Previous posts May 2020

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

Sunday 31st May 10-10.30am – Pentecost – streamed on the Church of Scotland website and Facebook

The Moderator will lead a service to mark the birthday of the Christian Church with contributions from many different places. Like the disciples on that first Pentecost here is the invitation to step confidently into whatever the future holds.  We would like to invite you to make this the service for your congregation on that Sunday so that as much of the Church of Scotland as possible will be gathered in fellowship and praise.

Service from Ian Stirling for Pentecost – 31st May 2020 – “Filled with the Spirit”

Sunday 31st May.      Pentecost      ‘filled with the spirit

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘filled with the spirit’; the reading is from Acts 2:1-21, which tells of the spirit descending like fire on the disciples, and the text from Joel is God’s promise: ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ Joel 2:28.

The image that inspires me this week is the wild goose.

Within Celtic Christianity the wild goose is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. And if you are ever on the Scottish Islands, you are bound to see the geese flying low over the water, making their way from one island to another. There is no limit to where they go. Beyond control.

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

Exuberant Spirit of God, 

flame, wind, speech

Burn, breathe, speak

Fill us anew with dreams and visions

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. Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that thou art –

Thou my best thought, by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

2. Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;

I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.

Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,

Thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

3. Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;

Be thou my dignity, thou my delight,

Thou my soul’s shelter, and thou my high tower;

Raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power 

4. Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise;

Thou mine inheritance, now and always;

Thou and thou only first in my heart,

High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

5. High King of heaven, my victory won,

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

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.

Acts 2:1-21.  The Coming of the Holy Spirit      

1 WHEN the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 

2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 

12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 

Peter Addresses the Crowd 

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 

16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

An image to enjoy

This painting by Oscar Howe is of the Ghost Dancers. After years of displacement and oppression at the hands of white settlers, Indians of the North American West, in their ghost dance are moved by visions and spiritual hope of the restoration of their land and the return of the buffalo. Their red coats are depicted as being flames to express their passion.

Reflections

One of my favourite places to visit in Scotland is Dunadd Fort, in mid Argyll. Dunadd is an ancient monument, the heart of the kingdom of Dalriadda, where for centuries the kings of Scotland were anointed, by placing their foot into a worn mark in a stone. Clambering up the hill towards the fort you look across the vast Crinan Moss, now home to beavers, and up on top, the wind from the west carries you away. You feel it’s force. Some days you can barely stand it is so strong. And I always enjoy leaning in.

One of my favourite pastimes is to simply light a fire. There is something enduring about gathering dry kindling, breaking twigs, taking a match to paper, and watching as the fire takes hold. Then gradually building up the heart of the fire so that by the time the sun sinks and the stars emerge above you, the embers are a burning glow of intense heat. You feel the burn on your hands held out for warmth. The fire so hot that it lasts til the morning light.

Pentecost is a day of wind and fire. The disciples gathered together in hiding. A violent wind breaks in, tongues of fire touch their heads and the spirit arrives.

In current times it may feel as if we are like them the disciples, gathered, waiting for the spirit to fill us, to renew our sense of identity and vision. And I can only imagine what it must have been like for them in their time of waiting, leaderless, perhaps feeling at the end of their tether. Not sure which way to go.

The spirit arrives in their time of need

One of my favourite stories in the Old Testament is of Elijah, who on the run, and despairing of life finds himself on the mountain of Horeb with the Lord:

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

And yet another favourite passage, this time from Joel, 

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

This again speaks of the impact of the spirit – people have dreams and visions.

So a pattern is emerging here: for Elijah, Joel, and the disciples at Pentecost.

In our times of need, when like Elijah we may feel at the end of our tether, or when living in times of Joel, when God seems to have abandoned the nation, or when like the disciples, cowering away and leaderless, we are longing for renewal.

In our time of need the spirit comes just like the wild geese across the Scottish landscape, bringing energy, vision, healing and direction.

The day of Pentecost is the day of new beginnings. It is the spirit, that is beyond our control that beckons us on.

Our task is to wait in hope, and be prepared to follow its prompting with courage.

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God for the spirit which fills us with ecstasy, and which enables slow and sure growth into the same likeness as Christ.

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. Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire, 

let us thine influence prove: 

Source of the old prophetic fire, 

Fountain of life and love.

2. Come, Holy Ghost, for moved by thee 

the prophets wrote and spoke; 

unlock the truth, thyself the key, 

unseal the sacred book.

3. Expand thy wings, celestial Dove, 

brood o’er our nature’s night; 

on our disordered spirits move, 

and let there now be light.

4. God, through himself, we then shall know 

if thou within us shine, 

and sound with all thy saints below, 

the depths of love divine.

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 24th May 2020 – “Steadfast in Faith”

Sunday 24th May. steadfast in faith

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘steadfast in faith’, the reading from John’s gospel shows Jesus praying for the protection for his followers, and the text to focus on is, ‘Cast all your anxieties on God, because God cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7

An image that inspires me this week is ‘The great wave off Kanagawa’, by Japanese artist Hokusai.
Gazing at the boats in the water, so vulnerable, so perilous, so under threat from the great wave, makes me think not only of the anxieties and fears facing the oarsmen, and not only of their courage, but the metaphor that the painting points to, of our lives as being lived on ocean waves when many a time storms surround us. And whenever a storm closes in, how we long for protection: from whatever assails us.

Here is a prayer by St Francis of Assisi, which may be helpful in such times:
You are our protector,
You are our guardian and defender.
You are courage.
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith.
Our great consolation
You are our eternal life
Great and wonderful Lord,
God Almighty.
Merciful Saviour.

But first, let us spend a moment this morning stilling our hearts, quietening our souls, and preparing ourselves to come into the presence of God and trusting that if we cast our anxieties on God, God will strengthen us.
(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, the Lord of the night and the day, ready to listen out to us as we cast our cares and anxieties on you
we listen to your voice, we trust that you lead us safely through the storms of life.
then say together the Lord’s 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 Eternal Father, strong to save,
whose arm restrains the restless wave,
who told the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed bounds to keep:
we cry, O God of majesty,
for those in peril on the sea.

2 O Christ, whose voice the waters heard
and hushed their raging at your word,
who walked across the surging deep
and in the storm lay calm in sleep:
we cry, O Lord of Galilee,
for those in peril on the sea.

3 Creator Spirit, by whose breath
were fashioned sea and sky and earth;
who made the stormy chaos cease
and gave us life and light and peace:
we cry, O Spirit strong and free,
for those in peril on the sea.

4 O Trinity of love and power,
preserve their lives in danger’s hour;
from rock and tempest, flood and flame,
protect them by your holy name,
and to your glory let there be
glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images
During the fifty days after Easter Christians tell and retell stories of Jesus’ first followers who encountered him against all hope – amidst doubt, fear, uncertainty and longing for the breaking in of the new kingdom.
This season is a time to learn again what matters in our faith.
And to recognise the risen Jesus, where ever he is to be found.
So it’s a time for imagination and to open our eyes to see clearly the traces of sacredness in all our lives, and in the life of the world.

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.

Jesus Prays for protection for the disciples John 17: 1-11.

1 AFTER Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Another seascape to enjoy – Breakers at Croy Shore, Ayrshire.
Reflections
Cast your anxieties on God, because God cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Are you a lark?
Or are you an owl?
Do you wake up at the crack of dawn? – beckoned to a new day by bird song?
Or do you light the candle at midnight and find solace in the silences?
Nothing beats a midnight walk in full moonlight.
Nothing beats the waking hour before dawn.

One of the most beautiful lilting songs is ‘Thank you for the night’ by John Bell of the Wild Goose Worship Group, from Iona. In this reflective song, night is welcomed as a locus of rest and sleep. God is found in the silences and sounds of the night. Darkness cannot contain or hide words of life, and Christ is present in darkness as well as light. Lovely sentiments. This is a very positive spin on the benefits of night, – quietness, darkness and deep sleep. However the landscape of night is not always welcomed.

This is mental health awareness week. And brings to mind many people who are burdened by anxiety, depression or grief. Real hard experiences that hang like a dark cloud, a black dog. It is often in the solitude of night that worst fears emerge to haunt and trouble us. And if you are facing difficult decisions, they often spin around your head at night and disturb your sleep. A close friend recently shared with me the reality that losing a nights sleep is his first red flag, or warning that there is something not so good happening in his life. Listen to the moods of the night.

Similarly it is in the quiet hours of the night that you find yourself ‘casting your anxieties and cares on the Lord.’ These may overwhelm, or what is the dark night of the soul, might be a radical new appreciation of the presence of God. Sometimes when people are at their lowest and have lost the capacity for speech or prayer … it is precisely then that the sacred breaks in.

I have often sung ‘Thank you for the night’, during Holy Week, particularly remembering Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane, and wondered whether the darkness was solace or threat to him?

And turning to the theme of today of being steadfast in faith – I wonder whether being steadfast in faith, means being able to sense the presence of God both in the shadows and in the sharp light of day.

What is the nature of steadfastness? To me, the imagery around steadfast leadership revolves around steering a ship in the storm, being a strong helmsman, leaning in to the wind, discovering a path through the entangled woods, showing a way in times of uncertainty for others following.
So is steadfastness a character of both light and dark?

A few years ago, through the auspices of the Scottish Churches China Group, a Chinese doctor came over to visit and stay with me in Scotland. One of her gifts to me was the insight that the familiar yin-yang symbol, the circle filled with black and white curves, was more subtle than I had imagined. First the symbol is never static, it’s on the move, spinning endlessly. Second, there is a black speck against the white background, and a white speck in the dark. This symbolises the reality that darkness intrudes light, and the hope of light, is ever present in the darkness.

The psalms are full of comfort and consolation. And one of my favourites, in the King James Version reads like this:
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life:
weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Psalm 30, 5.

And here is a prayer from New Zealand

It is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
What has not been done has not been done;
Let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
Rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us.
All dear to us,
And all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
New joys,
New possibilities.

Night Prayer in a NZ prayer book

In the farewell discourses in the gospel of John 17, Jesus prays for the protection of his followers. I am sure it’s Christ protecting St Patrick as he set sail in his coracle. Christ is his shield and breastplate, and Christ the inspiration to St Patrick of Ireland. May Patrick’s prayer be ours as we too set sail at first tide, or through the night.

May the strength of God pilot us
May the power of God preserve us
May the wisdom of God instruct us
May the hand of God protect us
May the way of God direct us
May the shield of God defend us
May the host of God guard us against the snares of evil and the temptations of the world
May Christ be with us, Christ before us, Christ in us, Christ over us
May thy salvation, O Lord, be always ours this day and for evermore.

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God that even in the storms of life we are not alone, but are watched over and protected.

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 Will Your Anchor Hold

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

It is safely moored, ’twill the storm withstand,
For ’tis well secured by the Saviour’s hand;
And the cables passed from His heart to mine,
Can defy the blast, through strength divine.

It will firmly hold in the straits of fear,
When the breakers have told the reef is near;
Though the tempest rave and the wild winds blow,
Not an angry wave shall our bark o’erflow.

It will surely hold in the floods of death,
When the waters cold chill our latest breath;
On the rising tide it can never fail,
While our hopes abide within the veil.

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 by Ian Stirling for Sunday 17th May 2020 – “Because I live, you live”

Sunday 17th May       Because I live, you live

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘because I live, you live’, and the text 

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live’ John 14:19

And my focus is on how the spirit ensures us that we are not orphans, abandoned by Christ, and the spirit enables us to live fully, in the flow and perhaps even dance, like the dancers in a Picasso or Degas or Matisse painting.

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

And today I invite you to welcome the spirit into you heart, mind and soul. For it is the invisible spirit that is the go-between god. Like a fire kindling faith, like the wind blowing away the cobwebs, like the waters flowing refreshing, the spirit connects the living creator God with the human Jesus, who embodies the divine spark. The spirit enables us to join in the dance of life.

(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, the Lord of the dance.

we listen to your voice, we trust that you lead us by the hand, into the dance.

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

I danced in the morning

When the world was begun,

And I danced in the moon

And the stars and the sun,

And I came down from heaven

And I danced on the earth,

At Bethlehem

I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,

And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he

I danced for the scribe

And the pharisee,

But they would not dance 

And they wouldn’t follow me.

I danced for the fishermen,

For James and John 

They came with me

And the Dance went on.

I danced on the Sabbath

And I cured the lame;

The holy people

Said it was a shame.

They whipped and they stripped

And they hung me on high,

And they left me there

On a Cross to die.

I danced on a Friday

When the sky turned black 

It’s hard to dance

With the devil on your back.

They buried my body

And they thought I’d gone,

But I am the Dance,

And I still go on.

They cut me down

And I leapt up high;

I am the life

That’ll never, never die;

I’ll live in you

If you’ll live in me –

I am the Lord

Of the Dance, said he.

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images

During the fifty days after Easter Christians tell and retell stories of Jesus’ first followers who encountered him against all hope – amidst doubt, fear, uncertainty and longing for the breaking in of the new kingdom.

This season is a time to learn again what matters in our faith.

And to recognise the risen Jesus, where ever he is to be found.

So it’s a time for imagination and to open our eyes to see clearly the traces of sacredness in all our lives, and in the life of the world.

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.

Because I live, you live              John 14

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 

17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 

19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 

20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

An image to enjoy

This painting of Anna Pavlova, which hangs in the Kelvingrove museum is one of my favourite paintings of all time. Quite simply because she seems to be completely immersed in her own world. There is a timelessness, serenity and ecstasy that can only come out of being completely carried by the flow and energy of dance. It’s just beautiful.

Reflections

Mihaly Csikszentmhalyi is fascinated by the secret of happiness. He has spent a lifetime asking, “What makes life worth living?” And for him it’s not just material wealth because the evidence shows that after achieving a certain level of comfort, added extras don’t buy more happiness. Rather he says the secret of happiness is being caught up in the flow of life.

He backs this view by referring to creative people, artists, poets, musicians, craftsmen, gardeners, who get lost in the moment.

He backs this view by pointing to the innovators in business who are caught up in their passion and energy, lost in their designs and inventions.

He backs this view by watching elite athletes, runners, ice-skaters, tennis players, who are so focussed in their sport that in the perfect run, or strike of the ball, or movement that they almost are existing out of ordinary time and space.

He quotes a composer, who says “you are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and again. My hand seems devoid of myself and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment, and the music just flows out of itself.”

And again a poet, “It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it. You can’t particularly force yourself through it. You just have to float. If there’s a gravitational pull it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door.”

The secret of happiness is being immersed in the flow of life.

I wonder whether this is an expression of what it means to live in the spirit. 

The section of Johns gospel we have read today is located in what’s called the farewell discourses. The place where Jesus is saying farewell to his closest friends, and preparing them for life without him by their sides. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to feel like orphans or abandoned.

In one of the books I’m currently reading is Confabulations by John Berger. One of his essays, called ‘impertinence’ explores his childhood in order to appreciate how he became the man he is. And he writes, ‘For as long back as I can remember I have had the sensation of being a kind of orphan … looked after by a governess, sent to boarding school, living independently in London, learning self-sufficiency and a star which belongs to no constellation.’

In the farewell discourses Jesus is at pains to ensure that his friends do not feel like orphans, or feel abandoned when he leaves them, and disappears from sight. What Jesus offers is the lively presence of an advocate, the spirit, who will be with them forever.

It is the same spirit which moves amongst us now, bringing life, energy, compassion, fire. And it is the same spirit which as we welcome it into our lives enables us to live in the flow, whether we are dancers like Anna Pavlova, or artists like Van Gogh, or athletes like Eric Liddell.

God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” 

― Eric Liddell

If we step back for a moment, and make time to ask ourselves the core spiritual questions of “where matters? what matters?, who matters?” then at this time and in this moment for me my answer is to align myself with the flow of life, to allow the spirit to fill me so that with freedom and no sense of inhibition I can live life to the full, and when no one is watching, dance away the nights and days.

The promise of the spirit ensures us that the living Christ forever lives in us.

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God for that because Christ lives, we too live.

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 

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

And what a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit

Oh, what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged

Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness

Take it to the Lord in prayer

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.

Heart and Soul 2020 – Sunday, 17th May – 2.00pm – 4.20pm

As noted above, there will be a very special service to install Rev Dr Martin Fair as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on Saturday 16th May at 11am. This will be a very special moment in the history of our Church, and will also be an event where we can be assured of hope and inspiration in these challenging times.

We’re delighted to announce, as part of that ‘Big Weekend’ for the Church of Scotland, a special ‘Heart and Soul 2020′ event will take place (online) on 17th May 2020. The current crisis has meant that the original event, scheduled to have taken place in Princes Street Gardens on that day, has had to be cancelled.

However, a number of features from the event in Princes Street Gardens can be transferred into an online format, and we’re going to screen an abridged ‘Heart and Soul’ at 2.00pm on 17th May – when the original event would have taken place. The programme will run until about 4.20pm. A recording of the event will be available soon afterwards. You will be able to watch the event live on the Church of Scotland website (www.churchofscotland.org.uk) and live on the Facebook page (fb.me/churchofscotland).

Hosted by our usual presenters, Rev Ken Froude, Seonaid Knox and Rev Justin Taylor, the event begins with a replay of the service of installation for the new Moderator, Rev Martin Fair. Without giving too much away, the event features a mix of worship, music, stories and some exciting ‘In Conversation’ guests.

Heart and Soul regulars ‘Fischy Music’ will lead a special segment for all ages, and we hope that you’ll join in all the actions from home! Spread throughout the afternoon will be some very special conversations: Hugh Pym will be in conversation with Prof Jason Leitch and Viv Dickenson from CrossReach, discussing how they have all been tackling Coronavirus and also how their own faith has helped them. Very Rev Susan Brown will be in conversation with Ross Greer MSP and Tara Shannon from CoSY discussing climate justice. Prison Chaplain Anne Stewart will be in conversation with Hospital Chaplain Mark Evans talking about chaplaincy as a career and the impact of Coronavirus in their places of work.

No Heart and Soul would be complete without some hearty singing, and we’ve chosen some highlights from the archive over the last ten years of Heart and Soul, the Guild Big Sing and the General Assembly to round things off.

These are difficult times for many in our Church and communities. We hope and pray that ‘Heart and Soul’ might be a place where people can see that the Church of Scotland is still active, still open and providing hope for our nation. I hope you can help us publicise, and join us, during our very special ‘Big Weekend’.

Saturday 16th May 11am – live on the Church of Scotland website and Facebook

Rev Dr Martin Fair will be installed as Moderator of the General Assembly. The ceremony will take place in the Assembly Hall with only a few people physically present because of the covid restrictions but followed by thousands of people across Scotland and across the world. The service will be captioned and there will be the option of BSL interpretation. Join us for an historic occasion and a clear statement that the Church is alive and active in these difficult days.

Service by Ian Stirling for Sunday 10th May 2020 – “God’s Own People”

Sunday 10th May       Gods own people

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘Gods own people’, and the text 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Gods own people … called into Gods marvellous light.’ 1 Peter 2:9.

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

And today I invite you to ponder what it means for you to belong to the church, an organisation that is so baffling, broken and vulnerable, yet a gathering of people who are living radical, generous and caring lifestyles. What does it mean to you to be God’s own people?

(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 belonging to the church of Christ.

Then pray together

Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

we listen to your voice, we trust that you lead us safely into your future.

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. Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

Most blessèd, most glorious, the ancient of days,

Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise. 

2. Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,

Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;

Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above

Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love. 

3. To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;

In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;

We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,

And wither and perish-but naught changeth Thee. 

4. Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,

Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;

But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart

Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart. 

5. All laud we would render; O help us to see

‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee,

And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,

Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart. 

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images

During the fifty days after Easter Christians tell and retell stories of Jesus’ first followers who encountered him against all hope – amidst doubt, fear, uncertainty and longing for the breaking in of the new kingdom.

This season is a time to learn again what matters in our faith.

And to recognise the risen Jesus, where ever he is to be found.

So it’s a time for imagination and to open our eyes to see clearly the traces of sacredness in all our lives, and in the life of the world.

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.

Gods own people.              1 Peter 2

1 RID yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Jesus the Way to the Father      John 14

1 “DO NOT let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 

2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know [119] my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 

9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 

12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Here is a local scene, a path, at Auchincruive, just by the river Ayr, that reminds me of the journey we are all on. From darkness and shadows into light. A shared journey as Gods own people. Following Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.

Reflections

What does it mean to be Gods own people? Certainly at this time there are challenges facing the church. We are wrestling with our identity. We are reimagining our future. While there a widespread sense of isolation and distancing, what I also notice is a deepening sense of community. I also see us slowing down, breathing more deeply, and reconnecting with the natural cycles of life, and with what really matters in life.

Looking back on the story of the early church – It’s incredibly hard to imagine what it took for the disciples to shift from being a somewhat scared, small group into being God’s own people, – fiercely alive, intentionally caring, and enjoying an inner clarity about the way to go. I can only think that what changed for them is the ‘burning-bush like’ statement by Jesus, I am the way … and the clear statement by Peter that they are God’s own people. When facing uncertainties and unknowns a clarion call is helpful.

The clarion call I would like to share is that being small, or vulnerable or weak or facing unknowns  is not a problem for the church, because it is precisely at these times that great things can happen. 

Sometimes it only takes a single voice, or a single act of courage to inspire a generation, such as what happened in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus. Her simple deed of power gave birth to the historic 381-day bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, which for many marks the beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States.

When he saw that I was still remaining in the seat, the bus driver said “if you don’t stand up, I’m going to call the police and have you arrested.” 

I said, “You may do that.”

Two policemen came and wanted to know what was the trouble.

One said, “Why don’t you stand up?”

I said, “I don’t think I should have to.”

At that point I asked the policemen, “Why do you push us around? He said, “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

Whitney Rice is an Episcopalian priest in the United States who has a website called roofcrashers and hemgrabbers” In one of her sermons she laments those times in history when the  church has been powerful, because so often being powerful led to scandal and oppression such as in the Inquisition, or the destruction of indigenous communities. Rather she celebrates the times when the church is small and vulnerable. Times when the people are more reliant on Gods strength and guidance. She says, 

Jesus doesn’t liken the kingdom of heaven to an elephant or a whale or a mountain.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” he says, “the smallest of all the seeds.”

It is like a minuscule pinch of yeast mixed in with three measures of flour, he says.

It is like a tiny pearl in a huge marketplace, he says.

It is like a small, dusty old box buried in a giant field.

Does that sound like a Jesus who is disappointed that we are not huge and growing and powerful?

the church was on fire in those days.

That mustard seed church started by the disciples, a bunch of failures and screw-ups for sure, was so alive with love and passion for God that they were literally willing to die for it.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of—small, weak, poor, full of people who are not afraid to fail because they’ve failed so many times before and seen how hard God loves them.

They love God with all their strength because they’ve seen God love them with all God’s strength.

This past week on my exercise walk I have managed to climb the Brown Carrick, and on one day looked down at Fisherton Kirk. Tiny against the wider landscape of sea and sky … yet vibrant in a deep sense of community and strong faith.

I wonder whether this time when we have been forced to slow down and reconsider who we are and what we are about. We have a chance to revitalise ourselves as Gods own people

Finally, here are the lyrics of one of my favourite hymns, about what it means to be church, by a contemporary writer Marty Haugen. I first came across it when I was on a retreat to Iona and the Wild Geese Worship Group introduced it  to us. It’s a tricky medley, but inspirational words.

Let us build a house Where love can dwell And all can safely live,

A place where Saints and children tell How hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions, Rock of faith and vault of grace;

Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;

All are welcome, all are welcome,

All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak, And words are strong and true,

Where all God’s children dare to seek To dream God’s reign anew.

Here the cross shall stand as witness And a symbol of God’s grace;

Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:

All are welcome, all are welcome,

All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found In water, wine and wheat:

A banquet hall on holy ground, Where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, through Jesus, Is revealed in time and space;

As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:

All are welcome, all are welcome,

All are welcome in this place.

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God for caring and holding the world in his hands, especially in times of abundance and scarcity.

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 Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heaven to earth come down,

Fix in us thy humble dwelling,

All thy faithful mercies crown.

Jesu, thou art all compassion,

Pure, unbounded love thou art;

Visit us with thy salvation,

Enter every trembling heart.

2. Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit

Into every troubled breast,

Let us all in thee inherit,

Let us find that second rest.

Take away the love of sinning,

Alpha and Omega be;

End of faith, as its beginning,

Sets our hearts at liberty.

3. Come almighty to deliver,

Let us all thy life receive;

Suddenly return and never,

Never more thy temples leave.

Thee we would be always blessing,

Serve thee as thy hosts above,

Pray, and praise thee without ceasing,

Glory in thy perfect love.

4. Finish then thy new creation,

Pure and spotless let us be;

Let us see thy great salvation,

Perfectly restored in thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before thee,

Lost in wonder, love and Praise.

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.

9th May 2020 – Forthcoming services/events from the wider Church of Scotland:

The Church of Scotland’s new Moderator will be installed on Saturday 16th May. You can find details of the installation (to be broadcast online) and a Pentecost service for the whole Church on 31st May, on the “Worship During Coronavirus” title page of this website.

Details of the Church’s “Heart and Soul” event on 17th May are also set out there.

Reflection by Ian Stirling for Sunday 3rd May 2020“Abundant Life”

Sunday 3rd May       Abundant life

Our sacred space this morning focuses on the theme ‘Abundant life’, and the text 

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ John 10:10

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 the sacred silence coming to visit you and your home.

And be conscious of the sacred spirit setting your heart on fire

And be conscious of the sacred voice of Jesus whispering in your ear.

Then pray together

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd

we listen to your voice, 

we delight that you lead us to fresh waters

we trust that you lead us safely into your future.

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 The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;

he makes me down to lie

in pastures green; he leadeth me

the quiet waters by.

2 My soul he doth restore again,

and me to walk doth make

within the paths of righteousness,

e’en for his own name’s sake.

3 Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,

yet will I fear none ill,

for thou art with me; and thy rod

and staff me comfort still.

4 My table thou hast furnished

in presence of my foes;

my head thou dost with oil anoint,

and my cup overflows.

5 Goodness and mercy all my life

shall surely follow me;

and in God’s house forevermore

my dwelling place shall be.

A time to engage with this mornings text through words and images

During the fifty days after Easter Christians tell and retell stories of Jesus’ first followers who encountered him against all hope – amidst doubt, fear, uncertainty and longing for the breaking in of the new kingdom.

This season is a time to learn again what matters in our faith.

And to recognise the risen Jesus, where ever he is to be found.

So it’s a time for imagination and to open our eyes to see clearly the traces of sacredness in all our lives, and in the life of the world.

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.

Jesus the Good Shepherd      John 10:1-10.

1 “VERY truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 

3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 

6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 

9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

An image to ponder.

One of first of my many memories of visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem was of looking across at the bare landscape: with scattered olive trees providing the only shelter against the scorching heat of the sun. And then seeing on the horizon the silhouette of a shepherd leading a flock. I saw no water nearby. But they trusted his lead and his voice, and followed him.

Here is a local scene that reminds me of that day. One of the many lambs on the Brown Carrick Hill, Ayrshire.

Reflections

Todays theme is abundant life. 

I find this painting by Henry O. Tanner, the thankful poor, to be quite inspirational.

Just notice the simplicity and the starkness of the scene. Nothing fancy here. Bare walls, little food on the table, a jug, some cups and plates, white. And the two people gathered there hands clasped in prayer, saying grace.

They are thankful for simple gifts, food and for company, and it seems that they are thankful especially during times of hardship.

Another similar message of being thankful, is conveyed by the writer Solzhenitsyn in his short novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This may be a new read to you so I have outlined the plot below and highlighted the last section, in which he took my breathe away by being thankful, after a day of harsh extremities. When I first read this I was blown away by his outlook and attitude. Being thankful for simple things.

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov has been sentenced to a camp in the Soviet gulag system. He was accused of becoming a spy after being captured briefly by the Germans as a prisoner of war during World War II. He is innocent, but is sentenced to ten years in a forced labor camp.

The day begins with Shukhov waking up sick. For waking late, he is forced to clean the guardhouse, but this is a comparatively minor punishment. When Shukhov is finally able to leave the guardhouse, he goes to the dispensary to report his illness. It is relatively late in the morning by this time, however, so the orderly is unable to exempt any more workers and Shukhov must work.

The rest of the novel deals mainly with Shukhov’s squad (the 104th, which has 24 members), their allegiance to the squad leader, and the work that the prisoners (zeks) do in hopes of getting extra food for their performance. For example, they are seen working at a brutal construction site where the cold freezes the mortar used for bricklaying if not applied quickly enough. Solzhenitsyn also details the methods used by the prisoners to survive; the whole camp lives by the rule of survival of the fittest.

Tiurin, the foreman of gang 104, is strict but kind, and the squad’s fondness of Tiurin becomes more evident as the book progresses. Though a morose man, Tiurin is liked because he understands the prisoners, he talks to them, and he helps them. Shukhov is one of the hardest workers in the squad, possessing versatile skills that are in great demand, and he is generally well-respected. Rations are meagre at the camp – given to the prisoners on the basis of how productive their work units are (or the authorities think they have been) – but they are one of the few things that Shukhov lives for. He conserves the food that he receives and is always watchful for any item that he can hide and trade for food at a later date, or for favours and services he can do prisoners that they will thank him for in small gifts of food.

At the end of the day, Shukhov is able to provide a few special services for Tsezar (Caesar), an intellectual who does office work instead of manual labor. Tsezar is most notable, however, for receiving packages of food from his family. Shukhov is able to get a small share of Tsezar’s packages by standing in lines for him. 

Shukhov reflects on his day, which was both productive and fortuitous for him. He did not get sick, his group had been assigned well paid work, he had filched a second ration of food at lunch, and he had smuggled into camp a small piece of metal he would fashion into a useful tool.

Johns gospel has a series of I am … ‘ sayings of Jesus, in which John interprets for us who Jesus is. Today Jesus is both the gate for the sheep, and the good shepherd, who not only is willing to lay down his life, but whose intention, is that his followers ‘May have life, and have it abundantly.

I am very appreciative of those times in my life when everything has come together in a good way.  At these times is seems easy to be grateful.

My key learning over the course of life, which has had its share of light and shadows, hopes and despairs, is that sometimes it is in times of darkness that we most clearly hear the voice that brings comfort, and hope, and the promise that one day, the light will appear at the end of the tunnel.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading a blog by Richard Rohr. This week he shared a story about a friend who against all odds found life in the most awful of circumstances. As I share it be prepared for a few tears to flow.

My friend Paula DArcy, lost her husband and young daughter in a tragic car accident while she was pregnant with their second child. This story from Paula reveals how liminal moments can occur at any time, and the sacred can break through.

One afternoon, my heart breaking, I began sorting through the clothes my daughter Sarah would never wear. A dress lay across my lap, a little piece of white cotton. It evoked one more moment . . . of bitter tears and confused disbelief. . . . Life was not supposed to turn out this way. . . .

It was such an innocent and common thing—a child’s garment. Yet even as it broke my heart, that dress became an opening; the soft cotton tore at me from within and began to empty me.

You are not the only heartbroken parent in the world, it said. The pain of loss is not yours alone. Disappointment is the human condition. I continued to stare at the cotton and lace, but something had shifted. The dress was somehow connecting me to the texture and mystery of greater things . . .

Without fully understanding why, I began to soften. I saw life’s contour, its density and its brilliance, just as it is, nothing more. . . . I saw how I’d been caught in a script of my own creation and . . . was totally caught up in my own world—my emotions, my wants, and my needs. . . . Now it was simply my time—my turn to know the darkness and discover whether or not I was brave enough to accept the human journey and find a way through. . . .

I slowly began to see that within the cells of every living thing is the same essence—the presence of spirit. The heart of our journey is to awaken to this spirit within. . . .

Hardly anything turns out the way you expected it to, and you’re frequently ready to write life off as too paradoxical and too difficult to endure. Then some indescribable light fights its way through the impenetrable dark—an unpredictable, unimportant, runaway moment that lights up everything you’ve been unable to see until then. That light removes all the shoulds and oughts, all the illusions about fairness. You enter liminal space . . . In that space you take your first script [or what I call your false or separate self], the one that weighs five hundred pounds, the script that was cutting into your heart all along, bleeding you to death but you didn’t realize the wound or its seriousness—and you simply let it go.

Jesus offers us life, in all its abundance. 

And what I have discovered is that we can appreciate life best in both times of light and dark, in the smallest detail and the most mind blowing vastness of our universe.

The challenge for us to to be thankful like the two folk in Henry O Tanners painting.

I finish by sharing a poem by George Mackay Brown, the Orcadian poet, who wrote a beautiful poem about The Finished House

In the finished house a flame is brought to the hearth.

Then a table, between door and window

Where a stranger will eat before the men of the house.

A bed is laid in a secret corner

For the three agonies – love, birth, death –

That are made beautiful with ceremony.

The neighbours come with gifts –

A set of cups, a calendar, some chairs.

A fiddle is hung at the wall.

A girl puts lucky salt in a dish.

The cupboard will have its loaf and bottle, come winter.

On the seventh morning

One spills water of blessing over the threshold.

It is in our homes, around meal tables, listening to music, gazing out of our windows, making conversation over the wall with our neighbours, quietly reading a book in our comfy chair, in such ordinary moments and ordinary times that God breaks into our lives. And fills our lives with simple gifts.

A time of gratitude and concern

Take some time to thank God for caring and holding the world in his hands, especially in times of abundance and scarcity.

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 (tune All through the night)

1 Through the love of God our Saviour,

all will be well.

Free and changeless is his favour,

all, all is well.

Precious is the blood that healed us,

perfect is the grace that sealed us,

strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,

all must be well.

2 Though we pass through tribulation,

all will be well.

Ours is such a full salvation,

all, all is well.

Happy, still in God confiding,

fruitful, if in Christ abiding,

holy, through the Spirit’s guiding,

all must be well.

3 We expect a bright tomorrow,

all will be well.

Faith can sing through days of sorrow,

‘All, all is well.’

On our Father’s love relying,

Jesus every need supplying,

in our living, in our dying,

all must be well.

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.