Sunday, 29 June 2014

It's the small things

Matthew 10:40-42
 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The eagle eyed among you may have spotted that we read these verses last week. But they were a part of a much longer reading. And these three verses are worth spending some more time with.
For they speak of hospitality.
With our summer holiday season upon us, it's worth thinking about what hospitality means today, in this time and place.
If you remember, these verses and the longer section we read last week,  were all part of Jesus' instructions to the disciples before he sent them out on mission.
Revved up, convinced by the ways of Jesus, just desperate to get out there and save the world, Jesus' disciples received these final words of wisdom. Words that probably rocked them more than all the other words put together. Words that should rock us too, today.
whoever gives even a cup of cold water  Jesus said, whoever gives even a cup of cold water.
A cup of cold water is easily within our gift.
The problem is that we underestimate the value of a cup of cold water.
I'm not just meaning in relation to those who do not have clean water.
Or those, in other parts of the world who are dying of thirst.
I mean, here, in this place.
Those small gifts that we shrug off.
Those little acts that we think are of no consequence.
Those are the very things of which Jesus speaks in our gospel today.
Those are the very things that he honours.
We would rather indulge in grand gestures.
We would rather go the extra mile.
We would rather feel that we had put ourselves out for someone else.
Then we can feel good and valued,perhaps even worthy.
And yet here is Jesus reminding us that it is the smallest, seemingly insignificant acts that make all the difference.
So, let's think about those this morning.
All those things that you do day in, day out, because they are part of who you are:
When you open your blinds in the morning and look across the street to make sure your neighbours' blinds are open too - that is kingdom work.
When you drop off the paper or a carton of milk - that is kingdom work.
When you pop a card into the post to let someone know you are thinking of them - that is kingdom work.
When you decide not to tackle someone about their lack of courtesy - that is kingdom work.
When you find it in you to forgive- that is kingdom work.
When you bake a cake to take to someone bereaved- that is kingdom work.
When you overlook someone's grumpiness or awkward ways - that is kingdom work.
When you sit and listen to someone who is lonely or bereaved- that is kingdom work.
When you stand in the High Street, listening to someone offload - that is kingdom work.
When you extend a hand, a hug, a look of compassion- that is kingdom work.
When you take the time to have coffee.
Or admire the garden.
All this is kingdom work.
All this you are engaged in every day.
All this makes you fit to be called a disciple.
Having just heard Jesus speak about all the risks and dangers that come along with being a disciple, having heard him speak of persecution and rejection, we imagine that it must take some pretty grand gestures to be worthy of the name disciple.
We imagine that only the edgy and the dangerous stuff will be considered effective contributions to the kingdom.
Yet here is Jesus saying: even a cup of cold water is enough to make a difference.
Do not shrug off the good that you do.
It is kingdom work.
You are disciples making a difference in this place and time.
May we never underestimate the value of that kingdom work.
May we leave the business of saving the world to God.
And get on with growing the kingdom right where we are.
Even a cup of cold water says Jesus.
Know that YOU make a difference.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Shout it from the rooftops

Matthew 10:24-42
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
Whom to Fear
 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
Not Peace, but a Sword
 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter- in- law against her mother- in- law;
 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Our gospel passage today is full of short sayings and warnings of Jesus, some comforting, some not.
Jesus has just commissioned his disciples to go on a mission.
Prior to these verses, Jesus taught a lot about how the disciples should travel, what they should take with them ( he told them to travel light), how long they should stay in one place and what they should do when they encounter resistance or are unwelcome.
Jesus knew that they weren't always going to be welcomed but would encounter violence.
He wanted them to be as prepared as they could possibly be.
This series of sayings appears to supplement all the information he has given them already.
You can just imagine the disciples, having heard and been convicted by the teaching of Jesus,having had all their instruction, now champing at the bit, raring to go and share all that they have learned.
But, before they do, Jesus decides to offer just a few more pearls of wisdom.
Wisdom that will keep them grounded in reality.
Jesus wants them to be fully aware of the costs of discipleship, the costs of ministry.
This passage was rattling in my head this week as I was involved in assessing applicants who have offered themselves to be considered for training as ministers in the Church of Scotland.
One of the things we seek to do as Assessors, no matter how gifted an applicant appears, we try to ensure that they have an awareness of the cost of ministry.
It is important that they know from the outset how demanding and absorbing and consuming and draining ministry can be.
Of course it is rewarding.
Of course it is an enormous privilege.
Of course ministry brings love and fulfilment and the most amazing opportunities.
But it is also very costly.
And it is vital that applicants, from the outset have a good awareness of the cost of ministry.
It seems to me, that that is what Jesus was doing for the disciples he was about to send out on a mission - ensuring that they knew the cost of ministry.
That they really were up for it - for better, for worse.
But, after laying out all the warnings, after doing his best to give them a clear picture of the task before them, of the dangers they might face, Jesus tells them: Do not be afraid.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Do not be afraid. How many of us need to hear that this morning? Do not be afraid.
That notion that everything is in God's hands - and that we should not be afraid.
 I remember growing up with an old gospel song: His eye is on the sparrow:
Some of you may know it too, made famous over the years by various singers, but more recently by Whitney Houston or by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount in Sister Act.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he cares for me.
Are those words we can live by?
Certainly they are words that have brought comfort to many.
Words that remind us that we are beloved children of God.
Loved, before we can know it.
Loved beyond our understanding.
Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Of course, it's hard sometimes to recall those words when we are caught up in life.
When things are going wrong.
When things don't make sense.
But, even when it's hard to remember Jesus words do not be afraid; because we're too busy panicking, maybe we can remember that we are beloved children of God.
As Jesus tried to teach his disciples before he sent them out into the world, being a beloved child of God, does not guarantee us an easy passage, far from it.
But it does promise the companionship of God every step of the way, in the highs and in the lows, in the hope and in the fear.

Good news deserves to be shared
Shared from the rooftops
not just whispered
Gods love merits telling loudly
to one and all
From the tips of your toes
to the top of your head
God's attention to detail
is beyond compare - and
God's love knows no bounds
In light love is revealed
and darkness retreats
and the good news to be shared
is no secret
by God whose wonderful light
banishes darkness
embracing all creation in love.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The indiscriminate Spirit

Numbers 11:24-30
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord ’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

John 20:19-23
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In the Church of Scotland, as Presbyterians, we are known for our good order and decorum.
That is a part of our heritage, however it happens to be played out in individual congregations.
A few weeks ago, a visitor to Castlehill, on looking at the order of service decided that we must be fairly High church, given that we have a processional hymn and a recessional hymn and that we sing the Gloria Patri.
I explained that we are good at making a high church liturgy friendly for participants!
But I wonder how true that is?
I was conscious, especially last week, when we celebrated communion, that we do little by way of explanation.
Today, we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism - again a ritual with which some have become familiar but others not so much.
The sacraments will always contain an element of mystery, something that is beyond us.
That's as it should be.
But these symbols of the amazing grace of God should also be very accessible to all of us.
They are God's gifts to us.
We indulge in rituals and expect folks, from wherever they come, to anticipate what we know and to fit in accordingly.
And so the very things that Jesus gave us, bread and wine and water,symbols by which we remember the love of God, instead of drawing us together, as Jesus intended, become the things that divide us.
A simple meal of bread and wine - by which we remember Jesus dying for us.
And the gift of water, by which we remember that all are welcome, even children too young to respond to the gift of God's unconditional love.
Ordinary things, bathed in God's spirit,symbolising eternal mysteries.

We're known, here in Castlehill, as a friendly, welcoming church, of which we should be rightly proud, but there's always room for improvement, isn't there?
And,perhaps, especially in our worship rituals, there is a need to explain ourselves better and embrace and involve others more fully.
Embracing others involves accepting the gifts that others bring and finding a way for those gifts to be used and incorporated into our life together.
While we might want to congratulate ourselves on our friendly openness to others, can we extend that welcome to allowing others to serve - in their own unique way?
We often have fairly precise and fixed ideas of just how things should be done, the standards and traditions that must be kept.
Are we inclusive enough to allow those dearly held standards to be adjusted, even compromised so that others are also given the opportunity to serve?
Don't we all know that the way we do a particular thing is simply the best way
And, when we allow others to help out, they too must be shown our way?!
When Moses complained to God that he had no help in leading God's people, God asked him to select 70 elders together, to be consecrated and set apart for service.
The elders were instructed to purify themselves and prepare for this act of setting apart when the Spirit of God would be shared with them.
When the day came, 2 of the elders selected remained in the camp, while the others met with Moses and received their share of the Spirit of God and they began to prophesy.
However, the 2 who remained in the camp also received the Spirit and began to prophesy, much to the chagrin of others.
Why should they receive the gift of God's Spirit when they hadn't jumped through all the hoops and done all that was required?
Why,when they had remained in camp,should they receive the gift of the Spirit too?
Then, as now, God's Spirit is not in short supply.
It is not a limited commodity.
The Spirit of God is shared today with all who want to receive.
Freely and abundantly.
And who are we to seek to limit that gift of the Spirit in any way?

On Friday, I was involved in worship with some colleagues.
We read one of the Pentecost passages in lots of different languages.
We did that here in Castlehill one time, using just a few languages but carefully synchronised, in good order.
That wasn't the way it was done on Friday - everyone spoke at their own pace, some slow, some fast, some quiet, some loud. 
It was noisy and messy.
Quite disturbing really.
Just a taste of what it must have been like that first Pentecost when the Spirit came.
Noisy and messy.
Just like it must have been, as we read in our gospel, when the disciples huddled together in a locked room because they were afraid.
Jesus came and stood among them and said: Peace be with you.
Jesus breathed peace into the noise and the fear.
Jesus breathed his Spirit into his disciples and asked them to go and share the good news.
To take the peace that only Jesus could give and share it with the world.
That same Jesus stands in our midst today.
That same Jesus breathes his Spirit into us and asks us to go and share his peace in the world.
Share peace with our friends and neighbours.
Share peace with our communities.
Share peace with those who are afraid today.
Those who fear for their families, for themselves, for their jobs, for their homes, those who fear they will not have enough to eat.
Jesus breathes his Spirit into us and sends us to take that Spirit with us and to share, bringing relief from fear, bringing peace to the world today.
There is no right way or wrong way to do that.
There is no order or protocol.
The Spirit of God comes to us, whoever we are.
We take it from here to share without fear.
Gods Spirit is in you.
Go from here and bring peace, wherever, however you can.
God's Spirit is in you.
Go - share the peace of God.
For the glory of God.