Sunday, 7 December 2014

For such a time as this

Esther 4
Esther Agrees to Help the Jews
​When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.
Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther is one of those books of the Bible tucked away among the books of the Prophets. A small book, often little known and little read.
It tells the story of a young Jewish orphan, brought up by her cousin, and taken into captivity by the King of Babylon.
Esther became part of the king's harem and went on to become queen.
She alerted the king to a plot to assassinate him and thus saved his life but earned a few enemies in the process.
One of the king's advisors was determined to destroy the Jews who lived in the kingdom, so he started to spread stories about how they disobeyed the King's laws in favour of the God whom they worshipped and managed to persuade the king to issue a decree to kill them.
The part of Esther's story that we read today was an elaborate tale of how Esther managed, at great personal risk, to get the Kings attention so that she could alert him to the consequences of his proposed action. While the king might have easily decreed that the Jewish people in the kingdom should be killed, he wasn't prepared to see Esther, his queen killed. And so the general became specific. And a people that, up until that point had seemed of no consequence to the king, was given a very human face - that of Esther, a young Jewish woman. Esther and her people were spared - but at great personal risk for Esther - she risked death by attracting the attention of the king without being summoned. When she wavered over the risk she was about to take, her cousin, Mordecai, spoke these words: Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 
There is much more to the story of Esther,so much packed into a small story. Unfortunately, while the Jewish people were spared and granted the right to defend themselves and to take up arms, they abused those privileges and exacted revenge on those who held them captive, sadly a story that is repeated time and again throughout history, where those granted freedom become the oppressors, sadly a story that we are al ,too familiar with today.
But, for this morning, I want to focus on that more hopeful phrase, spoken to Esther to encourage her to take a risk: Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 
And,on this second Sunday of Advent, I'd like us to consider the question - to what are we being called today?
What risks are we being called to take to make a difference?
How can we make the general specific?
What is God's plan for us - that unique purpose that only you can fulfil?
This second Sunday in Advent is also vocations Sunday in the Church of Scotland, when all of us are encouraged to prayerfully consider that particular role to which God calls us. How will we serve God in the church and in the community, in our homes, in our schools and in our work places? 
What does serving God look like in our lives.
To what specifically is God calling us today?
As you know, one of my roles is as a National assessor in the Church of Scotland, interviewing and assessing those who offer themselves for ministry.
And one of the most wonderful aspects of that role, is hearing the story of some one's call.
Hearing how an inkling gives way to a niggle that grows until it cannot be ignored.
Hearing how God speaks in so many different ways to convict folk to respond to this sense of calling - through word, through worship, through other people, through opportunity, through changed circumstances, through everyday life, through joy and adversity - God uses so many ways to get our attention.
We are not all called to ministry of word and sacrament, but we are all called - to serve God in the church and, perhaps even more importantly, to serve God in the world today.
For such a time as this.
Our world needs people to step up and to speak out.
For such a time as this.
Our world needs us to take risks, putting ourselves in the line of fire, to make a difference for those whose voices are not heard, whose struggles are ignored.
For such a time as this.
You and I are called to speak out against the injustice that pervades our society today.
For such a time as this.
We are called to use our position of privilege to benefit others.
Whatever struggles we endure every day, most of us have food on our tables and a roof over our heads.
However impotent we might feel, we are not silenced or persecuted - our children are not murdered-  because of our race or colour.
For such a time as this.
In this second week of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the light that came into the world, the light that darkness could not overcome, we are called for such a time as this to carry that light into our community and into all the world.
We are called to live into the privilege that we have to call for justice and to work to change a system that denies people basic human rights and that keeps people in poverty and fear.
For such a time as this, you and I are called to speak up and not keep silent and then to step up so that our actions match our words.
For such a time as this - you and I are called by God.
This Vocations Sunday, this Advent, may we respond to God and live into our calling as the people of God for such a time as this.

For the glory of God, Amen.

Thursday, 20 November 2014


Jeremiah 7:1-7
" Jeremiah Proclaims God’s Judgment on the Nation
​ The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever."

On this, The Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian Year before we set out on an Advent journey, we pause to think again about the notion of kingship as Jesus modelled it.
Often the reading on this Sunday is the Matthew 25 passage -
Matthew 25:35-40
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
These verses underpin the work of Broken Chains.
A ministry that reaches out to the least of these.
In our reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah urges us to amend our ways. And to truly act justly with one another.
This, after cautioning us not to hide away in our sanctuaries. 
Spending time with God's people, hearing God's word, singing God's praise is not an end in itself. The time we spend here week by week, motivates us to go and serve God in our world.
But more than that, listening to God's word reminds us that, as well as being able to serve others, we can allow others to serve us.
Those on the margins of society today aren't there just so we can reach out and feel good about ourselves, feel that we're better Christians because we change the lives of others.
People existing on the margins of our society today are there because we subscribe to a system that is flawed at best and, often, is broken. While it may not be intentional on our part, our life style and our affluence is won at a cost to others. Spending time with those who have to turn to food banks. Spending time with those who have sought alternative life styles to help them cope with an unfair society teaches us some valuable lessons and reminds us of what is important in life.
So often, when we set out to "truly act justly" we find ourselves ministered to in ways we had never imagined.
But that goes against the grain.
"It is more blessed to give than to receive" has been drummed into us from early days that we've almost forgotten how to let others minister to us.
We're so used to being strong that we avoid any sign of weakness.
Yet God minsters to us through those we'd least expect when we own our vulnerability and when we open ourselves to the gifts of others.
Truly acting justly with one another!
May God show us this week how to minister and how to be ministered to.
For the glory of God.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Radical Relationship

Micah 5:2-4
" The Ruler from Bethlehem
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;"

Micah 6:6-8
" What God Requires
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?"

Our meanderings through the Old Testament this autumn have taken us from the story of Noah and the flood, onto Abraham and his pilgrimage, following where God led. We've looked, briefly at Joseph and his role in saving a nation from famine, with a few hiccoughs along the way. Then Moses, leading God's people to freedom from the Egyptians, followed by a 40 year wander in the wilderness, picking up God's laws of love on the way. 
We saw how Moses was succeeded by Joshua who was the one to actually lead God's people into the promised land - remember Joshua's "Choose you this day whom you will serve" speech as he led God's people? 
From there we saw God's people plead for a king and saw them settled for a time under the reign of David and Solomon. 
But after this brief time of settlement for the people of God, infighting resulted in their splitting into two kingdoms. And, of course that left them more open to attack by other, foreign powers. And it is in the midst of this war filled time that the Prophet Micah appeared with his message of peace and a message of hope. Gods people, once more, find themselves living in an occupied country, their leaders have been defeated and their religious practice and even identity have been eroded. Into this melee, the prophet speaks. Micah wants to offer them a new way of seeing power and a new way of experiencing relationship.
Sadly, the people have once again been exploited by those in authority. They have been led into war and defeat. And, even those in religious authority have used their faith against them and demanded higher and greater sacrifice in order to fulfil their skewed ordinances of religion. So these words of the prophet:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
These words of the prophet come from left field.
For they promise something unimaginable.
A defeated clan, insignificant on the political stage of its day, although having a rich and ancient heritage. From this little clan will come a ruler promises the prophet Micah.
It is inconceivable to those who languish in the jaws of defeat and near extinction.
But the prophet proclaims a message of hope - from this little clan will come a ruler - nothing like the rulers now known - but a ruler who:
shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;"

And that brings us to the second part of the prophecy that we read today.
Micah has proclaimed hope in the leader who will emerge from this little clan.
Now he turns to how we should live to honour that ruler and to attain peace.
The message these people have heard for so long is that they can somehow appease God.
That they can try harder. That they can make ever more elaborate offerings to win God round.
Micah draws their focus away from the teaching of corrupt religious leaders.
And reminds them that God has made clear what is required:

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?"

Sounds simple, doesn't it?
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.
And it's certainly a message with which Micah's listeners were all too familiar.
They had heard this message all through the years, from all sorts of teachers and preachers.
But, somehow, they had become sucked into the notion that God was a God who could be bought, a God who could be coaxed and cajoled into giving rewards by strenuous religious practice.
But the alternative of which Micah reminds them, to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God is certainly not by any stretch an easier route than performing rituals.
Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God are a way of life, a way of being.
Demanding much more than fulfilling a check list of religious practice.
Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God speaks of not just a new way of living but a new way of being in relationship with God.
Someone asked me last week - what is the point of all these ancient Bible Stories - these fanciful tales from the Old Testament.
I have to confess that I have been amazed as we have travelled through the Old Testament this autumn at how much and how piercingly acutely these ancient stories speak into our lives, our communities and our societies today.
And so the prophet Micah's words - calling into question our actions and our relationships are incredibly incisive for today.
Incisive for us who keep score of our goodness, who compete in our point scoring in our relationships, working out the best ways to get what we want and to manipulate others to do our bidding.
Incisive for the communities of which we are a part and which we serve, communities disappointed in political leadership and hungry for change.
Micah points to a new kind of ruler and a new way of being in relationship - with God and with one another.
We cannot pray for the hungry and refuse to share our food.
We cannot pray for the homeless and refuse to offer shelter.
We cannot pray for peace and refuse to forgive others.
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God - is not a prescription to be fulfilled but a radical way of living to be embraced.
And, on this Remembrance Sunday, when we acknowledge that the hope of those who gave their lives - that peace would be born - has not been realised, we know that something much more enduring is called for.
War does NOT bring peace.
The message of hope that the prophet Micah preached - Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God, if followed not as a rote or as a ritual but as a revolutionary way of life is a message of hope for us today.
As we remember and as we move forward toward Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of that ruler called out from the littlest clan, we are assured of a new kind of leader and a new way of relationship.
A relationship that, if we embrace, will lead us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.
In that, will our Remembrance, instead of bringing despair at how little has changed, rather be filled with hope - the hope of peace in our time. 
Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with our God.
For the glory of God.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

In the mirror

2 Samuel 12:1-9
​ and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites."

Psalms 51:1-9
Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
​ Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities."

We continue our journey with the stories of the people of God through the Old Testament.
Two weeks ago, we looked at the Ten Commandments, God's laws, given in love to God's people who, having escaped from Egypt were wandering in the wilderness.
Last week, as they reached the promised land, Joshua, the leader who took over from Moses, invited them to "Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"
This week, we encounter God's people under the reign of a king, King David.
A recurrent theme, you'll have noticed, is that though the people are always full of good intentions, their memories are short.
So they go from one crisis to another, very quickly forgetting at every turn the amazing promises that God has made and the amazing things they have learned of God.
One of the things about the Narrative Lectionary that we're following that's a bit frustrating is the wee snippets of stories that are scheduled as readings Sunday by Sunday. It seems we'd have to read a whole lot more- not just verses but chapters - or spend half the service putting the stories in context to really get a grip on how the stories fit into the overall arch of the Old Testament Scriptures.
And perhaps that's no bad thing.
If the readings, Sunday by Sunday whet our appetites to delve a bit deeper, then that's good.
Already a few folk have commented on how they haven't noticed before some of the stories we've read these past few weeks.
It seems that the people who put together the Sunday Readings for the Narrative Lectionary tried to find less obvious but extremely tantalising bits of the Bible stories for us to consider in worship week by week.
And today's story is no exception - it merely touches on all that was happening in the life of David when this particular encounter happened.
At first glance, it seems like an innocent parable.
The prophet Nathan, coming to tell the king a story.
The story is of a poor man who has been wronged by a man of wealth.
King David, on hearing Nathan's story, indulges in righteous anger.
Of course this is unjust he decrees. The rich man, with all the riches at his disposal has no right to rob the poor man of the one cherished possession that he has.
The rich man must recompense the poor man - 4 fold.
It is then that the prophet, Nathan, informs the king: You are that man.
And the story unfolds - or more like, unravels.
Behind this story is one much darker- the story of David and Bathsheba.
The somewhat censored version is that David had his way with Bathsheba while her husband Uriah was off fighting for his king and country.
When he discovers that Bathsheba is carrying his child, King David has her husband killed and makes it appear that he was killed in battle.
You can read for yourself the uncensored version!
It's the kind of story line we see in our nightly soaps - or in more brutal terms on the Jeremy Kyle show.
We see it in individuals and in corporations when they lose sight of their connectedness to one another and allow greed to overtake them.
We see it in organisations and institutions set up to serve but losing sight of their purpose, using their power to abuse and corrupt.
These are everyday stories.
Stories that we hear about, or see unfolding around us and feel outrage.
Just as David did.
But what King David didn't realise was that, in telling him that story, Nathan the prophet was, in fact, holding before him a mirror.
A mirror in which was reflected the wrong that David had done.
Nathan wasn't there to pose hypothetical questions.
Or to ask the king to judge a theory.
He was there to hold a mirror up to the king and to force him to take a look and confront his own wrong doing.
Sometimes we're so caught up in life.
Sometimes we've managed to convince ourselves that our lives are OK.
That what we have done is for the best.
That the end justifies the means.
We can explain, we can convince, we can rationalise all that we do.
And sometimes, we need someone like Nathan to come along and hold up a mirror to our lives.
To let us see what we're really like.
In the words of Robert Burns:
O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us
Tae see oorsels as ithers see us.
(From the poem: To a louse)

Or more contemporary, the lyrics of Michael Jackson's Man in the mirror:

I've Been A Victim Of A Selfish Kind Of Love
It's Time That I Realise
That There Are Some With No Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They're Not Alone?
A Widow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody's Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
They Follow The Pattern Of The Wind, Ya' See
Cause They Got No Place To Be

That's Why I'm Starting With Me
I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
Man in the mirror.

The Psalm we read today, is David's response to being confronted with himself:
​ Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

David, even though he was a king, could hide no longer from the wrong he had done.
There was no escape.
All he could do was throw himself on the mercy of God and seek forgiveness.
And, in among the sleaziness of our story today.
In all the scandal and outrage.
In all the shame and wrongdoing.
This is the good news:
We are loved by a God who knows us with all our faults and failings, a God who loves us nonetheless.
A God who confronts us with our wrong doing.
But a God who promises forgiveness when we face up to who we are.

King David, even in the depths of his despair when confronted with the wrong he had done, yet knew the love of God that reached into those depths to offer love and forgiveness.

As we affirmed in baptism this morning, each of us is loved by God before we even know it.
And none of us can stray so far that God cannot reach us with that love, drawing us back.
So,let's be prepared to take a good look in the mirror.
The sight may not be pretty.
But we have the assurance that there is no darkness that God cannot reach.
And, as we focus on our own reflection, may we be conscious of the power that we have, power that can be used for good - to change the lives of others.
Change begins with us.
A better world begins right here in our hearts.
We give thanks today for the love of God that knows no bounds.
We give thanks for those who act as Nathans for us, holding up a mirror to our lives.
And we give thanks for the power to change the world, beginning with us.

You received a piece of paper as you came into worship this morning. 
I am known and loved by God
How about taking that affirmation and sticking it on a mirror on your house today.
And, in the days to come, every time you look in the mirror, whether you like what you see or whether you don't, you will be reminded that you are known and loved by God.

Glory be to God who knows us, who confronts us, who forgives us and who loves us.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Old, old story

Exodus 14:10-14;21-29
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

As you know, the Bible Readings we are looking at in church this autumn are taking us into the ancient stories from the Old Testament.
Although we can only read a snippet each week, we are being reminded of the story of God's people, the heroes and the villains. And the readings must rank as the first ever Horrible Histories.
On Friday, I spent some time with the Primary 4s at Forehill Primary School, talking about Passover. For the past few weeks, during RE, they have been learning about Moses.
About how he had to be hidden when he was born because the king had ordered that all boy children born to Israelite women must be killed - because they were becoming too many in number and might one day decide to rebel and overwhelm their overseers.
The two midwives who cared for Moses mother, however defied the king and let him live.
But he had to be hidden away.
Moses mother decided that she would make him a basket and float him in the river, hoping that one of the Egyptian women might rescue him and care for him when she couldn't hide him any longer.
They learned how it was, in fact, the princess who found him and had him taken to the Royal palace where he was brought up.
They told me the part of Moses story where he was out tending to his sheep when God spoke to him from a burning bush and called Moses to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt.
And they took great delight in telling me about all the plagues God sent on Egypt to persuade the Pharaoh to let the people go.
Plagues of locusts, of boils, of frogs, of water turning into blood - all of which convinced the Pharaoh that he should give the people their freedom - until, every time, he changed his mind.
So my job was to tell them about the final plague that God sent.
The one where the eldest child would be killed unless the blood of a lamb was painted over the door of a house.
That finally persuaded the king to let the Hebrew slaves leave.
It was called Passover because the angel of death passed over the houses painted with the blood of the lamb. 
And the p4s already knew the next bit of the story - the bit we read today - where the slaves were escaping and the Egyptians tried to get them back. There was a huge sea between the slaves and freedom. When God's people tried to cross it, the waters parted and they crossed in safety. But when the Egyptians went after them the waters flowed back and drowned them.
The story of Moses in 30 seconds!
It's the sort of story that the eight and nine year olds to whom I spoke on Friday just love.
Full of blood and gore.
And that was a tamed down version!  
There were some fascinating questions.
One of which was: Why do we still read these stories today? 
Good question!
In trying to explain something of the Passover to the children, I talked a lot about how Jewish children, from earliest days learn the stories of faith - and especially this story - the story of when Gods people were freed from slavery and travelled to their own land - a journey that took a long time, that had many setbacks along the way, but a journey in which they became established as the people of God, laying down markers, setting up traditions, discovering the God who gave them life.
In the Passover meal, this story is told and symbolised over and over again, so that it should never be forgotten and so that it can be handed on from one generation to another.
But why do we still celebrate these stories?
Why are they still important to our faith?
I'm not sure that I want to follow a God such as that depicted here or in similar stories that describe God interacting with people.
A God who takes sides.
A God who rescues some people and allows others to drown.
Although such a God might well suit our government and world leaders today as we are dragged into more and more conflict, this is not the nature of God.
A God not of war but of peace.
A God not of hatred but of love.
In these ancient stories, folk were trying to fathom God.
Trying to work out the nature of God and the relationship that humans might know with such a God.
Like every human discovery, the nature of God's interaction with human beings has been revised and refined with fresh insight as time moves on and as circumstances change.
God is continually reaching out to us, trying to reveal to us how we might enjoy the intimacy of a relationship based on love.
I saw one of those Facebook memes this week that said: Jesus is God's selfie.
A bit cheesy perhaps - but helpful in our understanding of who God is.
It is by looking at how Jesus reveals God that we might get a picture that is more helpful for us in embracing faith today.
Jesus revealed God as a God who would hang out, not with the in crowd but with those marginalised in our communities today.
Not taking sides - but certainly being more comfortable with the poor and the homeless, with those on benefits than with those in government.
More at home in our kitchens than in our front rooms.
A God who journeys with those who take risks - whether that risk is in the daily fight for survival or whether the risk is in putting our hope in a God who is constantly being redefined in relationship with people today and yet whose faithfulness is for every time and generation.
That is why the ancient stories are important.
They speak of a journey.
A journey undertaken by the people of God through the ages as they come to know the love of God in every age. 
And for us today, rediscovering that God involves us being prepared to risk.
To risk putting on hold what we think we know.
To risk leaving the security of the things we hold on to.
To risk putting our toe in the water to see where God leads us.
To risk travelling light into the future that God has for us.
Some of us are ready to take those risks.
Some of us are too busy holding on to hurts and grudges or even memories of how things were, things that hold us back from moving forward into the path of God for now.
God is revealed to us in new ways every day.
If we're too busy looking back, we'll miss that fresh insight.
We'll miss those new horizons that await.
We will miss the promised land and repeat the pattern of the slaves freed from Pharaoh's oppressive regime in Egypt, wandering about in circles In the wilderness, afraid to risk stepping out onto unfamiliar paths, taking new directions.
The ancient stories are not told to keep us in a time warp.
But to free us to be the people of God today.
Developing a new relationship with a God who loves us and leads us down dark alley ways and through scary places to discover that we have what it takes today to stand up to injustice and oppression, to speak,out against evil, to say "Not in my name" when our government leads us into war. 
We are free to stand up and be counted , a force to be reckoned with, living out and passing on faith to a new generation.
"Tell him of his baptism, unfold to him the treasure he has been given today"
Those are vows not just for our new parents this morning but for all of us as we go forward in an ancient faith made new every morning.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Digging deep for faith

Genesis 39
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife
​ Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”
When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favour in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

This morning, in baptism, we have witnessed promises being made.
And we, too have made promises.
Promises have been a feature of our lives recently.
In our National life.
And in our church life.
It's been all about promise.
As you know, we are moving through some of the big Old Testament stories in our worship.
Stories that some of you might remember from Sunday School days, stories that you might have seen in animated films - like today's story of Joseph.
We've got the  Dreamworks animation - Kimg of Dreams or  Andrew Lloyd Webber's Musical, Joseph and his amazing technicolour dream coat 
We've been exploring these old stories to find signs of God's promise or covenant.
And,so far, that's been pretty straightforward.
In the story of Noah and the flood, we discovered the promise of God never to destroy the earth again.
And in the Abraham story last week, we saw how God called Abraham to leave all that he knew and travel to a new land where he would be blessed and where he would become a blessing for all the world.
So fairly big, specific covenants that God made with people.
How does the story of Joseph, and especially the part of the story we read today fit into that theme of Covenant?
It's  a humdinger of a story.
A tale of trust and lust and enticement and exploitation with a lot of integrity and revenge thrown in.
It has echoes of a tale as old as time itself. 
Of power being abused for a moments pleasure. 
Of reputation being besmirched to cover tracks of deceit and lies.
This story reminded me of a book I read this summer - 12 years a slave by Solomon Northup - the memoirs of a free man taken as a slave during the American civil war era. 
What kept him going through all the brutality and despair of enforced slavery was the knowledge that, in another world, he had a wife and children.
His mission was to return to them.
He knew of a different life and the memory of that sustained him and enabled him to keep on going and to keep on hoping that one day he would find a way back to that life.
Joseph, the hero of today's story, also knew  a past in which he was not a slave but lived in a privileged position. 
Was it that memory that gave him the confidence to move beyond the impossible situation into which he was thrust?
Were the tenets of God, on which he was raised, so well ingrained in him that instinct kicked in, preserving him from succumbing to the temptation laid before him?
This is the child, now grown, who shared his dreams of greatness much to the chagrin of his brothers.
Remember Joseph told his family that, in his dreams, all his brothers bowed down to him?
This is the child, now a man, favoured and protected by his father.
Remember his father gave him a coat of many colours?
This is the young man, now matured, who was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery.
As far as his family knew, Joseph was already dead - after selling him to passing traders, Joseph's brothers took his blood soaked coat of many colours back to his heart broken father.
Injustice, suspicion and envy were familiar refrains in Joseph's life.
But so too was the knowledge of a God who honoured promises.
Joseph's great grandfather was Abraham, whose story we considered last week.
Abraham who packed up everything at the age of 75 and travelled because God asked him to.
Abraham who, although childless then, believed God's promise that he would be blessed as the father of a great nation.
And now, here is Joseph, his great grandson, believing in that same providence of God.

As well as discovering a God who honours promises through these old, old stories, it's also clear that being blessed by God, indeed being faithful to God, does not mean that life will go smoothly. Stuff happens, whether we honour God in our lives or not.
And things don't always turn out as well for us as they do for our Old Testament heroes.
As the story goes on, Joseph's sojourn in prison after rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife, placed him, eventually in a position of privilege and trust. 
Once again, his skills of dream interpretation come into play, this time a skill received more favourably than it was when he practiced on his brothers.
After interpreting the dream of one of his jailers, he went on to interpret the dreams of the king and helped the nation plan for an anticipated famine.
So Joseph didn't quite end up at the bottom of the heap as may have been expected in the light of the allegations made against him.
But we know that that is not always the way things work out.
Some injustices are never put right.
Joseph couldn't have known how things would pan out for him.
But he was assured of a God who honoured promises.
And that kept him going through all the darkness he endured - in the scorn of his brothers, in his time in slavery and in his imprisonment.
A God who honours promises.

This is a text that speaks to us today, people of faith in this age.
Blessed people.
Blessed to live in this land where we have the freedom to vote on our future government.
Blessed with the resources to make a difference to the lives of others for good whatever the outcome.
So whether this weeks Referendum result was the one that you wanted - or whether it wasn't,
Let's recognise ourselves as the blessed people we are.
And let us move forward in grace.
Moving forward requires trust and integrity, leadership and responsibility.
It requires confidence in our ability and in the goodness of God, a confidence that we can move forward, facing whatever trials may come.
None of us is assured of an easy passage in life but we are assured of the presence of God with us.
How we weather difficulties or disappointment may force us to dredge deep,to resurrect the faith we once knew. 
Moving forward also involves us adapting the tenets of faith to an ever changing landscape, taking ancient wisdom and allowing it to speak into new situations, to see potential and to grasp opportunities, refusing to be side tracked by deceit and lies but maintaining confidence in a God who has seen it all before and goes on loving people into fullness of life.
Moving forward involves us believing in the promises of God and living into those promises for good that we make in our lives. 
Not just for our sake but for the sake of our children and all who come after.
May this ancient story of Faith today, inspire us anew, to seek justice, to practice integrity and to embrace our neighbours as we move forward together, united in our love of God, our country and one another.
Thanks be to God.
(Music - Joseph - Close every door)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Covenants and Cairns

Genesis 12:1-9
The Call of Abram
​ Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

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

As we move through the Narrative Lectionary, recalling those old, old stories of ancient texts, we are re-examining the Covenants that God made with people through the ages and how people then and we, the people of God today, live into those promises.
Nine chapters into Genesis, just a few chapters after the story of Creation, we find a God so disturbed by the evil in the world that destruction follows and creation is wiped out by water. 
But, even as the flood waters are receding, this God makes a covenant with the world - to never destroy the world in such a manner again - the symbol of that covenant - a rainbow in the sky.
So, a God who makes a covenant with the world and all its people.
In today's story of Covenant, God's promise appears more specific.
Between God and one man, Abram. God said to Abram;
 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.
The same God, who makes a covenant with all the world, promises Abram, I will make of you a great nation.
But we know well that anything that affects one person cannot help but affect others.
Abram, at 75 years old, starts a journey into the unknown.
He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot, all their possessions and all their hired help.
There was probably quite a tribe as they set off from Haran to go to Canaan.
So, it's not just about Abram, this covenant.
It's about Abram and Sarai and Lot, their staff and all their families.
But, even with the whole entourage, doesn't it seem like God has scaled down the Covenant?
From making a Covenant with the whole world - to making a Covenant with a particular group of people, singled out for a peculiar blessing.
That doesn't seem fair somehow.
But let's look again at the Covenant God makes with Abram.
"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
It's not just about Abram, not even about Abram and all his family but about all the families of the earth. The Covenant God makes with Abram is a Covenant through which all the earth will be blessed.
This story of Covenant we're considering today is a Covenant offered in 3 stages.
Firstly to Abram, then to Abram's descendants and then to the whole world.
Blessing leading to blessing, leading to blessing.
Last week, we considered that God's promises usually involve a journey.
And that blessing comes, not when we've reached our destination, but along the way, as we move from what we know to discover what God has in store.
For Noah, the journey involved building a boat, taking his family into that boat, neither knowing how the journey would be or knowing where it would take them.
God's covenant involves us going on a journey - physically and spiritually.
That is even clearer in this wee section of the story of Abram and the covenant with God that we read today.
The story of Abram, who became Abraham and whose story is told over the next twelve or so chapters of Genesis is a remarkable story, full of twists and turns on the way - until we read in Genesis 25:
Abraham breathed his last and died ... an old man and full of years (175), and was gathered to his people.
Even this wee bit of Abram's story that we read today describes a journey made in stages.
From Haran to Canaan.
From Canaan to Bethel.
And then, in stages toward the Negeb river.
A journey made in stages with lessons and blessings along the way.
There's something else that becomes clearer in the Abram story of covenant.
Gods love for us, God's promise and God's blessing is not dependant on us completing the journey or even on accomplishing tasks along the way.
God's love, God's promise and God's blessing come to us anyway.
Our response to God"s love enables us, or compels us to embark on or to continue the journey with God.
But we are assured of that love and blessing accompanying us on the way.
Even if we backtrack.
Or wander off the track.
God continues to bless us with love.
If we traced Abram's path, it would show what a circuitous route he took, with lots of stumbling along the way.
We tend to idolise Abram and his journey with God.
Yet when we look at some of the events in his life - twice he tried to pass off Sarai as his sister, rather than his wife. He cast out his concubine and her son to die in the desert. 
He didn't always get it right.
But it is his faith that we admire.
It is Abram's faith, not his ability to do everything right that we hold up today.
And the wondrous thing is that it is just such folk that God uses to bless the nations.
Not those who have it all sewn up.
Not those who behave impeccably (thank The Lord)
But folk just like you and I.
Folk who have faith.
And God uses our faith, however limited it is, God uses our faith to bring blessing to others.
Remember the outcome of Abram's daring?
He was blessed - but so were those around him.
Through Abram's faith, a whole nation was blessed.
In fact through Abram's faith,the world was blessed.
Imagine we had the audacity to believe that the world might be blessed through us?
Blessing the world!
On our journey with God.

It takes faith to embark on a journey, 
especially a journey not of our choosing.
It takes faith to make the first step 
and then another and another.
It takes faith to clamp down our fears and boldly go.
It takes faith to embrace what is new and different, 
unfamiliar or downright scary.
It takes faith to journey with God into the unknown, 
with a spring in our step and a song in our heart.  
It takes faith.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

It's not about us...

Matthew 18:15-20
Reproving Another Who Sins
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

When West Sound stopped broadcasting Pause for Thoughts each morning, I was approached by another radio station - Irvine Beat FM to see if I'd be prepared to write and deliver some material on their wavelength.
So, last week, I broadcast a series of thoughts on " Things I wish Jesus had never said".
I was talking about all those instructions that Jesus gave us, instructions that are so hard to follow.
I'm sure that's something we can all identify with.
Things we wish Jesus had never said.
Jesus said some pretty harsh things.
And gave us some pretty tricky instructions.
There are times when life would be a whole lot easier if Jesus hadn't said certain things.
Things like: 
Love one another
Forgive one another
Pray for those who persecute you.
Your faith has made you well.
And I am the way the truth and the life. 
All of these words, that shaped communities after Jesus died are useful words for shaping communities today.
Communities that are loving, forgiving, that are inclusive, that are infused with healing and hope.
But they are not easy to live up to.
And this passage, instructing us on how to deal with those who hurt us is particularly difficult.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
How often do we follow that?
A contemporary approach would be to always have a witness to any difficult conversation.
Or, more likely, we'd rather talk to others about the difficulty instead of confronting someone directly.
So the conflict resolution outlined in our gospel passage never really gets off the ground.
Because too often we fall at the first hurdle.
Why would Jesus give us such a difficult model to follow?
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
Perhaps the next words, the instruction after this, shed a lot of light on Jesus teaching here.
After we meet in private with the one who has wronged us, Jesus says:
If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 
The purpose in confronting someone is not to condemn them or to alienate them, but to regain them.
If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
The purpose in confronting someone is not about us, it is about them.
It's not about airing our hurts.
It's about regaining their friendship.
Each step that Jesus gives here about conflict resolution is not so much for the person wronged but for the one who caused the hurt.
The focus is on them.
And the purpose of engagement is to bring them back into relationship.
We are good at making so much all about us.
In this passage, Jesus encourages us to shift the focus and be concerned with those who are causing hurt.
And how hard is that?
We might, just might be able to follow Jesus instructions if we felt that we would get some vindication.
If our hurt were to be acknowledged and if there was some kind of apology or plan for compensation of hurt feelings and bruised ego.
But, if the purpose of following through in this scheme of resolution is simply to restore to community the one who  has wronged, we have little appetite for that.
It's much easier to leave them outside the community and take every opportunity to remind folk of why they should not be included.
Mud sticks.
Jesus doesn't make things easy for us in resolving conflict.
And the reality is that sometimes folk have to be left behind.
Sometimes the only option is to part company, to go our separate ways.
Sometimes reconciliation is just not possible.
Jesus acknowledges that - but only after all avenues of resolution have been pursued.
This gospel confronts us with a hard teaching of Jesus, one we could happily live without.
But a teaching that Jesus shared to help us build a healthy community.
A community where there is love and where there is forgiveness and where those who make mistakes are given the opportunity to find their way back.
And, when they have found their way back, to discover God in the midst.
And that is community, community built on the hard sayings of Jesus, community built on love.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Covenant of love

Genesis 6:11-22
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
Genesis 9:11-17
I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The story of Noah and the ark has been done to death, hasn't it?
We teach it to children from earliest days.
Nursery toy boxes will almost certainly have a Noah's ark play set buried somewhere in there.
And the rainbow is sung about in all tempos and genres.
Big boats, animals and rainbows - all make a pretty story.
Look again.
God, having created a beautiful world, sees how evil and corruption have affected creation.
And decides, like a child with an etch a sketch board (remember those?) to erase what has become and start over again.
Sounds like a pretty easy thing for God to do.
But then God notices Noah and decides that he is OK - and his family.
So he devises a rescue plan for Noah, along with the animals that inhabit the earth.
An ark that will keep them afloat while the rest of creation and humankind is destroyed by floods.
And so, the first question that this story raises for me is:
What kind of God creates human beings to make choices and then destroys them when they make the wrong choices?
What kind of God simply gives up on creation?
And then, when the earth is destroyed, when folk have been swept away by floods or have led their loved ones to higher and higher ground and been forced to watch others drowning before they, too, have no place else to go and succumb to a watery death, what kind of God chooses the symbol of a rainbow as a reminder of the wrath of God and a promise that this angry, vengeful God, will not destroy the world in this way again?

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 

Who would want a symbol of Covenant with such a God?
Somehow, beyond Sunday School, this story is a horror story.
What are we to make of this God, portrayed in Hebrew Scripture as a God of such contrasts?
Angry, loving, vengeful, remorseful?
Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring the nature of a Covenant God.
A God who makes promises.
A God who offers relationship.
We'll look at the nature and terms of that relationship.
And what those promises might mean for creation and for the people of God today.
We'll also look at the burdens and responsibilities, the hopes and the aspirations that living in Covenant with God might bring to us.
Perhaps one of the first themes we might explore is that establishing covenant with God involves a journey.
A journey, often portrayed in Hebrew Scripture as a physical journey.
God tended to call people to leave all that was familiar and journey to a new place.
And, in this story of the Ark, God calls Noah to leave behind all he has known, to journey with his family to a place inconceivable and unrecognisable.
And it is often on the journey, not at their destination, but on the journey that God's people learn most about themselves and about the God who calls them out of all that is familiar and into relationship.
Fred Beuchner, writes this of that journey in the ark:
".., just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and the unclean both. They are all piled in together helter-skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin. There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows. There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud. There are hawks and there are doves. Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others fire-breathing dragons. There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you could hear a pin drop. Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do, but they figure the people in charge must know and in the meanwhile sit back on their haunches and try to enjoy the ride.”
(from Whistling in the Dark)

Wow! What a picture. Everything imaginable aboard, all piled in helter-skelter. No clear idea how to get there or what they'll find when they arrive, figuring the people in charge must know...
Is it just me, or does that seem like a description of our Scottish Referendum?
Except I'm not sure that we have that much faith in the people in charge!!!

But there is a huge element, as we'll discover in the weeks ahead, as we navigate these texts on Covenant and as we navigate a post Referendum Scotland, that, often, we're skiddling about not sure where we're going, but travelling in hope, sometimes with a healthy dose of scepticism,doing our best to enjoy the ride and the community along the way.
That seems to me an apt description of the church in the world today.
Comprised of people raising mighty big questions with the God who is in charge, but settling to the journey, building community where we can, and living in hope of relationship that is not destructive but builds up and sustains. Of course it will be a bumpy ride. Trusting that the God of floods and rainbows will lead us out of what we know to what we will be. Perhaps we won't recognise the landscape at journey's end. Perhaps we won't recognise ourselves, changed as we must surely be by the journey. But we put our hope in God who makes a covenant with us, a covenant shot through with love.
Thanks be to God.