Sunday, 30 May 2010

Resources and dominion

For the Sunday after Pentecost - Trinity Sunday.

Readings: Psalm 8

Let me re read the Psalm for you – from The Message version of the Bible.

1 God, brilliant Lord, yours is a household name.

2 Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;

toddlers shout the songs

That drown out enemy talk,

and silence atheist babble.

3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,

your handmade sky-jewelry,

Moon and stars mounted in their settings.

Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,

Why do you bother with us?

Why take a second look our way?

5-8 Yet we've so narrowly missed being gods,

bright with Eden's dawn light.

You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,

repeated to us your Genesis-charge,

Made us lords of sheep and cattle,

even animals out in the wild,

Birds flying and fish swimming,

whales singing in the ocean deeps.

9 God, brilliant Lord,

your name echoes around the world.

Isn’t that wonderful? A Psalm that lends perspective to the lives we lead.

A Psalm that depicts the majesty of God – and the place that we have in creation.

It’s incredible that the God of the universe rates us so highly that we are given dominion over the world.

Huge privilege.

Huge responsibility.

That’s been demonstrated all too forcibly in the oil spill crisis in the gulf recently.

Knowledge and skill allowed us to drill deep.

But, as yet, that knowledge and skill is not making an effective contribution to clearing up the devastation caused by human error.

Devastation that affects not just us but our children as well as all the wildlife and the fragile ecological balance.

Privilege and responsibility.

Privilege and responsibility go hand in hand.

How many post election speeches have you heard these past few weeks in which our elected members acknowledge the privilege – and the responsibility of serving constituents.

And, much closer to home this morning, we have acknowledged, as we always do in baptism, the privilege and responsibility that the grace of God brings us – the privilege of being called God’s children – and the responsibility of living up to that calling.

I was reminded of that privilege and responsibility as I listened to the proceedings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland last week.

One of the debates centred around our commitment as a national church to continue to provide a territorial ministry throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

It’s a tenet that is enshrined in the constitution of the Church of Scotland but it is a principle that is becoming harder and harder to maintain particularly in these times of economic recession.

I was delighted that the General Assembly voted to continue to pursue this commitment.

Inevitably, to do so will require sacrifice on the part of some.

It will require effort.

Most of all, it will require people like us to lift our heads and glimpse the big picture.

Do you remember that old hymn – Jesus bids us shine?

Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light

Like a little candle, burning in the night

In this world is darkness, so we must shine

You in your small corner and I in mine.

You in your small corner and I in mine

That’s no longer good enough.

We need a much better awareness of our connectedness.

Of our responsibility to and for one another.

Our actions affect not just us – but our brothers and sisters in the church and in the world.

Do you remember the communion Sunday when we celebrated our connectedness by making a huge paper chain.

We each put in a link – and we added links to represent those gone before us with whom we believe we are still connected through the love of God.

Already there are some who contributed to that paper chain who have gone to be with God and still we celebrate their spirit among us and the service they gave to spread God’s love in this place and in this parish.

Being connected – with God and with each other lends us perspective to the responsibility we have.

As you know, for the past few months, I’ve been working over in Mauchline, a parish without a minister at the moment.

Today, they will vote on sharing their future minister with another parish.

It’s difficult decisions like that that face all of our congregations in order to honour our commitment to minister to all – particularly to those outside the church – the parishes and communities that we serve.

Here in Castehill it is unlikely that we will be faced with such a decision as that which faces Mauchline today – but we are still going to be called upon to share – to share the riches of the resources we enjoy.

Something that perhaps seems like no big deal when we consider it in theory.

But something which, when t comes down to the nitty gritty becomes a huge issue, demanding sacrifice, demanding giving in love.

We are not here merely to serve this congregation, high calling as that is.

We are here to serve this parish.

And, as the demands of an aging building and an aging congregation and a reduction in paid professional leaders continues to bite, it seems that one of the first things we lose sight of is our commitment to serve those who are not members.

That involves leaving the comparative comfort of our building here to make our talents available wherever there is need in our community.

It means contributing our time and our energy to projects often unseen, unrecognised, with no thought of return.

It means being involved in all those activities that won’t add to the numbers filling up the pews on a Sunday but activities that will help us to display the love of Christ in action and to live up to our calling – the calling we all eschew at baptism, to share with all God’s children the knowledge and love of God.

The big picture.

Not you in your small corner and I in mine.

There are few us who would argue with that.

But to actually go and do it.

To allow each other to do it.

Because it DOES demand sacrifice.

That can often be a different story.

Psalm 8 reminds us of the power we have – the power we have individually and as a community of faith.

We have been charged with dominion over the earth and its creatures.

What is dominion?

Dominion is responsibility for well being.

We have the responsibility for the well being of this fragile planet and all its inhabitants.

Isn’t that a scary thought.

That you and I should be charged with such responsibility.

The future well being of the earth – in our hands.

I was moved when I visited J recently to talk about D’s baptism.

J, who already has two wonderful boys, whose vocation, in teaching, brings her into contact with young folk every day, but still can marvel at the wonder and the uniqueness of new life.

As a community of faith here, we are charged with nurturing and protecting all life in this community – the new and the not so new, the perfect and the flawed.

God’s creation, given into our care.

Somehow as we grow older the wonder of life, the wonder of order in our everyday fails to impinge on our consciousness. We take it for granted.

We forget how special it all is.

In this Psalm, that wonder is celebrated.

And the amazing place that we enjoy in creation is marveled at.

We are all special to God.

Not because of who we are.

But because of who God is.

God loves all of creation – and so must we.

Recognising the privilege God bestows on us giving us dominion over creation, we must assume the responsibility that comes with that privilege and commit ourselves to sharing, as we have promised today, with all God’s children the knowledge and love of God.

In taking that task seriously, we will rediscover a wonder and an awe in creation.

We will be inspired to make a difference.

We will be compelled to move beyond these walls and share our resources – share life in all its fullness.

Glimpse the big picture.

To God be the glory. Amen

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Into the clouds

Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter - Ascension

Readings: Acts 1 v 1-11

Just recently, I conducted the wedding service of friends at Glasgow University chapel.

When I studied at Glasgow, we had prayers in the chapel every morning and a faculty service there every Wednesday lunchtime. So I kind of got used to the place.

But, going back, after such a long time away, I appreciated again how awesome and how beautiful that chapel is.

It was great to have the privilege of doing that.

When I arrived, I was shown to the chaplain’s office.

What a revelation that was – the height of luxury.

I remember that very room as a place where we had Greek lectures.

Now here it was all modernised and equipped with the latest furnishings and technology.

Changed days indeed.

In fact, I can remember sitting patiently – or more like impatiently in that room, waiting to see if our lecturer would show up – Greek was always a 9am class.

We would give the guy 10 minutes – and if he hadn’t shown by then, we were off to the hub for coffee.

I remember hearing of one lecturer who arrived at college early one morning and decided he had time for a quick coffee before classes started.

So, leaving his hat on the desk, he went off to the staff room, brewed some coffee and read his paper.

Suddenly, he realised it was 10 past nine.

By the time he got back to class, the students had all left.

Next day, he berated them – If my hat’s here, I’m here.

The following morning he arrived to find 28 hats on his desk – and no students.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of Christ.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he appeared to his followers many times over a period of forty days.

During this time he taught them and he reassured them. The disciples had lots of questions for Jesus but Jesus told them not to worry about things, to leave them to God. Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they received a very special gift--the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Receiving the Holy Spirit meant receiving power.

The apostles would now be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

In Christ’s final appearance to them, they stood watching as Jesus was taken up into Heaven in a cloud.

That is the event we celebrate today.

The Ascension of Jesus.

Jesus was taken up in a cloud.

Clouds feature symbolically throughout scripture.

There was the cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness, there was the cloud that covered Mount Sinai when Moses went up to receive the 10 commandments and there was a cloud that appeared when Jesus was transfigured .

Clouds like this in scripture seem to signify God’s presence.

Jesus, at his ascension, was taken up in a cloud into the very presence of God and took his place at God’s right hand.

There’s no point in struggling with the terminology.

We know that Jesus’ appearance was changed when he rose from the dead – it took his disciples a while to recognise him, he could pass through doors, but the marks on his hands and feet and the wound in his side were visible. And we can speculate for all we’re worth and not be any nearer the truth of what Jesus was like and how the ascension was achieved.

The ascension was a spiritual phenomenon, not physical.

What really matters to us today, however, are the two things Jesus does before he ascends into heaven.

The first thing is, Jesus commands the disciples to witness for him in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Seems quite straightforward.

Being a witness is about telling of what you have experienced.

Then why is that so difficult for us?

We would rather be in the secret service than actually go out and speak of our faith – it’s simply too embarrassing.

Yet how else is our world to know about the love of God, if we are not telling?

The Christian faith hasn’t survived for 2000 years by people keeping quiet.

Is it just too difficult to do that nowadays?

Well, maybe the second thing Jesus did before he ascended is what we need to grasp this morning – Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit.

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” Then a few verses later he adds, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you . . .”

Jesus knew that it would be difficult for his disciples to provide a living witness to their Master’s death and resurrection.

After all, they were to take their testimony to the ends of the earth.

To everybody?

Arabs? Jews? Africans? Asians?

The barbarians living in the British Isles? Everybody? Everybody, said Jesus.

It was a tall order.

It seemed like an impossible assignment.

That is why he promised them that they would not go about the task alone. His Holy Spirit would be with them.

The Holy Spirit was coming to empower them to continue the work Christ had begun, the work Christ calls us to today.

Christ would not simply be leaving his hat on the desk as a symbol of his presence.

He would be with them, closer than the very air they breathed.

I’ve conducted quite a number of funerals these past few weeks.

And no matter what age a person was, no matter whether we feel we’re celebrating a long and fruitful life, or a life cut cruelly short, the one thing I like to focus on, the thing that I feel gives most hope, is the eternity of love.

Love lasts forever.

So the loved we’ve shared with our nearest and dearest doesn’t die with them – it goes on making a difference for us.

It’s love that speaks to us in the wee small hours, bringing to mind something we miss.

It’s love that speaks to us as we go about our every day business, doing something in a particular way because that’s the way our loved one liked things done.

It’s love that prompts us to think differently and see differently because we’re looking through the eyes of the one we miss.

Our loved ones still guide our every day in love.

Love is how you stay alive after you’re gone.

So would it be with Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus, whom they loved, would still be with them in spirit to guide their every day.

And so is God’s gift to us today.

We too have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So, whatever we have to face, we are not alone.

For us too, Christ has ascended to the Father.

And he has sent us his Holy Spirit to comfort us and to empower us.

Nothing is impossible if God is with us.

So what about this heaven into which Jesus ascended?

Heaven isn’t often the subject of sermons.

More likely the subject of jokes.

There’s the story of a nine-year-old who addressed a letter to God at the Pearly Gates, Heaven.

It was returned.

Someone at the post office had written across the envelope: “Nobody at the post office is headed that way. Sorry!”

What do you picture heaven as?

Let me assure you, there isn’t a wrong answer to that.

Its not something we can define from scripture, like so much in Scripture, we’re not provided with neatly packaged ideas – so there are not many clues there – just lots of symbolism.

And the truth is that because we’re trying to describe something so outwith our grasp, its going to be impossible anyway.

But, for what its worth let me share with you my picture of heaven as it currently stands.

And I offer this as an illustration of how it’s the concept of heaven and not the physical description that we just might be able to grapple with.

A couple of years ago, I took some study leave and did some work and study in America.

I studied in North Carolina and then went up to Indiana to work for a while.

I worked for 3 weeks in a huge Presbyterian church before Idris and the kids came out to join me.

On the day they were due to arrive, there was a mix up with flights, meaning instead of picking them up at lunchtime, it was going to be into the evening before I could go and meet them.

I hadn’t been able to eat all day at the thought of seeing them again.

And that extra 4 or 5 hours was almost unbearable.

But finally, there I was standing at the arrivals gate in Indianapolis airport, light headed from lack of food and out walked my family.

That was heaven.

And once we’d all hugged each other, I was aware that all around me were folk doing the same thing – catching up with loved ones.

Now I know that three weeks is nothing.

For some meeting loved ones that day, it may have been a shorter separation, it may have been much, much longer.

But that area in front of arrivals, that few metres of airport concourse was hallowed ground.

Hallowed by loved ones meeting up.

For me, heaven will be like that.

A place to meet loved ones, however long our separation has been.

I don’t know if we’ll be instantly recognisable to each other once we become spiritual beings.

I don’t know if we’ll be able to embrace.

There are a million things about heaven I do not know.

But I feel sure that it will be a place or a space where love is recognised and shared.

Today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the father.

We cannot get our heads around the nature of the ascension or of heaven.

But does that mean we shouldn’t believe in them?

Our faith is a mystery – that’s why it’s called faith.

So today, this ascension Sunday, instead of getting all tied up in knots about things that are beyond our understanding, lets hear again those last words of Jesus to his disciples:

Go and be witnesses for me to the ends of the earth.

And Jesus’ promise to them:

I will send the Holy Spirit to be your helper.

You and I are called to be witnesses.

You and I are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not act as though we were in the secret service.

Let’s spread the word in love.

Let’s harness the power of the spirit.

For the glory of God.


Sunday, 9 May 2010

The butterfly effect

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; 
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21

Christian Aid Week, this year, is focussing on

ending Poverty. The lectionary text, with its

vision of a whole new world reminds us

of the hope we have, in God, that there

can be love and justice and compassion.

And it can begin in us.