Sunday, 31 December 2017

Worship, Sunday 31 Dec: 'At the gate of the year'

Today, we stand, at the gate of the year... 
time to take up the challenge and step through, 
daring to dream, 
daring to hope, 
daring to be God's people in the world.

Given we're still in the Christmas season until 6 Jan, we had one last opportunity for a bit of a Carol sing.
Our readings featured travelling Magi, plus Simeon and Anna at the Temple on the day of Jesus' presentation at 8 days old.

One poem, by Godfrey Rust, pondered what the story of the Wise Men might have looked like, had they slightly overshot their mark both in place, and in time...

‘The journey of the magi (cont.)’ 
Coming as they did from the first century 
they had a few problems with London traffic 
and were seriously misled by signs 
to the Angel and King's Cross. 
Inquiring diligently about the star 
they were referred to Professor Brian Cox, 
who thought it was amazing
while smiling in a constant and strangely unsettling way.
In Harrods the camels 
made a mess all over Soft Furnishings.
On the Underground
commuters glared at No Smoking signs
as incense wafted gently through the carriages,
and when the great day came 
they saw the entire voting population 
slumped on sofas by four o'clock, 
rendered senseless by too much 
dead poultry and the Queen, 
while over Liberty's and Hamley's 
the flickering angels sang
Glory to God in the High St
and they found him,
with the inns full up once more, 
in the old familiar place, 
bringing their unregarded gifts 
to the empty stable 
of the human heart 
where the infant Christ is born 
again and again.

A beautiful piece by Mary Lou Sleevi reflects upon Anna, the prophet:
Her laugh is simply happy
The prescribed pair of turtle doves,
averse to captivity,
refrain for the moment
from their soft, plaintive moans.
From their perch
they lurch forward
to take in The Occasion.
Anna recognizes a child
at his Presentation in the temple.
She talks of him in no uncertain terms!
Her particular words are shrouded,
but Delight registers profoundly
under the veil of widow-black.
A lifetime of focus
is all in her eyes.
Thanks be to God!
The old woman is truly Beautiful
and beautifully True.

Anna comes to Her Moment laughing,
her face the free expression
of all that’s inside.
Her life of late
seems to have staged
an ongoing soliloquy.
That heavenly smile authenticates Anna.
She is the Recognized Prophet
who came and confirmed
the word of a brother who said,
“‘My eyes have witnessed your saving deed
displayed for all the peoples to see…'”

As prophets do,
Anna ensured that the message
would get beyond temple precincts.
She probably heard Simeon speak,
and may have embellished
his Inspiration
by extending her hugs to the Chosen parents,
very tenderly. 

Anna had seen it all.
Grown-ups talk anxiously about 
fulfilling the dreams of children.
Anna’s Jesus-Moment
is an elder’s consummate Belief
in a dream come true.
She speaks truth beautifully,
The gift of prophecy is backed
by her life/prayer of eighty-four years.
Stretch marks from 
solitude and solicitude and solidarity
show in The Wrinkling,
giving her face its certain Lift.

Anna of the free Spirit
is no solemn ascetic.
She talks to the baby,
as well as about him,
She shoulders him closely,
absorbing his softness,
his heartbeat,
his breathing—
experiencing a Benediction of Years
between them.
This is Manifestation embodied.

The prophet knows
she has looked at him
Years later,
words of Jesus would Beatify her vision:
“Blest are the single-hearted
for they shall see God.”
Those eyes have twinkled
as she wrinkled.
“Constantly in the temple,”
the temple of her heart,
she became familiar
with every inch of her living space
—including its limitations—
and the Beneficence of Sister Wisdom
dwelling therein.
Anna liked the view from her window.
And a comfortable chair.

In “worshipping day and night,”
she had spent her Vitality
on an extravagance of prayer,
and discovered she was strong.
Life with Wisdom was a trilogy
of faith, hope, and love.
In Anna’s everyday Essence,
love of God and faith in a people—
faith in God and love of a people—
were insatiable and inseparable.
And her fasting produced
a Gluttony of hope.
The disciplined disciple,
never withdrawn,
stayed in touch with the world
and kept finding God.

upon his time,
she welcomed The Promised One.
“She talked about the child…”
And talk Anna did.
She is more than prophet:
she is a grandmother!
Because it is the Christ-child she hugs,
Anna, as prophet,
is particularly aware
of the vulnerability of less-awaited children
and parents, who also have dreams.

Dimming eyes,
still forward-looking,
crinkle with joy.
Anna is Anticipation.
She is an Image
of constancy and change…
the progression of peace and purpose
at any stage of life.

Hers is the Holy City.
as Anna lived it
lessens fear of the death-moment.

For, with God, one never stops saying

And so, through Scripture readings, carols, poetry, and brief reflections, we thought about journeys, and power found in unexpected places, as well as stopping to pause to leave regrets behind as we stepped into the promise of a new year.
And, in preparation to step through the gate into 2018, we said John Wesley's Covenant Prayer together:
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, 
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things, 
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. 
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, 
let it be ratified in heaven.

May God bless us all, as we step through the gate of the year...

Monday, 18 December 2017

Sermon, Sunday: 3 Advent 'Rejoice'

In our worship this morning, we welcomed Nairn Murray Drife
into God's family through the sacrament of baptism...

And we reflected on joy, seen in Mary's great song of joy, 'the Magnificat'

READINGS Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Luke 1:47-55

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

It is a time of danger.
Fear is growing throughout the land.
A tyrant from long ago is regaining strength and power.
The darkness... is growing.
9 friends – new and old – have set out on a perilous quest.
It is a strange company:
while there are battle-hardened warriors,
there are several small and rather unlikely companions.
It is with one of these little ones, that the great burden of the quest lies most heavily.
He is the chosen one:
on him, the quest either succeeds... or fails.
They have travelled many miles,
braved many dangers,
lost a beloved member of their group.
Finding sanctuary in an ancient wood, they meet with others –
allies who help them.

Unable to sleep one evening,
the small one who has been chosen walks through the wood,
following the queen of that land, until they find a glade.
He wonders if he is up to the task –
he’s only one small person caught up in a great series of events beyond his understanding.
He’s afraid.
The great queen bends down, and with kindness says:
‘Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.’

And just as a matter of interest:
does anyone know what story I’m referring to, and which characters??

‘Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.’
In the Lord of the Rings, the powers that be tend not to notice folk like Frodo – Hobbits.
They are a little people, who tend not to get caught up in the great affairs of the world.
They live in what some might think of as a quiet backwater, just getting on with their lives,
while all around them, the big important people get on with doing
whatever it is that big important people do.
But, in this particular story, the ability not to be particularly noticed
is the very thing that saves the day:
from a humble people comes one who will indeed change the world
and overcome the evil that threatens to destroy it.

‘Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.’
Galadriel’s words to Frodo, could almost be the song of joy that Mary sings.
We don’t know much about Mary:
she’s young,
already in that time and place that’s two strikes against her:
she’s also from Nazareth, in Galilee –
a backwater of no real significance.
She might as well be invisible:
a woman of no importance.
Except, she ends up being extremely important.
She is given a great task –
one that will potentially change the course of the future.
She is chosen –
not to bear a ring of power and save the world, like Frodo –
but chosen to bear the longed-for Messiah who will save her people...
and who will save the world.
The great Creator of the heavens and the earth has noticed this humble,
relatively invisible, young woman.
Her reaction:
The God who sees all has seen even Mary –
just as in the desert so many centuries before, God saw Hagar when no-one else did.
Mary rejoices,
and as she does, she calls to mind what her God has done down through the centuries,
calls to mind what kind of God she worships:
she sings a great song of joyful praise –
a song that becomes a great hymn of liberation,
a song describing the values of God’s kingdom.
This is a God who not only sees the ones nobody else does,
this is a God who raises them up
and calls them his own;
this is a God whose kingdom is built upon mercy, justice, love:
where the ones who are hungry are filled with good things,
and where the old, corrupt regimes based on
greed, division, derision, despair and darkness
are thrown down.
Mary’s song is a manifesto for serious change –
and if we really pay attention to it, and subscribe to it,
what changes might we, with God’s help,
bring about in our communities,
and in our world?

‘Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.’
Frodo did in The Lord of the Rings;
Mary did, by agreeing to God’s plan;
one small baby did, who was born in a stable 2 000 years ago...
even we can change the course of the future, in our small corner of the world.
Advent is the waiting, watching, and preparing time:
preparing to remember once more the birth of Jesus,
the son of Mary,
Mary, who wove a song of liberation around him
as she rejoiced in God’s vision for how the world could be.
Let’s join the liberation, and work towards God’s kingdom:
where even the smallest person –
even as small as wee Nairn –
is noticed, loved, and valued...
and let’s sing the songs of God’s freedom to the world, this day, and every day. Amen.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Remembering Teresa Brasier

On Tuesday the 5th of December, our Elder, friend, and sister in Christ,
Teresa Brasier died at home, after her long illness.
She spent a good part of this year thinking about others, and preparing us all for what was to come.
This came out particularly in a service held in June this year -
she wanted to give thanks for her life, wanted to gather her family and friends close,
wanted to give good memories, and demonstrate in her own way,
that she knew that death wasn't the end.
So, we gathered:
had a service or worship in the church;
had a hog roast and ceilidh in Wanlockhead;
had an afternoon and evening in which stories were shared, and more memories were created.
That afternoon, and evening, was a gift of love and care, by Teresa.

Given that Teresa's funeral on Friday won't have a eulogy, copied below is the sermon at the service
from that June afternoon - to help catch a glimpse of who Teresa was, and of the God
who was so core to her being.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Teresa's family and all who loved her, and whose lives she touched.

Reading: Psalm 139

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

‘Oh Lord, you have searched me, and you know me,’ says the writer of Psalm 139.
‘You know when I sit,
when I rise…
You know what I think,
what I’m going to say….
You know where I am,
and you’re right there with me…
I can’t escape….’

Fairly early on in my time here as minister,
as part of getting to know folk in the congregation a little better,
I found myself heading up to #1 Curfew Place to visit Teresa.
We fell naturally into an easy-going, free-ranging conversation
about life, the universe, God, dogs, and everything.
Good, honest chat:
a conversation that’s been ongoing since then,
conversation where laughter and prayer often mingle together,
where nothing is really off-limits,
and where, an enormous black lab often sits by my feet,
with great, hopeful eyes willing me to give him my biscuit –
Poacher’s nothing, if not an ever-hopeful optimist…

I’m not sure when it was, precisely, but one day, discussion turned to Psalm 139.
I discovered that it was one of Teresa’s favourite pieces of scripture,
and, Teresa discovered that I had a particular name for the Psalm –
a psalm expressing God’s faithfulness,
a psalm which talks of God always being with you,
of God knowing you utterly.
It’s a psalm that’s immensely comforting:
no matter what,
no matter how good, or how bad,
no matter the situation,
the psalmist assures us
that God is with us,
that God never lets us go,
that God knows us, for God formed us…
and that:
‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made.’

How amazing:
the One who created the heavens and the earth,
who shaped the mountains,
and sculpted the deep valleys under the seas…
is not just focused upon the big…
here, in the psalm,
we have the God who is also focused upon us:
who knit us together,
who, loves us and wants to spend time with us.

However, there’s a little discomfort, too:
‘Oh Lord, you have searched me, and you know me…
If I try to hide myself in the darkness,
you see straight through it as if all were in daylight…
where nothing is hidden…
I can’t escape….’
This psalm also has an edgy side,
and, on those days when I would certainly rather hide myself under a rock
than feel so utterly exposed to God’s gaze,
I’ve been known to call this ‘the stalker psalm’.
‘Where can I go?’
And the answer:

But the discomfort is not because
God’s standing there with a big stick wanting to smack us down…
the discomfort is often because,
God’s standing there with arms stretched wide in welcome, saying
I know you, and oh, how I love you.’
It’s hard to accept such unconditional, no strings attached love…
so much so, that it’s often us
who are the ones who pick up the big stick
and end up beating ourselves up,
thinking we don’t deserve to be loved.
And that’s the point:
it’s not about us trying to measure up;
it’s about accepting that no matter what,
God loves us
and God is with us.
And this sense that God knows,
that God loves,
and that God is with her,
is very much a part of who Teresa is.

On the day I was inducted into this parish,
some pals of mine gave me a large, soft puppet - an elephant.
It sat, on the coffee table in the lounge room of the manse.
For a few moments, we sat, and looked at it,
and then, friend James said with a grin:
‘Basically, it’s the elephant in the room.’
Sometimes, we do everything within our power to ignore the elephant in the room:
we’re not going to, today.
We know why we’re here this afternoon:
because we all love and care for our friend, daughter, sister… Teresa.
We’re here, because we want to show in our own way
that we are with her in this hard time,
just as we’ve been with her in good times as well.
And, as we stand – or sit – together, in solidarity with her,
so I think, this is reciprocated,
by Teresa’s sense of wanting to meet here today with all of you…
and, in worship, to meet with God:
who is so fundamental to her way of trying
to navigate the world,
to make meaning of it.
And, through it all –
though she’s tried to escape God many a time,
she knows that she is loved -
so very much loved by God,
and that God is with her –
even in the midst of where she finds herself at this point in her life.

The psalm we’re thinking of today
celebrates the freedom of what it is to be completely known,
the freedom of being able to drop the mask and just… be real;
it celebrates the God who knows us,
and loves us.
But it also celebrates life in all its fullness and wonder;
it celebrates the great Giver of life –
who walks with us now,
and shows us there’s more,
for we are led, in hope,
in the way everlasting.
So today, even as we name the hard things,
so, also, we celebrate hope:
we celebrate, for,
as I’ve often said in this building:
we are an Easter people and ‘alleluia!’ is our song.  Amen.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Sermon, Sunday: 2 Advent -'Preparation'

In what was a busy morning, on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, we welcomed Jenson Hodge into God's family through the sacrament of baptism.
So, a shorter reflection this morning, on our readings for today.

1st READING Isaiah 40:1-11
2nd READING Mark 1:1-8

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

Christmas is coming.
Are you ready?
Are you coping?!
Are you sticking your fingers in your ears and just going ‘la la la!’?
An American friend of mine has a particular seasonal game that’s become
a bit of a tradition for her and some other pals.
It centres around a certain Christmas song:
‘The Little Drummer Boy’ or, ‘LBD’ for short.
You know the song  - ‘pa rump pa pum pum’and all that jazz?
Basically, the person who manages to get the closest to Christmas without hearing
that song, wins the game. Apparently, there’ve been a few near-misses,
but she’s still in the game so far.
I’m not sure what the winner gets, but I suspect it’s not a copy of the song.
Given the slightly different cultural thing, I’m pretty sure, however, that if the song was
‘So here it is, this is Christmas, everybody’s having fun’
we’d probably all have lost weeks ago.
Anyway, the game is a part of her preparations for Christmas –
a wee ritual, to get her tuned in to the time of year.
For what it’s worth, mine is watching and waiting for signs of the first
Christmas tree to go up – how early will it be?
One year, in Edinburgh, I did see a tree up in September.
I was traumatised for weeks!

In our different ways, we’re all in the process of making preparations as we look
ahead to Christmas – even if some of us may actually be in denial that it’s almost here:
in my mind, I’m still somewhere in September...
The season of Advent is a time of preparing –
and we see that picked up in our readings this morning.
As with last week, we heard from the prophet Isaiah a little earlier.
The nation of Israel has been utterly defeated by the mighty power of the Babylonian Empire.
Many of the people have been sent into exile and captivity...
and we see that, after years of being strangers living in a strange land,
the time of captivity is coming to an end:
Isaiah tells them that God has heard their cries,
‘Comfort my people’ says God...
Basically, they’re going home:
and not the long way, but the straightest way –
paths will be made in the wilderness –
all the obstacles stopping them from getting home will be removed,
God will lead them like a shepherd out of the darkness,
out of their sadness and distress.
God will put the hope of home in their hearts, and they will be at peace.
All this, because God loves them:
it’s a bit like God’s singing to them the words of that old song:
‘Ain’t no mountain high enough to keep me away from you.’
That mountain's going to be levelled if it's in the way.
‘Good news,’ says Isaiah –
‘God’s preparing a way ahead for you.’
Now, they have hope.
Soon, they may have peace after years of living with uncertainty.
And so, they prepare to make the journey of their lives –
journeying home,
and journeying to, and with, God.

Centuries later, we hear the voice of another prophet –
the voice of John the Baptist:
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness;
the voice of one preparing the way for a longed-for Messiah...
a rescuer of the people who are oppressed by another great Empire – Rome.
And we hear not only John’s voice, but echoes of Isaiah:
‘prepare, make straight paths.’
And John, as God’s messenger, finds that here, the preparation involves baptism:
he spends his time at the River Jordan baptising folk –
symbolically washing away any obstacles;
symbolically washing away all the stuff that’s gone before in someone’s life.
Baptism: starting new, starting fresh;
helping to make the path as straight as possible
to help folk toward a new beginning,
a new journey...
journeying within,
journeying with others – a community of the baptised,
and then, journeying out to share the good news
that God is involved,
that God loves,
that there is hope.

Still, more centuries later, here we are:
preparing in our different ways to celebrate that hope fulfilled,
God’s love expressed in Jesus, Prince of Peace who, when grown,
called fisherman by the seashore,
and who still calls people wherever they are,
to join him on a journey of a lifetime –
for he is the One who straightens the paths,
who welcomes everyone, no exceptions,
and who is, as our next hymn describes:
‘joy of heaven, to earth come down.’

Christmas is coming.
Are you coping?!
Are you sticking your fingers in your ears and just going ‘la la la!’?
Or, are you preparing for the journey?

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Sermon, Sun 3 Dec: Advent 1 'Hope'

READINGS/ Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

Let’s pray: may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me....

Emily Dickinson’s wonderful poem on hope is a good place to start,
on this first Sunday of a new church year in the season of Advent,
for Advent is a time to remind ourselves that we are a hopeful people:
while it’s a season of waiting, Advent is also a season of hopefulness.
We wait in hope:
as we look, keep watch, for signs that God is doing, will do, a new thing
We wait in hope:
as we look out into a world filled with growing darkness,
for, in hope, we see that night will not last forever -
in hope, we see glimpses of light,
and wait and watch for God’s new morning.

What is hope?
It is a fragile, not-yet complete thing -
not the fully-formed snowdrop, nodding in delicate white and pointing to Spring:
hope is the bulb planted deep in the earth,
hidden, yet filled with promise and potential...

What is hope?
it’s the colour red.
It’s a rope, a red cord slinking down the Jericho walls, put out by Rahab to assist the spies –
remember our time thinking about the story of  Rahab several weeks’ ago?
In Joshua 2:21, the word for ‘rope’ is the same word used for ‘hope’ in Hebrew.
What is hope?
In Rahab’s story, hope is a life-line.

What is hope?
It is heard in the raw-throated, desperate cry of the prophet Isaiah,
calling on God to tear open in the heavens and come down to earth:
because things have gone horribly, dreadfully wrong.
The nation of Israel has been squashed by a stronger nation;
the people exiled...
After a time, the Persians allow the exiles to return, and those who do come home
find devastation,
and, in some cases,
that the land held by generations of their families has been claimed
by the people who’d stayed behind.
There’s tension, there’s conflict, there’s disorder:
what sort of government should be set up to help sort out the mess?
Added to the mix:
the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed.
The Temple: viewed as God’s dwelling place...
if the Temple’s gone,
has God disappeared too?
Has the God of Israel been defeated?
In the midst of all of this, then, what words can the prophet give to God’s people
in the face of defeat, destruction, and potential despair?

‘Oh that you would open the heavens and come down’ cries the prophet
and, after a time of remembering the kind of God Israel has,
the prophet gives the people words to help them endure:
‘Come down: make your name you did before’
‘There is no God like you’
‘You seem hidden...’
but, even so:
‘yet, O Lord, you are our Father – 
we are all the work of your hand...
we are your people.’

Isaiah reminds the Israelites that hope is found in looking back –
at what God has done;
that hope is found in looking at the future –
in remembering what God has done, in remembering that God has acted in the past,
so, hope is found in the thought that God will rescue his people again;
and, ...hope is also found in looking at the present –
at who God is...
and, at who the Israelites are –
here, hope is found in the ties of relationship:
God is as a Father to them – they are his people...
God will not abandon them because God has shaped them, like a potter,
has formed them and created them to be his own:
they matter to God:
even in the present moment,
amidst chaos
and the after-effects of calamity,
they belong to God.
Hope hangs on a red cord, of past, of future, of present:
Isaiah’s words, a life-line:
an encouragement to take heart,
for this is not the end,
and they are not alone.

And in our gospel text, more destruction...
Jesus talking of signs of things to come.
Advent, where we wait for the coming of the good news of God being with us, as one of us,
doesn’t start with the most cheering of bible passages:
and yet, in both of our texts, in Isaiah, and Mark,
in the midst of seeming darkness, the message is not about the darkness itself:
it’s about what happens after...
the darkness is not the end point,
rather, the end point is that
God will indeed open the heavens, and ...come...down -
will be with his people,
will establish the kingdom of heaven on earth,
will cast out death, despair, and darkness forever.
God’s justice and compassion will be established;
God’s peace will be brought in by Jesus, Prince of Peace – and there will be an end to war.

What is hope?
A fragile yet a fearsome thing:
'hope is the thing with feathers', says Emily Dickinson...
fragile, yet it gives us the strength to get out of bed,
to put one foot in front of the other,
and to keep going even in our darkest days -
to keep going even when we feel we can’t go on;
fragile, yet, it fills the heart with courage
and has the power to move people to overthrow tyrannical powers
by the sheer force of relentless love...
or, move people to continue to do small, and great, acts of compassion
even when faced with a sea of overwhelming need.
Hope is fragile, yet strangely strong:
for it is found in the season of Advent as we look to the coming
of the all-mighty God
as a seemingly powerless, vulnerable babe in a manger –
the One who, when grown into an adult,
calls others to follow...
calls them to watch, to wait,
to look for signs of hope –
calls them to share that hope with others;
calls them in an Upper Room,
to remember,
to share,
to eat bread, and to drink wine:
bread and wine - elements that are fragile, easily broken...
like ...a body –
like Jesus,
who showed what hope looked like in his life,
and at the last, who offered his life,
so that, in his very fragility,
the hope of resurrection would be made real.

‘O, that you would open the heavens and come down’...
What we wait for,
what we watch for,
what we hope for, in Advent, is just that:
God, beyond space and time,
breaking into our space and time...
for no matter how dark it seems,
God is not defeated,
and we are not abandoned,
for we are the work of his hands.
'Hope isn't found in the absence of trouble.
It's found in the presence of God.'*

Let’s pray:
... the world is always ending somewhere.
the sun has come crashing down.
it has gone completely dark.
it has ended with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.
it has ended with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.
it has ended with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.
it has ended with a tenderness
that will break your heart.
But, listen,
this blessing means to be anything but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing a blessing
is better suited for than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world is falling apart.
This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light will come,
gathering itself about you
as the world begins again...**

*Advent Unwrapped
**blessing by Jan Richardson

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

December Communion

Quarterly Communion Service:

Our next Communion Service will be:
10.30am Sun 3 December, in the parish church at Abington.

"This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. 
It is to be made ready for those who love God
and for those who hope to love God more. 
So, come, you who have faith 
and you who have doubts. 
Come if you have been here often, 
and come if you have not been here long. 
Come if you have followed, 
and come if you have stumbled. 
Come, because it is the Lord who invites you. 
It is Christ’s will that those who seek him 
will meet him here at his table. 

We practice an open table: all who are baptised, regardless of denomination, are welcome to share in bread and wine.
Children and communion: children may receive communion
at the discretion of their accompanying adult.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Sermon, Sun 26: Andrew - People in the Bible series

Given this is the Sunday closest to St Andrew's Day, thought it would be fun to close our wee series of Bible people
[for this year] with Andrew...

READINGS/ John 1:35-42; John 6:1-13; John 12:20-26

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.

This being the Sunday closest to St Andrew’s Day, I thought it might be a good thing to include Andrew in our wee ongoing series of
‘people in the Bible’ And I want to do a wee spot quiz –
Can any of you tell me one thing you know about this chap called Andrew,
who we come across in the Bible?
...  ... ...

Patron saint of Scotland,
friend and follower of Jesus,
brother of Simon who’s later named Peter;
a fisherman...
and, here, in our first reading,
we discover that, before Andrew decided to follow Jesus,
he was one of John the Baptist’s disciples.
In fact, here, in the Gospel of John,
we meet Andrew the day after Jesus has been baptised in the Jordan.
Andrew is with John the Baptist and another of John’s followers when Jesus passes by them.
John points to Jesus and says:
‘Look, the Lamb of God!’
This... intrigues Andrew.
So much so, that he and John’s other, unnamed disciple, decide to head off after Jesus:
Who is he?
Where is he going?
Why is John giving such honour to him by the use of the title ‘Lamb of God?’
John has taught his followers that he, himself, is merely a messenger,
a signpost, pointing the way to one greater.
Now, John, with his prophet’s uniform of camel hair, and his baptism of repentance,
and his bold preaching is pretty impressive in and of himself...
So if John thinks Jesus is special, perhaps Andrew thinks he might be worth checking out.
Clearly, Andrew is one of life’s inward explorers:
he’s curious about what gives life meaning;
he’s open to new ways of thinking about his faith;
he’s at a point in his life where he wants
to know more, to see more,
to ask and try to find answers to life’s great questions.
So, off he goes, with his friend, to follow after Jesus.

I love that the very first words that Jesus utters in the Gospel of John are:
‘What do you want?’...
this, of the two who are shadowing him.
It’s a question that can have so many layers to it –
I almost want Andrew to say:
‘well, how deep do you want me to go into that, Jesus?’
However, he responds to Jesus’ question with a question –
one that sounds a little odd, perhaps, to us.
He asks: ‘where are you staying?’

We were having a wee bit of a chat about this the other night at our Session meeting.
In a sense, if you dig underneath the question,
Andrew’s not so much enquiring if Jesus might be staying at a particular inn –
what he’s actually asking is more tied in with Jesus’ identity:
where are you from?
who are your people?
Understanding where Jesus comes from, who he stays with, provides a context for who Jesus is...
if you like, it’s a little like the Scottish clan system –
or, thinking about it in a farming context perhaps,
where an area of land may have been held for generation upon generation by the same family:
land and identity tie in together.

In response to Andrew’s question,
Jesus doesn’t then number off an impressive list of folk from his family tree...
rather, he invites Andrew, and his friend, to
‘come and see.’
And so, they do.
They spend time with Jesus.
And Andrew is impressed:
the first thing he does is to go off to find his brother:
‘we’ve found the Messiah’ he tells Simon,
and then brings him to Jesus, so Simon, soon to be Peter, can see for himself.

Bringing people to come and see Jesus seems to be a bit of a habit with our Andrew.
The second reading is that well-known story of the feeding of the 5 000.
A great crowd had gathered to hear Jesus teach, and to see him perform miracles.
He looks out at the vast multitude and asks:
‘where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’
Philip sees the immediate problem:
‘you’d need 8 month wages at least to do it,’ he says.
He can’t see how this could be possible.
While it may be an impossible task, Andrew responds differently:
he brings someone to Jesus –
‘come and see Jesus...come and show Jesus what you’ve got...’
and presents a lad with five loaves and two fish.
Well, it’s a start –
starting with what you have,
or what someone is willing to share.
And yet...even so, how far will that stretch, Andrew perhaps wonders?
But here’s the thing:
it’s in the giving,
in the being prepared to use what’s at hand,
in the offering what you have to Jesus, this instance, at least,
causes something bigger than any of the disciples ever imagined... to happen.
In the end, there’s more than enough for all, with left-overs to spare.
The crowd are nourished physically and spiritually.
The disciples learn an interesting lesson.

By our third reading from John, it’s clear that Andrew is one of the ‘go-to’
people when it comes to finding a way to come and see Jesus.
In this instance, the disciples have entered Jerusalem –
palms have been waved,
crowds have cheered.
People are excited:
could he be the Messiah?
People are keen to come and see Jesus, and not just his own countrymen –
here, we have some Greeks in Jerusalem, who’ve come to the Passover feast...
They see Philip, know him to be one of Jesus’ disciples, and ask him if they can see Jesus.
What does Philip do?
Well, it seems that he’s not sure if they can.
So, he goes and finds Andrew – and off they go together, to Jesus...
Andrew, presumably encouraging Philip that it’ll be okay –
that, of course these folk can come and see Jesus.

Jesus asks: ‘What do you want?’
And then invites – not cajoles, not browbeats, not bullies,
but invites...
Andrew, and then others, to
‘Come and see.’

Andrew is someone who notices things:
he’s noticed that for him, there’s more to life than just the everyday;
he’s noticed that the material stuff of life is fine,
is a gift, is all well and good...
but he’s also noticed that he needs more – and goes on an inner journey.
He notices John, follows him...
and notices John noticing Jesus –
pointing him out as the Lamb of God.
And so, he begins to notice...Jesus:
takes him up on the offer to ‘come and see’.
And Andrew does –
he does see
the things that Jesus does,
hears the things that Jesus says,
sees the way in which Jesus can transform a life –
sometimes dramatically,
sometimes, quietly, over a period of time.
And, in the noticing,
Andrew sees that the good news about the Messiah is something worth sharing...
he extends Jesus’ invitation to others:
‘come and see,’ says Andrew...
And in extending the invitation, so, eventually, a movement began,
as other followers of Jesus said:
come and see...
A movement which continues to this day –
and which we are a part of...the church.

Gathered together here:
What do we want from Jesus?
Are we willing to accept that invitation to ‘come and see’?
It’s not a one-off invitation –
it’s a day to day experience,
following and seeing...
walking with God,
and looking for signs of God...
noticing anew God at work every moment, and every day
in our lives,
and all around us.
And, as we continue to respond to Jesus’ invitation to come and see,
might we, like Andrew, extend that invitation to others?

Let’s pray:
Spirit of God, we would see Jesus.
Like the Greeks who asked
Philip and Andrew for help,
we come to learn from him, and to understand.
Like the 5 000 people who sat on the grass,
we come to be fed by him,
and be healed by his touch.
Like Andrew himself,
we come to follow,
and to encourage others to follow.
Help us, we pray,
to come and see, more clearly;
to come and follow, more closely;
to come and share Jesus, more freely;
this we pray in his name... Amen

Monday, 13 November 2017

Contacts, news, events

Due to annual leave, the minister will be unavailable from: 
Mon 13 Nov to Tues 21 Nov  

Nikki is using up her leftover annual leave before Advent and Christmas begin. She’ll be off from Mon 13th to Tues 21st Nov.

Urgent pastoral matters/ funeral cover will be provided by:
the Rev. George Shand who can be contacted on 01899 309400.
For any ongoing parish queries, please contact:
Heather Watt, our Session Clerk on 01899 850211

Sunday 19 November, Morning worship: we welcome back the Rev. Sandy Strachan, former NHS Chaplain at Dumfries General, as he conducts worship for us.

Thurs 23 Nov., 7pm: Upper Clyde Kirk Session meets in the Church Hall this evening.

Sat 25 Nov., 10.30am: Guild Coffee Morning will be held in the Roberton Village Hall... Join us once again for our annual Coffee Morning: with tombola, sales table, baked goods, and morning teas available.

Sunday 26 Nov., 6.30pm: Evening worship in Leadhills. Our last in our year’s series on the Fruit of the Spirit. This week, we reflect on ‘self-control’. Worship will be led by Keith and Morag Black and tea/ coffee will be available thereafter. All welcome.

Church magazine distribution: the Christmas edition of our magazine has now been published – speedy printer was faster than we thought! As ever, many hands make light work when it comes to distributing these across the parish. If you can help share the load by distributing copies to neighbours in your street, surrounding streets, village, or wider, please let Dee know, and we can then coordinate this. Every little helps, and the more folk willing to help, the easier the task overall. Huge thanks in advance!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Service, Remembrance Sun 12 Nov

This morning, in our main service of worship, following our pattern of  observing the centenary years of WWI, we reflected on some of the events of 1917.
Prior to our Act of Remembrance in the service, we heard poems that in some way connected to 1917:
*E. A. Mackintosh - In the glen where I was young - Mackintosh was killed at Cambrai

*W. D. Cocker - Storm Memories - Cocker was taken prisoner at the start of the Passchendaele offensive. He survived the war.

*Donald MacDonald - Song of Arras - reflecting troops marching to Arras. He survived the war.

These were followed by John McCrae's In Flanders Fields

Shorter sermon today, based on the following readings:
READINGS/ Ps 46; Micah 4:1-5, 6:6-8; Matt. 5:1-12

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 redeemer. Amen

In the mid-years of the First World War, the pressure is on:
politicians are feeling the heat from the public, and press to see an end to the war.
The sheer cost in terms of human life is staggering, almost incomprehensible.
On the battlefields, horror and despair and dark humour mingle –
things no human being should ever see, ever experience, have become the everyday.
Over vast swathes of land, men on every side are literally bogged down in mud.
In answer to the public pressure, new offensives, new battles are undertaken,
but most end in stalemate and ever-mounting casualties.
The Battle of Arras, beginning on the 9th of April, and ending 5 weeks later,
initially sees ground gained by the Allies, but the eventual push-back means little is gained militarily.
The cost in terms of casualties roughly comes in at 275 000 on both sides.

In June, the Battle of Messines commences and is viewed as an Allied tactical success –
General Haig deems the result worth the heavy number of casualties left in its wake.
The success is short-lived:
the much larger  Battle of Passchendaele,
fought in July through to November sees casualties on both sides numbering around half a million.
Later, in his Memoirs of 1938, Lloyd George would write:
"Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war ... 
No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign ..."
Towards the end of the year, the Battle of Cambrai results in 80 000 casualties.
Added to all the other casualties outwith these campaigns, 1917 is an horrific, sobering, costly year, just like its predecessors.

What did men like William Cocker, and Donald MacDonald, who’d signed up in 1914, and,
who’d possibly believed the hype about ‘being home by Christmas’ ...
what did they think, as the days, months, and years of war dragged on,
and as the high heid yins continued along a course of destruction and death?
Did they wonder if it would ever end?
Did they wonder if they’d make it out alive?
Did they ever question the necessity of the war?
Very probably, I suspect.

There are so many reasons used to justify war but sometimes I wonder, if, at the heart of it,
pride, ego, greed, the need for power over others -
the worst of the things that make us human -
are really the causes?
Whether on the smaller scale of family or neighbourly interactions, or on a more global scale,
choosing not to listen to your neighbour,
choosing to ride rough-shod over them,
or choosing the way of revenge,
will generally always lead to conflict.
What is it about us, as human beings, that makes it seem that we so often
prefer to choose the way of war, and not the way of peace?

The way of God’s kingdom is always about reconciliation –
which is not the same as being a doormat.
It is the hard work of listening to the one you’re struggling with;
it is the hard work of being prepared to bend a little – to let go of pride, of ego –
as a way to better work towards a healing of relationships;
it is the hard work of acknowledging your own faults and failings as
opposed to just pointing an accusing finger at your ‘enemy’;
it is the hard work of looking for a fair and equitable outcome for all,
so that each may sit under their own vine, their own fig that each may flourish
and, in that environment,
to know that swords and spears are no longer necessary:
that, instead of a harvest of destruction, war, and death,
what is found in God’s kingdom is
a harvest of healing, peace, and life – of ploughshares and pruning-hooks.
Not a harvest of fear,
but a harvest of hope...
cultivating a climate of friendship and mutual flourishing.

The Psalmist says that ‘God is our refuge and our strength’ 
and, that in Him ‘we will not fear’.
In a world where fear is used as a weapon to control human behaviour –
where fear is used to keep people from speaking out against the misuse of power;
at a time where we watch as certain world leaders recklessly allow their ego full reign
as they threaten to unleash nuclear weapons without considering either cost or consequence,
seeking God’s kingdom and the way of peace is as timely as it ever was.
Jesus, in his Beatitudes, taught his followers that 'blessed are the peacemakers.'
In our homes, in our neighbourhoods,
in our nation, and in our world,
our job is to speak peace in the face of war –
to do so as a way of remembering, and honouring all those who hoped to put an end to war,
and were themselves casualties of war, certainly...
but, more than that:
our job is to speak peace in the face of war
for, in doing so, we live into our calling as those who follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace –
and, with him, through the power of God’s Spirit,
we work towards bringing in God’s kingdom of peace –
where there shall be no more suffering, death, or pain;
and where there shall be no more war.  Amen.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Jenny Worthington: in memory

Today we said our goodbyes to our friend, and elder, Jenny Worthington -
first, at South Lanarkshire Crematorium, and then back down the road at the church.
In the first part of the day's proceedings, the Minister paid tribute to Jenny, while, at church,
Jenny's son Rhys shared memories of his mother.
The amazing turn out at both locations was a visible demonstration of just how many
lives Jenny touched over her own life.
Huge thanks to the many folk within the church community who helped in different ways
to ensure that today went smoothly.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, and friends, at this time.

The following is the Minister's tribute to Jenny...

‘utterly professional’,
'inveterate loser of keys...
‘great story-teller’,
‘loving mother and grandmother’,
‘most excellent friend’...
Just a wee mosaic of words that help to describe the kind of person Jenny was,
and even then, they barely scratch the surface.

Jenny was one of life’s givers, and didn’t make a fuss about it:
she quietly just cracked on with whatever job it was that needed doing –
and, if she was in charge, it would be done with a keen eye for detail,
with maximum efficiency, and done well.
Both in her professional, and personal, life Jenny’s focus was very much on hospitality –
quite literally, catering to the needs of others whether in the thick of it at Royal Ascot,
tending to the needs of Heads of State at a European Summit, cooking for the First Minister,
or organising medieval banquets where she got to be 'Queen Jenny',
nothing phased her:
she rose to the task, and her energy, ability, and passion for what she did not only
enthused the many teams she led but brought out their best.
This was also evident in the many years spent in in training generations of
students at Motherwell College:
tho, when she got to the point where she began teaching the grandsons of
former pupils she rather thought it time to hang up her professional apron...

Her professional provision of hospitality was an extension of who she was as a person:
welcoming, warm – the kettle was always on.
She paid attention to people, noticed the small things:
she worked out very quickly that the minister was quite partial to a cheese scone –
and, let me tell you, those cheese scones were fabulous.
While we never did quite sort out world peace around her kitchen table,
I swear, at times, aided by her warm hospitality, that we were pretty close.
All these little touches, quietly done, spoke volumes about the way in which Jenny cared for people:
whether cooking or baking,
driving folk to where they needed to be as a designated driver in her community,
looking out for people in her role as an elder in the church...
in a myriad of ways Jenny gave of her time and her impressive skills in the service of others.
The other day, I was reading something that Jenny had written for her retirement ‘do’ –
she said:
‘Opportunities I’ve been given, I have tried to return.’
She did that, and more:
I suspect the balance sheet falls strongly in her favour.

Jenny knew things:
I often called her one of my ‘wise women’ –
I truly valued her vast storehouse of knowledge and advice –
she made me a better minister, and for that, I’m grateful.
But beyond that, ‘Ask Jenny’ was just as much a catch-phrase at the College as it was the church.
if you didn’t know where something was,
or who might be related to whom,
or something needed sorted,
Jenny was your woman.
She was also stickler for getting a thing right:
woe betide if you thought it might be a good idea to put teaspoons in a mug
and pop them on a table at morning tea.
You’d learn very quickly that no, it was not such a good idea after all –
and, yes, she was right about that and so many things.
But while she had high standards, she wasn’t stuffy – she had a great sense of fun:
when she was working in London in the 60’s, having been out on the town at a ball,
she ended up with friends all still dressed in their ballgowns, at the airport,
waiting to welcome the Beatles home.
Jenny had the best twinkle in her eye, and a lovely sense of humour –
and her face would light up when she talked about her family:
she was so proud of Sian and Rhys
and so delighted to welcome wee Gethin when he arrived into the world.

With her characteristic no-fuss approach, when she received the news of her diagnosis,
she just got on with things – began to organise and put things in order.
I was privileged, as her minister, over the last three years,
to have had some good conversations about the deeper stuff of life –
and in these last weeks, her faith helped her to find a place of peace in a hard situation.
She had the hope of resurrection in her heart,
and knew that she was indeed, a beloved child of God.
And, while it feels too soon, and while we will miss her so very much,
even so, she will rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Sun sermon 5 Nov - 'Philemon' /People of the Bible series

READINGS/ Ps 139:1-18; Jeremiah 18:1-11; Philemon 

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.

He’s a servant, or slave:
pretty close to the bottom rung of the social ladder.
He lives and works in a large house in the town of Colossae.
Is he content with his lot?
Not really.
He wonders if there’s more to life than this.
He dreams of what else he could usefully be doing with his life –
Onesimus - it’s what his name actually means.
Mostly, he feels useless.
He’d rather be anywhere else than here.
He finds his mind occupied with thoughts of getting away.
...Dangerous thoughts, these.
If he leaves, and is caught, it could cost him his very life:
That’s the law, under the Roman Empire.
One day, however, something snaps.
He makes his bid for freedom:
a different life,
a different place...
and, in the leaving, perhaps he helps himself to some of his
master’s belongings in order to survive.

His master, Philemon, is prosperous –
clearly, a successful man about town:
deferred to by others,
used to power,
used to being in charge.
People notice Philemon,
listen to him,
and generally, they probably do as he asks.
His house is of a size that can comfortably hold a good number of folk:
meetings are held there often, and there’s a regular gathering –
each week on a Sunday.
It’s a strange assortment that gathers.
It’s a strange kind of meeting.
Letters are read out, and then discussed.
They sing.
They share bread and wine,
and pray to a strange god
and talk often of his Son.

Time has passed since the loss of his servant.
And, out of the blue, a letter arrives from an old friend, and brother in the faith.
Paul has been a mentor to him.
Has worked with him, in Colossae, building up the group of
those who follow in the way of Jesus –
the One who, through his life, the great bridge-builder,
reconciling all people to God –
restoring what had been a broken relationship,
and bringing freedom and new life.

Now, friend Paul writes from prison, in chains because of his faith,
and his letter contains surprising news,
as well as a challenging request.
It seems the lost servant,
the runaway slave, Onesimus,
has found his way to Paul,
and, in finding Paul,
has found the new life he sought –
as a follower of the way,
a follower of Christ.
Like the potter Jeremiah talks of, God has reshaped Onesimus –
no longer nothing, but God’s own;
no longer unnoticed, but known;
no longer in spiritual chains, but free;
no longer useless, but useful –
through God’s love,
Onesimus has found his own, true self.

Philemon reads this letter, and sees that Paul talks of this servant
as his own ‘dear child’;
a beloved brother;
his 'own heart'.
And challenges Philemon to treat this servant as he would his friend Paul –
to give him honour,
to love him...
to treat him like...a brother.
He may not have been useful in the past, Paul puns,
but, my word, he’s jolly useful now –
for God has remoulded Onesimus into someone who now understands
and lives and shares the message of God’s amazing, and transformative love.
Onesimus is living proof that God’s love is for all –
God does not just bless the wealthy,
the ones with status and power;
God blesses even those deemed 'useless'.

‘I’m sending him back to you’, says Paul:
‘forgive him.’
You can almost see Philemon’s eyebrows raise.
If there’s no forgiveness,
this story will end in death.
Paul’s using his ties of friendship with Philemon, to save the life of this new Christian brother.
And it’s interesting the way Paul addresses his friend:
instead of emphasising his own spiritual authority
and commanding Philemon to forgive, and even release, Onesimus,
Paul emphasises his own chains –
essentially, empathising with Onesimus’ situation as a captive.
In asking Philemon to forgive –
to reconcile, rather than seek revenge –
Paul shows the radical nature of the Gospel:
it is life-bringing –
not just spiritually, but in this case, very literally.
For Onesimus, it’s good news on several levels.
But what about Philemon?

Well, here, the radical nature of the Gospel just makes things
a little bit challenging and somewhat awkward for Philemon:
he has to go against every cultural and societal norm he knows.
In a society built upon a strongly defined system of class,
Paul is showing that in God’s kingdom,
in Christ’s community –
there’s only one class:
status is found in Christ alone.
All are equal.
Jesus as brother,
Jesus as friend...
Jesus not emphasising his own authority,
but instead showing humility,
not showing airs and graces as King of kings,
but instead providing the example of what it is to serve one another in love.
Paul challenges Philemon to set aside his rights as master, to forgive his servant...
and encourages him to see that the community called to follow Jesus,
is a community called to
serve one another in love,
to work together,
to regard one another not just as friends,
but as spiritual kin:
brothers and sisters in Christ.

In forgiving his servant, and taking him back, Philemon is faced with a dilemma:
those weekly Sunday meetings are now going to be attended by his servant...
who, in that time of worship will be on equal terms with his master, as a fellow believer in Christ.
How will that work?
How will it affect their relationship?
Paul’s letter suggests that the new relationship will see Onesimus as being ‘better than a slave’...
perhaps a suggestion, ultimately, to free his servant, in order that Onesimus
might more freely serve the Lord, and the community of faith.
The radical Gospel –
tells the story, the good news, of a kingdom and a community
where all are free,
and all are loving and serving
just the one master, Jesus.

What will Philemon do?
Will he rise to the challenge?
Will he reconcile, and in doing so, see his own community transformed
by God’s liberating, radical grace?
Grace, that sows the seeds of resurrection within the faith community
where God is making all things new?
It’s certainly an act of trust, on the part of Onesimus,
to go back and see if Philemon’s willing to give it a try.

What has Paul’s letter to Philemon,
a personal letter to a friend about a very particular situation,
got to do with us?
Well, we are the inheritors of the faith –
Christ’s body,
Christ’s community,
called by him to live in love,
and to live in the service of God and each other.
Called to be counter-cultural in our relationships:
we are bound to one another in and through Jesus.
What are the chains that are stopping us from being a community of love?
What holds us back from accepting God’s radical love for us,
and sharing that love with one another – as brothers and sisters?
How might we better be communities of transformation, grace, and welcome?
What rights and privileges do we have that we might be willing, as Christians,
to give up in the service of others?
What might a transformed, reconciled community of faith look like?

The good news of the Gospel is that,
in Christ, we are transformed,
reshaped, remoulded, made useful;
are freed to be who God created us to be;
called, not just individually,
but called into community:
we are not alone –
we have each other,
and God is with us.
In that knowledge,
let’s bear one another’s burdens in love;
let’s serve one another in love.
Let’s strike out in faith,
and be the change in the world that God wants to see.

Let’s pray:
We are not alone,
we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,   
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen

Friday, 3 November 2017

Jenny Worthington

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Jenny Worthington,
who died on Monday.

Her funeral arrangements are as follows:
11am Committal at Sth Lanarkshire Crematorium...
1pm at Upper Clyde Church for a service of thanksgiving for her life
2.15pm Funeral tea at Cornhill Castle

Thoughts and prayers are with family and friends at this time.
May she rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reformazing: remembering the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

This morning in worship we reflected on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation...
signified by Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.
We thought about:
Luther's journey of faith,
pondered his understanding of salvation by faith alone,
sang a hymn he wrote, based on Ps 46 - 'A mighty fortress is our God',
and even had a wee visit from him and our own Scottish reformer, John Knox...both of whom were cheerfully perched on the pulpit.
Rather than a traditional sermon this morning, there were several shorter reflections
picking up on Luther's understanding of God, of faith, and of scripture.
Our readings today were: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; Eph 2:1-10; and Ps 46

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Sunday sermon: Rahab - 'people of the Bible' series

READINGS/ Joshua 1:1-6; 2:1-24; 6:1-7, 20-25

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...

Sometimes, it’s good to have a little mood music, to set the scene,
and what more appropriate background music than a little jazz – feel free to tap your toes...

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho
and the walls came a-tumbling down
You may talk about your men of Gideon
You may talk about the men of Saul
But there's none like good old Joshua
at the battle of Jericho ...

Actually, you may talk about a man like Joshua,
but the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho is one that proves the saying that:
behind every good man... is a woman –
and, in the case from our bible passages this morning, that woman Rahab.
But before we get to Rahab, a little recap of how we’ve got to her in the first place.

Last week, we heard Hagar’s story –
Hagar, the servant of Abraham and Sarah,
and mother of Abraham’s son, Ishmael.
Many generations have passed since then.
Abraham’s son, Isaac, the one he had with Sarah, has had children, notably, Jacob.
Jacob later fathers many children, but here again, notably, Joseph,
who manages to annoy his big brothers so much that they sell him into slavery –
and he lands up in Egypt.
Eventually, he saves that nation through a prophetic vision –
the Pharaoh is grateful and invites him to bring his people into Egypt.
Hundreds of years pass...and Joseph’s people find themselves under a less kindly disposed Pharaoh.
These Hebrew ‘foreigners’ are seen as a threat to the country –
‘taking our jobs’
‘taking our women’
‘taking what’s ...ours’
something needs done.
And so, Pharaoh forces the Hebrews into virtual slavery.
They’re worked punishingly hard, and, in the midst of their servitude, I wonder:
do they dream of freedom, and make up songs of liberation to sing quietly under their breaths,
while they work on pyramids, or other projects?

Eventually, God sends a deliverer, in the form of Moses –
a Hebrew who’d grown up in Pharaoh’s own court.
With God’s help, and, with Moses at the helm, the Hebrews make a bid for freedom.
Escaping the army chasing them, they cross the Red Sea, and go out, into the wilderness,
where they’ll spend the next 40 years wandering and wondering,
and learning to trust in God, as they, as our first hymn states:
walk like pilgrims, through this barren land.

At the end of 40 years, we find the Hebrews in a time of transition:
coming to the end of their wandering,
coming to a change in leadership –
from Moses, to Joshua;
coming face to face with the now real thought of stepping upon
the land they feel that God has promised to them...
They are on the cusp of being able to finally throw off the last traces
of the shackles of slavery -
on the edge of claiming, and living into, the liberation given to them by God;
they’re ready to freely embrace their freedom:
to have a place to call their own;
to settle, and to prosper, without fear of Pharaohs –
for their only master will be God.
They stand on the brink of new life, but before they enter that new life fully,
they decide to investigate a little further –
Two spies are sent out to investigate the land, especially the city of Jericho.

Jericho’s seen better days;
truth be told, both its inner and outer walls are already a wee bit crumbly in places.
Housed within the inner walls of the city,
are the wealthy –
the ruling classes,
the richer kinds of merchants:
the inner wall gives them an extra layer of protection from marauders...
and, helps keep out the riff-raff – the less desirable inhabitants of the city...
These folk dwell on the edge,
tucked behind the outer wall
yet caught in front of the inner wall:
fodder and first defence in the face of attack.
It’s in this edgy, in-between place, that we find Rahab –
a woman who makes her living in the oldest profession.
When the Hebrew spies head to Jericho, they find their way to Rahab’s house:
perhaps such a place is the perfect spot to hear stories, idle talk, the latest news;
perhaps, too, as strangers it’s easier to blend in at such a place;
perhaps they think they won’t be noticed.
However, our two spies aren’t as subtle as they think:
they’re very much noticed –
and their appearance and location is reported to the king.
The king sends a message to Rahab –
basically: ‘bring ‘em out, we know they’re spies.’
And here’s where it gets interesting...
she doesn’t.
Instead, she does everything within her power to keep these two ‘enemies’ safe.
She’s already taken them up to the roof and hidden them;
She lies to the messengers,
effectively sending the king’s men off on a wild goose chase outside the city walls,
with the gates firmly shut behind them.
And then, we listen in on a conversation between Rahab and the spies – she says:
‘I know the Lord has given this land to you...’
Hang on:
not: ‘I know your God has given this land to you’
But: ‘the Lord’...
She’s identifying with the Hebrew God, not the gods of her own culture –
she’s already made a shift in her mind, in her spirit.
There’s an emerging faith here in the God who she’s heard stories about.
She, like all the inhabitants of Jericho,
knows the story of the parting of the Red Sea.

I wonder what it is about this God that moves Rahab to help those who should be her enemies;
I wonder what it is that causes her to cast her lot in with them, and follow their God?
Perhaps, given her line of work,
a dangerous, oddly lonely job,
perhaps...she understands the fickleness of the human heart only too well, and wants more than this.

Perhaps the story of a God who saves,
a God who uses strength to fight for the captives, the underdogs,
perhaps the story of a God who is ever-present,
who never abandons his people, who is faithful,
is a god worth following.
In a different way,
just as the Hebrews were trapped in Egypt,
she is trapped in her particular life situation:
if she chooses to follow the God of the Hebrews
might she, too, find rescue and safety, freedom and a fresh start?
Perhaps, she thinks it’s worth a shot
and as she waits in her house in the walls of Jericho, perhaps she sings, ever so quietly,
a small song of freedom, of liberation?

We know the rest of the story.
Jericho is attacked,
the walls come a’-tumbin’ down.
Rahab and all in her house are protected:
the promise is made good.
But what happens later?
How does the rest of Rahab’s story –
a story of a person living on the margins of society:
both physically on the outer wall,
and socially, with her line of work...
how does the rest of Rahab’s story pan out?
Well...having cast her lot in with the Hebrew God,
we hear of her again beyond the Book of Joshua –
she’s featured in the New Testament several times.
Twice, Rahab is held up as a hero of the faith –
she’s celebrated as an example to believers:
in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, she features in the great list
of those who made the Hall of Fame for faith...
this woman who has a dubious line of work is in there with folk like Noah, Moses, David, and Samuel...
She’s also mentioned in the Letter of James,
again held up as an example of being a person of great faith.
And then, there’s that other mention.
We find Rahab in the Gospel of Matthew.
At some point, Rahab, having chosen to make her future with the Hebrews,
settles down, gets married, has at least one child.
We know this, because there she is, listed in a long genealogy.
We find as we read that list of names in Matthew, that she becomes a mother –
to a son named Boaz.
Remember Boaz?
We were talking about him a few weeks back:
he’s the chap who married Ruth.
They have a son,
who has a son,
who is the father of King David.
Basically, Rahab not only helps the Hebrews move into the Promised Land,
it is from her that Israel gets a king.
Multiple generations later, in Matthew’s genealogy,
we discover that Jesus is a descendent...
of Rahab –
Rahab, an unlikely ancestor for a Messiah:
It’s a case of God, throwing a wee curve ball when it comes to expectations of acceptability;
God throwing a different perspective –
showing that all things are possible,
that all people are created in God’s image,
that God calls all kinds of people
however unusual,
however different,
whatever side of the tracks they’re on.
And, whatever you might say about Rahab,
she wasn’t on living on the so-called ‘right’ side of the tracks...
But God’s Spirit blows where she will and faith appears in likely and unlikely places:
sometimes among the palaces of the powerful,
sometimes in the in-between places populated by the underdogs,
the Ruths, the Hagars, the Rahabs of the world....
who quietly sing the song of God’s liberation,
just as those in slavery in Egypt did,
just as those in slavery in the American South did, when they sang songs like
‘Joshua fought the battle of Jericho.’

We worship a God who seeks liberation:
a God of justice,
who longs for his people to hear his call to freedom –
to shake of the shackles of all that holds them down,
of all that stops them from living fully,
from living abundantly.
Sometimes, it is the real, physical chains of slavery...
and sometimes it’s the stuff we live with
in our hearts,
on our minds,
that we can’t seem to let go of –
regrets, bitterness, guilt, unforgiveness,
particular patterns of behaviour...
We worship a God who seeks liberation for his people:
who calls us to rise up from the chains
that keep us down,
that keep us from following him,
the keep us from walking out of the wilderness,
and into new life with him.
We worship the God who told Joshua ‘be strong and courageous’
and the God who found a place in Rahab’s heart...
As we follow in the faith example of Rahab,
so we pray for the courage to follow God
wherever God takes us,
whoever God brings alongside us,
and whatever God asks of us on the way...

Monday, 23 October 2017

a little slice of Harvest Festival

Slightly belated Harvest note...
Huge thanks to the many hands that helped make our Harvest a great success the other week:
the catering team;
the flower folk who decorated each of our windows and set up the harvest offerings around the Communion table;
all who donated various goods for the harvest which later went to Clannalba and to the Clydesdale Food Bank;
our five primary schools for their wonderful harvest banners which greeted everyone as they came into worship;
and to everyone who turned out to support our Festival in many other ways. Great team effort everyone - lovely!

This year, our special offering went toward the work of 'Farm Africa'. Our primary students were also undertaking various activities for Farm Africa, including the 'Great African Welly Walk', welly decorating, and participating in Harvest assemblies learning more about Farm Africa and who it helps. Wel oh

The pic's serve as a wee taster of some of the decorations and harvest offerings in UCPC

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sunday, sermon 15 Oct: 'Hagar'/ people of the Bible series

READINGS/ Genesis ch. 16; Gen 21:1-21

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.

Had she been with them, when Abraham had taken the plunge,
and moved out of his comfort zone in the city of Haran?
Had she known that he did so because he’d heard the voice of the Lord calling him
to leave his country, his people, his home...
and to go to an unknown Promised Land?
Or, had she been collected along the way, just another of the many possessions
being carried along in the wake of the Promise:
people and goods, all travelling along Abram’s journey of faith?
Did she know of God’s promise to Abram:
that he would be the father of a mighty nation,
that his descendants would be as numerous as the glittering stars in the sky?
...She did know that he and his wife, Sarah were childless...

Servants are unseen, invisible –
at least, they’re supposed to be.
They get the job done,
no fuss, no bother,
and fade into the background.
Servants are unseen –
unless something’s amiss.
And something is indeed amiss by the time we get to Chapter 16 of Genesis,
and the ongoing story of Abram.

The wait for God’s promised child has been stretching on, and on...and on.
Years have passed since God spoke to Abram of the blessing of a child,
of descendants without number.
Perhaps God expects them to sort a little something out?
And suddenly, out of the shadows, comes Hagar.
We hear her story –
the story of someone who, in normal circumstances, would be overlooked.
Suddenly, this formerly unseen servant,
steps into the light because Sarai and Abraham see her in a different way than they have before.
They are free to make use of her in whatever way they want,
and what they want is a child.
Surely God meant for them to sort out the matter themselves –
for doesn’t God help those who help themselves...
except, that’s never ever written in Scripture?
And so, trying to second-guess God’s plan,
they do a little micro-managing, to make sure it actually happens.
Sarah sends Hagar to Abraham.
A child is conceived....
Except it’s not.
Somewhere in the seemingly simple plan of micro-managing an answer to prayer,
human dynamics – emotions and feelings – are forgotten.
Having arranged for Hagar to conceive, Sarah is now filled with jealousy.
And Hagar...
well, her social status has suddenly gone up:
she’s not just a servant, she’s carrying the child of her master –
and because of this, Sarah really doesn’t have the same authority over Hagar as she once did.
So she makes Hagar’s life such a living hell that it seems better to Hagar to flee
into the wilderness, than to stay in that unhappy place of torment any longer.
Perhaps it’s better, after all, not to have been seen, not to step into
the drama that is Abraham and Sarah's?
But having fled, out in the wilderness, Hagar is seen –
by God.
The angel of the Lord tells her to return,
tells her that she, too, will have descendants without number, just as Abram.
She has not been forgotten –
nor, with so many descendants,
will she ever be forgotten:
her story will be told
and her name will live on for generation upon generation.
But, hang on, that’s not supposed to happen:
she’s a servant,
a woman,
a nobody.
Why is God bothering... with her?
Why is God promising her that she’ll have vast quantities of descendants?
Well, because, while she may be a nobody in terms of the human worth of the day,
the story demonstrates that God sees things a little differently:
God sees the ones who are unseen –
the least,
the lost,
the most vulnerable,
the ones who apparently just don’t matter.
God sees. 
Not only is she seen,
Hagar is known, and named.

And something quite gob-smacking happens here:
Hagar, recognising that God sees her, names God:
gives God the name ‘el Roi’ – meaning ‘the God who sees’
Hagar is the first woman in the Bible visited by a messenger from God;
She’s the first woman to see and talk with God.
And, she’s the only person in all of scripture who names God –
sure there are men who encounter God, or messengers from God,
and who subsequently set up an altar at the place
and rename the place:
but Hagar ...names God.
She sees the God who sees her.
In response to the message she’s given, she returns back to camp.

Months pass, the child is born.
Abram is now 86.
Tensions still simmer.
14 years pass, and another child is born – this time to Sarah...
They name the child Isaac – meaning ‘God has brought me laughter’,
for, Sarah’s long-held wish has been answered.
But while there’s laughter for Sarah, there’s not so much for Hagar and her son, Ishmael.

Servants are unseen, invisible –
at least, they’re supposed to be.
And Hagar, the servant, and mother to Abraham’s child has not been invisible for a long time now.
Every moment of the day, she is a constant reminder to Sarah of what has happened.
Isaac is born, and Sarah makes plans:
for, clearly, with his birth, they are in the way,
and Sarah is determined that Isaac will not have to share his inheritance.
Sarah determines to get rid of them once and for all.
Eventually agreeing, Abraham gives Hagar food and drink and sends them away into the desert.
It’s horrific, and it doesn’t paint either Sarah or Abraham in
a great light – our heroes of the faith are flawed and fallible just like the rest of us.

There in the desert, the water soon runs out.
Hagar, the unseen,
Hagar, the exiled, unwanted, and vulnerable,
senses the end is near and cannot bear it.
She’s so distraught at the thought of losing her son, she walks a wee distance away from him.
She weeps –
it’s all that’s left to her in the barren desert wastes.
The boy also weeps.
And there, in the middle of nowhere,
God hears.
God sees.
And God answers their cries.
Water is given – life restored.
And they find, at this journey’s end, that the desert is their home, their place of refuge,
and that they are not forgotten.

Hagar’s story comes down to us through the generations –
a reminder to us of who God values:
who God sees.
History has a way of managing to record mostly the so-called ‘great and the good’ –
a king here, a general there,
perhaps an occasional queen.
Prominent, powerful.
People of status.
In this bible story about the not so invisible,
not so unseen servant, Hagar,
someone of seemingly no importance is raised up –
is shown to have value in God’s eyes,
is given life-giving water,
is given ... life.

I wonder, how often we feel like Hagar?
Deserted, walking in a wilderness,
feeling small, insignificant, invisible?
Living in and through the hardest of times that feels overwhelming,
that feels paralysing,
where the only thing left to give is tears?
Living a life where everything feels shrivelled and dry –
where’s the life-giving water,
the well from which to drink?
Where is God in the midst of the suffering?
Servants are unseen, invisible –
at least, they’re supposed to be.
But I’m so glad that Hagar is not.
As we see Hagar, the not so invisible woman,
as we hear her story,
we are reminded that, as God sees Hagar,
so too, God sees us.
God doesn’t watch from a distance, but is right in the midst of it.
The God of the resurrection sees us,
walks with us in the good places –
but also, in the hard.
Read Hagar’s story, if you’re feeling bereft, deserted, invisible:
be encouraged,
and know that God sees you,
is with you.

And it goes broader – beyond ourselves, this business of seeing:
I wonder, who are the Hagars in the world today?
Who are the ones we don’t see, don’t notice –
or who we try not to see?
What of the refugee – fleeing from war, wanting nothing but to live safely?
What of all those people caught up as victims in human trafficking – modern-day slavery?
What of those who have lost all hope,
have nowhere to go to,
have no one who sees them?
God sees the forgotten,
the lost,
the invisible,
the ones whose names we don’t know,
but whose names God knows.
In the story of Hagar,
we see the God who sees say to such a one:
‘I see ... you.’
And, in the seeing, demonstrates that they matter.

In a sea of human need, so often brought about by human greed,
we too, can choose to see;
we too, can choose to say:
‘I see you: you matter.’
And as we open our eyes and look, really look,
we will be following in the footsteps of the One
who knows us,
and who sees us,
and who calls us by name...
we will be following the One
who came to help ‘the least of these’,
and in so doing,
we’ll be bringing in God’s kingdom,
in which all are seen –
all are loved,
and all are valued.  Amen.