Lambs among wolves- sermon for 3 July 2016

Scripture Readings: Galatians 6.1-5

Luke 10.1-11

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

In the 1950s, a British Prime Minister told his people that ‘You’ve never had it so good’. There have been ups and downs for Britain since, but for a long time it has seemed that way to many people. We certainly have it better than many, if not most, people in the world. Most of us have enough to eat. Even in times of political crisis, society does not break down. The administration of government carries on. Pensions and benefits are still paid, there are neither terrorist nor soldiers on the streets, there is food in the shops and the lights haven’t gone off.

Perhaps, therefore, some of us on these islands have become a bit complacent. We have not worried overmuch about the rise of extreme nationalism and xenophobia, which has affected even relatively liberal European nations like Denmark and Holland. We were able to imagine that we Scots, tucked away in the far north west of Europe, would be immune to the pressures of the refugee crisis afflicting Europe’s Mediterranean borders. We have imagined that shopping and entertainment could create a new economy to replace jobs being swept away by automation and globalisation. Are we, perhaps, now waking up to face that fact that we are not immune to these, and other, shocks? Continue reading

Waiting… and thanking! Sermon at St Stephen’s on 25 June 2016

Scripture Readings: Psalm 40.1-10

Luke 17:11–19

Waiting… and thanking!

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

In 1990, while I was still a student, I attended- as a visitor- the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I was curious to visit because the Moderator that year was one of my teachers, the late Robert Davidson, Professor of Old Testament at Glasgow University. The day I visited, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom was there as a guest. After we had sung a metrical Psalm- unaccompanied, in the old Scottish style- Bob Davidson invited the Chief Rabbi to address the Assembly, greeting in him as he did so Hebrew. It was a powerful reminder of the Jewish origins of our faith, and how our Christian, Presbyterian worship continues to be suffused with those old Hebrew prayers and hymns, the Psalms. Continue reading

The scandal of grace: a sermon for 12 June 2016, Proper 6 (Year C, RCL)

Scripture Readings: Galatians 2:15-21

Luke 7:36-50

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

My name is Simon, and I’m a Pharisee.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You think you know what a Pharisee is. One of strongly religious types. Someone who lives by rules and regulations, who enjoys pernickitiness, who claims that ancient rituals are everything. Someone all-too-happy to avoid people I’d call a sinner. Someone proud to say he’s never broken the rules. Continue reading

God’s mission, and ours: Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2016

Scripture Readings: Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

God’s mission, and ours

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

When I was at school, I quite liked science- though I would never pursue it very far, because to do so you need to be good at maths, which I never mastered. But I did like the experiments. Earlier we were talking with the children about the different states of water- that ice and steam are, in fact, water in different states. At school, we once took a balloon full of hydrogen to the bottom of a playing field, put a naked flame to it, and it filled an empty cup with water- almost a magic trick. But the hydrogen had reacted with the oxygen in the atmosphere to make H2O- water. Liquid water, ice and steam are all made of hydrogen and water- different aspects of the same stuff. Light that you can see, infrared light that makes automatic doors work, X-rays, radar, electricity and magnetism, TV and radio waves are also different aspects of the same thing- different wavebands of electromagnetic radiation.

Nowadays, the scientists are trying to bring together all the different strands of knowledge about the universe, searching for the maths that will explain the forces which hold atoms together through to the gravitational forces which hold galaxies together. They all it ‘the theory of everything’- and they are tantalising close to working it all out. Continue reading

Children of the Spirit: a sermon for Pentecost 2016

Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-13

Romans 8:14-17

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

Last Sunday, when we heard about the Ascension of Jesus, I said that the early Christians had a strong sense of the continuing presence of Christ among them. In his last conversation with his followers, Luke has the risen Christ tell them, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. John [the Baptist] baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’[1].

In our reading for today, we hear what happened when the day arrive. On the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Spirit arrives with power, colour and noise. Luke describes it in colourful language- a noise from the sky, tongues of fire touching each person, and an excitement that sends the believers out onto the streets to preach to people of every nation. The believers are so lively, so full of joy, so uninhibited about taking their message to the streets, that some people think they are drunk! Continue reading

Power and encouragement: a sermon for Ascension Sunday

Scripture Readings: Acts 1: 1-11

Ephesians 1:15-23

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

In the dim and distant past, when I was applying to train to become a minister, I asked a clergyman I knew well to write one of the references I was going to need. He read my application, and wrote me a reference (which must have been good enough!). But he made a comment that haunted me. He had read what I said about my personal faith in the application, and said to me, ‘There’s a lot about God in there. But you didn’t say what Jesus meant to you. Who is Jesus for you, Peter?’ That’s a question I’ve tried to live with ever since: ‘Who is Jesus for me?’ Ever since, I’ve tried to measure my Christian life and my ministry against my answers to that question. Continue reading

Meanderings or meanings? Sermon for 1 May 2016, The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings: Acts 16.6-15
Revelation 21:10 and 21.22-22:5
Meanderings- or meanings?

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

Travels1Few us of nowadays agree with Robert Louis Stevenson, who wandered the mountains of France on a donkey and wrote a book about it, and thought that ‘it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive’ . We mostly just want to arrive, to do whatever it is we want to do at the end of our journey. If we get stuck in snow on the A9 we probably won’t enjoy the scenery very much. The shops, amusement arcades and cafes of an airport terminal quickly lose their charm if we have to wait for hours for a plane. For we are usually in a hurry nowadays. Continue reading

A place for everyone: a sermon for 24 April 2016, the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings: John 13:31-35
Acts 11:1-18
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Coloured game menSome people have the idea that the Bible is a rather monolithic book- a book of unchanging rules, set in stone, unassailably infallible, without contradictions. It is, in fact nothing of the sort. It is, rather, a book full of stories about people who change their minds.
Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is a good example. Acts is the second volume of writings by the author of the Gospel of Luke. Its full title, ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ is the story of what the earliest Christians, and their leaders got up to. It’s the story of the beginnings of the Church. Continue reading

The Easter Church: a sermon for 17 April 2016, Easter 5

Scripture Readings: John 10:22-30

Acts 9:36-43

The Easter Church

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

What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ, and to be part of his church, in this day and age? We often feel we are up against awesome obstacles as we seek to be faithful to Christ today We know we have immense challenges as a church in faithfully witnessing to the love of Christ in our world today.

When Christians are faced with issues like those, we go back to the old stories. Today we read the story from the Book of Acts about the healing of Tabitha (also known as Dorcas). It is a rather lovely story, and it seemed appropriate for this service today, just before our Annual Meeting, for it tells us some deep truths about what it means to be a Christian, and how the church ought to be- not just back in the first century, but today. And since we are still in the season after Easter, it’s a story which reminds us that we are Easter people. Continue reading

Rise and shine! Easter Sunday sermon, 2016

Scripture Readings: John 20:1-18

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Rise and shine!

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

In a world in which churchgoing is no longer de rigeur, many people have very little knowledge of the meaning of even basic Christian festivals such as Easter. School assemblies, therefore, the church a chance to talk about what our festivals are really about, to young people who may well not be very aware of their meaning.

On Thursday, I led an Easter Assembly for third and fourth year pupils at Inverness Royal Academy. I’d been asked to do so at the last minute- their usual chaplain was off sick- and so I elected just to tell the story of Easter, and attempt to explain why it was important to Christians. Assuming, as I always do, that the children in front of me had very little idea of Easter, beyond that it is a kind of spring festival with chocolate eggs.

One of the key things we have to try to understand in the story of Jesus’ death and crucifixion is the question, ‘How did it come to this?’ Continue reading