Saturday, 24 May 2014

God of uncertainty

So that they would search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God—though indeed God is not far from each one of us. Acts17:27

As I sat through the many debates in the General Assembly this week,what probably saddened me more than anything else was not that we are STILL debating same sex relationships as though that were the only thing that mattered to the rest of the world, sad though that is. What saddened me most was the confident voices of those who think they have God all sussed. Those who think that the God of the Universe can be explained or encountered in a neat and tidy package. I used to yearn for that kind of certainty. And I envied those who possessed it. But then I realised that that kind of God would not satisfy. That kind of god would not be the kind of companion I long for in everyday life. Because there are always questions that cannot be answered and mysteries that cannot be explained. And I need a God who presents us with a quest of discovery. I suspect that you do too. A God for whom we grope and in the searching, discover God not far from us. That God is messy and often dirty from guddling in the muck and glaur of our lives. That God hunkers down beside us and awaits our discovery. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

A Broad Church

As an aspiring pacifist, it always catches me unawares how emotional I feel when the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland receives the Report of the Committee on Chaplaincy to Her Majesty's Forces. To hear of the work undertaken by ministers of the gospel alongside those who serve our country in areas of armed conflict and their families, always moves me to tears. It is a gift and a privilege to be Christ to others as all who serve the church are called to be. To do that in the situations in which chaplains to the armed forces often find themselves is simply incredible.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Living generously

Matthew 5:42 
No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
"Respectful dialogue" was the order of the day as the General Assembly invited Douglas Alexander MP,    Revd Dr Doug Gay and the  Very Revd Alison Elliot to address delegates and engage in debate this afternoon. The Assembly listened carefully and it was encouraging to see church representatives holding space for those of differing viewpoints to share their fears and hopes for the Independence Referendum this autumn.
In summing up, John Sturrock QC reminded us of the words of The U2 Invisible lyrics - that "there is no them, only us" (loosely paraphrased).
After the referendum on September 18th, there will still be only us. With that in mind it is important that before AND after the vote, we live generously, listen to our neighbour and work to relieve the burden of the poor and to care for the vulnerable in our communities. In that sense, nothing changes. While it is hoped that churches in their communities will always be places of hope, healing and reconciliation in times of conflict, there are usually more effective ways forward that avoid conflict and our priority, whatever the outcome of the referendum, will be to ensure that we continue to show love, respect and care for all in our community and, with whatever means are ours, to bring about the changes that will lead to justice and equity for all.

Monday, 19 May 2014


A reflection on the report of the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland at General Assembly 2014

Words,words, words, words
So many words
And lots of them about call
Encouraging awareness
of the voice of God
in the everyday business of life
And yet discernment
often comes
in the quiet
when there is space to listen
and reflect
and time to sit with God
Tuning in to the Spirit of God
as she weaves her mystery
all around our lives
inviting us to unravel the mischief
and catch hold of the frayed ends
that tease us
and draw us in
confounding and intriguing
sparking our imagination
refusing to let us go.
Not letting up
until we turn our attention
away from all the distractions
and submit
to the call of God
that follows us
through every pathway
and cobbled alleyway
Down every culdesac
and dead end
Continuing to confront us
with that persistent truth
that will not be silenced
That God is
And God speaks
In all of life.

The church at work and play

A day of contrasts - Stirring worship at the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh was followed by a picnic with the Youth Delegates and then on to Heart and Soul where we introduced lots of folk to a hands on  Spill the Beans experience that involved retelling and illustrating the story of Creation. The closing worship at Heart and Soul was led by a swing band, a fitting culmination to the Princes Street event.
And, if all that weren't enough, the evening was spent with the Youth Delegates, wading through the issues that might arise in Assembly business as the week progresses.
Exhausting, exhilarating, inspiring. A privilege to be a part of the Church of Scotland.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Grace abounds

"Surrounded by law but living in grace". These words were spoken by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at the beginning of GA 2014.
The General Assembly was constituted this morning with its usual pomp and circumstance, heightened this year by the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, this years Lord High Commissioner, along with his wife, Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
The Assembly was asked to graciously accept Her Majesty the Queens's representative. 
Also in the entourage, this morning, was first minister, Alex Salmond.
The Queens letter, which the Assembly graciously agreed to have read, referred to the upcoming referendum in Scotland.
The poignancy of this moment in history struck me today. It could be that next year, when we meet in General Assembly, Scotland might be an independent country. I'm not sure how independence will affect the Constitution of the General Assembly. There are many details to be worked through in the changed landscape of an independent Scotland, should that be the situation after the referendum.
Whatever the outcome, the church in Scotland, in all its guises will be a huge agent of reconciliation after the referendum and a continuing force for communities working together to support the vulnerable. Grace remains a driving force in all that the church seeks to do in the mission that is God's throughout the nation, be it independent or part of the United Kingdom.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Life among the believers

Acts 2:43-47
Life among the Believers
 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This picture of the early church seems so far removed from the experience of Christian communities today. No mention of persecution. No mention of trials and difficulties. Clearly a tool for propaganda or written at considerable distance with very short memories. I am struggling to preach this text this week. I give thanks for the privilege of the role I have serving this Christian community in this place at this time and for the sense of being a part of something that transcends  our limited concepts of space and time. I cling on to the hope we have in the God of life and eternity. But it is hard to find the excitement portrayed in this snapshot when so many folk are suffering and when faith is stretched to the limit. How do we preach these words to the bereaved and the hurting - especially when these words don't ring true even for the community they describe? Perhaps this is a more accurate description of "Life among the believers" today. It is for this community.

Gathered together again
mourning the loss of a loved one
Gathered together again
Bearing the pain
Sharing the burden
Stumbling over words of faith
that we believe
but nonetheless find hard to articulate.
Gathered together again
bringing food
and offers of help
with practical things
like child care
or grocery shopping
car maintenance
or transport.
Gathered together again
allowing space to vent
and repeat the stories
and the memories
and the events
that preceded loss.
Gathered together again
to comfort
and encourage
to embrace
and include.
Gathered together again
breaking bread
and hoping
that in the broken pieces
we will know
the presence of God
broken with us
in the midst
of our community 
broken and hurting together.
Gathered together again
clinging to hope
praying for courage
feeling the love.

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