Sunday, 23 April 2017

sermon 23 April - Later that first day… still amazed, still confused!

Luke 24:13-35; Psalm 30

This week I watched the programme Undercover Boss – the American version. And then I read again about the walk to Emmaus. And I was suddenly struck by the similarities!!
If you do not know the TV programme, the premise is this: boss gets a disguise and is followed by a film crew while he/she visits various of the subsidiary offices or outlets supposedly doing a documentary about the company or the skill set.
The unsuspecting workers spend time with boss, showing him the ropes and talking frankly about the corporation; in-disguise boss asks pertinent questions and learns about the company shortfalls, and about the heroic people who are the employees.
Then they are invited to come to the head office, where the boss, dressed as himself appears and explains it was all a ruse he was the boss all along and then proceeds to wow each employee with a gift or a promotion or help with some family issue.
It is heart-warming and often reveals more about the boss than was expected. It was while watching the big reveal that I got the flash of familiarity: the stunned look on the unsuspecting employee’s face as the penny drops and they see the co-worker suddenly appearing in a suit and with a decent haircut… oh! It’s you… How… what…. Wha…….. etc.
I was thinking about the two travellers walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus – 6 or 7 miles thereabouts; talking between them about Jesus, about the previous week’s events, and especially about the events of this particular day.
They talk between them, and then when the stranger joins them, are delighted to be able to offload, to retell everything, about the things they had thought, and the things they’d witnessed and how they really weren’t sure of anything anymore.
And then the stranger asking the probing questions, and then taking time to listen and explain and help them to feel valued, and his words being familiar, and his attitude familiar, but still not recognising him for who he was.
Until they get to sit and share a meal, and suddenly they see him in the right context, and in the right place and it all falls into place – oh my gosh!!! It’s you! It’s really you!!

All the way through the disciples have seen but not seen, heard but not heard, had it explained but not understood. Again and again Jesus told them what would happen, how it would happen, even when it would happen; but they still didn’t get it; they still remained confused and amazed.
And even hearing that others had seen him; that others had spoken to him, even then, they didn’t quite get it, they were still confused.
Jesus’ patience astounds me!
And maybe we would be the same in their place; maybe it would be too much for us as well.
Even seeing him alive beside us, talking to us, would be too much to take in, so it is just easier to not see it, so you don’t need to do anything.
Because knowing, understanding, accepting the truth means you have to do something about it.
In this case, ignorance really is bliss; in ignorance, you can go on, plodding slowly; in ignorance, you can wait and see; you don’t have to change anything.
Once you see the truth for what it is you have started a ball rolling, and it will never stop.

It really shouldn’t have been a surprise.
They really should have known as soon as he started to quote scripture and explain those long held prophecies that this was the start of something.
And of course, we are told, their hearts burned within them; the words sparked feelings and responses – how on earth did it take so long for the penny to drop?!
Scripture is full of prophecies and turn around stories: which is why psalm 30 is such an appropriate addition to the gospel text:
“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent”. 
The only possible response after that revelation is indeed joyful dancing, songs of praise and the opportunity to run and share the information with their friends.

There are so many times for us when we go blindly on; hoping against hope; seeing but not really seeing
hearing but not really hearing.
Travelling in an amazed and confused state…
Being told amazing, wondrous good news, but doing not a thing about it – so very often we are the disciples on the road to Emmaus; blind even to the truth in front of us, hearing God’s word, feeling it burn within, but not doing anything, just plodding along, one foot in front of the other.
The undercover boss rewarded his loyal employees with lavish gifts to make their pretty difficult situations easier, more bearable; our undercover boss – Jesus – also lavishes wonderful gifts upon us.
Not worldly wealth
Not surprise holidays or a promotion in the company – for we are all equal in God’s kingdom.
But instead, better than that, promises:
I will be with you to the end of time
I am going to prepare a place for you – that you will be with me
God’s Kingdom, my kingdom is for all who turn to God and call on me

Well! That’s a gift worth having!

Easter Flowers in Earlston Church 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Between Times

Holy Saturday
Low Saturday

The day between the old and the new, the end and the beginning.

Whatever you call it, today is a quiet, waiting sort of day. Last night, we watched as Jesus died and was buried.
Tomorrow we will rise early, greet the dawn, and celebrate the resurrection.
Today we take stock.
We do quiet things.
Tidy the house.
Cut the grass.
Prepare food for tomorrow's feast.
Watch and wait.

With the knowledge of hindsight, our wait is full of anticipation and barely contained excitement. Or, it is full of sighing and weariness, and anxiously checking and double checking that everything's going to be ready for tomorrow.

As a child and a young woman, Easter started on Saturday evening, the Easter vigil beginning as the sun goes down, with fire and candlelight, and ritual and blessings.
Then as I changed churches it moved to beginning early on Sunday morning with sunrise services, down by the riverside, singing the story to dog walkers and Sunday joggers.
And, then, I became the one responsible for making it happen. The minister. The responsibility weighted, felt, carried, engendering questions - what if no one comes? What if they do and they don't like the offering? What if it doesn't work, I don't honour God? Will my words be a blessing, or will I fail?
Insecurity is no stranger to the preacher. And long may it remain so. My insecurity means I rely on the Spirit to inspire me, to lead me, I rely on God's loving, gentle prompting. My strength comes from God, and God alone.

So on this Easter Saturday as I contemplate again the resurrection and what to say and how to lead the people out of the darkness into the new light of hope and joy, I wait, with baited breath, ready to proclaim aloud, for all to hear, "Christ is risen!" And pray that the people will respond, "He is risen indeed! Alleluia!! "

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Sermon April 2nd– Trying to See Beyond…

Luke 18:31 - 19:10

We look, and look, and look, and simply cannot find what we are looking for.
It may be because it’s a puzzle, like the crowded “Where’s Jesus” picture
Or it may be that the one thing you are seeking is hidden in plain sight among similar things – you can’t see the wood for the trees
Or, as is often the case; you’ve looked; but not quite well enough, and it takes someone else to show you where the thing is. In our house this happens most often with keys…
And sometimes, you are looking right at it, but you don’t recognise it, because it doesn’t look like you thought it would.

Today we have three different descriptions of seeing and not seeing.
Jesus tells his friends, yet again, what is about to happen. But they still don’t see it; they don’t understand, or won’t understand, or simply cannot – they haven’t yet got to a place where they can see things for what they really are.

And then we have the blind man – in Mark’s gospel he is named as Bartimaeus, each of the three synoptic gospels has this healing of a blind man, juxta positioned against the third prediction of Jesus’ fate.
The blind man, is not quiet; he is not submissive, or passive; he is full on and aggressive. He has heard about this man; he sees the truth already, even though he cannot see. And so he makes himself known; he wants to stand out in the crowd. The crowd are having none of it and they try to quiet him down; stand in front of him; obstruct in any way they can; they have sight, but they do not see this man as of any importance; he is of no significance in their eyes, so he is dismissed.
He will not be dismissed. He may not have sight, but he sees the opportunity approaching.
And so, he shouts – loud and clear. And Jesus, hears, and sees him for whom he is. “see! Your faith has made you well” - and immediately he follows; he has seen, and he believes.

And finally, the third part of today’s reading: the tax collector – the lowest of the low; the despised one who is the tool of the Roman oppressors; the tax collectors make their living by charging a percentage extra on the taxes they collect; it is likely he had become rich by taking advantage of those who were less able; and thus, he and his like were the most despised – by both the Israelites and the Romans.
Zacchaeus just wanted a better view; no one was going to allow him to see; or push him forward; they shunned him; ignored him. The only way he knew to get over this was to go over their heads – literally!
Up the tree he goes. He wants to see Jesus; but Jesus has already set his sights on him: and immediately calls him down; not only that, he invites himself into his home!!
And all the people grumbled
"Doesn’t he know who this is?" "What this man is?"
"Can’t he see???!!"
And Jesus – who sees so much more than the rest of us; Jesus who sees right into the heart of every situation; every person; every individual… Jesus knows.
And immediately a great change comes over this rich little man. He is transformed. Renewed.
He sees the world with new eyes; in new light; he sees life differently. His promise is sincere, he will give to the poor and needy; and repay all whom he has cheated – restoring balance; and he is found; he was lost and is now seen again.

So often, we look and look, but what we see is not necessarily what God sees; what we think we know, is not what God knows.
The gospels tell us again and again – to look deeper; to see beyond; to seek God’s understanding. That is what Jesus came to do.
To seek and save the lost.
And, Jesus is still looking; still seeking lost souls; still looking to us.
The disciples may have been witnesses and travellers on the same road with Jesus; but they were kept from truly seeing; truly knowing until the time was right.
Then they would be able to see much more clearly; to know much more deeply; to truly understand what it was they had seen and heard.
So, they had a good reason for not knowing or understanding.
We, on the other hand, have no such excuse!!
Society judges by things; by possessions and power; by money and wealth; by things that will pass away.
We, as followers of Jesus, need to remember and look deeper, look beyond; see again, hear again – what Jesus taught.
To love God; to love each other as we love ourselves.
And, I have said it before; and I will say it again: if we can do this; and show others how to do this – just imagine what we can do!

The answer is love. For with love we can do anything. 

Look and look again. There's a lady bug in there!
(c) JRen2016

Monday, 20 March 2017

Sermon 19 March Breaking Rules and Finding Hope

Luke Chapter 15

The Pharisees started grumbling…
Once again, they are witnessing Jesus behaving in a way they consider is undesirable – in a way that contravenes the Law. Not God’s law. But the law that has grown up around God’s instructions, received via Moses – and now, adjusted and amended and changed beyond all recognition into something much more than the original. From the grumbling comes the accusations: you can’t be a man of God if you welcome these undesirables into your company; you can’t be a man of the law if you disregard the rules; you can’t be a holy one if you don’t even recognise the basics of our belief…
So, Jesus being Jesus, lands them with another teaching example – another set of parables. He may break rules – man-made rules; but, God’s concern is with the gathering in of the lost things… little by little, one by one, each cast out person is told they are loved, and made to feel welcome in the kingdom. On the face of it, the parables seem to be about losing things; the fact is, they are about the exact opposite, they are about finding precious things that were lost, but are now restored. And, of course, the parables aren’t really, about sheep, coins and sons at all either!
These three parables aren't about losing things...they are about the determination of God. Determination for reconciliation, between us and God as illustrated in the first two parables; and reconciliation in God-centred community/family as illustrated in the third parable.
The first two parables do not seem logical – you have 99 of 100 sheep – yet, you’ll abandon the others to find the one – how does that make sense?
You have 9 of 10 silver coins – and then when you find it, you throw a big party to celebrate – spending money you don’t have!
How does that make sense?
That’s the crux of the story – God’s love and grace are lavish and generous and without limit. They don’t have to make sense; they don’t have to be logical – God’s love in its purest form is absurd! And that, that is a wondrous gift for each of us.
For it means God puts no limit on the opportunities for grace in our lives; God put no conditions; no restrictions – love and grace are freely available.
The third story is different; the father and the sons. The son is not lost accidentally; it is a deliberate act of defiance.
Yet, in spite of this betrayal; on the son’s return the father is waiting for him; more, looking out for him; more still, runs to greet and embrace him, enveloping him in his arms and celebrating his return.
The son has been foolish; and disrespectful; he has certainly broken all the rules; he knows this, and is ready to confess his mistakes, to seek forgiveness – but the father doesn’t listen to the prepared speech; the very fact that the son has taken the first step is enough. He is welcomed home.
Both sons however, need redemption. The second son, the one who was loyal and hardworking; the one who respected his father, and conformed to tradition, was outraged. His anger is directed at both his father and his brother. He feels that his father is favouring his brother over him; he cannot understand why someone so undeserving is being treated so royally.
This is the brother I can identify with!
Perhaps he is the one we can all identify with. For if we truly view the sons as humanity; and the Father as God; if we view working the farm as life; this means that all those people who are lazy and unthinking; all those who do terrible things, will be welcomed home if they return.
It is important to know that the father did not send out search parties; he did not set out to find the boy; but, as soon as he knew he was coming he ran forward to pull him home.
It is part of the human condition, that we seek forgiveness, work hard to share the gospel – live our lives as faithfully as we can. It is also part of the human condition to look at others and judge – we can’t help it.
Time and again in our current political climate I look at what is happening both here and around the world, and I am horrified, afraid, concerned and distressed at the way people are treated; at the way power is wielded; at the way people of power are behaving.
And yet, there is a small voice, whispering in my ear and reminding me: he too is a beloved child of God; she is known and cherished; he belongs in God’s family.
And I, like the older son, feel fury and indignation! How can this be?
And I hear again those words of the father in the parable
“We have to celebrate and be glad, for this brother of yours was dead and is now alive; he was lost and is now found”.
 God loves us
And God loves those we do not love; do not trust; do not value.
Everyone has the chance to reflect and turn; and when they do, the father will be waiting to welcome them home.
Because God does not follow man made rules; God’s rules do not exclude – they bestow hope to every child of God.
And that is worth celebrating!


Brodick Beach, Isle of Arran (JRen 2017)

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The peace of Early Morning

In our parish, we are undertaking a Lenten discipline of early morning worship; once per week, on a Wednesday morning the faithful gather round the table at 7.30 am.
This means the minister arrives in church by 7.15 am

The church
the dawn light
the stillness
the gentle murmur of hushed voices greeting each other

the corporate act of worship; voices blending to respond to ancient words of welcome; all contribute to the feeling of holy

We share the worship
We listen to scripture
We break bread together
And then we go, off to whatever the day is calling us to...
It is simple
It takes no more than 15 minutes
yet, in those few minutes, the day begins, the heart is filled, the word is shared, and Love lives again.

it is profound in its simplicity 
and that is where beauty lies

Praise God for the morning!

Living Under the Rainbow - sermon for 12 March

Isaiah 65: 17-25; Luke 13: 1-9 

Today’s gospel records a conversation that has been repeated time and again in every generation – bad stuff happens; does it mean I did something bad? Why does bad stuff happen to good people? And for that matter, why does good stuff happen to bad people.

Time and again we witness events; situations and are drawn to ask, Why?
Hundreds of years earlier the prophet Isaiah was blessed with a vision of the world not as it is, but how it could be. Where all is equal; where the work of our hands is to our benefit and not someone else’s; where life is long and trouble free; where peace reigns and justice is given to everyone.
It is a vision of the New Jerusalem – heaven if you like.
But. And here’s the thing.
That vision of hope and renewal is not merely a cloud vision of a possibility in some distant land; nor is it to be left to heaven only, but is to be strived for here and now in this world – it is for us to work for justice; it is for us to strive for peace; it is for us to speak out and work for those who have no voice helping in whichever way we can.
Throughout scripture we are confronted by God’s repeated call to act justly. The continuing poverty of millions in a world of plenty, the gross inequalities in the way we conduct trade are affronts to his goodness and justice. They demand a response from us.
Traidcraft was founded as a Christian response to poverty. As one of the pioneers of fair trade in the UK we rely heavily on the support of God’s people who buy our products, who give to our charity, and who campaign with us for trade justice and a world freed from the scandal of poverty.
Christ calls us to fairness and justice in many, different ways. Some ways are easy and require little effort or personal sacrifice, but others are difficult and will mean us having to change what we buy and where we shop, and to go without ourselves.
Some ways will bring us praise from those around us and win us admiration, but others may bring criticism and make us unpopular, when we raise our voice for the voiceless, when we call for justice for the poor.
Some ways we will find interesting and absorbing and will play to our natural strengths, but others we will find tedious and a chore.
In some of these ways we may please both Christ and ourselves; in other ways, we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet we know that we have the power to be able to act in all these ways because Christ inspires and strengthens us, and because we know that he has no hands or feet on earth but ours. If justice is to be done, it is we who are called to do it.

There is no assurance that it will be easy; there was no promise in a vision that has come from God of a life of ease; but it will be worth it.
Jesus had a strong and radical message; but it was not all doom and gloom, he was full of compassion and sought to shake those who were complacent and to encourage those who were excluded. The parable of the fig tree reminds us that there is always another chance; always time to change, to turn, to start over.
There is always time to try again – be nourished, fed by the Spirit and bear fruit.
God destroyed the world in a great flood; and afterwards promised that the rainbow would endure to remind us that God would never do that again; that humanity was given another chance to start over.
We live under the promise of the rainbow; we can choose to help others, give them a second chance, or we can choose to ignore and look out only for ourselves.
But if we choose that way, the warning is stark – Jesus said, “if you do not turn from your sins, you will die.”

It is not our place to judge each other; but it is our place to do our best to help; to work together; to bring about justice for the oppressed
We are rainbow people

It is up to us
Under the Rainbow Kite

Sunday, 19 February 2017

What Kind of Love is this?

sermon for 19th February Luke 7:36-50

The final part of chapter seven in Luke’s gospel describes a scenario which has become familiar; it, or a version of it, is recorded in each of the gospels, happening at a variety of times in Jesus’ ministry.
And, apart from the fact that we still don’t expect to see people weeping and using the tears to wipe dirt away, it is not now terribly shocking. We know the story; we can probably picture the scene more or less. We know that there are a number of people gathered; we know the host is a Pharisee; Luke doesn’t tell us who this woman is – all he offers is that she is a sinner. A sinner. Oh my goodness! What does that mean to us now? And to them, when this was first recorded. A sinner.
That descriptor: sinner; is not so fashionable nowadays is it? we don’t talk about sin. Ugly, dark, life-sapping sin. We prefer softer words; mistake; missing the mark; if someone tend to misbehaviour we wouldn’t want to tar them with that name – sinner. It seems far too judgemental; far too harsh. Yet, for Luke it tripped of the pen with no problem at all.
The Pharisee, Simon, was not kind; at least, he was not a welcoming host to Jesus, even though he invited him to come. He was not invited as an honoured guest; more likely as a spectacle for his friends and other guests – see I have the preacher, the healer here in my house. I’m sure his other guests were welcomed in the usual manner, in the correct manner; a foot washing to get rid of the dust of the road; a welcome embrace and kiss; oil for anointing; each was merely common courtesy, not special treatment. Jesus was there as a guest; but not necessarily as an equal.
The woman. Ah yes! The woman is nothing less than an interloper; she would never have been invited into the Pharisee’s house, sinner or not; it was simply not done to invite an unescorted woman into your home unless she was a relative. Nor was it acceptable to speak with her, let alone allow her to embrace you, wash you, kiss you, anoint you. Her behaviour was outrageous. Nothing less than scandalous.

The conjunction of these three people in this house is, on the face of it, simply wrong. And yet, here they are, and their actions and words are considered to tell of something of such importance that each of the four gospel writers felt compelled to record it.
So, what is it? what is so important that we hear it again and again; we know it; all the multiple layers gleaned from hearing each of the versions; what is it that we must hear, and know, and take on board?
Love is the thing
Love is the essence of it all.
Our English language is so limited when it comes to that simple four lettered word: L O V E
In Greek there are four different words; all depending upon how it is used; what relationship is being described.
Food – love roast lamb!
Family – love my sister
Action – love walking out in the countryside
Passion – love my husband
The woman; the sinner she loved Jesus with gratitude for all he had done, could do for her. She had seen and heard him; probably in among the crowd, witnessing his kindness, his compassion, his gifts of healing, listening to him explain that God seeks us out; each one of us. Seeks to know and love us; whoever, wherever, whenever, whatever. Because of that she dared to hope, dared to dream of a new life, a fresh start, she was led to act on it, show it, demonstrate for all to see.
She did not care who saw her; what they thought; the only important thing was to be there, to offer him whatever she had.
She was a determined, persistent woman.
She will have had to force her way in
She will have needed to remain in the shadows until the right moment. Uncovering her hair was sinful; touching a man who was not family or husband was sinful; being in the company of so many men… sinful. She did not care, she had nothing more to lose.
She was going to see Jesus; she was going to give him her greatest gift – her love and devotion. It was all for him.
All for Jesus
And still now, all these millennia later we remember her.
May we also learn from her: to show love; to be kind; to offer what we can, when we can.
May we also learn from the Pharisee: that Jesus knows our inner thoughts, can see through our outer veneer. Privately he thought to himself, if Jesus was really a prophet… and no sooner was the thought out there, Jesus called him on it; taught him through it; showed him, real love, real compassion, real generosity, in his home, but not at his hand.
Wherever we are; we can choose to be kind, or not
We can choose to speak out, or not
We can choose to act for good, or not

We know what the woman, sinful though she was, chose
She persisted
She acted
She loved

May we too, choose those ways.