Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Keeping folk out

"Whoever is not against us is for us"
Mark 9v40

So what makes us special, Lord?
What are the perks for us?
If just as much good can be done without all the baggage
without the label and the lifestyle
without the code and the creed
then why saddle us with all that paraphernalia?
Don't we deserve that little bit extra
for keeping out the undesirables
maintaining exclusivity in your church?
You can't really want just anyone performing miracles,
casting out demons
If we can't do it
then no one else should.
We're a closed shop.
Those who don't look the part
or act the part
those who don't know or care for the rules
simply cannot belong.
Let them go elsewhere and do their good works.
They're not welcome here.
And, when we dwindle and die
because of our ineffectiveness,
at least we can claim:
We did it in Jesus name.
That'll make it OK, won't it?
As long as we use your name.
And, if the imposters should effect more good than us,
it's just that they got lucky.
Nothing to do with joining you in mission.
Nothing to do with simply getting on with it
regardless of who gets the credit
No, we need to close ranks
do the best we can
to keep do-gooding folk out
all in the name of Jesus.

Reflecting on the gospel this week, we are reminded that servants of God come in all shapes and guises. Surely a salutary call for our tendency to exclude for all sorts of reasons - and for no reason at all. God's mission, thankfully, exceeds all our boundaries and dismantles all the barriers we erect.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The child in me

Whoever welcomes

(Reflection on Mark 9:30-37)

When I feel like the alien

When I’m left out of the game

Not part of the crowd

Does that make me better than others?

When I refuse to join in

And be part of the problem

Does that make me wiser?

Or does all that perceived marginal living

Just give me an inflated ego

Make me feel good

Maybe even better

Who is the greatest?

Jesus said: whoever welcomes…

Welcomes the child

That part deep within all of us

That makes us play games

And be competitors rather than pilgrims

On a journey to humility together.

Whoever welcomes…

Keeping to the edges

Is not the better way

Better to get stuck in

Even if that makes us vulnerable

Better to honour the child

Even if that child exposes us

To love the child within ourselves

Can only help us to love the chid in others

Can only help us to love the child in God

Whoever welcomes…

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Peter- stumbling block or building block?

Readings: Mark 8 v 27-38

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

Who do you say I am?

We’ve already had opportunity to consider that this morning.

I hope in all your sharing you got to know the folks around you on a Sunday morning just that little bit better.

What about the rest of our gospel this morning?

I like to think of the second bit of this passage as the “coming back to earth with a bump” bit.

Jesus, just named as Lord, starts to tell his followers about denying themselves and taking up their cross.

And Peter, having just uttered those wonderful words: “You are Lord” is being called Satan.

How do things turn on their head so quickly?

Isn’t that so like the life we know and live?

A roller coaster ride of highs and lows.

So let’s look at this tension that seems to always exist in life.

The highs and the lows.

One never far from the other.

As Kahlil Gibran puts it:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

That philosophy seems to fit well with Jesus teaching.

Serving God demands sacrifice and brings reward.

There will be days of triumph and nights of despair.

That is the journey of the church, the journey of life.

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

In this passage today, we can hear words of life or words of death.

We can choose to hear only the words deny and cross and losing life.

Or we can hear the call to follow Jesus into life – a life that is full and affirming.

And that call of Jesus – into life – comes to us at every age and stage of life.

It’s not a once for all.

It’s an ongoing challenge.

There are stages of our journey through life when we will be like the enthusiastic Peter who proclaimed Jesus as Lord.

And there are other times when we will be the Peter who wanted to hold things back, put obstacles in the way of the mission.

There are times when we will hear Jesus affirming us, telling us that we are on the right track.

And other times when Jesus tells us – get behind me Satan – because we are letting our own short sightedness get in the way of God’s mission.

You’ll know by now that, in many ways, I’m an optimist.

I like to think of the glass half full rather than half empty.

And, even with the challenge of working in the Church of Scotland, I haven’t quite managed to lose my grip on looking on the bright side. J

So, today, when we hear again those words of Jesus “ whoever wants to follow me must deny self, take up a cross and follow me”

I’d like us to hear those words not as words that burden us and grind us down and put us in our place.

I’d like us to hear those words as words that affirm life, that call us to something much more life giving than the lives we live.

Not words that call us into misery.

But words that call us into joy.

The joy of service.

Full lives instead of empty lives.

Let me check out your optimism barometer this morning.

Are you filled with hope for the challenge that faces the church today?

Are you enthusiastic for the change that must come in order for Christ’s mission to be fulfilled?

Or is your head – and your heart saying – Not again.

Been there, seen it, worn the T shirt.

It will never work. Let’s not bother trying again.

Here’s a simple test of our optimism scale today:

We can look around this sanctuary this morning, a sanctuary without young people today, and we can see only white hair and wrinkles and folk who need sticks to help them walk.

We can see folk who are tired from years of service.


We can look around and see smiling faces and kind eyes and the wisdom of years.

We can see folk who know the goodness of God and who have witnessed the amazing things that God can do.

We can see folk who worshipped in a barn and raised funds for a hall.

Who then needed more space and bought bricks to build this beautiful sanctuary.

We can see folk who have joined that journey at various points along the way.

And who have contributed to the life of faith and witness in this place.

Today, more than ever, we need our optimism barometers to be jumping off the scale.

Because we have lots of challenges ahead.

We have the challenges of property – leaking roofs and bell towers.

Challenges that have always been met and will continue to be met by the faithful giving of God’s people in this place.

But we also have the challenge of an ever growing community surrounding us, a community that in all its ages and stages needs more than ever to know the love of God.

A community that needs that love to continue to be extended by the people of God in this place.

And yes, we need to keep our buildings up to scratch.

But we also need to reach out beyond our buildings to the community we have been called to serve.

Who could have known almost 60 years ago when the Auld Kirk decided to plant a church in this place to serve the small community growing up around here that that community would expand beyond imagining and that the people here would, in 2009, be called to serve the biggest parish in the whole of Ayr?

You don’t need me to tell you that the challenges facing the church are greater than ever.

Challenges facing families are greater than ever.

And the challenges facing God’s people in this place grow every day.

How will we respond?

Will we be like Peter and declare: Jesus is Lord?

Will we see that the denial and cross bearing to which Jesus calls us leads us into abundant life?

Or will we put our heads down and refuse to do any more.

Refuse to see the bigger picture in which Jesus calls and equips us to be as effective today as we were in those far off days.

Maybe we won’t see again the double decker buses carting young folks off on Sunday School picnics.

Maybe we won’t see again the hallways lined with prams as young mums got together in fellowship.

But there are other signs of God’s people sharing in God’s mission here and beyond these walls.

Let me challenge you this week to have a look around.

See where the people here serve God during the week.

The folk who call in on neighbours.

The folk who run our youth organizations.

The folk who get together for fellowship, here and in other places.

The folk who make a difference in the community.

Lots of signs of mission.

Outwith these walls, important and significant as they may be.

We are building something that cannot be contained.

And all around us there are gifts and experience and enthusiasm.

Lots on which to build so that others can experience the life and love that only God can give.

You HAVE been here before.

You HAVE in many ways seen it all.

And, in each crisis of challenge, you have stepped up to the mark and made a difference.

So why stop now?

Why allow today’s challenges to defeat you when that’s never been a feature of the past?

What is it that’s changed?

Where is that spirit that saw hope and promise, that spirit that wasn’t daunted by the enormity of the task ahead?

Autumn seems to bring out some kind of primal instinct in me.

I love to gather brambles and make jelly.

Since, we moved here, I’ve loved the fruit of the apple trees in the garden – and just have to make them into pies and chutney.

This year, we’ve been blessed by folk sharing their abundance of tomatoes and plums – those too have been used and preserved in all sorts of ways.

It feels like this is the time of year to prepare and store before days get shorter.

It’s time to stock up on the nurturing for long days ahead.

And that is being mirrored in my take on church life.

It’s time for us to look ahead.

To see the challenges looming.

Not with a sense of trepidation .

But with the anticipation of preparing well.

Knowing that, together we have fruits and gifts in abundance.

More than enough to share.

Knowing that the nurturing that has taken place here over the years is sufficient to see us through much more.

That the God who feeds us, who gifts us, who nurtures and encourages us is still able to lead us through.

And that that God still gives energy and vision and leadership.

That God encourages us and rebukes us when necessary.

Because that God loves us.

That’s the thing about Peter.

Though crushed, he could accept those words of Jesus because he knew himself loved.

Perhaps we too can learn to accept harsh words as signs of love.

Signs of love to which we do not react defensively.

Signs of love to which we respond by being energized and renewed to serve.

Signs of love that remind us that our service is not over, that we can never give up because always, the needs of this community for this day confront us and cry out for us to respond.

Our God is a real God who knows only too well the challenges with which we are faced today.

Our God is a God who calls us into living abundantly.

Denying ourselves, taking up our cross, so that we may know a fullness in life.

Our God is a God who praises and rebukes us in love.

Our God is a God who can be trusted for all the small things in life and for all the large.

Let’s not limit God by our small understanding.

Let’s not limit God’s mission by our small faith.

Let’s trust the God of all life who is able to give more than we could ever imagine, the God who has seen us this far and who will surely see us much further.

The God who wants us not to be careful but to be carefree in service.

The God who’s vision is so much bigger than ours and who beckons us to catch a glimpse and then throw in our lot and follow.

So, which Peter are you today?

The one who proclaims: Jesus is Lord?

Or the one who is a stumbling block on the path we’re being called to follow?

He is Lord so let us not hold back the divine from occurring here in this place.

With courage and with faith let’s throw caution to the wind and know that God leads us on.

And let us follow gladly for the glory of God.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Stinging words

Reflecting on this week's gospel: Mark 8 v 27-38

Oh, Jesus,
you didn't mince your words with Peter
Peter, who had just proclaimed you Lord
and then you denounce him as Satan
Don't you think that was a bit harsh?
Just a tad sharp?
I mean his heart was in the right place
he's a well meaning sort of a fellow.
But that's just the trouble, isn't it -
too many well meaning folk
who are really just obstructing the kingdom
Hearts in the right place
but stifling life and growth.
Focussing on trivia
and losing sight of the essentials
Perhaps we too need to be harsh
Weed out those who would choke the gospel
just so things can stay as they are -
familiar, comfortable,
Lord, give us courage to speak out
not to wound but to confront.
Make us brave enough not to be nice
for the sake of peace
but to challenge
for the sake of the kingdom.
And as we do that may the Peters in our midst
know themselves loved
as Peter knew your love
even as he was challenged.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

A desire to preach

Readings: Mark 7 v 24-37

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

The story in this morning’s gospel – of the woman who came seeking healing for her daughter is one of my favourite gospel stories. It’s an age old story of a woman who knows that, to get what she wants for her child, she is going to have to fight.

Fight against the prejudices of the day.

Fight against cultural norms.

Fight against religious exclusion.

But, apart from all that, as if that weren’t enough, it is in this story that we see Jesus’ mission being challenged and, as a result expanded.

Because this woman doesn’t fit neatly into the category of folk who were welcome in the kingdom of God.

So, it is in this incident that we find Jesus being challenged to dismantle the barriers, expand the mission and make room for those who don’t fit.

In this gospel incident and in the healing story that follows, we discover that:

Faith is found beyond Israel, a mother will fight for her child, an impaired man is healed and good news cannot be contained.

Important discoveries for the day.

Important discoveries for this day.

Because it’s as true today that the mission of the church needs to be expanded, our vision must grow.

Beyond all our imagining.

We think we know what we need to do.

How to be church.

We assume that there are places and situations that require our presence, where we can contribute something.

But God, with a huge smile on her face, waits around the corner, leads us down streets that we would never have thought to venture.

That’s the exciting thing about ministry – the work of all the people here.

There is always more to be discovered and new ways of being church together.

But it takes persistence to get that message across.

Still there are barriers to be dismantled and prejudices to be overcome and sheer stubbornness to be fought before we discover the wideness of God’s mission and the excitement of God’s vision that knows no bounds.

Some years ago, when I first felt called to ministry, I was interviewed by a rather scary panel of ministers.

Although its doesn’t seem that long ago, it was certainly in the days before political correctness had taken root and before equal opportunity and anti – discrimination practice was adopted.

Some of the perceptions and attitudes I was forced to endure in that interview were laughable had they not been so shocking.

And in those days, believe it or not, I wasn’t terribly good at standing up for myself.

That’s a much more recent development, forged by such encounters with prejudice.

I’ve tried hard to forget much of what happened in that interview, but one question that keeps coming back to haunt me is: do you have a desire to preach?

And my answer then was a definite no.

That was not in any way an element of my feeling called to go into full time ordained ministry.

And while, over the years I’ve come to enjoy the preaching element of ministry, that still wouldn’t be in any way a driving force, or even a priority of ministry for me.

A young divinity student, who became very tongue tied in front of any group of people was dreading the point in his ministry when he would have to go and preach a sermon.

His tutor, recognising this, decided that it would be helpful if his first attempt at preaching could be with people he knew and felt comfortable with.

So he arranged that the student should preach his first sermon before his class mates at their weekly chapel service.

He gave him plenty of notice.

Well, the day came and the young man stood up, red in the face, and blurted out: Do you know what I’m going to say?

To which his class mates answered: No.

And neither do I, said the student.

Let’s say the blessing together.

His tutor gave him another chance – again at their weekly chapel time.

Again, the student got himself into an awful state.

He stood up when the time came and said: Do you know what I’m going to say?

To which his class mates replied: Yes!

Great he said: then there’s no need to say it – let’s proceed to the blessing.

This time, his coat was on a shoogly nail.

His tutor said: right, I’ll give you one more chance.

Don’t muck it up this time.

Again, the day came.

The young man stood up and said: Do you know what I’m going to say?

Half of his class nodded Yes – the other half shook their heads, No.

Great he said: Those of you who know tell those who don’t know. Lets proceed to the blessing.

Those of you who know tell those who don’t know.

That’s what preaching is about – and its not a job just for full time ordained clergy.

It’s a job for all of us to share our faith – in whatever ways we can – wherever we are.

And though it would still shock many of my colleagues to know that I don’t consider preaching a priority – that’s the way it is – because I see ministry as much much more than preaching.

And as something that every member of the Christian community should be involved in.

Ministry is about sharing faith with those around us – in all sorts of ways.

Being adaptable as Jesus was.

And so often our actions speak so much louder than any words.

Jesus knew that when he encountered the deaf man.

Words would have been useless.

Jesus could have chosen that day, to preach to the crowds around him.

He could have chosen to explain the intricacies of the kingdom to the Syro Phoenician woman and then, when he was confronted once more with a demand for healing, Jesus could have chosen to attract attention to his ability to perform miracles.

Instead, it was only when the woman arrived home, she discovered that her wish had been granted and that her daughter was healed.

And, as for the man in the crowd who asked for healing, Jesus took him aside.

He took him away from the glare of the crowd.

And gently, by getting alongside him and by touching him, he healed him.

Jesus chose not to impress the crowds.

Instead, he ministered to individuals.

Individuals for whom personal, quiet attention was much more effective.

Jesus brought the woman into the kingdom, shifting the boundaries.

He made her feel special – just as he did with the deaf man, giving him his undivided attention, away from the glare of the crowd.

Both were included for once in their lives.

Jesus adapted his style to minister to the needs of the folk he encountered.

To make folk feel special, to make folk feel included.

The church, for all its preaching to the contrary is great at leaving people out.

Its possible to feel more isolated in a church than anywhere else.

To feel we don’t belong.

To feel excluded.

That’s why we need to reach out, beyond these 4 walls – or 6 walls as we learned at last night’s quiz.

We have to reach beyond that to make people feel special.

Unless we’re prepared to share with this community the love and compassion of God.

Unless we’re prepared to do as Jesus did, to see folk as individuals, to love them, to walk beside them, to touch them.

Then the kingdom that we build will always be too small.

Ministry is not about preaching.

Its not about being seen.

Its about walking beside folk every day and living our faith.

If we really want to see God’s kingdom grow, then all of us need to grow so that we can be ministers in our community.

We need to grow so that we don’t treat some folk as important and others as less important.

We need to grow so that our faith is matched by our actions.

We need to grow in order to accommodate others.

In this place, there is room for all of us.

As we share this sacrament today, God welcomes us.

But there is also plenty of room for others.

All children of God.

All loved by God.

There is nothing that can keep us out.

There is no one who should make us feel excluded –we are all children, loved and chosen by God.

When Jesus took the deaf man aside, away from the glare of the crowd, he put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (which means, 'Be opened!' ). At this, we read, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."

What will it take for us to speak plainly?

Oh, not in our words.

In our actions.

What will take for us to really to be open to hear God’s will for us and act accordingly.

Sometimes God does work through miracles.

But mostly, God’s work is done in the hard slog of God’s people.

We can’t afford to get weary.

We can’t afford to give up.

We can’t sit back and wait for a miracle.

We can’t keep on merely talking.

God’s love has to be shown.

Faith has to be lived.

And we all need to be on board.

We all need our ears to be opened – and our eyes.

Open to the needs around us.

Open to become involved.

Open to growing the kingdom.

Not by preaching.

Not by merely believing.

But by doing.

Doing quietly, out of the glare of publicity.

Showing our faith by our actions.

Loving because first, God loves us.

May you find in your life a desire to preach your faith – not in words but in action – to the glory of God who loves us.


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Broadening the mission

Looking ahead to the gospel this week - Jesus' encounter with the Syro-Phoenecian woman, (Mark 7v 24-37) led me to thinking a bit more about mission. This is just one of the points at which Jesus' mission seems to broaden and he encompasses more cultures and races into the kingdom. We, constantly have to be on the lookout for ways to broaden our view of mission - to discover where God is at work - and go and join in.


We think we know about mission.

We are the church.

That’s our speciality.

So we will look for those obvious needs

and those glaring wants

and go and pitch in.

when we have the time

when the setting is right.

We have lots to offer.

Maybe not much time.

Maybe not too many folk

But we are the church

And that has to count for something.

So we will go where we can be seen

We will go where we can be safe

We will go wherever we see a need.

And, if folk are less than enthusiastic

If they don’t seem to want our help

That’s their problem, not ours.

We are called to serve

We are called to mission

So we will serve and we will miss.

Miss God.

Because God is actually somewhere else.

Working in the places we don’t see

Or never thought of.

God is down all those blind alleys

that we would never venture.

Engrossed with real mission.

Too absorbed to notice our feeble attempts

in the wrong places

but if we asked.

If we sought God out before we plunged in

If we tracked God down

We would discover that there’s plenty

for us to be involved in

just not in the places we thought.

Maybe not even in the ways we imagined.

It IS mission.

But not as we know it.

And maybe next time we assume

That we know where and when and how

Instead we will keek round the corners

And down those bind alleyways

And listen for God’s laughter

Listen for God’s great sobs

As wounds are bound

And hurts are tended

And broken and bruised lives

Are loved back to health.

Then we might know

That mission belongs to God.

And then we might be grateful

That God shows us where and when and how

And invites us to join in

To take part in the work of God in our world.

Liz Crumlish 2009