Sunday, 29 May 2011

What kind of stones?

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60
            2 Peter 2:5-10

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (2 Peter 2: 5;9)

Harold Camping, an American radio broadcaster predicted that the world would end last Saturday.
That happened to be the day that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland began its annual meeting- but I’m sure there was no connection.
As the time rolled around for The Rapture, as it was known, and all the commissioners remained in place, it was, for a time, not clear whether Harold Camping had got his prediction wrong or whether the Church of Scotland was not included in The Rapture.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up fearing The Rapture.
The Rapture – Jesus’ return to earth -  meant being separated from family and friends who didn’t believe.
And it was bound to happen at the least convenient time.
I fact, I was taught that, when Jesus came back, he wouldn’t come looking for anyone in the cinema, or in a dance hall, or any of those other dens of iniquities that I wanted to hang out in.
Even now, when I find myself somewhere really crowded and noisy, I experience flashbacks to that teaching and think: Jesus won’t be able to find me here!
As news of Harold Camping’s prediction gathered momentum, I was reminded of this Cliff Richard song: I wish we’d all been ready.

Well, the Church of Scotland General Assembly survived The Rapture.
And, in fact, we went on, the next day, to celebrate with a giant party in Princes Street Gardens.
It was wonderful to see people from all parts of the church getting together to celebrate faith.
What I found really strange about that gathering and, indeed throughout the week, were the number of folk who stopped me and said - It’s good to meet you – I read your blog!
Something that started out as a way of processing and thinking through things has become a real outreach tool, being read, not just in Scotland but also in many other countries every day!

On Monday morning, we got down to continue the business of the week.
Although, from media reports, you could be forgiven for thinking that all that was on the agenda last week was same sex relationships, that took up only one day out of 7.
Also on the agenda, was Presbytery Reform, new forms of ministry and lots of good news stories of the Church of Scotland’s work overseas as well as evidence of the Church making a difference to lives affected by injustice and poverty, here and abroad.
As ever the massive social care that the church provides in so many forms was shared and commended.
Military chaplains and missionary partners overseas were welcomed and invited to share their stories.
As well as all the official business there was, too, the opportunity to share with colleagues informally throughout the week and get a better sense of how much was going on all across the land.
And, in spite of all the challenges facing the church as we try to live up to being the Living Stones we are called to be, there was evidence of the church rising to that challenge in so many new and innovative ways.

like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (2 Peter 2: 5;9)

One of the acts of worship at the gathering in Princes Street Gardens last Sunday was the building of a cairn composed of stones that folk had brought from their part of the world.
There were big stones and small stones, pebbles and boulders, different shapes, different sizes, different colours.
Of course, a pile of stones can mean so many different things –
a pile of rubble, a sign of destruction
a pile of new bricks, a sign of something starting
a pile of boulders, a sign of no entry, a barrier.
Stones can be used to harm as well as to build up – as we read in our other New Testament reading today – the stoning of Stephen.

Called to be living stones, how will we allow ourselves to be used and become?
Will we lie around gathering dust, like a pile of rubble, perhaps pointing to something that was once useful but has long since fallen into disrepair?
Will we act as a barrier, preventing folk from getting to the heart of God, the heart of God’s love?
Will we have the novelty of new bricks that point to promise and potential?
Or will we be the kind of stones that cause harm?

The piled up stones in Princes Street Gardens last Sunday were a sign of life, a symbol of all the stories of the faithful witness of the church in different corners of the world.
A sign of people living up to their calling to be living stones, called out and chosen to share the love of God, right where they are.

We have been chosen – for a vey special task.
Called to tell the story of a God who is love.
In baptism, as we witnessed again today, the sign and seal of God’s Spirit is placed upon us, marking us out from others, compelling us to allow ourselves to become living stones, sharing with everyone the love of God poured out on us before we can begin to understand.

This week, I felt part of that chosen race that royal priesthood, one of those living stones, part of the church that’s making a difference in the world, locally and globally.

Let’s choose to live up to our calling in this place today – living stones, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, telling of the wonderful love of God in all that we do and in all that we say, making a difference by sharing God’s love here in this place and wherever life takes us in our everyday.
Let’s offer ourselves as living stones, building God’s kingdom in this part of God’s world.
For the glory of God.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

One in Christ

Today, I'm involved in a service, Pray Across Scotland, ahead of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
I'll share this reflection:

Churches that follow the Sunday lectionary would hear preaching today, even if you celebrated Christian Aid Sunday, on Jesus as the good shepherd and/or on the description of the early church as described in Acts.
Let me share with you just a few verses from Acts chapter 2
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 When Peter preached that Pentecost sermon, when the Spirit came and people from all over the Roman empire heard the Good News in their own language, it was the Jewish people gathered for a Jewish festival who became the first converts. And these first converts, the members of the first community of faith that had the Risen Christ as their Lord, brought with them all that they had in common as well as all their differences. Things that united them and things that could have divided them. 
And, as we read through the book of Acts, we read of many of their disagreements on religious outlook.
 But look at the picture painted in Acts chapter 2. In the midst of all their differences, still they managed to create, together, a faithful family that worshiped Jesus Christ as Lord. They were the church family, the body of Christ, as we too aspire to be.

The church of Acts gathered around the Good News and in doing so, found unity where others might have found division. They wouldn’t always be so faithful, so one in Spirit, but, time and again, they’d come back to their oneness in Christ.

That first church is mirrored  throughout history. Over and over people with all kinds of differences – some obvious, some that take a little digging and time to discover – people gather together to worship, to serve, to care for one another and all in the name of Christ. From time to time, the family of faith resembles those first days of the church. And from time to time, we let our differences get the better of us.
 Whether we find ourselves bound together in love or sorrowfully divided, the fact that there are differences among us does not change.
 The real difference, perhaps, is that sometimes we let those differences divide us and sometimes we live as though Christ is  Lord of all and calls us all together.
Sometimes we live as though we truly believe that God’s house is a house of prayer for all peoples… even the ones we don’t agree with.
 Our differences matter. They are not insignificant details.
But, they are also not, thanks to Christ, insurmountable. For in Christ all things are possible. In Christ, there is no division strong enough to keep God from calling us together. To keep us from being one loving family of faith.
The Good Shepherd welcomes all the sheep and declares that the sheepfold is plenty big enough.
Who are we to narrow the abundance of God?
My prayer, as we approach the General Assembly, as we debate the finer points together, as we reveal our differences, is that in Christ, we will be able to affirm that there is room for all.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

What did they see?

Luke 24:13-49

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

I'm curious about what captured those folk who walked, with Jesus, all the way to Emmaus and then, when he broke bread, were captivated by him. What was it that prompted their recognition? What was it that allowed the final penny to drop? I like to think that, like so many of us, it was a gradual dawning of awareness, a slow burn that allowed their hearts to be open and receptive until it all made sense.
Conversion is, for most of us, a journey, not a blinding moment of revelation. It comes, a bit here, a bit there. Neither is it complete in one moment, but leads on into a lifetime of further discovery and learning. In our everyday, God prompts moments of illumination, most of which we miss, but, occasionally, the scales fall from our eyes and we gain another glimpse of the wonder and joy that is the Risen Christ, present in our midst. In those moments, we know communion.

Trudging along the same old paths
with companions old and new
enjoying the familiarity of what we know so well
until God confounds us
and stops us in our tracks
and makes us look again.
Suddenly our step gets lighter
and our heart beats faster
when we realise anew
that the Risen Christ
falls into step with us
and shows us
all that is new
in the tiredness of our lives.
And so we journey on
with another piece of the puzzle
slotted into place
but with many more
fluttering in the wind
and one day we might understand
that it doesn't all have to make sense.
It is what it is.
But in the roller coaster of the journey
the Risen Christ laughs and cries
and scoops us up
and sets us down
and shrieks in delight
as we begin to get it.
Liz Crumlish May 2011

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Resurrection changes everything

Two reflections for the Sunday after Easter:

When reality sinks in

When emotions are running high
it’s easy to get carried away
on a cloud of euphoria
that carries us to another plane
and allows us to float for a while
just beyond the reach
of things that would weigh us down

But, however much we might want to stay there
reality calls us back
to touch base again
and be grounded in the grit of everyday.

The high of the resurrection
may seem too lofty
for the daily grind
and yet the resurrection
was forged
from pain and suffering
and love and death

The resurrection
is a place
for our alleluias
and our laments
for our soaring
and our trawling

The resurrection
cradles us and caresses us
and lifts us high
above our dreams and our hopes
for in the resurrection
we see the whole of life –
The God of love exalting the Son
who came to earth
to live in love among people
who needed a Messiah
one who would live and love
and suffer and die
to bring a new kind of life
grounded in reality
full of questions
and full of hope.

The miracle that is the resurrection
can withstand the reality that is life
thanks be to God.

What now?

Once the furore died down
Once the crowds had gone home
the festival over
the celebrations finished
What then?

Once folk had moved on
the executions a grim memory
to talk of when the nights get longer
the pageantry and spectacle
something to treasure
What then?

Once it was safe
for friends of Jesus
to venture out of doors again
What then?

Back to normality?
Back to auld claes and purridge?

Hardly an option for disciples
without a leader

They could perhaps return to their former lives
And, for a time, the fishermen did

But the years of building hopes
and the days of crushing despair
and the nights of endless what ifs
could not be so easily snuffed out

The dream that became a reality
The Risen Christ appearing in their midst
was not an event
that could be whispered about
among themselves

It was a triumph
that had to be trumpeted
near and far no matter the risk

 An event too momentous
to be hushed up
An event they became willing to stake their lives on
And what about us
Are we changed by the resurrection?
Are our lives transformed
by the truth of what we cannot see with our eyes
changed by what we can only know in our hearts
that the Risen Christ makes all things new
What now for us -
people of the resurrection?