Saturday, 31 March 2012

Lent Services

We came to the last service in our Lenten series this morning.  We have been doing this for some years now.   Every Saturday in Lent at 9.30 am a short half-hour service where we focus on an appropriate theme.  It is a good preparation for Easter and an opportunity to reflect on the implications of Jesus' sacrifice for us.  

This year the theme was 'The Servant-King', exploring passages from Isaiah 40-55.  There were six services in all and at four of those elders from St Paul's delivered the Word.  Each with their own style but without exception there was an authentic connection with the Word and an eagerness to share what they had gathered. 

On a few occasions the fellowship continued after the service with coffee mornings for various causes.  

It has been a good time.  

Friday, 30 March 2012

Douglas Academy Easter Service.

This is the substance of my talk to the students of Douglas Academy at their Easter Service today:

One of the big movies this Easter is The Hunger Games, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins.  You may be familiar with the plot.  It is set in a future where America no longer exists and has been renamed Panem.  The country is divided into 12 ‘Districts’ and is very strictly ruled by the central government which is called the Capitol. 
Every year the Capitol requires each District to send two young people between the age of 12 - 18 to take part in the ‘The Hunger Games’ which is quite simply a fight to the death, the winner being the last boy or girl standing.  This is a punishment for a rebellion that took place sometime in the past and is a method of control over the population.
It’s a pretty horrible idea and some people have been a bit worried that the original book is actually classified as ‘Children’s Fiction.’  But what impressed me about the book and the movie are the positive qualities which are shown by many of the characters, especially the main character a girl called Katniss Everdean.  There is violence and fear and death but there is also compassion, kindness and self-sacrifice.  People willing to put the needs of others before their own.  In fact, the only reason Katniss is at the Games is that she volunteered to take the place of her younger sister.
That’s something that I see when I read the passage which we heard this morning from the Bible.  Jesus is being crucified and that was one of the most horrible forms of torture that was ever devised, putting maximum strain on every nerve, muscle and joint.  But in the midst of this we hear him praying for the people who were inflicting this suffering on him.  We see him being kind to one of the criminals who is crucified with him.    We see him dying for the sins of the world, giving his life for the benefit of others.
It’s when that spirit touches men and women that we see humankind at it’s best.  When people are under severe pressure we really don’t expect them to be giving much but somehow many do.  I have a t-shirt which says ‘This Shirt Is Illegal In 63 Countries’.  The reason it’s illegal is because it has a small cross printed on it.  There are many places where to be a Christian is to live a very uncertain life in which you might lose your job, your children might be denied education and you may lose your freedom completely.  And yet these people carry on believing and still remain committed to living a Christian life.  And the reason they are able to carry on is not just that they are inspired by Jesus‘ example.  They believe that his suffering wasn’t the end of the story.  His suffering led to his death but on the third day after that he rose again as a sign that His Spirit would always be with His people in this life.   And even if their circumstances lead to their death they would come through that  to live a life of completeness and fulfillment in the place we call Heaven.  
That’s what Easter means to me.  The message is that even  the worst circumstances can be lit up when people show love for one another.  But because of the Resurrection of Jesus the message goes beyond this life.  We are not given too many details about Heaven in the Bible but we are promised that all our suffering will be behind us and the love of Christ, the justice of Christ and the peace of Christ will be triumphant over everything that is wrong in this life.     

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Rev Patrick Coltman

It was a privilege to be at Patrick's Farewell Service last night and to deliver a tribute on behalf of the Milngavie Churches.  Tributes were also given by Andrew Scott, Session Clerk of Milngavie United Free Church and  Rev Dr John Evans, Moderator of the UF Presbytery of the West.

The hymns were all appropriate for the occasion and a very fine Word was preached by Rev George McDonald, a friend and fellow countryman of Patrick's.

There was a positive spirit throughout the service and afterwards a high quality supper - which is what we have come to expect from this warm and friendly congregation.

Patrick has had a short ministry in Milngavie but he has left us with the impression of a highly gifted man whose faith has been beaten out on the anvil of many personal challenges.  He returns to his homeland of South Africa with the prayers of the Christian community supporting him.  We trust he will find a place where he can make his own unique contribution to the advancement of the Kingdom.  

We will also be praying for the congregation of Milngavie UF.  They had a long vacancy last time but under the leadership of Andrew Scott things held together and the witness of the congregation was maintained.  I hope this will be true for  the present vacancy.  

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Big Word Count Week.

There will be a lot of time in the Quarry this week.  Two school services, a tribute at Rev Patrick Coltman's Farewell Service tonight and Sunday drawing ever near.  Still, I am grateful for ideas.  Mind you, what seems to work on paper can fall apart in the delivery.  There is nothing worse in the actual delivery of a talk or sermon when the thought occurs: 'This is not holding together!'  So prayer is important at every stage of preparation and delivery.  

The last time I spoke to Craigdhui Primary I slipped on a piece of paper and landed on my derriere.  That's one talk the kids will never forget!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Why The Quarry?

One of our Elders in St Paul's was brought up on the Isle of Harris.  He had an uncle who when he was particularly moved by a sermon on the Lord's Day would say, 'Aye, the minister was a long time in the quarry last night.'  

I always liked that image of the man in his study chipping away at the Scriptures to bring forward a Word for his people.  Even more so when I discovered a few years ago that I am descended from at least three generations of slate quarriers on  Easdale Island.  The photo on the left shows me looking out from the Island.   

I have a chisel on the wall of my study which was found in one of the now redundant quarries.  I call it my Grandfather's Chisel and although there is a degree of poetic license in that it is a reminder to me of my heritage.  It is a reminder, also, of the nature of my work.  

The American poet Archibald MacLeish once spoke of the process whereby he produced a poem:

'I chip away like a stonemason who has got it into his head that there is a pigeon in that block of marble.  But there's a delight in the chipping.  At least there's a delight when your hunch that the pigeon in there is stronger than you are carries you along.'  

That's not unlike bringing a sermon to life.  You come to the work in the faith that there is something in that passage or text that is stronger than you and once you have connected with that Word it carries you along to that moment when you deliver it to God's people.  It's demanding but thrilling work. 

Thus the title of this Blog.  Everything you see will come from my own personal 'Quarry'.