to the good old days?

Journeying in the wilderness can be terrifying –
all the securities and apparent guarantees of survival are gone.
But the wilderness could also provide the church with an opportunity
to re-define itself according to what matters most,
and in doing so, find fresh ways of touching the hearts of all we encounter;
for in the wilderness, free from unnecessary distractions, we are reminded of whose we are:
God’s particular people, in this particular time and place –
in our parish,
in our homes,
or wherever, and whoever, we are with.

What might our lives look like if we lived the Ten Commandments
as invitations to freedom, to life, rather than a set of rules to be followed?
What would life be like if we lived in the awareness that life comes from God,
that we don’t need to worship the false God of consumerism,
or bow down to the idol of celebrity?
What if we celebrated that we can still freely and publicly speak
God’s name in praise and prayer?
What if we recognised that life was about more than work and
took up God’s invitation to Sabbath?
What if we took up God’s invitation
to respect people,
to honour life,
and to honour relationships?
And what if we were on the receiving end of that respect and honour?
What would that feel like?
What would life be like?

Writer Joe Roos notes that:
‘the Ten Commandments don't begin with: 
"Here are ten commandments, learn them by rote,
"Here are ten commandments, obey them."
Instead, they begin with a sweeping announcement of freedom:
'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery'.
We will probably always think of the declarations that follow as the Ten Commandments.
But we could, and probably should, think of them as invitations to God's liberation -
the ‘positive’ ten.

As we learn what it is to walk in the freedom that God gives to each one of us,
I’m reminded of the words of 5th century theologian, Augustine, who famously said:
‘love God, and do what you like’...
meaning, that although there’ll be the occasional glitch,
for we’re none of us perfect yet...
if we love God, what we like will tend to be that which pleases God
for we are his, and he is ours, and we live within the immense bounds of his amazing grace.

Let us pray:
God of justice and liberation,
may we, as your people, learn to speak 
with echoes of your life in our hearts and minds,
nurturing ways of behaving that are just and compassionate.
Free us as we begin today.

God of justice and liberation,
may we, as your church, learn from you 
what it is to be rightly angered at injustice in the world.
May we, as individuals and communities, 
see the speck in our own eye as we pass judgement on the log in another's;
and learn to challenge one another with sensitivity and care.

God of justice and liberation,
may we, as your church in the world, 
be free of all that holds us back from loving you radically and openly.
In the name of the justice-bringer and liberator, 
                  [*adapted from 'Roots']

The Positive 10:
Put God First
Give worth to the one who gives worth to you.
Use God’s name with respect and love.
Spend time thinking about God.
Honour and love your whole family.
Live towards other people with love and generosity.
Find the richness in faithfulness towards others.
Celebrate what you have rather than dwell on what you don’t.
Speak well of others and truthfully to yourself.
Why get down about what others have when you can share what you have with others?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Reminder: Sunday Potluck at the manse...

Lunch@the manse:
Sunday Potluck  

bring and share...
food and conversation...

All welcome to come along, to join in shared food and conversations as we continue to:
'make the road by walking'

...picking up on some of the themes we've been exploring in this first quarter of our new programme...
bring your thoughts, burning questions, and a plate to share.
All welcome!!