Sunday, 6 September 2015

The journey goes on....


Hebrews 11:1-16, 12:1,2
The Meaning of Faith
​Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
The Examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
The Faith of Abraham
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

In 1956, when Castlehill Church was built, the Church of Scotland was experiencing a surge in membership with 1.3 million members.
As time went on, through the 60s and into the 70s, that declined.
The church's mission, then, in the 60s and 70s was about inviting the lapsed to come back to worship.
Most folk then knew something of what the Church was about.
They had grown up with the faith and language of the Church.
And then that began to change - a change that continues today.
The culture and community that we serve is so very different from those early days.
No longer is mission about bringing folk back.
We serve generations that have never been here.
So we can't sit around and wait for folk to rediscover church.
Rather, we are called to go into our communities and live out our faith.
And that's not a task that belongs to the minister, or the elders, is a task for all of us to be engaged in.
Each of us answering the call to serve God wherever we find ourselves every day.
With our worship and our gatherings week by week equipping and resourcing us to go and be disciples, at home, at school, at work, at play.
That is part of what my new job will entail, helping folk recover confidence in speaking of their faith.
Supporting ministers who are so busy just keeping the organisation running to carve out time to be creative, to re-engage with their communities and equip others to do that too.
In some ways it's an audacious project.
In other ways it is very simple.
And it's only one strand in a whole tangle of initiatives that the Church is engaging in: Not to bring people back to church, but to BE church in the communities we serve.
The landscape has changed.
And so must the Church.
No matter how commendable our history may be, it is still history.
We cherish our stories of the building of this sanctuary.
Of the hard work and fundraising.
Of the joy and the fellowship of those days.
Of engaging the steadily growing community in the houses being newly built all around.
Of the extra chairs having to be brought into the hall church.
Of the two services that had to be held on a Sunday to accommodate everyone.
Of the 6 double decker buses required to take folks on the Sunday School picnic.
Of the corridors being lined with prams while the young women's group met.
These are wonderful stories that I've loved hearing.
And it's been a real privilege to become a part of that story of the people of faith in this place today.
In ministry here, I've learned the importance and value of stories.
There's nothing like a story to bring folk together. 
We identify with stories. 
We see ourselves in them and, often, we become a part of them.
The wonderful thing about stories, especially in Scotland, is that they grow arms and legs, they are continually changing, bits being added, details being enhanced, kept alive for new listeners and story tellers and participants.
I love the thought that we journey on with these stories to retell, to pass on, to become part of them.
And, as we share our stories and look towards the plans that God has for writing the next chapter, we do that knowing that we stand in a great line of those, some of whom were exemplary, others who were shocking but all of whom were prepared to take a risk, to immerse themselves in God's story and see where the journey took them.
This is how vv 39 and 40 read in the Message:
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
We are part of the story of the people of faith down through the ages.
We stand in that great continuous line with saints like Abel, Enoch and Noah, with Abraham and Sarah, with Isaac and Jacob, the list goes on and we could add to that list many of the saints we have known who have filed these pews that we now occupy, and they're not all dead.
Their story is our story.
But we are also being enabled to co-author with God a new story, maybe the kindle or ebook edition, the version that our children will read as the journey of faith moves on, from romance to mystery, to crime, to adventure. God turns the page and invites us to write.
When we look back at the journey of God's people through the ages, as they escaped from Egypt, as they wandered through the wilderness, as they entered they Promised Land, as they anointed prophets and priests and kings, even as they endured exile in foreign lands, the people of God did things to mark their transition.
They built wells and cairns and sacred altars.
Memorials to which they could point to tell their story, memorials that would stand as testament for generations yet unborn.
These were not only memorials but transition tokens.
We all know that change is hard but even harder is the journey through change - transition
Jesus knew that as he prepared to leave his disciples.
So he set up a memorial.
The sacrament that we will share today.
The sacrament by which we will remember him.
That sacrament unites us with all the saints in heaven and on earth.
And that sacrament commissions us anew to go and tell the story, living out faith wherever we find ourselves in our communities today.
This sacrament invites us to co-author with God the next chapter of the story of all the saints of God.
How exciting is that, to be part of an old, old story that is being newly written every day?
We walk by faith and not by sight. (Music)

We will stand as children of the promise,
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul's reward.
Till the race is finished and the work is done,
We'll walk by faith and not by sight.

Thanks be to God.
Amen

Sunday, 23 August 2015

A gift for life



Acts 14:1-3;8-11;19-23
Paul and Barnabas in Iconium
​The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. 
Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe
In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 
But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
The Return to Antioch in Syria
After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith

As we continue to journey with Paul, we encounter a recurring theme - of people responding to the love and grace of God, only to be discouraged by those around them, those who, even when they see the goodness of God at work, refuse to accept and, more than that, persecute those who bring the good news.
Paul and his companions respond to this persecution by strengthening those who believed by prayer and by encouragement.
And by appointing those whose sole task would be to pray for others and to encourage.
Elders appointed to the ministry of encouragement. 
Encouragement is a ministry that we overlook today.
And the notion that elders should be involved in such a ministry has been lost somewhere along the way, buried under duty and responsibility and keeping good order.
There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith

Last weekend, as you may know, I was involved in the National Youth Assembly of the Church of Scotland and spent 4 days with 80 18-25 year olds.
We had a full programme of debates and workshops, of worship and late night cafes.
On the agenda were topics such as child trafficking, global education, climate change and the creeds of the Church.
To see so many young adults interested in and engaging with issues that are topical and relevant for them was a huge encouragement.
And, even greater encouragement was the knowledge that these young adults came from churches all over Scotland - from Shetland to the borders, from Castlemilk to Colinton.
Young adults taking time off work or study to get together and encourage one another.
And many of them, isolated in their own communities, perhaps the only young person in their church, leave the National Youth Assembly encouraged in their faith, assured that they matter, strengthened and resolved to continue the journey.
There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith
As I read those words this week, fresh from NYA, they struck me as being pertinent to just some of the work that goes on at the National Youth Assembly.
Young adults, many of whom were baptised as infants are being strengthened in their faith and encouraged to live out the promises taken on their behalf on their baptism.
It's hard to look way into the future, maybe even scary to imagine the time when Olivia will be 18. What will her life look like then?
Who will be her friends?
Will she still be a part of the Church?
The assurance that each of us is given, in baptism, is that the love and grace of God that we celebrate here today in the sacrament accompanies us all through life.
We will always be a part of the Church.
As we affirmed in the promises"there will always be a place here for her."
God's love and grace accompanies us all through life.
Baptism sets us on a path,a path that even if we step off for a time, will always be there, waiting for us when we are ready to continue our journey.
Each of those enthusiastic faith filled young adults at Youth Assembly last weekend had been given the gift of faith, of the love and grace of God when they were babies as small as Olivia. 
And each of them had either remained on that path or found their way back so that they could respond to the love of God freely given to them in baptism.
Baptism is a gift that can never be taken away but can only be strengthened and renewed every day.
Most gifts we receive, especially as children, are laid down and picked up as the mood takes us. 
There are always other gifts, other distractions.
But the gift of baptism and the promises made in that gift never expire, never diminish.
They accompany us all through life.
So each time we bemoan the fact that our Youth Church isn't growing.
Each time we wonder where all the children we baptise have disappeared, let's remember that what we do here today sets a course, stakes a claim, invokes a promise of the love and grace of God that lasts for all of life.
Last Sunday morning, over 100 of us trooped into Gartmore Parish Church to join the congregation there in worship, filling every available space in the Church and being welcomed warmly.
It struck me then, what a gift that must have been to that congregation, to know that, even though their number in worship Sunday by Sunday was usually much less, yet they were part of the body of Christ,a body that embraces, equips and encourages young people, beginning in the faith expressed in baptism.
There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith
And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
May it be so here today.
For the glory of God.
Amen.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The bystanders

Acts 7:54 - 8:3
The Stoning of Stephen
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
​And Saul approved of their killing him.
Saul Persecutes the Church
That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.


The witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As we begin our series on Paul that will, over the next few weeks, take us into some of Paul's missionary journeys, his relationships with Christian communities along the way and stories of all that God was able to accomplish through Paul, we take a step back today to consider who Paul was before God made a claim on his life.
And we discover Saul, on the edge of the crowd, holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen.
Stephen had been appointed as a leader in the early church.
And his preaching the gospel upset the authorities.
In fact, so incensed were they by his preaching that they accused him of blasphemy and incited the crowd to stone him.
The authorities, the religious authorities of the day, put their spin on the good news that Stephen preached and convinced those who heard him that he threatened their whole way of life.
Instead of hearing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the crowd was encouraged to hear the shaking of the foundations.
They were encouraged to put a stop to Stephen's preaching.
And they did.
The crowd listened to the authorities of the day, to the spin doctors of the time.
And Stephen became the first known Christian martyr.
That day, as Stephen was killed, there was a young man on the edge of the crowd, looking on, a man named Saul.
To all intents and purposes a bystander - Until we read those chilling words:
And Saul approved of their killing him.
Perhaps he didn't actually pick up a stone that day.
Perhaps he didn't actively participate in ensuring Stephen's death.
But, from the edge of the crowd, Saul stood and watched, held the coats and approved of Stephens killing.
No innocent bystander.
This week, we've watched, as crowds of migrants have gathered in Calais, desperate to find a way across the Channel to seek refuge in the UK.
And, while we have been successfully distracted by the plight of those refugees and the protests of those on both sides of the Channel, whether supporting or opposing asylum, there are other groups of migrants also making treacherous journeys, seeking freedom from oppressive regimes.
Many of them are being drowned in the Med while our government refuses to make their passage safer or consider the oppressive conditions from which they need to flee.
And, being able to focus on the situation in Calais, being able to use incendiary language, speaking of "swarms of migrants", building up fear and hatred in the UK, allows our government to take our attention away from all the other terrible things that are happening.
And, in all this, we are the bystanders.
Perhaps not casting stones.
Not even holding the coats.
But, by our silence, signaling approval.
We, who should know from history that failure of good people to act simply allows evil to triumph.
We won't all agree on how this crisis should be resolved.
We won't all agree on how our government should act.
But we do all have the capacity to see those who have found their way to Calais, or those desperate enough to take to the seas in overcrowded and poorly equipped boats in the hope of securing a better way of life for themselves and their families as children of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
There is no easy solution to the kind of scenes we've witnessed this week, or, indeed, to the migrant crisis that has been escalating for some time now.
But what is important is that we do not stand idly by.
That we do not allow governments to put their spin on the clear evidence of a crisis, distracting us from a much bigger picture.
It is important that we see the humanity in each of these crowds, that we hear stories of individuals desperate enough to take the chances they have taken.
And that, somehow, we apply the principles of our faith to how we view our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we have celebrated this morning the grace of God in baptism, Good's love given to us unconditionally, may we extend that love and grace to all whom we meet on the road.
Over the next few weeks, as we journey with Paul, we will encounter a man freed from his hatred by an encounter with God.
Completely turned around - from persecuting Christians, to preaching and living out the gospel.
Turned from a bystander into a follower of Christ.
Moved from hatred to love.
But, as we go into this week, let's ask ourselves.
In our faith and in our living, are we content to be the bystanders, not casting stones but not offering help either?
Or are we prepared to speak and act out of the love and the zeal that God gives?
Are we prepared to see, in the crowds we encounter daily, on our TV screens or on the High Street, brothers and sisters in Christ?
How does the God that we encounter here and in our everyday life affect how we love one another?
May we answer that with a commitment to act in love.
For the glory of God.  Amen




Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Lord is my light

Psalms 27:1-6
Triumphant Song of Confidence
Of David.
​The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Midsummer in this hemisphere
The longest day
But for many 
Just another long night
Another sojourn in the dark
Another day of grieving another night of loss
Where was the protection of God?
Where was the shelter?
When a gunman filled with hatred
Blinded with prejudice
Chose the sanctuary of a church
To wreak carnage
To proclaim evil
To defile all that is sacred and true
How does the beauty of the Lord
Ever emerge from the shadow of such darkness?
How did we get it so wrong
How did we fail so miserably in sharing the love of God
And the teachings of Christ?
That children of God can look into each other's eyes
And see differences with eyes of judgement
Judgement that divides and diminishes 
While God, our light and salvation
Weeps in impotence
Consumed by the darkness
Too dense for the light to breakthrough
And a triumphant song of confidence
Becomes a song of lament

Remembering: Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders. Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr, Myra Thompson.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A place for all


Psalms 69:1-16
Psalm 69
Prayer for Deliverance from Persecution
To the leader: according to Lilies. Of David.
​Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me,
O God of Israel.
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I visited a member of our congregation that I've never seen in church in the seven years I've been here.
I thought that he must be elderly or infirm, perhaps not able to get out much.
That's not the case.
He's relatively young and fit and active.
And he has faith.
So - Why doesn't he come to church?
Quite a few years ago, this man was widowed.
Left caring for a young family and elderly parents.
He did his best to be in church every Sunday.
He wanted to be a part of the community of faith.
But, eventually, he felt that church simply wasn't the place for him.
Because he had too much sadness in him.
And church was a place where folk were supposed to be happy.
A place where folk gathered to praise God, to give thanks for the blessings in life.
And, with everyone putting on their happy faces, Sunday by Sunday, this man felt as though he simply didn't belong, where there was no room for him and his grief.
I fear that that is still a perception people have of church.
Church is a place where we have to keep it together.
A place where there's no room for grief or lament or sadness.
A place where we have to suck it up and "look forward in faith."
A place where we have to live into the realities of the promises of faith and not dwell on the here and now, which, often, is far from that promised hope.
Save me, O God, (cries the Psalmist) 
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

How often has that been closer to your experience than the Psalm we read last week:
Psalms 113:1-4
​Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

The Psalms - prayers and songs of the worshipping community, assure us that there is room for us in the worship of God, whether we feel like praising or cursing.
There is room for us.
God does not ask us to leave our troubles and our disappointments at the door of the church as we enter.
God does not ask us to check in our anxiety and our depression in the hallway.
God bids us come - as we are.
God welcomes us in all our mental fragility or robustness.
Here those who are bruised or broken are welcome along with those who come with joy and thanksgiving - and those who are somewhere in between.
God welcomes us.
God holds us.
And God nudges us to be mindful of one another.
To make space.
We have no need to dampen or joy when we feel it. 
Or ignore our troubles when they weigh us down.
Because there is room for us all.
A place for us to hold and to be held.
What is your need this morning?
Are you holding on by a thread?
Are you up to your neck?
Are you full of the joys, ready to burst into song, and proclaim, Bless the Lord,O my soul?
Or are you somewhere in between.
Take a look around you.
Know that only God can see minds and hearts.
But, even when hurts are well disguised, as they often are when we gather for worship, let's resolve to notice each other.
To encourage each other.
To know ourselves welcomed and valued by God.
And welcomed and valued members of this community gathered for worship, whatever we bring.

Come as you are.
Bring what you have.
Not just  good news.
Not just the praise.
Not just the highs of the day.
But every cry and every want
and every complaint,
even despair.
These too are welcome
in God’s sight.
For God wants all of us,
the parts we reveal
and all that we hide,
the things we can live with 
and the things that we bury.
All of these- shaken, stirred, poured out and laid in plain view 
are not pretty to us
but precious to God.
God is big enough to take all of us
and love us even when we do not love ourselves.
Steadfast God who takes it all.

We were lucky enough to attend a concert on Friday - we went to hear The Piano Guys at the Usher Hall.
A pianist, a cellist, a vocalist and a special effects guy make up the Piano Guys.
If you get the chance, check out some off their videos on You Tube.
They play the most haunting music in amazing locations - on speeding trains, on glaciers, on the Great Wall of China, underneath the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro and the Ignazu waterfalls. 
One of the arrangements they played on Friday was a blending of Gabriel's Oboe from the film - The Mission and the hymn tune: How Great Thou Art.
I'd like to share that music with you this morning.
As we listen, May I encourage you to rest in God.
Look at the picture of the sanctuary you received add you came into worship this morning.
And know - there is a place for you here, just as you are.
(Music:The Mission/How Great Thou Art)



.    

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Glimpses of Spirit

This Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to the church, I want to share with you a flavour of the last week at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland - and the places I've been encouraged in seeing the breath of the Spirit still blowing through the church.
We read this morning;
Romans 8:24-26
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Celebrating, today, the gift of God's Holy Spirit, we celebrate hope. The hope that all those things we can barely express, all the things we tie ourselves in knots about are safe with God and that, when we run out of words or inspiration, when we run out of steam, God is there and God's Spirit is still at work in spite of our inability to find a way through.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose

For the past three years now I have had the privilege of attending the General Assembly as chaplain to the Youth Delegates.
Each Presbytery is invited to send one youth delegate and a further 10 delegates are nominated by the National Youth Assembly.
Sadly, not all Presbyteries are able to find a young person aged between 18 and 25 who is willing or able to serve in this capacity.
But the young folk that attend, all with different experiences and impressions of the Church of Scotland bring with them uniqueness and vitality.
Although we do our best to explain to them how varied and intense the week will be, it's pretty indescribable.
But they always not only rise to the challenge but embrace all that is thrown at them.
We gather on the Friday night before GA starts, so that we can eat together, have an orientation session in the Assembly hall and introduce ourselves.
Once we've done all that, it's back to the conference room at the hotel (we all stay together) to start prepping for the debates coming up the next day.
That's something we do each evening after dinner - prepare for the next day.
We go through the reports with delegates, we answer their questions if we can and we help them formulate any questions they might like to ask the Convenors who present reports or any comments or deliverances they might want to make.
Over the years, the Assembly has come to realise how well prepared the young people are, often better prepared than Commissioners, and their contributions are received with respect.
Some of the Youth Delegates are very articulate, some are extremely nervous and hesitant, but, with courage, they make their points and affect the decisions of the Assembly.  
We conclude each evening with worship led by the staff team.
Next morning, we gather by 8:15 for worship, led by the Young People before we make our way to the Assembly Hall.
The first day is full of ceremony.
It's quite a spectacle with bands and buglers.
Some of the spectacle is repeated each morning, as the Lord High Commissioner. The Queen's Representative arrives but it's not quite the show that it is on the Saturday in the opening ceremony.
As the Very Rev. John Chalmers handed over the reins, he remarked on how one of the things his year as Moderator had proved to him was what a high profile the church plays in civic life.
In spite of the stories of decline we hear, the church as an institution still has an important role and function in Scotland,the UK and beyond.
However, this isn't the time for the Moderator to reflect on his or her term of office - that happens on the Saturday night.
This ceremony is about handing over the role to the Moderator Elect, this year, Right Reverend Angus Morrison, who immediately takes up office and assumes responsibility.
On the Saturday evening, the outgoing Moderator addresses the Assembly and reflects on his or her term of office.
There is also a welcome for overseas Delegates on the Saturday night.
Do you remember the doves we wrote messages on in one service - some of those were in the Assembly Hall on Saturday night.
Many representatives are invited from lots of different countries and denominations.
They play a full part in proceedings, contributing to debate and bringing stories of the health of the church where they are.
Many of these delegates consider the Church of Scotland to be their mother church, responsible for bringing them faith.
This year, I was asked by some of the RevGals I've met to look out for Ken Kovacs who was the delegate from the PCUSA.
On Sunday morning, a service for GA is held in St Giles. It's always fun to attend with Youth Delegates because it's vastly different from their experience of worship but most seem to really appreciate the opportunity to be part of something so formal.
After Lunch together, we become involved with Heart and Soul - an event that takes place in Princes Street Gardens. We all tend to be involved helping out in different ways.
This year, I was involved in the Spill the Beans tent, introducing people to the worship resource that we use here. We shared with them the Psalms material that we'll be using in the summer.
We encouraged folk to take part.
Some folk saw the opportunity to advertise their vacancy at Heart and Soul-  I was waylaid with a number of Parish Profiles.
Over 6000 people took part in Heart and Soul, despite the threat of rain, although it stayed fine throughout the afternoon and the closing worship was amazing with all these folk gathered in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
Monday morning sees the Assembly celebrating Communion together, something many of the Youth Delegates are keen to be involved in. As you might imagine, it is some feat to organise communion for that many people in such a big venue.
The singing is always amazing.
This year, there were a few hearing challenged delegates.
One in particular, Mary, had a hearing dog, Scott. (We recently heard about hearing dogs at the Guild)
It was very moving to see all that happened at Assembly, being signed. And, throughout the week, there was a large team of interpreters involved.
Assembly is always accompanied by Fringe Events on all manner of things.
Inclusive worship, prayer meetings, seminars and receptions.
The Youth Delegates were quick to learn that it is possible to secure a free lunch every day by attending one of the Fringe Events.
During the day, folk meet up for coffee and enjoy fellowship and short breaks from the intensity of business. Or to do some book promotion.
Just one of the more inspiring speeches at Assembly came from a local delegate, Isabell Montgomerie from Ochiltree who encouraged elders present to find ways to show their minister how much they were appreciated. Isabell was involved in a special commission that took her around the country interviewing ministers and was disturbed to find that many ministers felt they were working under stressful conditions with little appreciation.
In fact, her speech was recorded and can now be found on You tube.
Each day is filled with reports and debates on the life and work of the Church of Scotland.
One of those reports honours the work of Military Chaplains.
It's always an impressive sight to see the Assembly hall filled with folk in uniform.
And the Moderator hosts a special reception for them.
A highlight for the Young people is the opportunity to report on the National Youth Assembly.
The national Youth Assembly elects a Moderator each year and, this year, it was Rachel Hutcheson from Inverness. Rachel has just completed her training as a primary school teacher and was an able moderator.
She reported on the National Youth Assembly, held last August, with the theme "In my Fathers House." 
During her year in office, Rachel was involved with the GA Moderator in a number of events, including the Christian Aid Munro Challenge which raised a phenomenal amount of money for Christian Aid's work in Nepal.
The next moderator of the NYA will be Hannah Mary Goodlad, a geologist from Shetland who works for an oil company and who is very concerned with sourcing renewable energies.
The Youth Delegates are invited to the Beating of the Retreat and a Reception at Holyrood Palace.
This is an opportunity for them to dress up and enjoy the hospitality provided.
They are so good at looking out for each other that even those who feel awkward in such social events manage to have fun and not feel left out.
On the last day, the Assembly deals with any remaining business before embarking on the Closing Ceremony.
I had never attended the closing ceremony before I became chaplain to the Youth Delegates, always choosing to head home at lunchtime on the Friday.
But it really is quite a ceremony.
Those ministers who have died in the last year are remembered, each name read, new ministers are welcomed as well as new staff and Convenors of Councils.
The Lord High commissioner then addresses the Assembly, telling of the duties he has undertaken during the week, before the clapping out ceremony when  everyone gathers in the quad to clap out the Lord High Commissioner, the Moderator and all the Assembly Officials. A weird but lovely tradition.
You may have noticed that I haven' t mentioned the issue that you probably read about or heard about on the news this week - that of ministers in same sex partnerships being able to be ordained and hold office. There were just as many opinions in the ranks of the Youth Delegates as there were with other  Commissioners. But all agreed that the church has many other issues to debate, not least the gospel we are called to proclaim.
Spending time with so many committed and enthusiastic Youth Delegates gives me great hope for the future of the Church of Scotland at home and abroad.
We give thanks for the hope we have and for the freedom to live out the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God. 

*Some images shared from the Church of Scotland Facebook Page*

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Living in hope


Romans 5:1-11
Results of Justification
​Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

I didn't intend to - but once the Polls closed on Thursday night, I found myself sitting in front of the Television, just to see the first few results declared.
But the first few Scottish results were so surprising that, I decided to wait for a few more and, before I knew it, it was 4am.
Knowing that Friday was going to be a busy day, I forced myself to go to bed. 
It was an amazing night in Scottish politics.
A night in which it was so easy to be swept up in the joy  - or despair - of politicians and electorate alike. 
While I was watching the results come in on TV, I was also monitoring my Facebook feed (I'm a woman, I'm good at multi-tasking!) and it was fun to see all the different comments and reactions, liberally peppered with the usual Scottish black humour.
Indeed, over the weekend there have been a huge number of jokes made about the changed face of Scottish and UK politics - that's just how we Scots cope with change and uncertainty:
When I posted on Facebook, yesterday  that I was visiting the Kelpies, a friend, quick as a flash, commented that there were more Kelpies in Scotland than there were Labour MPs.

But, after my late night/early morning on Thursday into Friday, in the cold light of day, I was reflecting on what the massive political change might mean, not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.
And one of the first things that struck me was how, in just a few hours, life had changed dramatically for lots of people - not least those MPs who had worked tirelessly for the constituencies they served and who, at any other time, might reasonably have expected to remain in place, but, this week, lost their jobs and all that goes with that.
I went to bed in the wee small hours on Friday, thinking that history had been made in Scotland.
But, waking up a few hours later, I began to realise what a fragile place it is to be - at the beginning of a new era, where the landscape seems to have shifted, where there is more uncertainty than anything else.
And where, above all, there is a lot of hard work to be done before we can forge the way ahead.
It's a tall order to fulfil all the promises made in the run up to the election.
And that work requires everyone.
It requires the elated, the devastated, the indifferent.
It needs all of us to be involved in shaping the future.
Delivering promises calls for courage and compassion, for patience and persistence, and, above all, for hope.
Hope that, together, we can create societies that care for the poor and vulnerable.
Hope that, together, we can deliver on the stuff that makes up manifestos and election promises.
Hope that, together, folk will work across party lines to make a difference in communities divided.
So, on this post election Sunday, I want to ask:
What gives you hope?

Last week, we looked at Paul's introduction to his letter to the Romans.
We noticed how he set out his stall.
He declared his credentials as a follower of Christ.
Paul had to do that because he was known to many as a persecutor of Christians.
So he had to work hard to convince people he had changed.
And I'm sure his words weren't enough.
I'm sure folk were waiting to see if his words tied up with his actions.
A bit like we are doing in this post election time.
Waiting to see if people can change.
Waiting to see if promises will be fulfilled.
If the actions match up to the words, the many words that have been spoken in the last wee while.
Right now, we are living in hope.

Our reading this morning speaks of hope - we read:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

What gives us hope?
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes hope as something in which we can boast, something that does not disappoint.
There will always be pedlars of false hope, hope that is not realistic and cannot be sustained in the face of adversity.
The kind of hope of which Paul speaks, however, arises out of adversity.
The kind of hope of which Paul speaks is a response to suffering, a radical response that consists not in our gritting our teeth and willing all things to be well but in our enduring hardship in the faith that suffering will not have the last word.
The hope that, at the end of all things, God is.
I was intrigued to find a statement about hope from Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
Havel was frequently imprisoned as he fought against the effects of Communism.
But here is what he said about hope;
"Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. ..(Hope)is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons ...Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed... Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
Vaclav Havel Disturbing the Peace

Isn't that the kind of hope that we need today?
People of all political persuasions have to be convinced to work together to create just communities, no matter how unlikely to succeed that task might seem. 
Because it is right. 
Because it makes sense.
That is hope.
And, however optimistic or pessimistic we are feeling in this changed political landscape, hope drives us to work together to build robust communities with care and compassion.
Communities where all know that they are valued, where all feel that their contribution matters, where strangers are welcomed and the poor and the vulnerable are not just cared for but enabled to break free from all that keeps them imprisoned.
Our task, our calling is to work toward those goals not because we are sure of success but because we know that it is the right thing to do.
That is hope.


It is well documented that when humans can summon hope, life takes on meaning and purpose.
Just as there is something life giving in the human ability to dredge up hope in every circumstance, however bleak, the hope of obtaining the gift of being reconciled to God is also life giving and life enhancing.
Paul, throughout his letter to the Romans stresses this point again and again, especially in Romans 8, when he reminds us that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
All of life takes its meaning from the underpinning love of God.
Hope in that gift of love cannot fail to make a difference whatever else happens in life.
And so we ask ourselves again this morning, in the light of all the changes wrought this week:
What gives us hope?

Let me share with you a reflection, written long before I knew that, on this post-election Sunday, I'd be preaching on Paul's message of hope:

For what do you hope?
For what do you hope?
Is it some future event?
Something that can be planned, researched, engineered or financed?
Like a cure for cancer?
Or a way of regenerating brain cells destroyed in dementia?
Or marvellous DNA repairs for confused chromosomes?
For what do you hope?
Is it some notion that tomorrow will be better?
That the benefits system will serve those in need?
Or that Food Banks will no longer be necessary?
That no one will sleep rough on our streets but that all will know shelter?
For what do you hope?
Is it for signs of world peace?
The dismantling of refugee camps?
The sharing of clean water?
For what do you hope?
The promise of God
for God’s people everywhere
is to know peace in every situation
because we are loved by the God whose name is love
and who, in Christ has already gathered us up in love.
Now that is something for which to hope.
And a hope that will not disappoint.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Still risen!


Matthew 28:16-20
The Commissioning of the Disciples
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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

For the last few weeks we've been preparing ourselves for Easter.
Throughout Lent -  in our daily reflections, in our midweek services and in our weekly study groups.
Through Holy Week -  following Jesus journey toward the cross, gathering with the disciples in the upper room and, on Good Friday, watching the shadows lengthen as we reflected on Jesus death.
And then, last Sunday, Easter Day, we reclaimed the Alleluias and celebrated Jesus' resurrection.
We crept to the tomb with the women, spices in hand, and rejoiced to see the stone rolled away.
And we discovered that Jesus was no longer in the tomb but was going, ahead of his disciples, to Galilee.
Already ahead of us.
At large in the world today.
So that was last Sunday.
High energy after our measured pace through Lent.
An exhausting pinnacle of faith.
So,what's next?
Now that we've had a week to recover,what now?
Last week, we read of the women being told by the angel at the tomb to hurry and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen.
They went with great fear and joy.
As they rushed off to do as the angel said, Jesus met the women in the garden and he told them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where he would meet them.
And this week's reading, tells of that reunion in Galilee.
Clearly the women did as Jesus told them - they spread the news and the disciples followed the Risen Christ to Galilee.
They met Jesus on the mountain.
And, we're told, the disciples worshiped Jesus - but some doubted.
It was a time for mixed emotions.
The women leave the garden, witnesses to the resurrection, in fear and joy.
The disciples meet Jesus in Galilee, on the mountain top and worship him - but some doubted.
Mixed emotions everywhere.
But Jesus commissions them all the same - to go and make disciples.
Jesus, having been betrayed, denied, abandoned by these same disciples, some of whom still doubt, yet commissions them to go and make disciples of all nations.
That has to be good news for us.
Good news and scary news.
Our doubts do not prevent us being commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples.
Jesus, knowing that we too will betray him, deny him, doubt him, entrusts us with sharing the good news today.
Entrusts us to go and make disciples in our everyday.
And that is the what now of Easter.
It's moving from the tomb, leaving the sanctuary, knowing that Jesus has gone ahead of us into our everyday - and waits on us to take up his commission to make disciples.
How?
By living as Resurrection people.
By living as people who know that love is stronger than death.
By sharing that love in our everyday, with family, with friends, with neighbours and colleagues.
Even when we doubt.
And, in our sharing, being open enough to see that God continues to reveal Jesus risen among us - in the unlikeliest places.
It never fails to amaze - and to humble me - how often, when I think I'm faithfully sharing the gospel, that God reveals something new - those I imagine I'm teaching, or to whom I'm witnessing become my teachers in the lessons of God.
Perhaps that's just a part of Jesus command to " go to all nations". To do so requires an openness, openness, not just to what we have to share but to what we can learn from others.
I recently shared a story of my time working in shipyard chaplaincy.
(In fact it's a story included in a book that was released this week: There's a Woman in the Pulpit- stories from women in ministry in different parts of the world)
The point of the story is not to tell of my faithfulness in sharing the gospel in an inhospitable Lower Clyde shipyard, but to share how much I learned from the platers, the caulkers, the burners and the carpenters with whom I huddled round a brazier fire of a morning, drinking tea from filthy mugs.
On a couple of occasions, I got to bless a ship before she was launched - and this was what I wrote about the experience:
"And so, another liturgy was written on the hoof, informed by the need to minimise the time the ship waited on the well greased stocks, and another ministry of privilege was exercised and all manner of things was taught to a fledgling chaplain by men with calloused hands and choice phrases and hearts of gold all wrapped up in wisdom and grace."

That great Commission, to go to all nations and make disciples, is not simply about us taking what we have and passing it on to others.
It is about us being open to all the facets of the gospel that God reveals to us in others, even and especially, those to whom we think we are called to  minister.
Christ continues to go ahead of us and to meet us on the way, asking us to be open to his risen presence in all whom we encounter.

Easter is not the end of the journey.
It is just the beginning.
And, even in our weariness, even with our doubts, the Risen Christ entrusts us with being and with making disciples.
And that's the work, not of a moment, but of a lifetime.
Here is a reflection I wrote last Easter about the lasting effects of the Resurrection:

It trickles in slowly
Just like the soft light of dawn
It's not the sudden trumpet fanfare
that we have made it
but a slow, gentle unfurling.
As Easter creeps forward
its touch slowly awakening
all in its path
the effect is gradual
measured
long lasting.
Even when the dawn of Easter
startles
provoking excitement
it is the calm that is left in its wake
that remains
the warmth and the joy
that continue to infuse
and change lives.
And it is the soft memory
of eternal promises
that persists
even when night has come again.
Easter - not an all at once
life changing moment
But a slowly dawning
gift for eternity
a treasure
with layers
upon layers 
of wrapping
to be gently unveiled
and savoured
in the fullness of time.

Christ is still risen.
He is risen indeed.
Alleluia!