Sunday 2nd August 2020 – Reading: Psalm 1

Introduction

We have thought quite a bit lately about journeys and how a life of faith is very much a journey with God and with fellow believers who make up our community of faith. We have also spent a couple of weeks looking at the time of Exodus and the exile. Over the next month or so I want to continue on a journey and we will travel though the Book of Psalms. This collection of prayers and songs of praise are in themselves a journey. Possibly used as hymn book for temple worship, written through an individual’s experience of one part in their life’s journey then adapted for congregational use. They take us through several centuries that the people of Israel journeyed. The final form as we have it today came about when they had returned from their exile experience. Written by many authors, almost half are credited to David whilst about one third are anonymous. As our Bible is presented to us in its current form we find the Book of Psalms at the very centre. The middle book, the beating heart of the scriptures. How fitting as it surely has to be amongst some of the most honest, heartfelt, soul searching pieces of writing anywhere. The innermost thoughts and prayers of the people of the Old Testament are found here and they speak very clearly to our time in history just as they have addressed people’s needs down over the centuries and as each generation has journeyed through their trials, tribulations and celebrations. Their times of confrontation with other nations as well as within their own people and yes even at times it would seem the people have taken up argument with God and venting frustration and anger as they feel abandoned at times. Then in times of celebration to God they turn with great thanksgiving. Surely reflecting our own times with our emotional peaks and troughs. Each individual Psalm is written with great care even when we sometimes to struggle with the thinking involved. The words express great truths that are filled with great inspiration for all of us. As with all Scripture God speaks to his people through the Psalms encouraging us to interact with him in all situations of life. Such is the breadth of emotion displayed and laid bare for all to see not only do they reflect the author’s experience of his journey but they encapsulate human experience in general. At different stopping off points in each of our journeys we can find a Psalm that we can claim as our own for that moment. God is always central as: Creator, Judge and King as well of course as the good shepherd. We live under the same God today as the people did when the Psalms were written. We too live in an uncertain world where there is evil and suffering and people who would deliberately count themselves as our enemies or indeed our friends who unwittingly sometimes fall short. The Psalms are the cries of countless generations. Where are you Lord? We cry How much longer must we wait? We ask. In these beautiful pieces of writing there is to be found wisdom and patience as well as understanding and strength. There are blessings from God waiting to be revealed. The voice and the heart of God is to be found here in the beating heart of scripture right at the very centre of God’s Word.

Reflection

Surely I am not alone in my thinking that there are different times when on a journey you just want the whole thing to end. Then there are other journeys that you don’t even want to begin at all. But of course there are also the journeys that come as a surprise and they bring with them pleasure and happiness. Yesterday marked the 3rd anniversary of Ingrid and I moving into Inveresk. The next pages of our journey were beginning to be written. In most of life there is more than a simple binary choice, it is not normally a simple take it or leave it scenario. As we journey through life there is quite often more of a rainbow of choices to consider rather than simply black or white, yes or no. the last four or five months have certainly taught us that much as we attempt to journey safely for all concerned. Due consideration of all options must be examined if we are to find the right path. Here in our 1st Psalm this is not the case as the Psalmists writes there are two ways; one that is good and one that is not and these are the only choices open to us. Given that this is the first Psalm of 150, these are the opening verses of the biggest book in the Bible, I think it may be fairly safe to assume this Psalm was placed here with great intention. The others that follow may not be in strict chronological order as they deal with different issues of life but the starting position is clear; choose wisely, choose God, failing to get this first step in the journey right will quite simply take us hither and tither. There are paths on which we can journey forwards. It says one is the way of the righteous and one is the way of the wicked. Following the first can find us under the care of God. It can be a place of peace and contentment but that should not be misread as it being the way where we will not experience the realities of life such as sorrow and suffering. It will not mean we experience material prosperity. God’s blessings are greater than the things of this world. Of course they begin here in this world and they make up part of this journey through life that we all experience but they will be fully realised in the next world as our journeys continue on into the eternal presence of God. As with all things in Scripture we must handle the word with care. We must be wary of using Psalms such as this to point an accusing finger just as the friends of Job did. They fixed their conclusions and even accusations on this dogma of the two ways. Declaring to Job that he must have sinned, why else would God be putting him through such extreme sufferings. Job, like many of the Psalmists, converses with God and pleads his case as he maintains that he is an exception to this rule that his friends are putting before him. We see in Job as we see in the Psalms, he is vindicated by God. As we journey through our short visit into the Psalms we must be aware not to view them as some sort of theological absolute. The Psalm we have looked at this morning probably had its origins in Temple worship where, at the time, the priests would pronounce blessings on the innocent whilst cursing the guilty. The sentiment behind the Psalm, I am sure, is a call to believers to be obedient to the ways and to the will of God.

Sunday 26th July 2020 – Genesis 28:10-22

Reflection

‘I have a dream, a song to sing to help me cope with anything. If you see the wonder of a fairy tale you can take the future even if you fail. I believe in angels something good in everything I see. I believe in angels when I know the time is right for me. I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream.’

This morning I want us to look at the next stage of the story we looked at before I went on holiday. We are staying in the book of Genesis with Jacob and remembering him cheating his way into an inheritance that should have belonged to Esau. We have moved on a couple of chapters and with the help of his mother, Rebekah, Jacob is now in possession of that birthright. Esau has sworn to gain revenge over his brother and therefore Jacob is on the run to his uncle Laban, the brother of his mother. With those earlier chapters portraying him as a cunning cheat. It is on this journey that we re-engage with the story. Jacob was a fugitive from his tribe and family. He is out in the hill country north of Beer-Sheba, tired, his nerves are frazzled and he is without a home, a shelter or the protection of his friends.

He pulls a rock as a pillow and lies down in an attempt to rest his weary body. I don’t think I have ever been that tired that I could settle down on the hard ground and use a rock as a pillow. I know my friend’s mother used to say about him that he could sleep on a knife’s edge but I am assured that was just a figure of speech and she never actually tucked him in on the edge of a Russell Hobb’s breadknife (other brands are available). I may not have experienced the depth of tiredness Jacob has but I can imagine meeting God was most probably not in his thoughts at this time. If you could pardon the pun, ‘not in his wildest dreams’ did he expect what came next. And then it all happens. Jacob dreams that a ladder reaches from heaven to earth. Angels ascending and descending on it and God is speaking to him. ‘I will be with you and protect you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land.’

Jesus uses this imagery in John’s Gospel when he says, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ Who would have thought it could happen to Jacob at this time in his life? But happen it most certainly did. If you read further on in the book of Genesis you will discover that Jacob continues to allow his old nature to rule his life. It will take more encounters to turn Jacob’s life around.

For the moment however he does know that he has come face-to-face with God. He knows he has experienced a significant moment in his life. As he rises he builds a stone monument to God. He names the place Bethel, which means in Hebrew house of God. And he proclaims, ‘it must be the house of God; it must be the gate that opens into heaven.’ Bethel became a place of worship, a constant reminder to the people of Israel of God’s presence in their midst. Jacob is certain that he has had an encounter with God. Many people have had an encounter with God at one time or another. For many it happens within places like a church building or a sacred shrine or possibly with an awe-inspiring experience of God’s world of beauty and fascination. But for some, God appears at the most unexpected times and the most unexpected places. The Bible is full of these unexpected encounters.

Last week Moses and that burning bush experience, this week Jacob in a dream lying on the ground with a stone for a pillow. Although it may not seem like it right now there are things in life that we are certain about. I suppose one thing we can be sure about is that God will break into our lives when he is ready, even if we are not.

As we reflect on this whole story, and that of the Exodus story that we touched on last week, we are reminded once more of this whole journey theme that is faith. We are reminded once more that the voice and word of God is indeed the Alpha and Omega for it is God’s word that carries the day in all things.

As we reflect on all of this we are reminded of the continual willingness of this God of ours to forgive and to restore. 

We are reminded that however far we stray on the journey God always has a way open to us that allows us to return.

As we reflect on all of this we marry it up to our journey whether it be a time of wilderness that is leaving our spiritual side dry and dusty, whether it be a time of loneliness that is leaving our emotional side devoid of feeling, or whether it be a time of trying to run away, God is ready to meet with us just as he did with Jacob. Jacob was changed through this encounter at Bethel even if he did not become perfect he did commit to God and later on in the story he does indeed return to this spot and rededicates it to God. I mentioned last week that we too could have a burning bush experience just as Moses had. The same is true today regarding this Bethel experience of Jacob’s.

What would ours look like, I wonder?

How and where do we commit ourselves to God?

What happens when we wander away?

Do we look again for the road that leads us to where we need to be?

When will we say to God, ‘I have a dream to help me cope with anything
You can take my future even when I fail
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream.’

Sunday 19th July – Exodus 3:1-15

As I mentioned in my last service a couple of weeks ago before I had some well-earned time off. I thought I would put well-earned in there just in case you forgot to say so. Celebrations have continued to take place during these times of Covid social distancing measures. They have looked very different and the attendee numbers have been remarkably lower than normal. This morning in St Michael’s we should have been hosting the HTA Kirkin Service for the Honest Lad and Honest Lass. As we all know it is a big date in the Church’s calendar and our community’s.

Like so many events across the land it was not possible to hold the service but as many organisations, and not least the church have done, the use of technology has in some measure saved the day and allowed the occasion to be marked in the best way possible under current circumstances. The HTA Committee have been very busy putting together a virtual wreath laying ceremony at the War Memorial in Inveresk.

This morning the 50th year Honest Lad and Honest lass were filmed laying the wreath. People have been filmed at different locations and at different times over the last two weeks and then the whole lot will be pulled together and edited to go out on the internet today sometime. I was filmed on Tuesday afternoon in the Manse garden addressing, virtually, the 50th year Honest Lad George Cunningham and the 50th year Honest Lass Morag Sharp. I based what I had to say around our reading from Exodus. When George and Morag became Honest Lad and Honest Lass in 1970 the Commonwealth Games were taking place a stones throw away in Edinburgh. In 1995 when they were the 25th year Lad and Lass it was the year of the Riding of the Marches. In 2020 they are now the 50th year Lad and Lass we are in the middle of this pandemic.

Proof, if ever it was need, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring far less what will be going on in 25 years time. Watch the Virtual Kirkin HERE

This Exodus from Egypt took place some 1500 years BC and it lasted for some forty years.

The Bible is full of people, both men and women, who are called to go and speak on behalf of their people, to represent their community. Moses may well be amongst the most famous and well-known name as there have been countless adaptations of his story captured on the silver screen. The book of Exodus is a book of journeying.

Moses is a man who is called forward to represent his people, to put forward their case, to speak on their behalf.

Then together they go on this amazing journey that will undoubtedly have twists and turns. It will be a journey when people will question why they are on it, people will wish they had never even taken the first step into that great unknown which is tomorrow. Then of course there are those who cannot see where God is in this whole episode of the history of their people. We have the recorded accounts in the book but the people we read about where living through these times without the privilege of being able to fast forward to the last page and finding out how it all ultimately comes to an end, there was nobody who could do a spoiler alert . During this time that we find ourselves in it seems that every day we hear the phrases ‘well according to the route map we should be doing A, B or C next….or ‘sticking to the route map is our best way forward’.

We need to remember the Israelites were held four hundred years in bondage in Egypt. They had faced increasing persecutions from the kings of Egypt. They don’t have a daily briefing that sets out a road map, they don’t have Facebook to check out what is happening elsewhere. They have Moses who encounters God in flames from within a bush. They have Moses who says to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?’ They have Moses who God has told to tell the Israelites, ‘I am who I am. I am has sent me to you.’

They have Moses who had for forty years humbly shepherded sheep. He did not know that morning what lay in store for him and the rest of his life. He did not know that morning he would meet with God and be called to lead the people forth out of bondage. This burning bush experience is the commissioning of Moses. It marks what can only be described as the greatest adventure of a lifetime and it would take a lifetime to complete. Stop and think for a moment the magnitude of what is happening here. God is beginning a mission of deliverance and redemption. How amazing that he chooses humans to act as the instruments to carry out this mission. We are to be part of this great adventure story and journey that will lead us to our own burning bush experience of encountering God.

If you know anything of the Exodus story then you will know the trials and tribulations that the people went through. You will know the uncertainties that they faced. You will know how they questioned if God was with them and if so how, where and when. When it appeared they were doomed as they stood on the shores of the Red Sea asking why have you led us here. Before God parted the waters and they crossed over safely. You will know God supplied them with manna from heaven. Not just once or twice, not just weekly or monthly. God gave new and fresh each day with the people taking only what they needed for that day then on the sixth day twice as much would be provided to allow for their day of rest, their Sabbath Day. Moses began his conversation with God in a way that suggests he has his own doubts about his abilities to lead when he asks, ‘Who, me’ At the start of the next chapter he fears that he has a lack of authority ‘What if they don’t believe me?’

Verse 10 he fears his lack of communication skills, ‘I am slow of speech and tongue.’ And then in verse 13 he shows that his fear is complete, ‘please send someone else.’

Read on, read on, I say. For if you do you will discover that all of us who have experienced these emotions of similar self-doubts will be delighted to discover cause for great hope. From this fumbling, bumbling beginning we trace the emergence of one of the Biblical greats. A man filled by God making decisions that alter the way of life for his people and for generations who follow even and including the generation of which we are part.

Sunday 12th July

2 Corinthians 1:- 1 – 24

Are we sometimes guilty of false assumptions?

 It’s what happens when you make false assumptions about others so that you can portray them in the worst possible light.

We are so prone to be suspicious. When we become offended or hurt, we immediately begin to look for evidence that someone did us wrong. I sometimes I have done that. But sometimes it’s been done to me.

Assumption can lead to the death of relationships because we end up believing the worst about others. We’ve all been guilty of drawing wrong conclusions on the basis of tiny scraps of evidence:

He didn’t call back so he must not want to talk to me.
I think she’s trying to ignore me.
They never hire people like me.
That church is so unfriendly.
How could he be a Christian and act like that?
I saw her in a bar. She must have a drinking problem.
I’ll bet they are sleeping together.
He’s probably a jerk at home too.
I don’t like him. I don’t know why. I just don’t like him.
She’s full of herself.
You can’t trust someone who dresses like that.
He’s a hypocrite.

On the other hand, if we are the victim of assumptions, it’s very hard to fight back against false assumptions. Few things hurt more than being

misunderstood by our close friends. The closer they are to us, the greater the pain. When that happens, we discover a lot about ourselves. How we respond when we’ve been misunderstood tells a great deal about the depth of our Christian faith.

We’ve all been guilty of drawing wrong conclusions on the basis of tiny scraps of evidence.

Our passage brings us face to face with a strange situation that at first glance doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal. The apostle Paul found himself in trouble with a church he had founded in the Greek seaport of Corinth. We know that he spent 18 months in Corinth winning people to Christ and establishing the church. After he left a faction arose in the congregation that questioned his leadership. They challenged his authority, insinuated that he wasn’t a “real” apostle, attacked his character, and accused him of using the Corinthian church for his own gain. The troublemakers succeeded in turning most of the church against him.

And their chief complaint was this. Paul couldn’t be trusted because he had changed his travel plans – not once but twice. He hadn’t come back to visit the Corinthians as he said he would. That proved he was a fickle man whose character and message could not be trusted.

 It started over something small. That’s how it usually happens. Someone didn’t greet us the right way, they didn’t answer our email, they didn’t invite us to their party, they didn’t show up for an appointment. Or we heard they said something negative about us. Or they didn’t laugh at our jokes. Or they suddenly seem cold when they used to be glad to see us.

Little things.

Small stuff.
Petty complaints.

From a tiny spark of discontent a mighty flame of unhappiness grows. That flame soon becomes a wildfire that threatens to destroy a relationship. Congregations have split and friendships have ended over things that started very small but grew all out of proportion.

Let’s check out this passage to see how Paul responded to a misunderstanding that threatened to destroy a friendship and a local church.

1.      He planned to go to Macedonia and then to Corinth. He plans to pass through Macedonia and hopes to spend the winter with them in Corinth. He doesn’t want it to be a brief visit but a longer time so that he can minister to them. He qualifies it all by saying “if the Lord permits”. But that trip never took place.

2.      He later planned to go to Corinth, then to Macedonia, and then back to Corinth.   “I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice”.

3.      Finally, he decided to postpone his trip altogether. “I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit”.

 Paul’s opponents used his changing plans as a way to attack his credibility. “See, you can’t trust him. He calls himself an apostle, he says he’s coming but he never shows up.”

Well, that is a problem, isn’t it? Keeping your word is hugely important for all us, but especially for Christians. It’s all about integrity, consistency, proving yourself trustworthy, showing up on time, and doing what you said you would do. If people feel like they can’t count on you, how will they ever listen to what you have to say?

Paul’s answer comes in three parts:

1.      My conscience is clear (v. 12).

2.      I haven’t hidden anything from you (v. 12).

3.      I haven’t tried to deceive you (v. 13).

 It’s true that he had changed his mind several times, but whether or not the Corinthians could understand it, his only concern was for their welfare. He wanted to come and see them but only if his visit would bring about healing and spiritual growth.

His critics thought Paul was some sort of fickle, fly-by-night preacher, the kind who is always on a power trip, a control freak who enjoys having his acolytes sing his praises. When he didn’t show up when they expected him, what else could they conclude but that he didn’t love them?

To that Paul says, “I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth” (v. 23). He stayed away so as not to have an angry confrontation. That’s why he made up his mind not to make another painful visit to them.

As hard as it may be for some of us to hear, we can’t always solve every problem in the world.

Some people won’t listen.
Some people love to argue.
Some people have already made up their minds.
Some people have an answer for everything.

Evidently that was the situation in Corinth.        

 So now Paul decides to wait for God to work. In order not to stir up trouble, he decides not to come to Corinth at this moment. He has no desire to stir them up further. He only wants to share in their joy when he does come. And he does plan to visit.

But for the moment he will wait.

God is God, he can be trusted to do right.
But he doesn’t work on my timetable.

Let’s wrap up this message with a few points of application:

1. Sometimes we will be misunderstood by our close friends. Paul clearly loved the Corinthians and knew them well. And they clearly knew him well. Yet a rift had grown between them. The same thing happens in marriage, in families, among friends and co-workers, and it certainly happens in every church. If you haven’t been misunderstood lately, don’t worry. It’s bound to happen before long. That’s part of the price of living in a fallen world. What happened to Paul happens to all of us sooner or later.

2. The best defence is an honest, clear, non-defensive explanation. Paul doesn’t complain, doesn’t blame, and doesn’t point fingers. He isn’t long-winded. He lays out his explanation so his readers can decide for themselves why he had not come back to Corinth.

3. We can’t control how people respond to us. Rarely will our explanations convince everyone. Sometimes even our close friends will choose not to

believe us. At some point we must decide to leave our reputation in God’s hands and walk away from the controversy.

 4. Pray for those who misunderstand you. Love the people who misunderstand you. It’s hard to put it into practice. But we must do it anyway.

5. We must not return wrong for wrong. This is also hard, especially when your motives are repeatedly attacked. But in this we are to be like our Lord who when he was reviled did not return evil for evil.          

When you are misunderstood, repeat these four sentences:

It’s not about me.

 It’s not about now.

It’s all about God.

It’s all about eternity.

As we read these words, stop right now and think.

The followers of Jesus will sometimes be misunderstood not only by the world but by other Christians.

May God give us the spirit of Jesus that we might walk in his steps.

Amen.

Sunday 5th July – Matthew 13:1-23

The parable of the sower is one of those parables that is easy to breeze past because we feel like we know it. Many of us learned it as children, perhaps even planted seeds in a dish around rocks and things to see how the plants would grow.

We’ve heard sermons that ask which type of soil our heart is and how to improve the quality of our soil to receive the seeds of faith that are scattered. This always makes writing a sermon challenging.

I often wonder if the best response to this is to encourage all to discuss it among yourselves and see what you think. But as I was considering this, I got to watch the sowing of seeds first-hand the other month.

The other month I watch someone plant grass seed on a patch of the lawn that had been damaged. They done all the right things seed, sprinkler and fertilizer into the soil. Preparing everything for the new seed. I watch as he went out with his seed spreader so as he got the right amount to cover the earth.

He then when back into his house finished doing the sewing.

Next time I looked out to his garden I notice that the birds came for a grass seed feast. Our winged friends must have been lying in wait on the roof or perhaps dispatched the bird version of a “tweet” to call all the birds of our area to the garden. It was an amazing bird party, complete with a banquet of seeds.

 Birds are often villains in the interpretation of the original parable, but while watching them feast and chat with each other, I realized that an interesting part of the parable of the sower might be just beyond the experience between the sower and the soil.

 We know that the parable of the sower is about having our hearts, minds ready to receive the Good News of God in Christ and then live a life that reflects it. But what if the birds are a reminder about not getting to know exactly what good will come from sharing our faith or living our faith?

 You see, the seed that falls on the path and gets eaten by the birds is still Good News that is given and shared.

There are unintended consequences for our actions, and one of those is that when we live a life of faith, we don’t get to choose who picks up on it.

We are just scattering the seeds that were the fruit of seeds someone else sowed in our hearts. That’s the magic of plants: We can be meticulous in how we plant them, I watched the planting of potatoes they were all planted perfectly but as they grew some grew stronger than others  but in the end, the seeds potatoes interact  with soil, wind, water, and animals and become a beautiful garden in spite of it all … but it might not look like the garden we intended, and that’s OK, too.

 For me, watching the birds eat the grass seed, I realized how grateful after winter the birds were for an easy and safe meal. They were thrilled with the abundance of a food they don’t totally love but that was easily accessible. I then put out bird food to direct the birds to a better meal that also wouldn’t inhibit my garden. Now I watch the birds through my window as they chatter and feast. Many little birds all different kinds come into the garden right outside of my window is now thriving and reminding me that the Good News of the love of God will bear fruit in the way it needs to, in the midst of us, in spite of us, and through us, if we are willing to sow the seeds and let them fall where they may. The patch of bare ground also is visible which I seen when look at the bare patch on the man lawn. That, too, reminds me that we can choose not to receive the Good News when we hear it, but the sower keeps coming back and trying because the God of love will not abandon us but will nurture us and fret over us until we can finally receive the seeds ourselves and bear fruit for others.

Today, I hope we can in reflecting on the ways in which the seeds of faith know no bounds, how they are picked up by birds and sown next to other plants that are thriving and how the soil is nurtured into production. How has God nurtured you? How have others benefited from your faith? How have you given thanks for the unexpected feasts in your life? Or simply, where is God sowing seeds in your life right now that you need to share with others?

Sunday 28th June – Reading: Genesis 25:1-34

Reflection

I am going to relate our reading this morning with another very well-known Bible story about families and siblings and parents, different circumstances in life and how people value, or not as the case may be, the celebration of who they are as an individual. The book of Genesis contains much about birth and creation and celebrations of great variety. Of course the word genesis means ‘the origin of something’. Esau demonstrates he has no idea how to celebrate his birthright far less any idea the cost of his actions as he sells it to Jacob. They were twins but not identical in either appearance or in character. Esau loved the great outdoors and the thrill of hunting wild animals while Jacob stayed close to home caring for his father’s flock and pottering around the kitchen with his mother. When Jacob demanded the birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew Esau responded: “Look, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?” After swearing to sell it to Jacob Esau ate and drank and left with hardly a thought of what he had just given up. The saddest thing is that he didn’t even realize what he had done until it was all too late. Years later he tried to get back what he had so carelessly tossed aside but the birthright passed on to Jacob just as God said it would. We are born with our own characteristics and as we grow we take on board our surroundings, we take on board some of our parent’s ways and sometimes the mannerisms of friends. Different actions and attitudes influence our world, ultimately though, we are unique and we have the ability to shape and reshape the world around us. Over the past few months many people will have had occasions that in normal times there would have been a gathering of friends and some kind of celebration. I know within our own congregation there have been a few landmark birthdays for example where parties had been organised and then plans reshaped. I know that later this year there should have been weddings in our church which have had to be rearranged. I know of wedding anniversaries that have happened and on Friday past Ingrid and I celebrated our 38th anniversary. A few weeks ago our nephew, my brother’s oldest son, became a dad for the first time. And of course there has been sad moments lately when families could not fully come together to help each other both grieve the passing, and celebrate together, the life of someone they loved dearly. Although the shape and form of the celebrations has looked very different the celebrations themselves have still taken place. These occasions have been marked in the best ways we could. How, where, why and when we celebrate in many ways can be determined by the situations we find ourselves in as we journey through life. In Luke’s Gospel in the parable of the lost son, as the NIV puts it, we have another story about two brothers. The younger son wants all that he is due and he wants it now. The tables look overturned in this second account as he blows the lot and returns with his tail between his legs. What awaits him is an attitude of celebration found in his father and an attitude of resentment found in his brother. Holding the two stories side by side we see one brother acting irresponsibly and one that is hardworking. We see one brother that wastes everything he has been given. We see a brother who can reshape his life and become humble and one hardnosed and hard hearted. We see a joyful family celebration whilst some of the family are left somewhere outside of things. We see one brother who tries to turn back the clock and go back to how it was and one who realises the past should remain just that and it is what lies ahead that is now important. Holding the two stories together side by side we could debate who in each of the stories was lost. I think what each of them does show is that in amongst the everyday things of life celebrations are happening for some when upset and hurt is happening for others. I want to close on a light note this morning. I want to finish by thinking about the future. I want to think of new beginnings. In doing so I am going to tell you another story about birth and celebration it is about three expectant fathers in America who were waiting for word on the arrival of their new babies.

‘A nurse goes into the room and announces to one of the men that his wife has just given birth to twins. ’that’s amazing he said – I play for the Minnesota Twins’. After about twenty minutes another announcement is made to the second man whose wife has given birth to triplets. ’WOW’ – he stated, ’I work for the 3M company’. At this news the third man fell off his chair and fainted, once they managed to revive him, they all asked why he had fainted. He said ’I work for the 7-UP company.

And A Scottish Toast to finish with,

‘May the best ye’ve ever seen be the worst ye’ll ever see,

may a moose ne’er leave yer girnal wi’a tear drap in his e’e,

may ye aye keep hale and he’rty till ye’re auld enough tae dee

may ye aye be juist as happy as I wish ye aye tae be.’

God Bless.

Sunday 21st June 2020

Reading: Genesis 3:1-11,20-21

Reflection

Last week as we celebrated Communion together we were reminded that Jesus was the new covenant

between God and his people. This was necessary as continually God’s people broke with the old covenant.

In communion we enter into fellowship. ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a fellowship with the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a fellowship with the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ Fellowship is a word that we often hear in church but what does it mean and does it mean the same for all of us? Do we only experience it when we are gathered for communion? The dictionary says fellowship is a fraternity but surely that cannot be correct within a church understanding as fraternity means brotherhood and therefore is exclusive to males. The dictionary also says fellowship is a friendship and maybe now we may be getting closer because friendship comes through mutual intimacy but surely it has to be more than this because if that covered it we wouldn’t need another word. Fellowship is that sense of unity, of community and participation in the lives of others that emerges among Christians and in the church from the common experience of faith in Jesus Christ. Fellowship in Christ is to be in unity with him, it is to be participating in his life and he in ours. It is a mutual relationship that becomes stronger as we understand more of him and the love he has for all people. I wonder if at the heart of the brokenness of our world is the brokenness of fellowship. It goes all the way back to the very beginning. We do not have to go very far into our bibles to see this. How was it in the beginning? God made a world and its beings who could relate with him and one another. There was a strong sense of trust linking together the creator and the creation. Eden the place called paradise soon became a place of shattered trust, the fellowship was broken, and the result was chaos. It has been with us since then. That is the continuing story of the Old Testament. God reaches out in love and affection establishing a covenant with Abraham. Through Moses, David, prophets, priests and kings, God sought to destroy suspicion and rebuild trust. God in his mercy continually moves towards us with the intention of restoring broken relationship and never moving away from us.

Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Reflection

Throughout the Book of Acts we see the new church forming and growing and changing (never really been an ‘Aye been’). It follows the journeys of the early leaders as we too are led with them from one drama into another. Unaware themselves at the time this group were setting in motion something that would go worldwide and change the pages of history. For many people God, through Christ, for the first time in their lives became a reality. The fellowship of believers is characterised by joy, hope and love; joy for God’s acceptance of sinners, hope for God’s sure renewal of the world, and love as the true response to God’s unmeasured mercy. In Paul’s writings we see two things that he understands fellowship to mean. As believers we are to share in the sufferings of Christ through the cup and the bread. Paul urges the believing community to bear the burden of others, to support and pray, and to seek the good of others over our own good. Secondly, Christian fellowship is a partnership in the spreading of the gospel it is something we must work at. Fellowship, then, is the reality of life with God in Christ Jesus. It is community with fellow-believers who let Christ be Lord of that fellowship therefore it is an important matter. God’s final effort was the coming of his son to be one of us, the supreme reconciler. Here is the tie that heals and binds our wounded spirits, breaks the bonds of suspicion, and establishes within us love of God and of one another. That is the continuing story of the New Testament. Through the writers of the Gospels, in the book of Acts and those beautiful letters we are informed of the growth of the early church. Not only have we got the good bits as though there were no issues but we have the disputes and arguments, the disagreements and the falling out. Relationships and fellowships need to be worked at and there will be differing opinions depending on the maturity with which these are handled they can be positive experiences that bring growth and strength not necessarily always demise and weakness. As long as we don’t adopt that old way of things that I can remember as a boy growing up.

It’s my ball and it’s my rules. If you don’t agree with them then I’m taking my ball home and there will be no game. My rules or no game.

I will close with a French proverb, ‘A faithful friend is an image of God.’

Amen to that and thanks be to God for his everlasting mercy.

Sunday 14th June 2020 – Luke 22:7-23

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Reflection

When in life we do something regularly enough it is said that it becomes second nature. What does that mean? Does it mean we are born with it within us? Therefor it is in our nature we just need to bring it out from deep within. Does it mean it is something we are not born with? Therefor it is not in our nature we need to be taught how to make it happen. Either way there is an element of moving from the unknown to the known, we are taken from our comfort zones into a place of discovery for some and a place of fear and trepidation for others. Every aspect of life involves moving from one place to another, it involves change and those comfort zones being challenged, if the same is not true about our journey of faith then what does that tell us about our faith? If this whole moving out proves to be problematic it can become a place that people will shy away from happy to be left where they feel safe and settled and secure. When we learn to drive a car mirror, signal, manoeuvre become three very important words for anyone who gets behind the wheel. The words themselves are not as important as the sequence in which we use them. Doing manoeuvre, mirror, signal can result in all sorts of complications so why do people continue to get the sequence wrong? Why do some people appear to have either forgotten the sequence of the words and the ensuing actions that they cause? Could it be the case people find them to be of no more use when have passed their test? When we hear something often enough, when we use it in our daily living it becomes part of who we are. It becomes our second nature. This morning we find ourselves in new territory but yet surrounded by so much of the old certainties of our faith in worship and in practice. This is my first experience of leading a Communion Service online. Much of what happens during the sacrament is familiar and been experienced many times over the years. Ministers in every aspect of serving the church received an email during the week from the new Moderator of the General Assembly, right Reverend Dr Martin Fair. He spoke about missing Communion in May as the Assembly was cancelled and suggested that this might be a good time to nourish ourselves and to remind ourselves of our togetherness though we be isolated physically. To that end he offered Communion last Friday. He recognised that online Communion is hardly a settled matter and that some will be uncomfortable with it. He thinks that much more theological reflection will be given to this subject and correctly, I think, he says that reflection will be the better for some practice to reflect on?  He adds that in these extraordinary times it might well be that there is latitude to step into somewhat uncharted territory. I wonder then if in some ways this morning we are stepping out of a comfort zone in the practice of the celebration but we are taking with us our comfort blanket if you like. The familiar and the unknown coming together in many ways not unlike that Last Supper account we read in the Gospel narrative. Peter and John sent ahead with instructions. The only question they have is where will it take place. This suggests they are well aware of what will happen only the location is questioned. One question that could have been asked was why would it be a man they find carrying water as at that time it would be more customary to see women carrying water. Already we are seeing things that were different. The owner of the house, likewise, questions nothing, when the Disciples passed on the message from Jesus the man would be sure of their credentials and need ask no further indeed the room is already furnished. Later as they reclined at the table all began with familiarity with the layout of the meal. During the meal itself things again were beginning to look and sound quite different. Jesus is telling them this will be his last Passover meal until the fulfilment in the kingdom is established. This intensified as Jesus spoke of the bread being his body and the wine his blood. The cup to be seen as a new covenant as Jesus announces one of them will betray him by the end of the proceedings each of them would know this was something very different. Some of their old certainties were shaken as they were taken from their comfort zone. The old covenant, the promise from God to his people, had not been observed by the people. God in his mercy offers this new covenant. This will bring forgiveness and salvation to all believers. In this sacrament, all be it today celebrated in a new socially distanced manner, we remember Jesus suffering and death, the pouring out of his blood and how that becomes God’s seal upon it.

Sunday 7th June 2020 – Psalm 8 & Matthew 28:16-20

Reflection

Recently in our services we have been looking at understanding words and then two weeks ago we were given the visual at The Ascension of Jesus. This was followed last week as Edward led us in our Pentecost Reflections; Different voices speaking in different languages as tongues of fire filled the room. Once again today we need the audio and the video.

Today churches will be celebrating God as Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Who has the words or the images that can completely describe to us God in three forms? Over the years we have heard the egg analogy; shell, albumin and yolk, three separate identifiable parts and all integral to the egg. We have heard the water analogy; liquid, ice and steam, three separate identifiable forms and all integral to water. Our Bibles are a treasure trove of literary forms which help us to understand and know God more fully. There is poetry and proverb, legal document, dramatic narrative and personal letter. There are hymns and sermons, dreams and visions, as well as figures of speech and word pictures that highlight what is being said. The audio visual assistance we need. Our Psalm is indeed a song of praise filled with imagery in relation to creation. From the heavens; the moon and the stars, to the creation of life; beasts of the fields, birds of the air and fish of the sea to our place in this wonderful creation all of life is included as a means of glorifying the Creator God.

There are different ways into the nature of God, they all lead us to the same God, they all reveal what God is like, and they are all absolutely right. On this Sunday, this Trinity Sunday, we are reminded of the many ways of God. Between the Psalm and the Gospel readings once again I am convinced of God’s word in all of this. His speaking directly into our situation of today. Jesus throughout his time on earth made reference to creation in all its forms. ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ The limitless commitment of God to all his children surely is at its most beautiful when humanity comes together as one and the flip side, the most horrible aspect of humanity, is evident when race and skin colour, not only mark our physical appearance a major factor, but debase who a person is and the value of their life becomes something less. Here in our community, across our nation and indeed across our world people are asking others, ‘How can I help you?’ The question of creed or colour, the debates surrounding dogma and creeds, the life of faith or not, all of this put one side. Jesus could have given us a lengthy lecture on who my neighbour is. He could have spoken for hours on how to treat someone in need. He simply told the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus the master storyteller connecting with his listeners. We all know the opposing side of the Good Samaritan story at this time in our lives as we witness each day human interactions that are beautiful and others that are ugly and shameful.

Jesus is fully acquainted with human life in its many experiences. He could hold meaningful conversation with farmer and fishermen, with builders and merchants alike. His stories portray the lives of men, women, and children, the poor and rich, the outcast and the exalted. He knew about weddings and happy occasions as well as funerals and sickness. He knew directly about racial tensions. Remember when people said, ‘Did anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Remember people questioned why he spoke with a Samaritan woman at the well, age old racial and religious tensions bubbling away. How many plans that were made in January this year are still possibilities now in June? There are times when we need to stop and rethink and even times when we just need to start all over again. God loves to help us make a fresh start. The presence and teaching of Jesus was something new and signalled the passing of the old. Jesus did not come to reform an old and worn out system but to fulfil and complete it and then introduce something radically new. God has a new thing He wants to do. God wants us to put some “new wine” into the “old wineskins” of Church today. We must be willing to make the changes and stretch with the new ideas and it is possible the shape of the church may be something we do not fully see as yet. This new church not so much a destination as a channel through which people can find relationship with their Lord. A life-long, life-changing relationship with the Divine Christ.

Sunday 31st May – Readings John ch 14 v 15-17 & 25-27 Acts ch 2 v 1-8

On this Pentecost Sunday the focus is on the concept of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

This concept sometimes makes some uneasy, and they have difficulty talking on this topic because of images of “speaking in tongues” and other so-called manifestations of the Spirit.

In staying away from this topic, we miss a vital and important aspect of the work of the Church.

That is what this Scripture is about, as Jesus talks with his disciples prior to his departure and declares that his Spirit will continue on with them—and us—to continue his work.

What is this work of Christ? First, it’s the work of reconciliation. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

What we proclaim is reconciliation: reconciliation with God, for without reconciliation with God there is no other reconciliation possible; reconciliation with our own true self, created in God’s image; and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters, in the Gospel we hear, “If you love me, keep my commandments; and I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper.”

In other words, there is only one test of love, and that test is obedience. But obedience is not easy, just as loving is not always easy.

But Jesus is saying, “I will not leave you in your struggle alone.” This is where he says I will send you a comforter, but in some translation is “Helper.”  Obedience is not easy; we are not left alone.

Often we hear and know of people talking about not being able to cope or about having difficulty coping with one thing or another. This is what Jesus is giving us when he speaks of this gift of the Spirit or the anointing of the Spirit—we will be able to cope with the difficulties and challenges of life.

 Jesus saying in this way: “I am setting you a hard task, and I am sending you out on an engagement very difficult. But I am going to send you someone, the Helper, who will guide you in what to do and who will make you able to do it.

The Holy Spirit will bring you truth and you are able to cope with the battle for the truth.”

 This anointing of the Spirit is also to be anointed with the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit of Truth given to the Church is the living presence, wisdom, power, and love that Christ brought to the world.

When we have received the “anointing” of the Spirit, our minds are opened.

Sometimes we wonder why some minds seemed closed and unwilling to see and hear truth.

 Could it be that we have not been open in prayer to receive the promises that Christ made to us and to receive the Spirit?

 How often have we prayed to be filled with the Spirit and included in that prayer the need to know the truth?

As we read through the New Testament we begin to see, little by little, how the followers were beginning to see and apply the truths of Christ.

 That is the Spirit at work. The anointing of the Spirit helps us to “open our eyes,” This is a prayer for the Spirit to be with us during our daily living, to be able to apply the lessons and spirit of Christ to our daily lives, to help us overcome sin and grow as Christians.

So when we are anointed by the Spirit, our minds are enlightened, and we are given strength for service. Conclusion: obedience and service are not easy.

 Loving is not always easy; reconciliation is often difficult.

 But as it often is in daily life, knowing that we are not alone as we go through challenges of daily Christian living, the Spirit of the Living Christ is with us.

 We must not just think that the gift of the Spirit is just for special occasions or special times of worship.

The Spirit that Christ is speaking about is with us at all times to offer guidance, strength, hope.

In the field of mental health we often talk about a healthy person as one who is able to be intimate, that is, one who can open up to another person and get close.

Or we might say the person has awareness—is aware of his or her own strengths and weaknesses and impact on others, whether negative or positive.

Or we might say a healthy person is one who has spontaneity, meaning the person is not stuck in a rut but is open to seeing things differently and responding differently.

 I believe this is close to what Jesus is calling us to when he says the Holy Spirit will be with you.

He is saying that we are willing to be intimate with his Spirit and open ourselves to him, that we seek to become more aware of our strengths and needs so that we can respond better to the leading of God’s Spirit, and, finally, that we are called to be more spontaneous in our living, meaning we are not stuck in only one way of experiencing life, or God, or ourselves and others.

 Jesus is saying his Spirit is with us.

It is part of his promise to us.

But we must be aware of our strengths and needs; we must desire to be closer in our walk, and we must be willing to step “outside the box” in spontaneity to follow his Spirit. We have stepped out of our comfort zone of going to church but God’s spirit is still with us as we worship from home.