Gods at war! Sermon for Sunday 14 August 2016 (Proper 15 Year C, RCL)

Scripture Readings: Psalm 82

            Luke 12:49-56

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

‘God presides in the heavenly council; in the assembly of the gods he gives his decision’ (Psalm 82.1).

Today’s Psalm asks us to picture a strange scene. The scene is a ‘heavenly court’, or an assembly of gods. The Lord God of Israel presides- but he’s not the only god there- he’s speaking to other gods. This is odd. Surely there is only one God? 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 Lord is my Light: sermon for 21 June 2015

Scripture Readings: Psalm 27.1-6
Matthew 7.24-27

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

LighthouseWhen we talk of divine things, we almost always use images. For we need pictures to help us imagine realities which go beyond words. Today’s Psalm, for instance, praises God for his protection. The Psalmist says God is light, a shelter, a rock- all great images for how God is the ultimate protector. Continue reading

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2014: Not Forgetting

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 9 November 2014: Year A, Remembrance Sunday

SERMON
Texts: Romans 8.31-39
John 15.9-17

Not forgetting

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

The most natural thing in the world when you lose a loved one or a friend is to grieve. Remembrance Day developed out of a national need to grieve following the tragedy of the first World War, and today many will grieve both old friends and loved ones. Yet in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul wrote ‘…you should not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4.13 REB). And in the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: ‘If it is for this life only that Christ has given us hope, we of all people are most to be pitied’ (1 Corinthians 15.19 REB). Note that both these sayings include the word ‘hope’. And that both of them invite Christians to think differently from everyone else.

For Paul to say that someone should not to grieve seems almost heartless. Continue reading

So much love! A sermon for All Saints Day 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 2 November 2014: Year A, All Saints Sunday

SERMON
Texts: 1 John 3:1-3 NRSV
Matthew 5:1-12 NRSV

So much love!
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I did a primary school assembly on Hallowe’en, and since they’d just had a Hallowe’en disco during the week and I knew it would be on their minds, I thought I may as well talk about it. When I asked them if they would be going out on Hallowe’en, it turned out that the vast majority were planning to- even if nowadays they refer it is as ‘trick or treating’, instead of guising and they lamps of pumpkins rather than turnips. Hallowe’en has changed since I was a lad- too commercialised for me now. But for most children, it’s still a lot of fun, probably because dressing up is such fun.

The custom of dressing up in scary costumes for Hallowe’en- ‘guising’, to use the good old Scots word- goes back to the old pagan beliefs about keeping evil spirits out of our way. Indeed, experts tell us that many of the traditions of Hallowe’en predate Christian influence on our culture. Some boring Christians are killjoys who want to abolish Hallowe’en, but for most children it brings harmless enjoyment. What child doesn’t enjoy dressing up, and being given sweets just for telling a few bad jokes?

When I spoke to the school assembly, I reminded them, as I always do when speaking to children about these things, that there is, of course, no such thing as ghosts. We might enjoy a wee scare sometimes, but there is nothing supernatural for us to be frightened of. I say this with great confidence, for one of my favourite passages of scripture- it was the sermon text at my confirmation- comes from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where he writes, ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8.38-39). In other words, there is nothing we need to be afraid of. There are no ghosts and ghouls which can hurt us. When it comes to the supernatural, we have, as someone said in another context, nothing to fear but fear itself. Continue reading

Unexpected guests? Sermon for 12 October 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 12 October 2014: Year A, Proper 23
SERMON
Texts: Isaiah 25:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

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

The churches in Scotland, in common with churches around Europe, are facing challenges like never before. We are seeing fewer people wanting to join us in our communities of faith. Our influence is decreasing, in the face of enormous cultural changes.

Faced with the challenge of the way faith is changing in our culture great change, religious people are often tempted to go back to their holy books, believing that there they can find precepts which are unchanging and comforting. The idea is that when we are faced with change and challenge, we should go back to scripture to find words of comfort and hope.

Now, there certainly is comfort and hope in the Bible. We just sung the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s my Shepherd. Who could not take comfort from those words? Even when we go through the valley of the shadow of death, God goes with us. I don’t know about you, but I cling to that idea. It helps me to be grounded in faith, even as I deal with the worst the world can throw at me.

But comfort and hope are not the only messages of the Bible. Continue reading

Paradoxical freedom: sermon for 29 September 2014 (St Stephen’s communion)

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 28 September 2014

SERMON
Texts:  Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Paradoxical freedom

A few years ago, former Pope Benedict XIV, pondering why is Christianity is so unpopular in Europe today, said that he thought many people were put off Christianity because they think that, he said, that ‘Christianity is composed of laws and bans which one has to keep’ which is ‘something toilsome and cumbersome’ I didn’t often agree with Benedict, but I think he was right that time. Many people do think that Christianity- in its Catholic or Protestant forms- is cumbersome. I happen to believe that believing in Christ sets us free. But that is not always how it is seen. Continue reading

A strange generosity: sermon for Sunday 21 September 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 21 September 2014: Year A, Proper 20

SERMON

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

Old Testament reading: Exodus 16:1-15

The people of Israel are now in the wilderness. Finding the water undrinkable, they have complained to Moses, and God has made it potable. He has tested their faith: will they accept him by trusting that he will feed and rule them? Now the Israelites grumble once again.

1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim, and on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, they came to the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai. 2 There in the desert they all complained to Moses and Aaron 3 and said to them, “We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death.”
The Lord said to Moses, “Now I am going to cause food to rain down from the sky for all of you. The people must go out every day and gather enough for that day. In this way I can test them to find out if they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to bring in twice as much as usual and prepare it.”
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt. 7 In the morning you will see the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence. He has heard your complaints against him—yes, against him, because we are only carrying out his instructions.” 8 Then Moses said, “It is the Lord who will give you meat to eat in the evening and as much bread as you want in the morning, because he has heard how much you have complained against him. When you complain against us, you are really complaining against the Lord.”
9 Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole community to come and stand before the Lord, because he has heard their complaints.” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole community, they turned toward the desert, and suddenly the dazzling light of the Lord appeared in a cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them that at twilight they will have meat to eat, and in the morning they will have all the bread they want. Then they will know that I, the Lord, am their God.”
13 In the evening a large flock of quails flew in, enough to cover the camp, and in the morning there was dew all around the camp. 14 When the dew evaporated, there was something thin and flaky on the surface of the desert. It was as delicate as frost. When the Israelites saw it, they didn’t know what it was and asked each other, “What is it?”
Moses said to them, “This is the food that the Lord has given you to eat.

It has been quite a week. A week of conversations- not all about the same subject, but many of them were. A week when we suddenly realised that history was in the making.

When I went into the polling booth and looked at the form, I surprised myself by suddenly being overcome by the immensity of the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ Continue reading

Choose life!- Sermon for the Kirking of the Council 2014

The Kirking of the Council is an annual community event when members of the Inverness City Committee of Highland Council, and other community representatives, process to the Old High Church to take part in our Sunday worship.

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 14 September 2014: Year A, The Kirking of the Council
SERMON

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 5:1-11,33-37

Choose life!

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

There’s an story about an English vicar who always seemed to give away his politics by his choices of hymns. If the Tories won an election, the first hymn the following Sunday was something like ‘Now thank we all our God’. If Labour won, it would be ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways’. On one exceptional occasion, the Liberals won the local council election. So it was with great anticipation that his congregation came to church the following Sunday. The first hymn given out was, ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform’. Continue reading

Who needs reconciliation anyhow?: Sermon for Sunday 7 September 2014

A note from the Minister: after completing this sermon I fell ill and was unable to deliver it on Sunday morning. I’m grateful to the Rev Morven Archer who took our services in my place, and who used much of the material below. This is the sermon I would have preached had I been able to. I’m glad to say I’m on the mend, since you ask!

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 7 September 2014: Year A, Proper 18

SERMON
Texts: Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Who needs reconciliation anyhow?
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This week the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Rev John Chalmers, chaired a ‘respectful dialogue’ on the independence referendum. It was held in a Glasgow church, but the rest of us could participate because if was put out live on the Internet. At the Crown Church, we watched the speakers live on a big screen, had own audience comments section, and emailed our thoughts back to Glasgow. It was a fascinating experience, being linked up in that way to others around the country. As I was checking that I could communicate with the person receiving the emails in Glasgow, I suddenly thought of the Eurovision Song Contest- ‘Hello, this is Helsinki, here are the votes of the Finnish jury’. Maybe one day the General Assembly will be replaced by this kind of technology- although perhaps the Assembly will be unlikely to turn into a version of Eurovision. Continue reading