Saturday, 28 August 2010

A welcoming church?

This week's gospel: Luke 14: 1,7-14

Over on the other blog I was reflecting on how sad it is that, for many people, the church would not even be a place of last resort when they are in need of help.
The institutional church has built up a reputation of exclusivity and judgmentalism - so far from the inclusive, biased to the rabble, church that Jesus modeled.
And, while I would love to think and claim that things have changed - that nowadays the church is an embracing, welcoming place, I would be hard pressed to evidence that. Because there are still too many people in the church who simply don't get it. They see faith and its practice as something to be guarded and protected, not flung open to those who would not handle with care, those with "no respect".
This week's gospel speaks to all of us who are stumbling blocks, who bar the gates and exclude many whom Christ calls- and welcomes - into the kingdom.
The church is not ours - but Christ's. Christ did not exclude. Christ did not look with disapproval on those who did not know the rules of behaviour - but welcomed them and rejoiced in their differences and loved their non conformity.
I love the church.
I love my place in it.
But I cannot see it ever becoming the kind of church that Christ envisaged without a radical rethink and an earth shattering reform.
And, if that were ever to happen, would we be happy about being at the bottom of the pile as we surely would in God's upside down kingdom?
This gospel challenges so much that even those who claim to be open and welcoming need to examine. Because just when we think we've grasped what it's all about, there's a rumble of divine laughter encouraging us to push the boundaries again, to throw out our hastily redrafted liberal rules and get back to the drawing board.

This song, from Nichole Nordeman encourages us to leave the safety of the status quo behind which we cower.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

God stoops down

A reflection on today's gospel

Reading:  Luke 13:10-17

With the children, earlier we were talking about Super heroes that have become a part of our popular culture - superman, Batman, He-Man, Wonder Woman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...
Often, to see a super hero, we have to look up – to Superman soaring in the sky; to Spiderman scaling the heights. He man is huge.
Perhaps the Ninja Turtles are the exception, with their home in the sewers.

What about Jesus?
Where do we find him?
In our gospel reading this morning, he must have been stooping pretty low.
To look into the eyes of a woman who couldn’t stand up straight.
A woman who hadn’t been able to stand up straight for 18 years.

Imagine what life would be like if you couldn’t stand up straight.
Anyone who suffers from back problems has probably experienced a little of that.
Trouble straightening up.
Feeling more comfortable staying a little closer to the ground.
But this woman, whom Jesus healed, had no choice.
She was so crippled that she could not straighten up.
What must have her view of life been like?

I imagined her shuffling along the High Street in Ayr.
What would she see?
Let’s think.
Discarded trash.
Those leaflets that folk hand out advertising things that often don’t even make it to a bin but are discarded in the street.
There would be a good number of those to observe ambling down Ayr High Street.
Cigarette doubts.
Plenty of those too.
Discarded chewing gum – or chuddy – that would be a big feature.
(I won’t mention the dog dirt)
Folks’ shoes rushing past.
Maybe the odd toddler, smiling up at her.
But, on the whole, a pretty bleak picture.

And I’m not sure that in Jesus’ day, the outlook would have been any less bleak.

It is out of that kind of existence that Jesus called the woman.
Jesus called her “A daughter of Abraham”.
And he healed her.
Healed her so that she was free.
Healed her, so that, once again, she could look up and see the stars.

And that’s not the end of the story.
This gospel is not just about Jesus stooping down to heal a crippled woman.
This gospel is also about Jesus bringing freedom to all who were in the temple precints that day.
By healing that woman, by showing that the Sabbath was a good day for doing good things, he freed up all those who for years had been bound by the rules of the Sabbath.
And who, in their bondage had been miserable – just as miserable as the woman who couldn’t stand up straight.
That day, Jesus brought not just physical healing but spiritual healing too.
By demonstrating that if the rules imposed by the religious authorities are making our encounter with God a miserable one, then there’s something far wrong.

As Presbyterians we are very law abiding people. (And, I'm tempted to say - very miserable people too - but that's not true of this congregation)
The Church of Scotland imposes all sorts of rules and regulations to ensure that what we do together, especially in the worship of God’s house, is right and proper.
But there are times, when we too, need to be released from our bondage.
Times, when we too need the freedom of disregarding the letter of the law – perhaps even flaunting it – so that we can truly encounter God – the God who is stooping down to look us in the eye.

St Francis of Assisi puts it this way:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once He asked me to join Him on a walk 
through this world, and we gazed into every heart on this earth, 
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
 before any face that was
 weeping, and before any eyes that were
 laughing. And sometimes when we passed
 a soul in worship. God too would kneel down. I have come to learn: God
 adores His 
Source: Love Poems From God, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
God adores God's creation. God adores you and me.
What could you offload today to a God who wants you to be free?
What are the peculiar burdens and straight jackets that are holding you back?
What is the healing you need?
God stoops down to lift us from whatever is weighing us down.
To release us from whatever is tying us in knots.
To straighten us up and help us carry the load with our shoulders back and our heads held high because we are loved by a God who is prejudiced.
And whose prejudice is us.
You are a child of God.
God brings the freedom of healing to you today.
I want to play you a song just now, written by a Greenock singer songwriter called Yvonne Lyon.
There’s a lovely story to this song – Yvonne was driving along in her car one day, preoccupied with all manner of things, when a young girl, crossing the road with her mum, looked at her and gave her the brightest smile. It just changed the day.
THAT is the kind of thing that God does for us – every day.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Finding God

It is necessary that we find God, and God cannot be found in noise and unpeace.... See how Nature--trees, flowers and grass--grow in stillness; how stars, moon and sun run their course in silence. The more we receive through quiet prayer, the more we can give in the activity of our daily lives. In essence, it is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. All our words are useless if they do not come from within. Words that do not carry the light of Christ only increase the darkness.

Mother Theresa

(Source: quoted on