Previous Posts June 2020

Reflections and news for June 2020 during the Coronavirus period appear below (most recent first).

Service from Ian Stirling for Sunday 28th June 2020 – “Abraham and Isaac”

Sunday 28th June 2020      Abraham and Isaac

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the incredibly complex story of Abraham and Isaac, found in Genesis 22: 1-19. It is a passage that I struggle with. I even find it outrageous – the logic of any god requesting the sacrifice of a child’s life to demonstrate loyalty and faith. This certainly does not fit with my image of a merciful, loving and compassionate God, who fills the landscape of Bethlehem, Cana and Jerusalem. 

But here it is in our sacred texts, and right at the start of the story of faith of our fathers. So the challenge today is against all odds, to find some sense and meaning in it.

An image, closer to home, that inspires me this morning is this alternative take of a father and his son. No sacrifices here, rather caught up in the act of enjoying life in its fullness,  towards the end of a 10km fun run at Culzean Castle. A lovely memory.

But first, let us spend a moment stilling our hearts, quietening our souls, and preparing ourselves to come into the presence of God. 

(Perhaps enjoy a cuppa in a comfy chair, or listen to a reflective piece of music, or watch the dawn, or listen to birdsong)

A time of stillness and silence

Spend ten minutes in silence

And be conscious of your breathing, inhale slowly, pause, and exhale. And welcome the spirit of life into your heart. Allow the spirit to inhabit body, mind and soul.

Then pray together

Jesus Christ, beckoning us and calling us to follow you, still our hearts and minds that we may be attentive, be courageous, be expectant, and be ready to follow you wherever you would have us go. 

then say together the Lords Prayer

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy Name, 

thy kingdom come, 

thy will be done, 

on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread. 

And forgive us our debts

as we forgive our debtors

And lead us not into temptation, 

but deliver us from evil. 

For thine is the kingdom, 

and the power, and the glory, 

for ever and ever. Amen

A time of song

1. How deep the Father’s love for us

How vast beyond all measure

That He should give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss

The Father turns His face away

As wounds which mar the Chosen One

Bring many sons to glory

2. Behold the man upon a cross

My sin upon His shoulders

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished

3. I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images – the season of Pentecost.

Red is the colour of Pentecost, burning flames, the uncontainable spirit, filling and releasing the faithful. Ecstatic, ‘standing out of ourselves’ – an out of body experience. New things happening. A church is born. Filling hearts with hope. The church is born in ecstasy when the boundaries of language and culture are transcended for all time, and all hear the good news in their own mother tongue. A day to remember.

Ecstasy is only part of the story … in the season after Pentecost, the colour is green. This represents growth. New life. The steady, slow, sure, patient, attentive and quiet growth in ordinary time. After the ecstatic high of Pentecost, the days seem unremarkable, yet in this ordinary time, faith is consolidated

Listen for the word of God

Each week spend some time reading, and re-reading the passage. This is your homework!

First time, ask yourself what words strike you, as new, or interesting. And underline them or circle them.

Second time, let your imagination fly and let your curiosity enjoy full reign, and ask yourself what does this passage make you think and feel and wonder

Third time, listen out and consider whether Jesus is saying anything to you in this passage, 

-perhaps about faith, or doubts, or trusting or faith.

Genesis 22:1-19

1 AFTER these things God tested Abraham. 

He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, Here I am. 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 

5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 

6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, Here I am, my son. He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kilhis son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, Here I am.” 

12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 

13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” 

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

An image to consider Abraham’s burial site in Hebron.

Reflections

Visiting the mosque in Hebron last year was mind blowing. It is architecturally stunning and the marble facia beautiful. And while there, we were warmly welcomed by the local Muslim community. We took off our sandals to enter the sacred space with bare feet. An act of humility. This time of prayer reminded me of the the other times I have visited mosques in Damascus, in Jerusalem, in Sri Lanka, and in Glasgow, where the call to prayer seems universal and crosses all faiths and cultures.

Visiting the mosque in Hebron was also quite a physical journey. It was by no means easy to get there. We had to venture south of Jerusalem. Leaving our hotel in Bethlehem we wound our way through Palestinian hills covered with olive groves, past illegal settlements, and faced various security checkpoints. The presence of peacekeepers a reminder of contemporary tensions in the promised land. And to be honest I was a bit nervous walking through the streets. And even now only a few months on I hear of rising tensions in Hebron over ownership of the mosque.

Naturally visiting Hebron was a spiritual journey. Going back in time I imagined Hebron as a city of King David, the young shepherd who killed Goliath. And I imagined Abraham and Sarah, the forebearers of the faith of Jew, Christian and Muslim alike, being buried under the oak tree. So it was an eye opener to me, and grounded me in the historicity of faith.

While in Hebron, I spent some time reflecting on the story of Abraham, and contemplating his influence on my life. It’s a mixed bag.

I have always been inspired by his courage to hear the call of God, to leave country, kin and father’s house. Abraham was the first to hear the voice of God.

But rereading his story this week find myself less impressed with Abraham and some of his behaviour, for example by selling his wife Sarah short, by calling her his sister in Egypt. Why? To make his life easier.

I can understand the incredulous laughter by Abraham and Sarah, when God promises them a son: I too would find that promise incredulous. But again am less impressed by his handling of his slave Hagar and son Ishmael. Banishing them into the wilderness.

And then again I am impressed by Abraham’s courage to barter with God that the righteous may live. In all this I’m not quite sure what to make of him. A bit of a saint. A bit of a sinner. 

And now comes the story of Abraham and Isaac full of unbearable tension and suspense. According to my Old Testament lecturer in Edinburgh, Hebrew storytelling at its best. 

And iton the basis of this story, the sacrifice of Isaac, that Abraham has come to be regarded as the “father of faith”. What are we to make of it? I’m really not so sure.

In his lectures on the Book of Genesis in the 16th century, Martin Luther praised Abraham for his uncritical obedience to God – for the “blind faith” exhibited by his refusal to question whether it was right to kill Isaac. 

In the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant took the opposite view, arguing that Abraham should have reasoned that such an evidently immoral command could not have come from God. For Luther, divine authority trumps any claim on behalf of reason or morality, whereas for Kant there can be nothing higher than the moral law.

In his book Fear and Trembling, the Danish theologian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard follows Kant in emphasising that Abraham’s decision is morally repugnant and rationally unintelligible. However, he also shows that one consequence of Kant’s view is that, if nothing is higher than human reason, then belief in God becomes dispensable. Unlike both Kant and Luther, Kierkegaard does not promote a particular judgment about Abraham, but rather presents his readers with a dilemma: • either Abraham is no better than a murderer, and there are no grounds for admiring him; or moral duties do not constitute the highest claim on the human being. Fear and Trembling does not resolve this dilemma, and perhaps for a religious person there is no entirely satisfactory way of resolving it. The dilemma is not unique to Abraham’s situation. By emphasising the difficulty of understanding Abraham’s response to the divine command, Kierkegaard emphasises the difficulty of faith itself. 

What I do see in this tricky passage is Abraham acting out of fear and awe of God, prepared to follow the inner voice of God, no matter the outcome. In this he moves beyond any human rationale, logic and ethics to faithful surrender. And perhaps this is why he is the father of faith. Trusting solely that God provides. Moving beyond a superficial commitment to radical loyalty. For Abraham, God is worth our all.

Is John Gibson correct? The terrible, unbearable tension and suspense of this chapter, shows Hebrew storytelling at its best. It bring us into a place where when facing our own moral and ethical dilemmas we are invited to consider more that reason, more than ethics, but listen out for the voice of God to help us discern our way.

Or are we merely glad to have read the story, wrestled with it, and moved on unscathed. 

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God that Christ welcomes us all into his family.

Sing.              Kumbayah my Lord, kumbayah

and remember your loved ones, and the people you are concerned for in the world

Make a commitment to your new truth of being thankful for each moment, each voice, each memory, each gift that comes our way.

Make an offering of your gifts and talents for the world and for the church

Closing song 

1. Your are before me, God, you are behind,

and over me you have spread out your hand;

such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too high to grasp, to great to understand.

2. Then from your Spirit where, God, shall I go,

and from your presence where, God, shall I fly?

If I ascend to heaven you are there,

and still are with me, if in hell I lie.

3. If I should take my flight into the dawn 

If I should dwell on ocean’s farthest shore,

your mights hand will rest upon me still,

and your right hand will guard me evermore.

4. If I should say, ‘Let darkness cover me,

and I shall hide within the veil of the night’,

surely the darkness is not dark to you,

the night is as the day, the darkness light.

5. Search me, O God, search me and know my heart,

try me, O God, my mind and spirit try;

keep me from any path that gives you pain,

and lead me in the everlasting way.

From Psalm 139

Closing responses

Look at your hands, see the touch and the tenderness, God’s own for the world

Look at you feet, see the path and the direction, God’s own for the world 

Look at you heart, see the fire and the love, God’s own for the world 

Look at the cross, see God’s son and our saviour

This is God’s world and we will serve God in it

Celtic blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand 

Fisherton Church Cleaning

On Monday 15th June, Regency Contract Cleaning of Ayr attended Fisherton Church to carry out a deep clean, using a fogging method: a mist that covers everything and dries sterilising everything. All those attending the church – once we re-open – should be able to have peace of mind that it will be virus-free.

The attached photographs show Malcolm and Andy of Regency kitted out for the cleaning.

Malcolm and Andy are not only employees of Regency, but also Elders in the Auld Kirk In Ayr. They have been carrying out cleaning of various churches in the Presbytery, free of charge. We are very grateful to them for attending to Fisherton.

Service from Ian Stirling for Sunday 21st June 2020 – “Sarah and Hagar”

Sunday 21st June 2020      Sarah and Hagar

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the closely connected story of Sarah and Hagar, found in Genesis 21:1-21. Two women with two radically different stories. In her old age Sarah learned to laugh with joy, because of the surprise of Isaacs birth. Whereas, in her youth, the slave Hagar finds herself in tears, banished from her home by Abraham, wandering in the wilderness, fearing for her life, and the life of her son Ishmael. God opens her eyes to see that God is still with her, and with her son.

The gospel text comes from Matthew 10:30, ‘even the hairs of your head are counted’.

And the image that inspires me this morning is this photograph of a pioneer woman caring for her children, with things on her mind. Wondering what the future will hold.

But first, let us spend a moment stilling our hearts, quietening our souls, and preparing ourselves to come into the presence of God. 

(Perhaps enjoy a cuppa in a comfy chair, or listen to a reflective piece of music, or watch the dawn, or listen to birdsong)

A time of stillness and silence

Spend ten minutes in silence

And be conscious of your breathing, inhale slowly, pause, and exhale. And welcome the spirit of life into your heart. Allow the spirit to inhabit body, mind and soul.

Then pray together

Jesus Christ, beckoning us and calling us to follow you, still our hearts and minds that we may be attentive, be courageous, be expectant, and be ready to follow you wherever you would have us go.

then say together the Lords Prayer

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy Name, 

thy kingdom come, 

thy will be done, 

on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread. 

And forgive us our debts

as we forgive our debtors

And lead us not into temptation, 

but deliver us from evil. 

For thine is the kingdom, 

and the power, and the glory, 

for ever and ever. Amen

A time of song

1. Lord, you have come to the seashore,

neither searching for

the rich nor the wise,

desiring only that I should follow.

O, Lord, with your eyes set upon me,

gently smiling, you have spoken my name;

all I longed for I have

found by the water,

at your side, I will seek other shores.

2. Lord, see my goods, my possessions;

in my boat you find no power, no wealth.

Will you accept, then,

my nets and labour?

3. Lord, take my hands and direct them.

Help me spend myself

in seeking the lost,

returning love for the love you gave me.

4. Lord, as I drift on the waters,

be the resting place

of my restless heart,

my life’s companion,

my friend and refuge.

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images – the season of Pentecost.

Red is the colour of Pentecost, burning flames, the uncontainable spirit, filling and releasing the faithful. Ecstatic, ‘standing out of ourselves’ – an out of body experience. New things happening. A church is born. Filling hearts with hope. The church is born in ecstasy when the boundaries of language and culture are transcended for all time, and all hear the good news in their own mother tongue. A day to remember.

Ecstasy is only part of the story … in the season after Pentecost, the colour is green. This represents growth. New life. The steady, slow, sure, patient, attentive and quiet growth in ordinary time. After the ecstatic high of Pentecost, the days seem unremarkable, yet in this ordinary time, faith is consolidated

Listen for the word of God

Each week spend some time reading, and re-reading the passage. This is your homework!

First time, ask yourself what words strike you, as new, or interesting. And underline them or circle them.

Second time, let your imagination fly and let your curiosity enjoy full reign, and ask yourself what does this passage make you think and feel and wonder

Third time, listen out and consider whether Jesus is saying anything to you in this passage, 

-perhaps about faith, or doubts, or trusting or faith.

Sarah and Isaac: Hagar and Ishmael

The Birth of Isaac      

1 THE LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. 

2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 

3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 

6 Now Sarah saidGod has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” 

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away 

8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 

11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 

12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 

14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 

17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink

20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Some portraits

“Through my portrait paintings of refugees I seek to convey that each of us are created in the image of God and equally valuable in His eyes, regardless of race, religion, economic circumstance or social status. Let us seek to keep the borders of our heart open to those who are different from us. This is essential if we are to overcome the distorted agendas of violence and extremism that seek to divide us.” 

Hannah Rose Thomas, from her speech in Scottish Parliament 13 June 2017

Hannah’s ‘Tears of Gold: Portraits of Yezidi, Rohingya and Nigerian Women’ collection, to highlight the double-vulnerability of women from religious minorities who are targeted both on account of their gender and religion.

Reflections

We best understand our story, our identity, our place in society, by listening to and valuing the individual stories of other people. People of difference. Who bring unexpected gifts and new insights into our lives, – if only we are courageous enough to welcome them in and are hospitable to people who may challenge our ways and assumptions.

During lockdown, amongst other losses, Ive missed my book club. A chance every month just to mingle with other book worms – to blether, to share ideas, to connect with one another. And of course to actually read, to enter into the amazing worlds that authors create for us. Believe it or not, it’s only relatively recently that I’ve taken to novels. And I just love the way they open up new horizons, and explore how we see the world, and how we relate to people, often so unlike ourselves.

So far, during the sabbath time of lockdown, I’ve enjoyed reading on my own ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ and The Beekeeper of Aleppo’.  Where the Crawdads Sing, tells the remarkable story of a ‘marsh girl’ who lives on the margins of society – solitary, reclusive, and yet so gifted, particularly in her deep connection to nature and the marshlands she inhabits. And the Beekeeper of Aleppo relates the story of refugees feeing war in Aleppo, Syria. Overcoming many traumas on their way to a new home in the UK. Both books explore what it means to face isolation, overcome hardships and what it feels like being on the margins of society. Both books illustrate how people of difference bring with them countless riches.

The 22nd of June is now, from 2018, known as Windrush Day, which marks and celebrates the impact of Caribbean culture in the UK. On 22 June 1948 several hundred people arrived from the a Caribbean on the HMS Empire Windrush to start a new life in Britain. Arriving full of hope it’s a sad reflection on our society that so many of these people experienced racism and discrimination- and its an on-going to challenge as is evidenced by the current Black Lives Matter campaign.

And prejudices still live on within churches! As illustrated by a story making the headlines this week.

A black trainee vicar was rejected for a job by church bosses who said his potential parishioners were “monochrome white working class”.

In an email sent in response to his application, Augustine Tanner-Ihm was told he “might feel uncomfortable” in the curacy role at the parish. The email said despite his “obvious gifts”, it was “not worth pursuing a conversation” about the vacancy in southern England. The Church of England has apologised.

Mr Tanner-Ihm, who is from Chicago and is a Reverend Seminarian in the United States, applied for a role as a curate at a church in the south of England. In response, he got an email saying: “We are not confident there is a sufficient ‘match’ between you and the particular requirements of that post. “The demographic of the parish is monochrome white working class, where you might feel uncomfortable.”

For me reading Where the Crawdads Sing, and The Beekeeper of Aleppo, have been a timely reminder of my own hidden prejudices and assumptions. And the tendency to align myself with like minded folk, rather than taking the courage to embrace difference, whether cultural, or sexual,  or faith, or social.

This week I managed to listen to a lecture from the University of Glasgow, during which Alison Phipps reflected on the work she does for UNESCO … integrating refugees in Scotland. Commenting on the ability of countries to welcome strangers, Alison Phipps, says’ many countries have a hospitality crisis rather than a refugee crisis. Alison argues that the issue is all about how we see others, like the ‘marsh-girl’ in Crawdads, or how we relate to difference, like the people who come from Syria, into the UK. 

As part of the lecture she invited Hannah Rose Thomas to speak of her art work. Hannah’s ‘Tears of Gold: Portraits of Yezidi, Rohingya and Nigerian Women’ collection, highlights the double-vulnerability of women from religious minorities who are targeted both on account of their gender and religion.

The questions raised for me, are about my sense of hospitality, and with my sense of with whom does God stand. God is surely not colour-blind. And about the divine image which resides in all people.

The bible is full of tricky passages. Texts that disturb us out of our complacency. And are not an easy read. Today’s story of Sarah and Hagar is one such passage.

At first glance, the passage is all about Sarah and Abraham. They are our focus. The wildest dreams theyd ever had hadnt been half wild enough. Cause even though they were well on in years, God brought laughter into their home by allowing Sarah to give birth to Isaac, the fulfilment of Gods promise to Abraham. Laughter and delight as barrenness is overcome.

What is more challenging though for me, in this time of self-scrutiny, is what happened to Hagar. The Egyptian slave who gave birth to Abram’s son, Ishmael, is seen as a threat to Sarah, and a threat to their understanding of Gods promise to Abram … so Hagar is banished along with Ishmael into the wilderness. Not much justice, or hospitality, or inclusion going on here. 

And yet read the passage more closely and you see that God is still very much with Hagar and Ishmael. And that God provides for them.

It’s as if this story challenges us about where we see God, – in places of power, winning and success, or along with the vulnerable and victims.

Life is not just about how we see people. The Windrush generation. The Beekeepers of Aleppo, or the Marsh-girl, It’s about how we read the bible. What lenses are we wearing when we read the story of Sarah and Hagar? As I delved deeper into this passage I came across this quote:

Delores Williams offers a black feminist reading of the story of Hagar, saying ‘she like many black women goes into the wide world to make a living for herself and her child, with only God by her side.

I am delighted by the story of God being faithful to Abraham and Sarah, that even in their old age and out of their barrenness, they bore a child: you can just imagine God saying to them, with a twinkle: I meant to give you a small surprise … Old people, as well as young, must have a little fun at times. If I have frightened you, I beg that you will forgive me all the same’. Yes I am ‘cock a hoop’ for them both.

But even more I am humbled by the story of God being faithful to Hagar and Ishmael, who though banished by Abraham, are still very much valued by God. And I am cautious lest I do not place value on other people’s lives … remembering after all that even after all of our lockdown haircuts, God counts the hairs on our heads. God loves us all, to the moon and back.

A close look at one of Hannah’s portraits and you notice that she has used gold leaf, to lavish value on the women refugees she has painted!

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God that Christ welcomes us all into his family.

Sing.              Kumbayah my Lord, kumbayah

and remember your loved ones, and the people you are concerned for in the world

Make a commitment to your new truth of being thankful for each moment, each voice, each memory, each gift that comes our way.

Make an offering of your gifts and talents for the world and for the church

Closing song 

1.

To God be the glory

Great things He has done

So loved He the world that He gave us His Son

Who yielded His life an atonement for sin

And opened the life-gate that all may go in

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord

Let the earth hear His voice

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord

Let the people rejoice

Come to the Father

Through Jesus the Son

Give Him the glory

Great things He has done

2. O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood

To every believer the promise of God

The vilest offender who truly believes

That moment from Jesus a pardon receives

3. Great things He has taught us, great things He has done

And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son

But purer, and higher, and greater will be

Our wonder, our worship, when Jesus we see

Closing responses

Look at your hands, see the touch and the tenderness, God’s own for the world

Look at you feet, see the path and the direction, God’s own for the world 

Look at you heart, see the fire and the love, God’s own for the world 

Look at the cross, see God’s son and our saviour

This is God’s world and we will serve God in it

Celtic blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand

Service from Ian Stirling for Sunday 14th June 2020 – “You will be a blessing”

Sunday 14th June 2020      You will be a blessing

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘you will be a blessing, the reading Genesis 12:1-9, and the text, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your parent’s house to the land I will show you … so Abram went, as God had told him’.

And the image that inspires me this morning is that of Louisa Jordan.

Sister Louisa Jordan, born in Glasgow’s Maryhill, served with great bravery and distinction in the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Serbia during World War 1. She is a person who has perhaps up until now been better remembered in Serbia than in Scotland. The new Nightingale hospital in Glasgow is named after her, and is a fitting tribute to her service and her courage.

But first, let us spend a moment stilling our hearts, quietening our souls, and preparing ourselves to come into the presence of God. 

(Perhaps enjoy a cuppa in a comfy chair, or listen to a reflective piece of music, or watch the dawn, or listen to birdsong)

A time of stillness and silence

Spend two minutes or ten minutes in silence

And be conscious of your breathing, inhale slowly, pause, and exhale. And welcome the spirit. Allow the spirit to inhabit body, mind and soul.

Then pray together

Jesus Christ, beckoning us and calling us to follow you, still our hearts and minds that we may be attentive, be courageous, be expectant, and be ready to follow you wherever you would have us go.

then say together the Lords Prayer

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy Name, 

thy kingdom come, 

thy will be done, 

on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread. 

And forgive us our debts

as we forgive our debtors

And lead us not into temptation, 

but deliver us from evil. 

For thine is the kingdom, 

and the power, and the glory, 

for ever and ever. Amen

A time of song

1. I, The Lord Of Sea And Sky,

I Have Heard My People Cry.

All Who Dwell In Dark And Sin,

My Hand Will Save.

I Who Made The Stars Of Night,

I Will Make Their Darkness Bright.

Who Will Bear My Light To Them?

Whom Shall I Send?

Here I Am Lord, Is It I, Lord?

I Have Heard You Calling In The Night.

I Will Go Lord, If You Lead Me.

I Will Hold Your People In My Heart.

2. I, The Lord Of Snow And Rain,

I Have Borne My People’s Pain.

I Have Wept For Love Of Them, They Turn Away.

I Will Break Their Hearts Of Stone,

Give Them Hearts For Love Alone.

I Will Speak My Word To Them

Whom Shall I Send?

3. I, The Lord Of Wind And Flame

I Will Tend The Poor And Lame.

I Will Set A Feast For Them,

My Hand Will Save

Finest Bread I Will Provide,

Till Their Hearts Be Satisfied.

I Will Give My Life To Them,

Whom Shall I Send?

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images – the season of Pentecost.

Red is the colour of Pentecost, burning flames, the uncontainable spirit, filling and releasing the faithful. Ecstatic, ‘standing out of ourselves’ – an out of body experience. New things happening. A church is born. Filling hearts with hope.

The church is born in ecstasy when the boundaries of language and culture are transcended for all time, and all hear the good news in their own mother tongue. A day to remember.

Ecstasy is only part of the story … in the season after Pentecost, the colour is green. This represents growth. New life. The steady, slow, sure, patient, attentive and quiet growth in ordinary time. After the ecstatic high of Pentecost, the days seem unremarkable, yet in this ordinary time, faith is consolidated

Listen for the word of God

Each week spend some time reading, and re-reading the passage. This is your homework!

First time, ask yourself what words strike you, as new, or interesting. And underline them or circle them.

Second time, let your imagination fly and let your curiosity enjoy full reign, and ask yourself what does this passage make you think and feel and wonder

Third time, listen out and consider whether Jesus is saying anything to you in this passage, 

-perhaps about faith, or doubts, or trusting or faith.

The Call of Abram      

1 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. 

2 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. 

3 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.” 

4 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. 5 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, 

6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 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. 8 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. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

An image to enjoy from a lovely new book called, The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse byCharlie Mackesy. 

In the introduction Charlie writes, ‘I hope this book encourages you perhaps, to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and for others. And to ask for help when you need it – which is always a brave thing to do.’ 

Now there’s something worth striving for, a little more kindness in the world.

Reflections

A few years ago Mandy and I walked the St Cuthbert way from Melrose Abbey to Lindisfarne on Holy Isle, just off the Northumbrian coast. We absolutely loved the adventure, walking along river banks, through woodlands, across the Cheviots, the aching bodies and blisters on our feet. And especially we remember walking bare foot across the sands on the last leg, just as you make your way to Lindisfarne, home of St Cuthbert and cuddy ducks. If you’ve ever been there you remember the wooden poles buried in the sand to serve as markers, to guide people across the estuary, especially if the tides are about to come in!

Wooden poles, waymarkers, signposts, crossroads … there are many twists and turns in all our lives, and depending on the call, depending on the voices summoning us, depending on which way we go, something new and surprising may happen.

RS Frost captures this in a poem, 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Reading over today’s passage from Genesis chapter 12 we are reminded of what is perhaps the most significant turning point in all of human history. When Abram heard and responded to the voice of God. Being so familiar with the story may mean we lose a sense of the cost to him of what he was letting go of – country, kindred, home. It’s hard to imagine us ever being in a similar situation.

And it’s hard to get to grips with what God promised – you will become a great nation, your name will be great, and you will be a blessing to all.

And sometimes we forget that this promise is to Abram, not a sprightly young man, and to Sarai his barren wife. Remarkable 

I remember this passage Genesis 12, being read at my selection school in Edinburgh and the impact it made on me. The question then as the question now is, ‘Do I have the courage to follow?’

All of us in one way or other hear a call to follow in faith, and this is not limited to work in the church … it may be a call to teach, or a call to inspire, or a call to care in hospitals, or a call to visit our vulnerable, or a call to sit with young men with suicide on their minds, or a call to provide a refuge from domestic abuse, or a call to create a home, or a call to run a business in our community to deliver an economic benefit to society, or a call to be a gardener … there are countless vocations and ways to serve.

A new name to me, here in Scotland during this current coronavirus crisis, is that of the nurse Louisa Jordan. Before the creation of the nightingale hospital in Glasgow I had never heard of her or her story. No longer is her life hidden in obscurity. Here is how Louisa was introduced to Scotland in early April:

‘The new NHS Scotland medical facility in Glasgow is called NHS Louisa Jordan. Sister Louisa Jordan, a First World War nurse who died of typhus on active service in Serbia in 1915 while providing much-needed care to an area of dire need as part of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Services. 

Born in Maryhill, Glasgow, Louisa Jordan signed up to the war effort in December 1914 while working as a Queen’s nurse in Buckhaven, Fife. She is commemorated on the Buckhaven War Memorial and at Wilton Church in Glasgow. The people of Serbia gather each year to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Sister Jordan and her colleagues.’

As I think about her sense of call to be a nurse, and the courage to face the risks that lay ahead of her, I think of others. Others who have a sense of call, of vocation,  of following Christ, of the call of Abraham. And I am so aware that the call may not be to something vast, but it may be to the smallest of all activities. This is why I particularly like the sentiment in Charlie Mackesy’s book when the boy just wants to grow up and be kind.

Arguably, one of the things lacking in society is kindness, and surely it doesn’t ask too much of us to show a little kindness. A former colleague in the world of health care, Professor John Swinton recently shared this story – and the hidden impact of a smile

A few years ago, I was in Atlanta attending the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability. The Institute meets every year in a different American city. It is made up of a broad range of people: people with disabilities, theologians, philosophers, professionals and other interested parties. We just come together to be together and to learn, together. 

One afternoon I was walking along the corridor of the conference hall and a woman came towards me in an electric wheelchair. She called me over. “I owe you something” she said. “What’s that” I said? “Money, I hope!” She began to cry. I stood with her for a few moments. Eventually she said “Three years ago at the conference in Chicago I was feeling like killing myself. Indeed, I was on my way to do it when I met you. You smiled at me. I decided not to.”  I was stunned. There is a tremendous power in small gestures. A smile can save a life; a touch can shift a soul. We can change the world through the small things that we do. 

Today we can change the world with a smile, an apology, a peaceful gesture, a letter. We can change the world by the way we are with our family, the way we love our friends, by remembering our neighbour who is alone and isolated. How we are with those whom we love and those whom we struggle to love can bring about beautiful changes. In order to do that we need to make ourselves vulnerable and sometimes that can be painful and difficult. But nothing good comes easily. The power of God is revealed in the small and foolish things of this world. Noticing such small things can seem, well … foolish. But small gestures have great power. 

Louisa’s call was to Serbia, Abraham’s call was to become a blessing, the boy’s call in Charlie’s book is to become kind, I wonder to where and to what you are being called?

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God that Christ prepares a road for us to follow.

Sing.              Kumbayah my Lord, kumbayah

and remember your loved ones, and the people you are concerned for in the world

Make a commitment to your new truth of being thankful for each moment, each voice, each memory, each gift that comes our way.

Make an offering of your gifts and talents for the world and for the church

Closing song 

1. Will You Come And Follow Me

If I But Call Your Name?

Will You Go Where You Don’t Know

And Never Be The Same?

Will You Let My Love Be Shown,

Will You Let My Name Be Known,

Will You Let My Life Be Grown

In You And You In Me?

2. Will You Leave Yourself Behind

If I But Call Your Name?

Will You Care For Cruel And Kind

And Never Be The Same?

Will You Risk The Hostile Stare

Should Your Life Attract Or Scare?

Will You Let Me Answer Prayer

In You And You In Me?

3. Will You Let The Blinded See

If I But Call Your Name?

Will You Set The Prisoners Free

And Never Be The Same?

Will You Kiss The Leper Clean,

And Do Such As This Unseen,

And Admit To What I Mean

In You And You In Me?

4. Will You Love The ‘You’ You Hide

If I But Call Your Name?

Will You Quell The Fear Inside

And Never Be The Same?

Will You Use The Faith You’ve Found

To Reshape The World Around,

Through My Sight And Touch And Sound

In You And You In Me?

5. Lord, Your Summons Echoes True

When You But Call My Name.

Let Me Turn And Follow You

And Never Be The Same.

In Your Company I’ll Go

Where Your Love And Footsteps Show.

Thus I’ll Move And Live And Grow

In You And You In Me.

Closing responses

Look at your hands, see the touch and the tenderness, God’s own for the world

Look at you feet, see the path and the direction, God’s own for the world 

Look at you heart, see the fire and the love, God’s own for the world 

Look at the cross, see God’s son and our saviour

This is God’s world and we will serve God in it

Celtic blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Service from Ian Stirling for Sunday 7th June 2020 – “And it was Good

Sunday 7th June.      The Creation        ‘and it was good

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘and it was good’, the reading which tells the story of creation from Genesis 1, and the text which humbles humanity and puts our lives into some perspective, ‘When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them’ Psalm 8:3-4. 

The image that inspires me today and encourages me to believe that I am within the circle of God’s care is Kenneth Noland’s ‘gift’.

O God eternal,

In your light I have seen how closely you have conformed your creatures to yourself.

I see that you have set us, as it were, in a circle

So that wherever we go

We are still within this circle

St Catherine of Sienna

Now, let us spend more time stilling our hearts, quietening our souls, and preparing ourselves to come into the presence of God. 

(Perhaps enjoy a cuppa in a comfy chair, or listen to a reflective piece of music, or watch the dawn, or listen to birdsong)

A time of stillness and silence

Spend two minutes or ten minutes in silence

And be conscious of your breathing, inhale slowly, pause, and exhale. And welcome the spirit. Allow the spirit to inhabit body, mind and soul.

Then pray together

God, there has been no time when You have not been creating; 

no space where You have not been imagining.

Before our earliest ancestors existed,

You were dreaming and designing what people could be.

We were born into the flow of Your creativity 

and breathe our every breath in Your company.

Come close to us,

come alive in us,

stir us like clouds caught by a summer breeze,

may we cling to You like sweet peas to a fence

and be as open to You as a blossoming sunflower to the sun.

then say together the Lords Prayer

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy Name, 

thy kingdom come, 

thy will be done, 

on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread. 

And forgive us our debts

as we forgive our debtors

And lead us not into temptation, 

but deliver us from evil. 

For thine is the kingdom, 

and the power, and the glory, 

for ever and ever. Amen

A time of song

1. O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder

Consider all The works Thy Hand hath made,

I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,

Thy pow’r throughout The universe displayed,

Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,

How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee,

How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

2. When through the woods And forest glades I wander

I hear the birds Sing sweetly in the trees,

When I look down From lofty mountain grandeur

And hear the brook And feel the gentle breeze,

3. When Christ shall come, With shouts of acclamation,

And take me home, What joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow In humble adoration

And there proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images – moving into the season of Pentecost.

Red is the colour of Pentecost, burning flames, the uncontainable spirit, filling and releasing the faithful. Ecstatic, ‘standing out of ourselves’ – an out of body experience. New things happening. A church is born. Filling hearts with hope.

The church is born in ecstasy when the boundaries of language and culture are transcended for all time, and all hear the good news in their own mother tongue. A day to remember.

Ecstasy is only part of the story … in the season after Pentecost, the colour is green. This represents growth. New life. The steady, slow, sure, patient, attentive and quiet growth in ordinary time. After the ecstatic high of Pentecost, the days seem unremarkable, yet in this ordinary time, faith is consolidated

Listen for the word of God

Each week spend some time reading, and re-reading the passage. This is your homework!

First time, ask yourself what words strike you, as new, or interesting. And underline them or circle them.

Second time, let your imagination fly and let your curiosity enjoy full reign, and ask yourself what does this passage make you think and feel and wonder

Third time, listen out and consider whether Jesus is saying anything to you in this passage, 

-perhaps about faith, or doubts, or trusting or faith.

Genesis 1. Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath      

1 IN THE beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind [3] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, [4] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind [5] in his image, in the image of God he created them; [6] male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day

Genesis 2.1 THUS the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

A song to enjoy if you can access it is Louis Armstrong what a wonderful world

Reflections

In my early days as a minister, in Stirling presbytery, I was on the lookout for some new faces to take responsibility for leadership in the Kirk. Never an easy task, and never something that people readily rise up to do. So with some trepidation I called round at a farm. After some idle chit-chat with the local farmer I became big and brave and asked him whether he could see a way of becoming an elder in the Kirk. He turned to me, bent down, picked up some soil in his hands, and rubbed the dark organic fragments between his fingers. Well Ian, Im dont have any fancy ways with God talk, or church folk, but whenever I handle the soil, I know where life is, and I know where I belong. I stood still, somewhat stunned – here were words of wisdom and faith more powerful than I’d ever heard in a pulpit.

Today my hope is that in the words, stories and reflections I handle, we can simply appreciate where life is, and where we belong, and know it to be good. St Catherine of Sienna, describes this sense of repose and peacefulness as being within the circle of God’s light.

O God eternal,

In your light I have seen how closely you have conformed your creatures to yourself.

I see that you have set us, as it were, in a circle

So that wherever we go

We are still within this circle

St Catherine of Sienna

But returning to soil, and story, surely the most powerful stories across all cultures are the creation myths. The stories that locate us.

Pádraig O Tuama, is a poet and theologian, who has his own podcast, ‘on being’. This week he was commissioned to do a series of reflections for St Paul’s church, London. His focus is the garden of Eden. This is what he wrote on Monday:

The Garden of Eden has captured the imaginations of artists for centuries. 

The writers of Genesis tell us these were the days when Giants walked the earth and the Stars Sang Together for Glory. Such a strange thing, this garden, tucked away in a place called Between Two Rivers. The word Eden can be translated as Paradise, or Delight.

 The story of Eden is narrated from the second to the fourth chapters of the Book of Genesis. Who is the narrator? We don’t know. What did they do? Well, they certainly wrote. But they also farmed. 

 Everett Fox has a magnificent translation of the Book of Genesis and in his hands, the agricultural insight of the poets is evident. In the garden there are trees — desirable to look at and good to eat — and a river, to water the garden, a river that divides and turns into four tributaries. The poet of Eden describes gold and precious stones – bdellium and carnelian. The soil of Eden  — the Hebrew word for soil is adamah’ — is the source of all things that live, and from this soil come animals, and trees and every growing thing that grows.

 In the anxieties of fundamentalisms and literalism, something of Eden is lost: the poet of Eden was fascinated by soil and even named the first being after the soil. Soil, on earth anyway, contains mineral and organic matter. It’s not known what the soil-like-substance (called the regolith) on other planets and moons contains. From soil comes life, in the imagination of Eden. From soil sprang an Adam, an Earth-Man. Remember you are soil, and to soil you will return. The poets are also interested in genus and species. Herd animals and the fowls of the heavens were brought to the Earth-Man, and he named them all.

In this we see that farmers have always been involved in the names for things. To know the names for things might mean that you know whether it will work with you, or for you, whether you can eat it, or whether it might eat you. Knowing the names of things gives power. Sometimes that power can be used for good.

There is much to name in these strange times of viruses. What do you name? What is the Eden around you?

Reading over Padraig’s words, I’m struck by the connection between humanity and the soil, which the Hebrews captured beautifully in their language, ‘adamah’. The garden of Eden earths the connection between humanity and creation, and the fact that we all belong to an amazing universe, with the sacred silence that is God holding us safe. This connection is the foundation of faith. And it humbles me.

And of course the word humble, derives from humus, which means soil.

Much weight is given to the words and behaviours of the powerful in society. And sometimes the attention is deserved, but sometimes too it is the humble poor who are closest to God. 

One of Pádraig’s podcasts introduces the peasant poet Patrick Kavanagh, who upset the literati of Dublin when he arrived on the scene. They dismissed him because of his humble background amongst the farms and bogs of Ireland. However towards the end of his life, he came up with a beautiful poem which speaks of God ‘breathing his love, in a cut-away bog’.

The One” by Patrick Kavanagh

“Green, blue, yellow and red-

God is down in the swamps and marshes

Sensational as April and almost incred-

ible the flowering of our catharsis.

A humble scene in a backward place

Where no one important ever looked

The raving flowers looked up in the face

Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked

The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,

A violent wild iris- but mostly anonymous performers

Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet

Prepared to inform the local farmers

That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God

Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

Where is our home? 

Where does God breathe his love?

Surely in the ordinary places of our birth and humble beginnings.

As once Jesus entered our world in a humble stable, unnoticed, incognito.

The older I get, the more I long for home, for my spiritual home. It may be here in Ayrshire. But it may also be anywhere in God’s beautiful world. I’m last illustration comes from the home of AfroAmerica, where James Weldon Johnson has penned a stunning poem, capturing the intimacy of God’s creative hand, 

This great God,

Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,

And man became a living soul.

It’s worth reading in full. Enjoy. And enjoy the wonderful world we live in.

James Weldon Johnson’s ‘The Creation’, 

And God stepped out on space,

And he looked around and said:

I’m lonely—

I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see

Darkness covered everything,

Blacker than a hundred midnights

Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,

And the light broke,

And the darkness rolled up on one side,

And the light stood shining on the other,

And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,

And God rolled the light around in his hands

Until he made the sun;

And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.

And the light that was left from making the sun

God gathered it up in a shining ball

And flung it against the darkness,

Spangling the night with the moon and stars.

Then down between

The darkness and the light

He hurled the world;

And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down—

And the sun was on his right hand,

And the moon was on his left;

The stars were clustered about his head,

And the earth was under his feet.

And God walked, and where he trod

His footsteps hollowed the valleys out

And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw

That the earth was hot and barren.

So God stepped over to the edge of the world

And he spat out the seven seas—

He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—

He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—

And the waters above the earth came down,

The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,

And the little red flowers blossomed,

The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,

And the oak spread out his arms,

The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,

And the rivers ran down to the sea;

And God smiled again,

And the rainbow appeared,

And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand

Over the sea and over the land,

And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!

And quicker than God could drop his hand,

Fishes and fowls

And beasts and birds

Swam the rivers and the seas,

Roamed the forests and the woods,

And split the air with their wings.

And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,

And God looked around

On all that he had made.

He looked at his sun,

And he looked at his moon,

And he looked at his little stars;

He looked on his world

With all its living things,

And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down—

On the side of a hill where he could think;

By a deep, wide river he sat down;

With his head in his hands,

God thought and thought,

Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river

God scooped the clay;

And by the bank of the river

He kneeled him down;

And there the great God Almighty

Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,

Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,

Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;

This great God,

Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,

And man became a living soul.

Amen.      Amen

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God for the wonders and delights of our universe.

Sing.              Kumbayah my Lord, kumbayah

and remember your loved ones, and the people you are concerned for in the world

Make a commitment to your new truth of being thankful for each moment, each voice, each memory, each gift that comes our way.

Make an offering of your gifts and talents for the world and for the church

Closing song 

1. Morning has broken like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken like the first bird

Praise for the singing Praise for the morning

Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

2. Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven

Like the first dew fall on the first grass

Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden

Sprung in completeness where His feet pass

3. Mine is the sunlight Mine is the morning

Born of the One Light Eden saw play

Praise with elation, praise every morning

God’s recreation of the new day

4. Morning has broken like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken like the first bird

Praise for the singing Praise for the morning

Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

Closing responses

Look at your hands, see the touch and the tenderness, God’s own for the world

Look at you feet, see the path and the direction, God’s own for the world 

Look at you heart, see the fire and the love, God’s own for the world 

Look at the cross, see God’s son and our saviour

This is God’s world and we will serve God in it

Celtic blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.