Friday, 23 May 2008

Called out in love

This Sunday I am preaching to the folk whom I hope will be my new congregation. Thanks to chilly fingers for the inspiration for the opening story about calling a pastor.

Readings: Isaiah 49 v 8-16
Matthew 6 v 24-34

Once upon a time, a church needed a new preacher.
The old one had reached the age when he could finally go out to pasture.
The people did their goodbyes well by him.
They told nice stories about him.
They gave him a new fishing rod and reel and off he went. Then they invoked Act VIII 2003 of the General Assembly, having satisfied ACT VII 2003.
They checked the provisions of the Presbytery plan, discovered that they had permission to call and so they held a meeting to elect a nominating committee.
Once duly nominated, the committee appointed a chairwoman.
At their first meeting the enthusiastic chairwoman impressed upon the group that a picnic this was not.
They were charting their church's destiny.
God was depending on them to put all other agendas in their lives secondary to this God-given task.
Her words inspired four members of the committee to resign on the spot.
So madam chair changed her language.
She really just wanted them to do their best by the Almighty God.
So on they went with the next agenda item. "What do you want in a new minister?"There was spectacular participation, a real brain storming.
The committee decided that they wanted someone who possessed the utterance of wisdom AND knowledge, the gifts of faith and healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
Every person spoke with such authority and the scribe for the evening dutifully noted their points on a flipchart until an image began to emerge.
Then they all agreed to some modifications since neither Moses nor Jesus was available for call.
As they took a little break, some started talking about their old minister. "You know, look at that list! He really wasn’t so bad. We wanted him to have every gift there is!" At that point it was if the heavens opened.
Suddenly it came to them that they would never ever fall into that trap again.
All this couldn’t possibly be left to one person – no matter how wonderful that person might be.
And then they actually began to get excited about the possibilities that that opened up – not just in their search for a new minister, but the possibilities for them as the people of God.
God might use THEIR gifts in the church.
And the more they thought about it, the warmer their hearts became not only toward their old minister but to one another as well.
And the more they talked about it, the hotter their enthusiasm became until their voices became like a rush of mighty wind filling the room.Word of this great moment spread to the entire congregation.
And there was a great and most spontaneous "Amen!" to this new spirit.
What that group had grasped was the power that had filled them, that was theirs for the taking – the power that God COULD use THEM.
That the gift of the Spirit upon the church at Pentecost was a gift for all God’s people, a gift that empowers and equips the whole church, not just its leaders.
And so the search began.
A search not for an all singing all dancing leader, but for a leader who would love them, love them into believing in and developing the gifts that they possessed and the ability of the Spirit of God to use all of those gifts together in building the kingdom.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus points us to the natural order of life – and the gifts we enjoy daily.
Look at the birds – they don’t sow seeds or gather a harvest – and yet they are fed.
It is a part of the natural order of life that bugs and seeds and worms provide an abundance for wild birds.
It is a part of the natural order of life that flowers turn their face to the sun and draw water through their roots in the soil and thus have their daily needs supplied, brightening our day as we pass and enjoy their beauty.
I believe that Jesus is teaching us here to look around and appreciate the gifts that are all around us.
And, in appreciating those, things of the natural order, things that we often overlook and simply take for granted.
By appreciating those things, we get a bigger picture of a God who places to hand all the things we need to work for the kingdom.
A God who surrounds us every day with gifts that we can reach out and use.
When we can appreciate the natural rhythm of life and see God in our everyday, then our worries will be less.
Its not a case of don’t worry, be happy.
Not a case of que sera sera - whatever will be will be.
But a case of wakening up to the gifts that are ours for the taking and, in our striving for and using those gifts given by God, we will know fulfillment in our daily lives.

There’s a momentous task facing the church throughout the world today, a momentous task facing us here in Castlehill.
God doesn’t abandon us to get on with it.
Everyday God equips people with all the gifts they need – and more - to build the kingdom.
That work will take a different form in different places.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Pentecost.
God giving the church the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Remember the account of that first Pentecost?
There were people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem that day and each heard the gospel in his or her own language.
That’s still how God speaks to us today.
In the language we need to hear.
Be that a message of comfort.
Be that a message of challenge.
Be that a message of reassurance.
God speaks into our lives.
And we, the church of today, can learn to speak God’s language too.
Speak to those to whom we are called to minister.
Speak to this parish and this community in a language that will be understood, saying words that need to be spoken – comforting, challenging, reassuring, loving.

There have been some famous brand advertising campaigns where language differences really affected marketing policies.
Lots of quite funny translation differences.
Like when Coca cola moved into China, they discovered that the symbol they chose to sell coke really meant: Bite the wax, tadpole – hardly an encouragement to drink this beverage that would change the world!
But even where the language stays the same, sometimes there is a need to tweak the message.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the slogan – this isn’t just any party food – this is M&S party food – usually accompanied by that image of the chocolate pudding oozing sauce..mmmm.
Good old Marks and Spencer, a British stalwart has very subtly been almost totally rebranded and remarketed as M and S because business consultants believe that the apathy and old fashioned image associated with Marks and Spencer was having a detrimental effect on sales.
M and S, considered much more snappy, associated with up market, modern products.
Its something that’s much more appealing to today’s consumers.

For the church to be in the market place today, though we have always had a wonderful message of unconditional love, we need to work on how to present that message.
Together we need to hone our gifts so that the message gets across in a way that attracts people.
It involves all of us learning to speak God’s message of love.
That’s what it means to seek first God’s kingdom and then everything else will fall into place.
If we are speaking that language of love.
If folk see us living out that love, then they can’t help but be attracted by the love of God, shown alive here in Castlehill.
And just like those first disciples at Pentecost we will be enabled and empowered by the spirit to be witnesses in this community.

Today’s gospel assures us that whoever we are – wherever we are – God equips us.
By knowing us and by loving us.
I will never forget you my people.
I have carved you on the palm of my hands
God’s love for us is so huge that God carries us around like tatoos.
I did a baptism in Inverkip last Sunday – and the young mum had the baby’s name tatooed across her back.
Of course there were a few raised eyebrows about that.
But the love that God has for us is that kind of extravagant, let it all hang out love.
A love that nurtured us even in the womb and cradles us all through life.
A love that assures us our names will never be forgotten.
What we’ve been through will never be overlooked.
But what we can do together has no limits because it is done under the umbrella of that amazing love.
I will never forget you my people.
I have carved you on the palm of my hands

We have a huge task ahead of us here in Castlehill, as has any church today.
In the excitement and joy of these times of new beginnings let’s not underestimate that.
But we embark on that task secure in the knowledge of God’s love and in the assurance that God will gift us together for any task we undertake.
There will be difficult paths to negotiate.
There will be struggles to get through together.
But, held in the love of God, allowing that love to capture us and enthuse us will more than see us through.
This morning its not a case of don’t worry, be happy.
It’s a case of look around you.
Look at the wild birds and the flowers.
See the gifts that God lays before you.
Remember the love that means our names are carved on God’s hands.
Let the love of God spill out of our hearts onto each other.
And know that God equips us together for the work ahead.
To God be the glory.


more cows than people said...

this is lovely, too, liz. thank you so much for your rapid feedback on my manuscript. it is a pleasure to "meet" you.

liz said...

The wonderful thing about the blogging community is that, even when we move around in ministry or studying or whatever, we can still support each other. Good to meet you too.

Charlotte-Sharp said...

Hello from your God daughter Charlotte! how are you?
havent seen or spoken to you for years. Just taking a break from my busy GCSE revision day, and thought i would have a look and see if i could find you on the net! looks like i did!

God bless you, I hope all four of you are well, I'm praying for you all as always! xxxxx

:) i hope we can keep in contact, My e-mail is:

Charlotte-Sharp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liz said...

Good to hear from you. I'll email you with some news.