Monday, 23 December 2013

Rewriting the story

Matthew 2:1-12
The Visit of the Wise Men
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel. ’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Every year, at this time, I, and many of my colleagues ask: How can we tell the Christmas Story in a new way?
How can we bring it up to date and make it relevant for folk today?
And so we keep on coming up with different ideas.
Different ways of getting the Christmas message across.
Be it You Tube clips of Mr Bean and the Nativity Scene -
Or the Digital Facebook Nativity.
This year I was involved in filming a part of the Christmas story based on The Apprentice.
Our task, as apprentices, was to find a gift for a king.
We keep on trying to update the story.
But the truth is that, whatever you believe:
The story of Christmas is one that we see repeated the world over - and not just at Christmas time.
The biblical story of Christmas is the story of a child being born in difficult circumstances.
Born to an unmarried, teenage mother.
Born into poverty.
Born into a land ruled by oppressive forces.
It was a grim story.
Not the pretty version that we often portray-
With a warm stable and a tired donkey and smiling shepherds.
The bible story is much harsher than that.
The baby is no sooner born in awful conditions before his parents have to flee for their lives.
They become refugees, forced to take to the road and hide from soldiers roaming the streets.
The story is dark and depressing.
No wonder we try to dress it up.
No wonder we get little children to dress up as angels and shepherds and sing of little donkeys.
If we told the story as it really was, we'd give children nightmares.
But, in all the harshness of the story is an underlying message of love.
It was out of love that God chose to send Jesus.
Out of love for a world dark and oppressed.
Out of love for people struggling to survive.
Into that world God sent Jesus to bring love.
One of my favourite Christmas Carols is Love came down at Christmas.
The idea was that the birth of Jesus would change the world.
That people would no longer struggle with the kind of poverty and the kind of oppression that existed when Jesus was born.
No longer would families be forced to flee from unjust regimes.
No longer would they be caught up in conflict.
But just look at any news broadcast today.
And we see countless refugees.
In Syria, in Serbia - and in so many other places.
Folk forced to abandon their homes, meagre as those homes are.
Folk forced to take to the streets to avoid opposing forces surrounding their homes and villages.
And Aid workers unable to help, held back by corrupt governments and regimes.
And, in case we think that that's something that's happening far away.
Something to which we can send money, (though nothing seems to be helping at present).
There are also pressing issues right here in our own communities.
That's why Food Banks are springing up everywhere.
It's why there are more and more folk sleeping on our streets.
Here, too, poverty and injustice leaves people without food or shelter, all the things we would consider basic human rights, if we consider them at all.
Christmas is not a warm, family, sharing time for so many people for all sorts of reasons.
But it is a time when we can choose, whatever we believe, to make a difference.
To do something, however small, to share the love that is at the heart of the season.
It's a time when we can choose to update the story.
To break that cycle of injustice and oppression with the power of love.
To rewrite the story for our community.
In churches at this time of year we reflect on the themes of light, hope, peace and love in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Just imagine being the generation that manages to change the story of Christmas.
The generation that finally manages to see some real light, some real hope, some real peace and some real love being born in the world.
That WOULD be a new Christmas story.
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Sunday, 15 December 2013

Dreaming repentance

Matthew 1:18-25
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Normally, on this 3rd Sunday in Advent, we read about John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. We read about him going out into the desert and calling people to repentance.
John's message is harsh and uncompromising.
It's never a comfortable thing to hear this time of year - or any time of year.
But that's not why I've chosen to avoid it this year and read, instead, of Joseph's dream.
We've been following a theme of dreaming through Advent.
Beginning with our House of Dreams when we tiled the roof with prayers that we wanted to journey with through advent.
But, though we're not reading, today, of John the Baptist setting out his stall in the desert, our theme of dreaming nonetheless leads us to consider repentance and to re-define righteousness.
Dreams are all very well, but unless we are prepared to act on them, they remain ethereal, without substance.
When we gathered our prayers a few weeks ago, we acknowledged that all of us would be required to play our part in answering these prayers we brought, the longings of our hearts, our dreams.
What's the point in cherishing a dream if we aren't prepared to go and do something about it?
It's in the achieving of dreams that we begin the work of repentance.
Resolving to be the means by which dreams are fulfilled, by which prayer is answered, brings about the kind of turnaround of which John the Baptist spoke in the wilderness.
Repentance is not about beating ourselves up for all that we have failed to do.
It's not about regrets.
Repentance involves us taking a course of action that will make a difference to our world, to our community and to our neighbours.
Our repentance might involve us consciously setting aside more time for prayer in our daily lives.
It might involve us contributing weekly to the food parcels collection.
It might involve us taking more time to notice the people around us - here in worship and in our day to day encounters, taking the time to notice the hurt that lies behind a smile or the loneliness that wears a brave face, or even the desperation that is masked in silence,
Our repentance this morning begins in our resolving to bring the light, the hope, the peace and the love of Advent into todays world.
Our repentance begins when we resolve to find a way to bring about the peace we pray for, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to share the love of God.
The stuff of dreams - in the palm of our hands.
So we might not have read those harsh words of John the Baptist in church this morning but we are headed down the path of repentance that he bids us travel.

John the Baptist is not the focus of our musings this morning, but Joseph is.
Joseph, who plays a bit part in the Nativity.
At least, that's how it often seems.
We portray Joseph as a benign, insignificant character in the Nativity.
A character who was obedient and faithful.
And he was.
But, in portraying Joseph in such an insipid light, we totally underestimate the subversiveness of Joseph's actions in his time and culture.
It was the law that Joseph should separate himself from Mary on discovering her pregnancy.
Not only should he remove himself, according to the law, he should also publicly disgrace Mary, bringing to attention her unfaithfulness.
In choosing compassion over the law, Joseph risks bringing shame and scandal on himself.
And isn't that a foretaste of all that is to come in Jesus?
How often, through the gospels, do we see Jesus choosing the way of compassion rather than fulfilling the law?
How often do we see Jesus pronouncing forgiveness rather than condemnation?
When he touched a leper to bring healing.
When he rescued a woman about to be stoned for adultery.
When he ate with tax collectors and prostitutes.
Every time, Jesus chose the way of compassion rather than the way that the law would prescribe.
And, often, he was ridiculed and condemned for going against the law and practising love.
Joseph's actions are mirrored in the actions of Jesus as he transcends the law and brings about grace.
So, perhaps instead of seeing Joseph as having a bit part in the story, we might be more influenced this advent by his redefining faithfulness and righteousness.
We might be more influenced by the difficult choices he makes to do the will of God.
His actions wouldn't have gone unnoticed by his contemporaries.
Rather, he was prepared to endure ridicule and shame in order to demonstrate love.
It might be useful for us to ask ourselves today:
What ways might it be time for us to subvert in order to practice compassion?
What traditions or rules do we uphold that no longer serve the purposes of God?
What things do we indulge in that prevent folk from experiencing the amazing love of God?
Are there things that we do, that we have done forever, that we could let go in order to serve God better today?
Where might God be calling us to travel unfamiliar paths, ways that cause us discomfort, so that this community might know that God took on flesh for them?
And are we prepared for the hostility that might be directed our way when we reach out to those God calls us to love?

Joseph's dream, in which God revealed how prophecy would be fulfilled was the culmination of centuries of dreams of the people of God.
All through the ages, God's people dreamed of the day when God would send the Messiah to rescue God's people.
The prophets pointed to that day.
It seems that all of history was heading to the fulfilment of those dreams.
The verses in Matthew's gospel immediately before those we read today, trace Joseph's lineage right back to David.
David, to whom God made some astounding promises, promising to bless David's descendants, promising to always be with the people of God.
Here, in Joseph, a descendant of David, we see that promise coming to fruition, not just for the people of Israel, but for the whole world.
Because Joseph was faithful, because he was willing to go beyond the law of the day, redefining righteousness and compassion, the promise of God through the ages was able to be fulfilled.
And Gods son was born.
Immanuel - God with us.
And so dreams are fulfilled.
And our House of Dreams becomes a stable in which the prayers of the world are answered in the birth of a baby - God with us today.
And so, as we enter this 3rd week in Advent, our task is to make our repentance joyful.
To find ways to strengthen our resolve to journey on, making a difference in our neighbourhood and throughout the world by finding ever new ways to reveal the love of God who keeps promises.
It won't be easy.
But it's God's gift to us - to be the means by which hopes and dreams are fulfilled for all Gods people.
God's gift to us to throw off the restraint of years of tradition, to redefine repentance and righteousness, to escape the mould and, with compassion to bring light, love, hope and peace to the world.
God's gift to you and me.
Thanks be to God.

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Sunday, 1 December 2013

A promise, not a threat!

Matthew 24:36-44
The Necessity for Watchfulness
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this:if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

My early upbringing in Christian faith was accompanied by the soundtrack of tonight's gospel reading.
The teaching I heard, the music I listened to, even movies I watched all described this "leaving behind" that we read of in Matthews gospel.
Perhaps it was a familiar theme for you too.
Cliff Richard sang : I wish we'd all been ready.

Life was filled with guns and war
And everyone got trampled on the floor
I wish we'd all been ready

Children died the day grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we'd all been ready

There's no time to change your mind
The son has come and you've been left behind

A man and wife sleep in bed she hears a noise
And turns her head he's gone
I wish we'd all been ready

Two men walking up a hill one disappears and
One's left standing still
I wish we'd all been ready

There's no time to change your mind
The son has come and you've been left behind

Perhaps some of you shared similar experiences.
But, for a time, I lived almost in a state of readiness for the rapture - that time when Christ would come and take people away.
It didn't stop me doing the usual teenage things- but I do remember occasionally being at the pictures, or at a disco, surrounded by friends and noise and thinking: "What if Jesus returned now? How would he find me?"
In the ensuing years I think it's fair to say that my Theology of the Rapture has changed.
The wonderful thing about theology is that it is not something fixed or static - or, at least, it shouldn't be - It is always something evolving in response to life and our experience of God in life.
God is constantly revealed in new and surprising ways.
And, as long as we are prepared to keep on searching and keep on working, not at understanding God but at building our relationship with God, that is what's important.
And as we build our relationship with God, we learn to view the people of God in a different light.
Our view stretches and expands and we begin to see God in places and in people we would never have expected.

And so to this Left Behind Puzzle.
I'm not sure that its so much about folk being left behind but more about folk having already left.
Folk choosing to move away from God.
Our gospel reading points to the flood and the folk who were swept away - those who didn't stay with Noah in the safety of the ark, those who were oblivious to the warnings.
The story of the wise and foolish virgins - another apocalyptic story that we often read in this Advent season is a story of those who left being caught out. The foolish virgins left to find some oil for their lamps. They weren't there when the bridegroom returned.
So, perhaps the rapture is in fact the opposite of how we often imagine it.
Folk aren't snatched away - they have already left - and the party begins with those who remain.
The folk on the streets.
The folk at the Food Bank.
The folk trying to pick up the pieces after devastating loss.
The left behind folk with whom God dines.
The great reversal.
That's how my Theology has evolved on the Rapture.
But, does it really matter whether or how we understand it?
At the end of the day, does it really make any difference?

Jesus exhorts his listeners to "wake up!"
Every day I hear folk saying "you never know what's around the corner - and it's just as well"
I know lots of you have experienced those times when you'd rather not know what comes next - it's too scary to contemplate.
And we've seen it demonstrated in spades this weekend.
Who would ever have imagined that popping in for a quick drink, or going to hear a band would end up with the kind of nightmare scenario that unfolded this weekend in the helicopter crash in Glasgow?
All the health and safety that we get so caught up in today, all the risk assessments in the universe cannot legislate for events such as happened in a busy bar on Friday night.
But I'm not convinced that its that sort of unpredictable tragedy for which Jesus asks us to be ready.
Although if the news headlines, even in all their inaccuracies and sordidness encourage us to care more for our loved ones, encourage us to do more to express our love, that can only be a good thing.
But that's not what Jesus was getting at.
Rather, it's the everyday opportunities that life presents to us that we so easily overlook and take for granted.
It's those that we are exhorted to Wake up to.
The themes we normally contemplate as we move through Advent are Hope, Peace, Love and Light.
But we also contemplate a God who surprises us.
A God who intersects with our lives every day in all sorts of ways.
Who knows how many encounters we miss because of our inattention?
Who knows the opportunities we have missed when we are distracted by issues that are unimportant?
Here in the church we get caught up in distractions.
We worry about minutiae that doesn't really matter, things that have so little to do with the kingdom of God but that keep us from being about the business of Hope and Peace and Love and Light.

Jesus return is not a threat - it is a promise.
Not something to fear but something to hope for.
An acknowledgment that what we know is not all that there is.
As we come to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we touch and taste that promise.
We touch and taste the hope and the joy and the love and the light that Gods promise brings, a promise shared by saints through the ages.
But as we taste that promise, might we also be surprised by God in this place?
What are the chances that, sharing in this sacrament in which you have shared so many times before, that today, you might be surprised by the God who meets us here?
Jesus exhorts us to be ready for such an encounter - be it in bread and wine or on our journey into work, at the coffee shop, in the supermarket queue.
May we be surprised by God in communion today by the God who dines with us.
For the glory of God.

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Giving dreams flesh

Isaiah 65:17-25
The Glorious New Creation
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord —
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Warning against Idleness
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command:Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

This is the penultimate Sunday of the year in the church's calendar.
The new year in the church starts on Advent Sunday which is just two weeks away.
In two weeks time, we will move from a year spent with the gospel of Luke to a year spent with the gospel of Matthew.
But at this time of year, the gospel passages point us to signs of the end of the world as we know it.
Signs that the old order is coming to an end and that a new order is being established and that, finally, we will see justice in the world and peace on earth.
So, before we enter the season of Advent, we are invited to consider what that new order might look like.
"I am about to create..." says the Lord in our Isaiah passage. But, I want to ask: WHEN?
New heavens, new earth, Jerusalem as joy- WHEN?
And I'm sure Gods people in exile, hearing these words fresh, wanted to ask that too- WHEN?
For a people in captivity, living among strangers in borrowed homes on foreign soil, forced to labour for a foreign power, this message must have been like music for their ears:
The days of building houses for others to live in were coming to an end.
The days of working the land, so that others could enjoy the fruit of their labours, will be over.
When will God start delighting in these people again and fulfil all these promises?
When will we ever see that new world when the wolf and the lamb shall eat together and the lion eat straw like an ox?
The glorious new creation - when will that be?
If we struggle to see the tide turning in our personal landscapes, how more more difficult is it to keep hope alive that Gods will can come to pass throughout the world?
That we won't have beamed into our homes daily on news programmes, children and families and towns and cities ravaged by war and disease and natural disaster.
And that we won't see, in the midst of those catastrophic events, people taking advantage of those already down trodden.
Those in power, obstructing aid agencies.
Those with authority getting rich on bribes for allowing passage.
Those, already desperate, turning to looting, depriving others of the little relief available.
When will we see a just and equal sharing of all the earth's resources?
WHEN will that be?
It seems that we have become so used to things as they are that we cannot envisage the world any differently.
And,of course, when disaster strikes, as it has this week in the Philippines, we are happy to send some money for relief, we are happy that our government pitches in too.
We're happy to do our bit but we can't really imagine that things will ever be any other way.
We will always be the ones asked to help, the ones with the ability to be generous.
Here in the UK, we raised £31million this weekend for Children in Need.
We have the capacity and the will to be generous.
But can we imagine a time when that wouldn't be so?
A time when we are not so affluent because resources are distributed much more equitably around the world?
We are good at responding when asked.
But,I wonder, how good we'd be at living less extravagantly as a way of life,so that others wouldn't constantly have to ask for help.
To put it bluntly: Would we be prepared to take a cut, in our income, in our pension, in our benefits, in our healthcare, in whatever other forms of entitlement we have grown used to so that others wouldn't have to exist on our handouts or hand downs?
Would we be prepared to live on less to ensure that folk in other parts of the world had clean water and homes that could sustain the ravages of weather?
Maybe the answer to the question WHEN lies in our hands.
Maybe the WHEN is when we release the sharing capacity to create that new world that is laid out as Gods vision.
And, no matter how many rogue evangelists proclaim that these disasters, the devastation ravaged by nature - or by warfare, the scenes of displaced people living in squalor that we view daily, no matter how many false prophets proclaim that these are signs of God's judgement on an evil world, WE are the people called to keep those dreams alive of a God who loves, a God whose dream is also peace in a world where resources are shared.
We are called, not only to dream with God but to make the dream come true!

Lots of my friends, over the past year or so, have been celebrating big birthdays - birthdays with a 0 on the end.
And there is something about entering a new decade that somehow focuses the mind on goals.
I've seen umpteen lists that folk have drawn up - "things to do before I'm 30 or 40 or 50 ... And so it goes on.
Lists, sometimes referred to as "bucket lists".
In fact there was a film released a few years ago called The Bucket List and starring Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman - worth a watch, funny and moving in equal measure.
On my bucket list was the determination to learn to play cello - and I'm delighted now to be taking cello lessons. It's good when we dream about things and then actually manage to capture some of our dreams.
But we don't need to be entering a new decade or facing some kind of trial to draw up a bucket list.
In fact, I'd go as far as to suggest that, every day, we are striving to fulfil some kind of bucket list - to achieve the things that would make any particular day feel like a day well lived.
And so, I'd like to invite you, on this, the penultimate Sunday of the church year, to give some thought to your bucket list.
What goals, big or small, would you like to achieve in the near future?
What difference would you like to make - in your life and in the life of your community?
And would your bucket list have any similarity to the picture of peace and prosperity laid out in the passage we read from Isaiah?

Or would it bear any resemblance to the work ethic of the apostles as laid out in our reading from 2 Thessalonians?
That text has been misappropriated so many times, particularly in this day when governments the world over are trying to shirk their responsibility of caring for those who are unable to support themselves.
The most shocking, tyrannical benefits cuts seek justification from texts such as these.
Of course the apostle did NOT advocate that those in the community who couldn't work should not be supported by those more able and with resources to spare.
The apostle was, rather rebuking those whose work was non productive - those people we find in every community, even here in Castlehill church, whose work is mischief making, those who go out of their way to be difficult or to bring down the efforts of others. Those are the ones who are to be discouraged, the ones we should avoid being caught up with.
Those disruptive people who discourage others from continuing to be generous and loving in their service to God.
We are encouraged, in spite of such idle folk, to never weary in doing what is right.
And, believe me, I know that that is easier said than done.
But why should we allow a few busy bodies to throw us off track, and find ourselves giving of less than our best for Gods Kingdom work?

There is a story of a holy man engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him.
“An observer came along and said to the holy man, ‘You fool - Don’t you know that’s a scorpion, and it’s in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?’
“To which the holy man replied, ‘That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change its nature?”
We are called to go on dreaming and to go on working to see our dreams fulfilled and not be dragged down by those who have no dreams except for harm.

So - What would be on your bucket list?
What if we had a bucket list of bringing to fruition the Isaiah prophecy?
A bucket list that would bring to pass the kind of dreams envisaged there.
What if we could give flesh to the dream that children didn't die from preventable tragedy?
In a country where there is adequate free health care, why are some denied access?
What if we facilitated better access to health care?
What if we gave flesh to the dream that the elderly and the infirm in our community were properly cared for?
And not just cared for but recognised as valuable members of our community and society - not those who have contributed to the past but those who still have a contribution to make today with the wisdom accrued through years of experience?
What if our dream was to fulfil Gods dream for all creation to live in Equity, Justice and Peace?
We know that God has a bias for those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are homeless.
How about if our prayers and our actions focused on those people, if our bucket list aligned us with the will of God that:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

So may it be.

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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Why remember?

Haggai 2:1-9
The Future Glory of the Temple
In the second year of King Darius,
in the seventh month, on the twenty- first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts:Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

Luke 20:27-38
The Question about the Resurrection
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Haggai is a prophet we don't hear much about.
In just a couple of chapters he boasts of a time in the history of Gods people when they came together, got their focus right, and rebuilt Gods temple.
Haggai comes across as some kind of cheer leader in that process, encouraging the people again and again to "take courage".
But, more than helping the people find their flagging energy, as they become overwhelmed by the enormity of their task, Haggai brings their minds back to what underlies that task.
What is important in it.
The whole point of rebuilding the temple was to honour God.
Giving their time, their talents and their money to focus on God, central to their life and faith.
The people were beginning to fear that they had bitten off more than they could chew.
It was a huge task to rebuild the temple and return it to its former glory.
It took a huge commitment - hard work and dedication.
The prophet Haggai realised that, what the people needed, was not simply someone to appeal to their work ethic, and their charity, they needed someone to stir their soul.
To take them back to basics - reminding them of their roots in God, their relationship - a symbol of which is this temple that honours God and the unique relationship that these people share with God in community.
It's more than - " build the temple and God will reward you"
It's more too, than " build the temple and people will flock to it"
Haggai's message strips away all the superficiality and invites the remnant, those who remember the old times, to remember specifically how God has been at the heart of their culture for ever - and more, will always be at the heart of their being in community.
God - yesterday, today and forever.
That is the God who is to be honoured in the building of this temple, a work that demands only the best in recognition of the God at the heart of all life.
Today we talk of honouring our dead - all those who have been sacrificed in war.
Those who have served their country - and those who have, quite simply gotten in the way of war.
Modern warfare often results in shocking numbers of civilian casualties.
Once again, we need reminded of why we honour the dead today.
And that is - to ensure that we do not ask of others the sacrifice that has already been made.
At the heart of our remembering must be the determination to stop the violence.
That is a huge task.
It seems impossible in today's world where so much rests on the economy and infrastructure of war, where politicians use the threat of war as a first and not a last resort.
But, like God's people, in danger of being overwhelmed at the enormity of their task in rebuilding the temple, so we need to be reminded of the underlying purpose of our remembrance - to bring about peace.
To honour the dead and the God who calls us into life.
To do that demands that we glimpse Gods vision for all Gods people - a vision beyond our limited sight, beyond our dreams.
A vision of the new life offered by God for the life of the world.
In the gospels, we often find Jesus trying to describe that new life.
But often, those around him were too mired in the life they knew to even begin to glimpse the kind of life that Jesus offered.
Like the Sadduccees we encounter in our gospel reading today.
Jesus, surprise, surprise, is arguing with the Sadduccees.
They are trying to trip him up with a question about marriage and the resurrection.
They didn't believe in resurrection and wanted to discredit the notion of it.
Here's the scenario:
For the protection of women, the law decreed that a man should marry his brothers widow.
The Sadduccees painted a ridiculous scenario, involving one bride and seven brothers.
(Not seven brides for seven brothers)
This poor woman was widowed 7 times.
Each time, like property, she was passed on to the next brother.
And so, the Sadduccees asked Jesus - to whom would the woman belong in the next life?
You can just imagine Jesus shaking his head in frustration at their question.
Because they were missing the point entirely.
Resurrection signals a new life we cannot possibly envisage.
It is beyond our ken.
Far outstripping our limited imaginations.
Resurrection sets aside the limited concepts that folk struggle with in this life.
As with the rebuilding of the temple, where the prophet Haggai implores Gods people to have courage, to get back to the centrality of God at the heart of all things, so Jesus encourages those caught up in the minutiae of daily life to catch a glimpse of something much bigger and, in particular, to see God present in all life.

This Remembrance Sunday, we are called to lift our eyes beyond what we see,what we have witnessed, what we have learned about war - the pity of war.
In the words of Harry Patch, one of the last survivors of the First World War: " War isn't worth one life".
We are called, today, to imagine a world without violence.
A world where all life is honoured and where God is at the heart of all life,
Only by working to ensure that war and conflict between races and peoples and nations becomes a thing of the past can we truly honour those we remember today.
Only by working for peace can we honour the God of peace who is at the heart of our faith and our life together.
Today, we are exhorted to "take courage" and to work for peace.
For the glory of God.

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

God's law for Dummies.

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Individual Retribution
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.
In those days they shall no longer say:
“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
A New Covenant
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Luke 18:1-8
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent. ’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming. ’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We're back with Jeremiah this week - and his good news for God's people in exile.
In our reading last week, the message and the challenge was for the people of God to make the best of where they were. In a strange, land, yes. Among strange people with different customs who were largely indifferent to their God. That too.
But the message was - not to simply mark time but to engage with the culture in which they found themselves. To establish themselves, put down roots and affect the people around them. It sounded a very familiar and timely message for the people of God today.
Encouraging for us, who find ourselves in a world often indifferent or even hostile to the God we serve.
Timely reassurance that, as God's people we can affect our communities for good. Not by remaining apart from the community. Not by being aggressive or over bearing but by simply living as God would have us live - within God's law of love.
And its that law that we hear more about today from Jeremiah.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.

The prophet Jeremiah, charged to bring good news to the people of God living in exile does an amazing job.
He brings a word of comfort and of challenge.
A word to encourage folk trying hard to maintain their identity, trying to practice all that they had been taught from an early age, all the things that made them distinctive as God's people.
As they worked hard to discern God's purpose for them - or even as they wrestled with the worry that God had abandoned them the prophet assures them of God's faithfulness.
And introduces them to a new facet of God.
It's like a God for Dummies.
A God who is not hard to fathom out.
A God whose only desire is to see the people do well, living in harmony, without fear.
A God whose ways are easy to follow- because those ways make perfect sense.
They are not complicated, no twists or tricks but straightforward, down to earth, right living.
No longer, the prophet tells them will you have to struggle to see God or to learn of Gods ways or to discern Gods purpose - those things will be as instinctive as life itself, as integral as breathing. Gods law will be written on their hearts.
That might seem like old news to us.
We have grown up in the light that Jesus brought into the world.
We are familiar with Jesus' paring the law down to love God and love your neighbour.
Few of us have ever tied ourselves in knots to fulfil God's law.
But, for God's people in Jeremiah's day, following God was fraught with all sorts of rules and regulations and the possibility of tripping up and falling foul at any time.
For Jeremiah to speak the word of God; I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, was revolutionary.
And just what the people needed to hear in their exile.
In those few words they were freed from generations of burdens.
Freed from the burden of paying for all the mistakes of the past - not just their own but those of previous generations.
The people to whom Jeremiah brought Gods word were a people who expected to always be in arrears with God, to never measure up.
A people who were always looking back to find out what had gone wrong, always looking for others to blame for their sorry predicament.
Jeremiah's word from God opens for them a whole new range of possibility.
Jeremiah invites them to imagine a place where the past is no longer a millstone around their necks.
To imagine a place where they have no need to work out what went wrong or seek revenge.
A place where it is the present that matters.
A place where they can live in love with their neighbours and create a new reality.
And, yet again, the prophet's words jump out of the pages, hurtling through the ages, to confront us today.
Confront us with a new reality too - that we can move forward.
That we can be confident about the future when we rely on God's law written on our hearts, inscribed deep within each one of us.
A law that allows us to move forward free from what is now behind us, be it good or bad.
A law that not only allows us to move forward but urges us to do so.
How many of us have become stuck in the past?
Remembering old hurts or longing for former times?
How many of us lament the church we once knew and loved?
How many of us spend our time looking back, working out where it all went wrong, whose fault it was?
Still tasting the sour grapes of our Old Testament reading rather than hearing the words of hope that the prophet speaks and being assured that Gods law is still written on our hearts.
The law of love that frees us from the burdens of the past and allows us to live in harmony with the present that is ours today.
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.

It was with the conviction of that reality that the widow of whom we read in Luke's gospel lived.
She knew Gods law of love dwelt deep within all people - even the judge who ignored her pleas.
She had an expectation that justice would prevail because it forms part of God's law of love that is written on the hearts of God's people.
So she refused to give up demanding justice.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Just imagine if we lived within that reality - the reality of being the people of God, having God's law written on our hearts. Expecting justice. Being persistent in looking for signs of love in ourselves and in others.
And, even when we find our spirits crushed or our hopes dashed, going back for more because we know that God has made a new reality possible.
Living in expectation of love.
Making it a reality for others by our loving actions - and encouraging others to do the same.
God's law is written on our hearts.
It is a law that frees, not constricts.
A law that, lived into, brings change to communities.
And then imagine the huge sigh of God as we live like that.
A sigh that says - At last, they've got it. It's not a dream for the future. It's available now when my people live in the law written on their hearts. It's not a remote possibility - it's a present reality. What else have I been trying to reveal to them for centuries? Why else would I write my law within them, so that living it becomes as instinctive as taking their next breath?
Lets hear that sigh of God as we finally "get it" today.
Gods law is written on our hearts.
May we live in God's law, sharing the transforming love of God and expecting no less from others whom God also calls beloved children.
And, by our expectations, may love and justice become realities in our community.
For the glory of God.

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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Liminal spaces

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Luke 17:11-19
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Remember those Boney M lyrics:
By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.
When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the lord's song in a strange land?

In our first reading this morning, Jeremiah is given a message to take to the exiles in Babylon - Gods people - driven from their own land, taken into captivity and forced to live in a foreign culture. People wondering how to be the people of God in a foreign land. People wondering how long they will remain in captivity and how they can ever maintain some sort of identity as the people of God when removed from all that is familiar to them. And the message Jeremiah proclaims is one of encouragement to put down some roots where they find themselves:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.
The message to these people is that their business is not to mark time. It's not about holing up and waiting for release, waiting for things to get better. Their business is to LIVE where they are - to enjoy life in its fulness.
Although they find themselves in a border land, their task is to discover God in that place with them.
To affect the culture in which they find themselves.
To make a difference right where they are.
Isn't it incredible that a message written some 2,500 years ago to Gods people in exile has just as much relevance for the people of God gathered in worship today?
Our task, no matter how irrelevant or how marginalised we perceive ourselves to be is to find new ways to sing the Lord's song, to find new ways to positively affect the culture around us.
There are more and more signs of people of faith being exiled today.
From schools to work places to offices of government, faith is being sidelined.
Those who speak up for faith are being driven to the margins, forced to exist in the border lands, treading a fine line between faith and offence.
But it is often in the margins, under stress, that creativity comes to the fore.

A word I loved to use when I worked in Hospital Chaplaincy is liminal.
For me, that word described perfectly the interface in which I often found myself working - encompassing faith and ritual and tradition and superstition - straddling the chasm that folk often felt when their experience of life and faith to date no longer accommodated the place they found themselves in the landscape of illness - their own or that of a loved one.
That place where there were no easy answers - or any answers at all.
Liminal - a place of transition, a border land.
According to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia,
During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.

That sounds just about right for the church right now.
We can't be sure that traditions will continue.
We can't take things for granted - like our place in society and especially our right to maintain respect and influence.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Being in that liminal space, being in the border land demands that we get creative.
And just like the exiles were encouraged to do in Jeremiah's day, we too are called on to
seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
We may not be in exile but we are certainly moving nearer the margins.
But rather than be disheartened by that, we can be energised to find new ways of singing the Lords song in a strange land.

In our gospel reading, we also find Jesus in border territory.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
In that border territory, 10 lepers approached Jesus, but keeping their distance as demanded by law.
Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priest.
It was in that moment that they were healed. As they went, they were made clean.
Nine of the healed lepers knew the drill.
The custom was that they had to go and show themselves to the priest so that they could be declared fit to be accepted back into community.
The foreigner, the Samaritan, wasn't so invested in custom and culture.
And that freedom was what allowed him to grasp the true nature of the healing he had received and to return and give thanks.
The Samaritan wasn't so caught up in ritual and so was much more open to recognising the sheer grace of God present in the healing he encountered.
He saw his healing, not through the eyes of centuries of custom and tradition but with the freshness of an outsider.
And so he was able to experience not just Jesus' healing but his blessing too.
Jesus said to him: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Reflecting further on our two readings today, we might want to ask ourselves:
Where, today, do we find ourselves in those border lands?
What are the boundaries, real or perceived that we would like to traverse today?
What are the boundaries that discomfort us?
How might we affect the culture in which we live - for good?
How might we share faith in new and imaginative ways?
How might we get creative and straddle those liminal places in ways that reveal the grace of God to others?
How might we sing the Lords song in the strange land in which we are called to work for God today?
seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

May our prayers be for the welfare of this parish and community we serve today.
May we get creative in finding new ways to witness to God and to live out our faith.
And may we influence those we meet daily with the love and grace of God.
For the glory of God.

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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Crumbs from the table

Luke 16:19-31
The Rich Man and Lazarus
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames. ’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us. ’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment. ’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. ’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. ’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. ’”

A few years ago, on Good Friday, I felt called to take Communion onto the streets of the Parish in which I served at the time.
It seemed to me that, on Good Friday, most folk were enjoying a Public Holiday, the reason for which was the death of Jesus Christ and there was very little acknowledgement of that.
And more - Jesus had said: "This is my body broken for you. Do this to remember me."
For me, the place and the time to remember Jesus sacrifice was on the streets on Good Friday.
So, we set up stall, outside a chip shop in the parish - the juxtaposition of fast food and soul food appealed to me! - and we offered all who passed by the bread and wine of Communion.
Some folk looked at us with suspicion.
Some folk passed us by quickly, avoiding eye contact.
Some folk took bread and wine - because they could, not lingering, but moving on again quickly.
Others, were overwhelmed by the idea that they should meet Christ on the street and not locked up in our church buildings as they had come to expect.
But aren't we who gather in church buildings, called to join Christ - who is already out there on our streets- and serve alongside him?
So, we took Jesus onto the streets on Good Friday in bread and wine.
In subsequent years and, as word got around, I was involved in some interesting discussions with colleagues about what constituted communion, how it should be consecrated and whether folk who had not heard the word preached or examined their motives before they took the bread and wine could really be deemed to have shared in the sacrament.
But none of those theological discussions diminished the humility I experienced when folk, with tears in their eyes said: "Thanks for bringing Christ to us" - or "I'd never have found my way to church- thanks for bringing church out here."
Folk are often surprised when the church as a body reaches out to people.
And that's a damning indictment.
Folk don't expect us as Christians to be of much earthly use.
There is a great chasm between the church and the world.
Like the chasm we read of in our gospel reading today - between the rich man and poor Lazarus.
The rich man was blissfully unaware of Lazarus during his lifetime.
And even, in his eternal torture, he failed to pay him heed except as someone who could serve him by bringing him relief in his torment - a drop of cold water.
But, before we judge the rich man harshly, as we are tempted to do,lets consider his status and the culture he was a part of that shaped and formed him:
The popular religious instruction of his day encouraged folk to see the blessings of God manifest in material wealth and prosperity.
The rich man was a prime example of someone blessed by God.
Whereas Lazarus was a wonderful example of one cursed by God - right down to the sores covering his body.
Such graphic descriptions of those cursed or blessed by God punctuate the Scriptures taught by religious leaders of the day.
But also in those Scriptures are exhortations to care for the needy and the poor.
It seems that one message was being taken seriously while another was being conveniently overlooked.
And so, in this parable, Jesus draws attention to this huge gap in folks understanding and practice.
This is NOT a parable about wealth.
It is NOT a parable told to scare us about the after life.
It is a parable told to encourage folk to live differently, to look out for each other THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN.
To bridge the chasm that exists, more than ever today, between the majority of us and the poor.
Why do we have a huge collection of food in the vestibule this morning?
Because we are collecting for the South Ayrshire Foodbank - our Harvest Appeal that we will dedicate next week.
Why do we need to do that?
Because on our own doorsteps people are struggling with poverty.
People need help to feed themselves and their family.
Some of those folk we can see, others we won't see.
And those are the folk here in our locality.
Still there are countless others in our world who will die today because they do not have even crumbs from our table.
Such is the chasm that still exists between the rich and the poor.
Unfortunately when Jesus pointed out the absurdity of this huge gap, he omitted to tell us how to close the gap.
And so the challenge remains - and the gap gets bigger.
What could have changed the rich man, helped him see the poor around him?
What would change us?
Enough to make a difference.

One of the most sobering experiences of taking bread and wine onto the streets was the gratitude of folk knowing themselves included in the sacrifice of Christ, knowing that - it was for them... that Christ died, knowing themselves fed by the bread of life.
Every time we gather around this table, whether we celebrate the sacrament or not, Christ is present - as he is present on the streets.
We cannot gather here, we cannot be fed - and then go out and ignore those Christ calls us to serve.
It is for us to find whatever ways we can to bridge that chasm that grows today.
Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. ’”
Is that our plight today?
Will nothing change us - not the word of God, not the bread and the wine, not the awful statistics that speak of poverty in our world today, that tell of those who starve when this world has more than enough food to share?
Jesus Christ gave his life for us.
HE was raised from the dead.
And now he calls us to feed the poor.

As I stood in the street offering bread and wine, as well as those folk who were touched and possibly changed by meeting Christ on the street, there were many more who simply walked by.
And I was reminded of those words of Scripture: Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow...
Can we leave this place today and be as those who turn our backs on the Christ who is already on our streets.
Or will we take the crumbs from the table and share them freely.
Not because we are afraid of how we will fare in the afterlife.
But because we care about those with whom we share life today.
May we offer more than crumbs from the table.
For the glory of God.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Prudent Stewardship

Luke 16:1-13
The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer. ’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes. ’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master? ’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil. ’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty. ’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe? ’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat. ’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty. ’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Did we really read that in our gospel today?
And did Jesus really say: If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
This is another of those gospel passages that preachers want to avoid like the plague!
There are so many ways we could look at this passage today, so many ways it might speak into our world today.
Often, the more uncomfortable the gospel is, the more pertinent it is too!
So, for starters, lets attempt to enter the story Jesus told and see if we can figure out what the manager in the story is up to.
Faced with the prospect of losing his job, his income and his status, what does he do?
He calls in all his master's debtors and writes off huge portions of their debt.
Today, we might think of that kind of action as spite.
But, in the society in which Jesus and this manager moved, saving face was a massive cultural necessity.
So - the manager is about to lose his job.
The folks he calls in to reduce their debt will see that he still has power and, when he leaves his current employment will be better disposed to still include him in their society circles.
His magnanimity, however, also gives his employer the ability to save face.
No longer is he the wealthy landowner who has been cheated - he has in his employ a very shrewd businessman.
Not only that, but he is able to demonstrate that he is big enough, even after all that has happened, to commend his manager for his actions - a huge cultural win for him, one that, in today's dog eat dog culture we have difficulty understanding.
As I re-read the passage in this light, it struck me that recently, the UK Government might have embarked on a face saving exercise that would have had far reaching effects.
David Cameron, defeated in his quest to use military force against those responsible for chemical warfare in Syria, might have creatively explored other ways to gain support not just in this country but worldwide.
Since funds were clearly available to embark on yet more military action, our political leaders might have considered instead using those funds to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the chemical attacks.
What a difference that would have made.
Not only in Syria, but throughout the world as other leaders witnessed the UK's generosity.
And saw history being made in funds raised for war being used to bring about peace.
So - this parable explores the cultural concept of saving face.
It also explores our relationship with prosperity.
How we might reconsider the way that we share what we have and reapportion our resources, even redeeming what might be considered ill gotten gains for good in our communities.
There's a myth about the church - that we are always looking for money.
And, given that we are in the midst of a Stewardship campaign, that myth might have just grown legs.
There is also a myth that we shouldn't talk about money in the church - it just turns people off. And we know we simply can't afford to do that!
Well I've never been afraid to offend people by preaching the gospel.
And the gospel, over the next few weeks, is clearly preoccupied by issues around money.
If we keep avoiding the subject how can we ever establish a healthy relationship with money and how can we ever engage with all the questions that surround our wealth - or lack of it.
The last couple of years, as you know, I've been involved with the Church of Scotland's National Youth Assembly.
One of the most popular workshops is one on managing money. Our young people, wrestling with unemployment and all the vagaries of the benefits system or with further education and student loans, want advice on how to handle their finance in a responsible and caring way.
Those same young people are also actively involved in speaking out against the injustice of tax avoidance that has become the norm for so many large and prosperous corporations.
Because the truth is that what we do matters - in our personal finance and in our public finance.
When we hold on to what is not rightfully ours, others suffer by our injustice.
Withholding our taxes has a direct impact on the suffering of the poor, those who need us to be just simply to survive.
But, of course, injustice it's not just about withholding our taxes.
Taxes that find their way into government aid, social security, health and welfare.
Injustice also occurs when we are not willing to share whatever we have to help others in a much more close up and personal way.
I can remember when Hospices grew up in communities, resourced by the generosity of people in the community giving not just their money but also their time.
Some people refused to give, maintaining that such a vital service should be funded by the government.
Our communities would be a whole lot poorer if we simply relied on government funded programmes and facilities.
Indeed, communities are created by people getting together to share the resources that they have to help one another and even those they will never meet.
This community we call church is no different.
It relies on generosity, on good will, on the love of those involved - for the sake of others.
We who are a part of this community model the love and generosity of God each time we share our resources - with those we know and with those we will never meet.
And it's not about looking good.
Or about saving face.
It's about genuinely caring enough to put our wealth at the disposal of others.
So this awkward gospel passage, echoing cultural conundrums of its time, speaks clearly into our culture today.
How will we choose to model the love and the generosity of God.
How will we put our resources at the disposal of the community we serve?
How will we redeem our tarnished reputation, embrace our prosperity, and serve God with our money?
God calls us as we are and asks that we honour God by offering all that we have to serve God's people.
To God be the glory.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lost and found

Luke 15:1-10
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety- nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. ’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost. ’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

You'll probably all know that just by the right side of the church door as you enter is an umbrella stand. It gets a lot of use. But, of course, if we come to church in the rain and it dries up while we worship, it's easy to forget to collect your brolly on the way out. And there are always extra brollies abandoned there. So, if you've been missing one for a while - that's where to look.
But also in that corner is a lost property box - that's usually full of hats and scarves and gloves, as well as bags, keys, glasses, brooches, even the odd hearing aid!
What do we do when we lose something?
Right now, I seem to be missing one of my favourite jackets.
It took me a while to realise it was missing.
I just thought I'd hung it in a different place,or left it in the car/ whatever.
But, after a while, I realised it really was missing.
It wasn't at the bottom of my back pack.
Or languishing in the boot of the car.
So what I've been trying to do is work out when I last had it.
Trying to picture the last time I wore it.
Or the last time I took it with me, just in case it rained.
Isn't that what we do when we lose something.
Once we realise its missing, we try to retrace our steps, work out where we last saw it, when we last used it?
In our gospel reading today, we encounter lost things - a sheep and a coin.
There's no resignation on the part of those who have lost in this reading.
They pull out all the stops to recover what is lost.
However unlikely it might seem that a shepherd can abandon all the other sheep to strike out for the one foolish enough to get lost, or however extreme it might seem to spring clean a house just to find a lost coin - those are the scenarios we are presented with in our gospel.
A lost sheep.
And a lost coin.
Tracked down.
And found.
What might be the things that we might think about investing some energy in finding today?
What about that joy that was once yours as you met with Gods family in worship, that joy that has been dulled by a sense of duty or by the feeling of being taken for granted.
What about the familiarity you once had with the rhythm of worship - that familiarity that has gradually diminished as you've drifted away, caught up in other things.
What about the excitement you once knew as you listened to and were challenged by the message of the gospel - an excitement that has faded as you've become used to the challenge and the impossibility of the demands.
Or what about the enthusiasm you once had to share the good news, to invite others to join you on this journey of faith - an enthusiasm blunted by rejection or by the quest for an easy life.
What would it take to recover these vital elements of our faith - the joy, the rhythm, the excitement, the enthusiasm?
Perhaps it's like searching for any other lost thing.
It involves us retracing our steps.
Going back to where we were.
Thinking of where and when we last felt joy or rhythm or excitement or enthusiasm in our journey of faith.
Taking ourselves back to rediscover what is important.
And not giving up until we find it.
So, if this morning, your worship is tinged with resignation or regret or sadness or resentment or whatever makes you less than thrilled to be here, how about backing up a little?
How about investing some time and energy into finding that lost mojo, that spark that will inspire and feed you.
The missing element that will enhance your worship and your faith and your life.
The glimmer that promises that, whatever tunnel you are in at present is not beyond God's reach, is not out of God's sight.
It doesn't matter how often we lose sight of God.
God never loses sight of us.
And God rejoices every time any of us manages to retrace our steps and find our way back to the essence of God's love
This gospel story actually makes it seem quite a good thing to lose our way every now and again - just so we can be part of the party that is Gods when we are found.
But in reality, isn't that the story of our journey of faith anyway.
No matter who we are.
No matter the calibre or strength of our faith.
It needs constant attention.
Proclaiming faith is not a once and for all event.
It's an act that bears repeating time and again as we journey through everyday and experience God in new ways, in new places, and, yes, even when it appears that we've lost God.
God's family is not divided into the lost and the righteous, into those who constantly strive for faith and those who think they have found it.
At different points on the journey, our faith takes different forms, sometimes strong, sometimes in need of resuscitation.
But always, God knows where we are.
And what we need.
And leads us always into grace.
Thanks be to God.
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Sunday, 1 September 2013


Luke 12:49-56
Jesus the Cause of Division
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three
they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother- in- law against her daughter- in- law
and daughter- in- law against mother- in- law.”
Interpreting the Time
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

On Sunday mornings, I like to preach on the Lectionary texts - that's the prescribed readings for each Sunday of the year.
It's a good discipline.
It means I'm forced into preaching on texts I would otherwise avoid - and it stops me sticking to one hobby horse or another.
But, since I preached on the Lectionary text this morning, I decided to choose something different for tonight.
And, for the life of me, I can't think why I thought that the gospel we read tonight would be a good text.
Whatever inspiration I had when I chose it had long gone by the time I sat down to write a sermon!
Bringing fire, causing division - it's not exactly the Jesus we like to portray.
So lets begin to look at this text by thinking about where Jesus was in his ministry when he taught in such a vein.
It's fair to say that Jesus was under some stress at this point in his ministry.
He was already on his way to Jerusalem.
On his way to betrayal and suffering and death.
And he knew it.
And so his teaching takes on a different kind of urgency from before.
There's no time for messing around.
No time for finding just the right sound byte.
His time is limited and there is a message that must be shared.
Jesus is stressed.
And that is something many of us can identify with.
In today's world we are familiar with stress.
Perhaps not the stress of a journey to crucifixion.
But other life limiting, situations that bring considerable stress today.
Those facing terminal illness - their own or a loved one's.
Those facing uncertainty in employment.
Those facing loneliness or isolation.
Those battling mental health issues.
Those struggling with poverty, homelessness, hunger.
Folk today know about stress.
It is a 21st century ailment just as it was an ailment that affected Jesus in his time.
When stress threatens our well being today, we can know without a doubt that Jesus has been there.

But sometimes it takes stress to help us get some perspective.
We can all muddle along, taking life in its stride, getting upset at trivia, "sweating the small stuff" as I call it.
And then a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Or we face the prospect of unemployment.
Or a friend is killed in a tragic accident.
And suddenly, all the things we worried about before pale into insignificance.
And we begin to see what is important in life.
Stress of that kind, though never welcome, does bring perspective.

Jesus message in our gospel today is a message on perspective.
A message on urgency.
A message for us as a people of faith.

We cannot keep on muddling along as we do.
The gospel message is urgent.
More urgent than ever in a world that is so broken by war and violence and injustice.
Jesus said: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Our suffering world today needs the fire of Gods love and the fire of the gospel to spread like wild fire.
More than ever people in our communities need to know that there is hope, that there is love.
And who will share that hope and love if we don't?

So what will we do with the kindling Jesus brings?
Will we be indifferent - something we are good at. Keeping the peace by remaining as inoffensive as we possibly can?
Keeping a low profile so that we don't upset anyone?

Will we pour water on it - quenching the flame?
Often, our best intentions have the same effect. Instead of igniting the kindling of faith, they pour cold water on people's best efforts and drive folk away from faith.
When we make folk feel as though they don't belong.
When we convey the message that they're not good enough - for us or for God.
Or when we draw up rules and refuse to bend them to include others.
We put folk off before they've even got started.
We extinguish what little fire there is.

Or - will we ignite that kindling.
Take it seriously.
Treat it with the respect it deserves.
Let it affect our lives and the lives of others as we share the fire and the passion of God's love?

This gospel doesn't sound so strange anymore.
It fits into the context of our lives, lives that confront all kinds of stress daily.
But it still doesn't sit comfortably.
Because it is a gospel that demands a response.
A gospel that demands that we get some kind of divine perspective and catch on to the divine urgency.
The kindling needs igniting.
And we are the fire keepers today.
Will we fan the flames or quench them?


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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Place settings

Luke 14:1;7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

There was a discussion among some of my colleagues this week about how effective was our pastoral ministry when it so often consisted of simply having a cup of tea and a blether with folks.
That might not sound very effective.
It may not even sound like it's the best use of time - and certainly many of my younger colleagues felt that way.
And yet, isn't it the way that Jesus went about his ministry?
In calling folk into the Kingdom, whether gently or with challenge and even, at times, ridicule, Jesus liked to do it over supper, dinner, a picnic lunch, a barbecue, a wedding feast.
Table fellowship was important to him.
I've said time and again, that the days I find most fulfilling in ministry are those days when I've sat in folks' homes and shared coffee, admired their pictures of loved ones, been privy to awards that hang on their wall or paintings stuck on their fridge, mementoes that tell stories, some of which are shared, some that don't need to be - but all part of the bigger picture of the person with whom I'm sharing.
(It's also the reason that I fight a constant battle against weight gain- often those coffees are accompanied by home baking or other temptations!)
Sharing table fellowship deepens relationship.
Or it can - if we allow it.
Jesus got to know all sorts of things about people by sharing round their tables.
And they got to know him.
And so relationships were formed through which Jesus could show his compassion, through which Jesus could offer challenge and through which Jesus could even rebuke.
It's a simple fact that folk are more likely to listen if connections have been made, if a relationship has been formed.

At the beginning of the week, I was involved in a meeting.
There were about 12 of us around the table.
We shared coffee at the start of the meeting - most of us had travelled a fair way to get there - and then got down to business.
Since we all had a bit of a journey to get home, we decided to continue working through a sandwich lunch rather than take a break.
But as we all got what we wanted - tea, coffee, sandwiches, we caught up with each other, since there hadn't been the opportunity earlier.
I was mid conversation with someone when we realised that our colleague across the table was telling a joke - and the whole table stopped to listen.
Having shared with each other before, we recognised the change in tone - and we all knew it was worth holding off on our conversations to listen in to another.
That's what can happen in table fellowship - we can get distracted, or sucked in.
And that's not a bad thing.
It's good to be able to pick up on nuances, to catch the different emotions, to hear what is said - as well as what is not spoken out loud.

Lets never underestimate the power of a "wee cup of tea". - not just its cure all properties but its relationship forging ability and thus its gateway to loving and caring, to challenging and cajoling.
Jesus not only practiced table fellowship but used it to illustrate the Kingdom of God.
In the gospel passage we read, he was at a meal and he used the meal as a lesson on how we should be hospitable to others.
Jesus took the table plan of the meal in which he shared to teach his followers how to practice humility and how to find honour.
It would be better, Jesus told them, to sit at a lowlier place and be moved up than to take a higher place and be moved down.
We can all see that.
Even today, that makes sense.
But Jesus goes on to say that we should think carefully too about whom we invite.
Our invitation shouldn't just go to those who are likely to return the favour - but should extend beyond those bounds to those whom we know will never be able to repay our hospitality.
Now there's a challenge.
Would we be comfortable partying the night away with those who are "not like us"?
Of course we wouldn't.
When we have down time and want to chill with friends.
Or when we have something we want to share with others.
When we want to celebrate- we want to choose carefully those who are allowed in on the celebrations.
We want to choose carefully those in whom we invest our time and our effort and our hospitality.
And that's not just about them perhaps on some future occasion returning the compliment and extending an invitation to us.
That's about who we would feel comfortable with.
And while, on the odd occasion, we might just push our boundaries a bit.
While we might now and again share with someone very different from us - that would be an exception rather than the norm.
We can blame our busy lives.
We can blame our lack of free time.
We can cite many reasons why we feel the need to guard our table fellowship and restrict it to those whose company we know we will enjoy.
Still, Jesus calls us to something different.

I wondered about Jesus' table companions in this gospel story today.
In our gospel today, Jesus is eating with one of the Pharisees - a leader - not one of the people on the fringes that we often see Jesus associating with - or perhaps the "leader of the Pharisees", because of his position, is as much on the fringe as the more obvious folk with whom Jesus eats - the tax collector, the prostitute, the leper...
Folk become isolated as much because of their status as because of their lack of status.
And Jesus manages to embrace either and all.
He could get down and dirty or he could scrub up nicely.
Either way, he would embrace those with whom he shared.
Not blending in - that was never Jesus' style.
But meeting folk everywhere, however lowly or mighty with the challenge of discipleship, the challenge of inclusivity, the challenges that being part of the Kingdom of God demands.

We gather this morning to share table fellowship.
And Jesus meets us here.
Not unobtrusively but right in our faces.
Jesus, in relationship with us, reads us all too well.
Jesus meets us here - with compassion, with challenge, with ridicule and with rebuke - whatever we need, is here in this table fellowship.
Sharing table fellowship deepens relationship.
Or it can if we allow it.
As we share today, may we find ourselves becoming more open to those around us.
More open to their pain, their joy, their companionship, their hidden depths, their shyness, their awkwardness, their familiarity and their strangeness.
May we give thanks for the stories we have shared and hold gently the stories that may never be spoken out loud.
And in all of this, may we find ourselves becoming more open to the ways of the Kingdom that Jesus sets before us.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Standing up straight

Luke 13:10-17
Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

When we read this passage today, we do so with no small measure of contempt. We are outraged at how the synagogue officials could be so short sighted, preferring their rules that kept folk down and in control to the freedom offered by Jesus.
We see immediately how their view of Gods word and of God's world is self limiting and confining.
And, when we've stopped being outraged by them, perhaps we might even pity them.
That they are so straight laced, so buttoned up. That they fail to see the extraordinary freedom that Jesus offers, mirroring the will of God- that all should know freedom from all that keeps us down, from all that stops us loving life in all its fulness.
It IS outrageous that anyone should want to be limiting or prescriptive with the amazing love and the incredible Spirit of God.
We do well to be outraged.
But wait a minute.
What about all those times that we behave just as the leaders of the synagogue did?
What about all those times when we find ourselves being inflexible?
When we insist on sticking to the letter of the law instead of the spirit?
What about all those conditions we impose that seek to limit the life giving, freedom bringing, full on loving gifts of healing that God holds out to us?
How often do we find ourselves saying...
You can't do that...
You're not old enough or, indeed - you're too old
That's not the way we do it...
That would never work...
How often do we find ourselves saying:
Been there, tried that, got the T shirt...
When we make these statements, aren't we being just as inflexible as the leaders of the synagogue who witnessed something good and lovely but couldn't allow it because, among other things, they weren't part of it.
So, before we condemn those leaders, lets step back and see the similarities in our actions today, clinging to all those rules that we hold dear.
And, when we catch ourselves about to proclaim - you can't do that, lets bite our tongues and appreciate all who contribute in all sorts of different ways to the work of the kingdom.
When we find ourselves excluding others because we have our own carefully worked out system, lets take a step back.
Who knows, we might find an even better way to get something done when we let others play too.
Jesus has just done something incredible when he cops all this flak.
He has just healed a woman who couldn't stand up straight for many years.
What's to get angry about in that?
But, as well as noting how uptight those around him get at him flouting rules, I also want to ask of this passage:
What about all those daughters and sons of Abraham who do not find healing from their ailments, who are not able to suddenly stand up straight.
The way this story is told, it would seem that you have to be able to stand up straight to praise God.
And we know that that is certainly not the truth.
How many folk do you know who are willing to praise God in all manner of trying circumstances.
How many people do you know who are constantly bent out of shape, physically and emotionally by all that life throws at them and yet continue to give God praise.
What is that that allows such people, even in the midst of difficulty, to consider themselves still beloved of God?
Perhaps it's the fact that as they look down, they don't only see the things that other folk discard and trample underfoot.
They are able to glimpse glory in the glaur.
To see reflected in the mud the image of stars.
To see shimmering on the puddles the outline of the rainbow.
Their perspective is different from ours but it is enhanced by their experience - whether that be the experience of trial or exclusion, of being invisible or discarded, whether it be the experience of pain or loss, the experience affords them depth and insight.
Our gospel today, though it speaks of physical appearance, takes us to a much deeper place.
A place where rules are broken, where conformity is cast aside.
A place where what you see is NOT what you get.
Because the love of God confounds expectation.
And allows miracles to happen.
Allows despair to become hope.
Allows dire straits to become places of possibility.
Allows the trials of life to become places of growth.
And allows those on whom we would look down or pity to teach us the most valuable lessons about life and about the transforming love of God.
We're very good at jumping to conclusions.
At deciding how things will turn out before we've even given them a chance.
At dismissing the possibility of being surprised by joy
We're bent down by rules and expectations.
Just as burdened as the Daughter of Abraham whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath.
And when we close ourselves off to new possibilities we limit that slow winding work of God.
Lets see ourselves today as those folk we shake our heads over - the leaders of the synagogue.
Lets acknowledge that our clinging to rules and our trampling on dreams consign us firmly into the same category, even when we think we're doing our best to protect the traditions of our faith.
God does not need our protection.
But even as we are chastened, lets give thanks that there will always be sons and daughters of Abraham such as the one in our gospel today who will challenge and confront, who will go on seeing the best in all things and who will always mirror for us the love of God that is not stifled by our smallness of heart.
And let us be prepared to listen to another perspective, to view things through a different lens and, in it all, to know our rule breaking God bringing freedom, bringing healing and bringing joy.
Thanks be to God.
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