Sunday, 29 September 2013

Consider the communion

'Sandy the meerkat ponders philsophy and theology'
Having just come back from a training conference, one session of which featured reflections upon communion...the things they don't teach you whilst ministry-training.

A placement several years ago...

It was Holy Week.
A Maundy Thursday communion at 'Fishing Parish'
My supervisor and I had co-written a liturgy woven through with reflective story and silence.
Communion was to be distributed, after which, once the elders had brought back the plates bearing bread and the wine cup dispenser, I was to lead us off into a time of intecessory prayer.
All was going well.
The initial hustle and bustle and busyness of the day that folk had brought into worship with them gradually ebbed away;
a holy hush filled the worship space.
The elders began to come forward after distributing the bread and wine.
As I leant down from my chair to retrieve my notes...
I slipped.
An audible gasp from the body of the Kirk.
Falling heavily on my hand, I winced in pain, but remained silent as I picked myself up quickly from the floor.
As I began to go into shock, my voice wavered as I uttered the words in a small voice:
'lllet uus prrray...'
I saw the visible swelling of my hand;
found it nearly impossible to turn the pages in my notepad.
The wavering prayers finished,
the last hymn was sung.
At the door, the pain now almost unbearable with each handshake.
Back in the vestry - ice was seen to be needed.

Easter Sunday morning.
I arrived in the church hall, and saw three members of the choir giggling.
Seeing me, they suddenly naughty schoolkids who'd been caught by the bikesheds having a crafty fag.  [to my N. American friends - a sneaky cigarette!!]
I had a strong suspicion I knew what they had been giggling about.
I wandered over and, deciding to tease them, with the aid of a judiciously raised eyebrow I asked them if they might care to share the joke.
They guiltily confessed that indeed, they had been giggling about Thursday's mishap;
bu they hadn't meant to be mean.
I grinned - to their visible relief.
Of course it had been awful, but it was a ridiculous thing to have happened and I saw the funny side, etc. 
They gave an account of how they saw the whole thing happen.
'Well, one minute you were there behind the communion table...
and then suddenly, you disappeared...
and, well, we've never seen you move so quickly:
next minute all we saw was your wee head pop up from behind the table like...
like a...'
they stumbled to find the right word.
I looked at them, grinned and said:
'a meerkat?'
We all giggled.
They then did have the grace to ask how my poor mangled hand was.

Several weeks later, on my last Sunday of the placement, the choir called me over before worship.
'We wanted to say goodbye and to give you a wee present' said one - who had been involved in the Easter Sunday conversation. 
A slight awkwardness, sense of naughtiness, and fumbling for words.
'We know you have a good sense of humour, so we are hoping you take our present in the way it is intended...'
The card and present was duly handed over.
Lovely wishes on the card.
Grins all 'round when I opened the present to discover:
a plushy meerkat with my clan tartan scarf.

But tell me: why didn't the training to be a minister manual have an entry re. 'what to do in case of falling off seat at communion and spraining your hand'?  It would have made what I experienced just that little less traumatic...jus' sayin'.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Ministry: walking and talking and praising God

It is an ongoing process, this working through what it is, what it means, to minister with, and to, the people of God.
At the moment, I am back to that old metaphor of walking:
walking alongside,
walking with,
occasionally walking behind, cheering from the back as gifts are nurtured and nourished,
sometimes walking ahead, with head turned back, and hand beckoning in encouragement:
'C'mon, it'll be okay, this is a story that has a great ending, which is really a whole new beginning.  Don't be afraid.'

I am also back to a favourite word as well: 'story'.
As I walk in my probationer-minister's shoes, I ponder place and time as I minister here and now at 'Seaside Parish', and think about how both weave in and through the lives of the community of folk that I have grown to love and care for.
And as a student of history with a fondness for 'the story', I think of the many stories written into the life of this community, past, present, and future; stories that I have been told, stories being uncovered whilst listening in a living room and drinking tea, stories of hoped-for outcomes or of hope snatched away.
Gathered together, in this specific place, at this specific time, there are many stories held together by that one common story of an unexpected expected child, in a far-away land, at a far-away time, who grew in wisdom and grace, who used stories to point the way to a larger, deeper story...who was crucifed, died, was buried, and who rose again, and who calls us 'friend'.
We are a community of story, and of journey...
sometimes walking together
sometimes walking apart
occassionally walking rather shambolically
every so often walking in ways that surprise and astonish and delight
but always, always
walking in the light of God's loving faithfulness.

Perhaps then, to be a minister, is to acknowledge that this is not a sedentary task we're called to - although knowing that it is good to rest is also important in order to walk more fruitfully.
Perhaps it is to acknowledge that this is not a silent task we're called to -
although knowing the value of wordless waiting is also important in order to hear the story better.
Is the minister, in essence, a wandering story-teller - wandering and yet rooted in the community one is called to:
proclaiming in word, and in symbols, in speech and in gestures, the great story of God's journey to us - and our journey away and towards, away and towards him?
It is exhausting and joyful, life-giving and gut-wrenching, it is littered with the trivial and mundane and shot through with the transcendant, it is inspiring and humbling and a hundred million things in-between...and I wouldn't swap it for the world.     

Saturday, 7 September 2013

'Knowing me, knowing you': a sermon for Sunday, proper 18yr C

This week, I decided to take a slightly more expository preaching tack, and went with a sermon on Psalm 139, with one very brief nod towards the end to the other passage to be read during the service, Philemon.
And while the references to ABBA are probably entirely gratuitous, hey, why not... *grin*
It's a rather workmanlike effort, but as it was finished at 2am, let's be frank, that hour is not my most shining hour...!
The congregation I'm with use the GNB, which is okay, but I was quite shocked at how verse 14 of the Psalm read in this translation - the sense of the verse is really rather lost.

Knowing me, knowing you' 

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer,  Amen.

I have two confessions this morning:
One: I’m about to age myself terribly
And Two: I’m about to display my probably quite dubious taste in music.

About a thousand years ago, when I was little...
well, okay, a teenager,
I was absolutely obsessed by a particular pop group who were all the rage in Australia. 
And apparently they didn’t do too badly over here, either. 
I refer to Benny, Bjorn, Frida, and Agneta, otherwise known as...  
Me and my mate Deb thought they were fab, and, as you do when you’re a particular age and get a little obsessive about a band,
we collected everything related to them;
learned all their songs – and, another confession:
we sang our wee hearts out with them –
well, alongside the portable record player in my room.
We read everything we could find about them in the news and in the fan mags:
no bit of information, however teeny or seemingly trivial, escaped our notice. 
Simply, we wanted to know everything about them. 
In many ways, they were a huge part of our formative years, and they were familiar friends.  
Except, of course,they were not friends at all, and really,
when it came down to it, although we thought we knew them, 
we didn’t know them at all.

The writer of our psalm this morning is faced with a similar scenario:
wanting to know God yet, realising that the task is seemingly impossible, he - or she - confesses as much in verses 17 and 18:
‘O God, how difficult I find your thoughts – how many of them there are! 

If I counted them, they would be more than the grains of sand.’ 

Unlike me and my mate Deb, however, who would never truly be able to call ABBA our friends in any real sense,
the psalmist paints a picture of a relationship at a most deep and intimate level,
and, within that relationship, we begin to learn about – to know God – a little more. 
And what we learn about God here, can be placed under three different umbrellas:
God ... knows everything
God ever-present all-powerful.

God knows everything – we see this particularly in verses 1-6.  
And here’s a thing:
in many of the psalms, God is way out there, the awesome, yet distant creator of stars and planets and solar systems.
Yet, while the awesomeness of God is not in dispute in this psalm, note the focus...
rather than look at the vastness of the universe, it’s as if a zoom lens is put on and suddenly, the attention of the Great Architect of the Cosmos is completely upon
Verse one: you have examined me, you know me  
Verse two: from far away, you understand all my thoughts.
Here we get a glimpse of the God who is concerned with,
what might seem in the broader scheme of things,
the teeny, the seemingly trivial. 
The psalmist tell us that in God’s eyes,
we matter –
we are not incidental, but rather,
like the stars and the planets and the swirling galaxies we, too, have our place in the great scheme of things,
and that God watches over us, knows us –
knows us better than we know ourselves, 
there’s a slight edginess to this knowledge:
God knows us completely,
for nothing –
is hidden.  
The good, the bad, and the downright ugly...
all seen,
all known.

That knowledge could be almost discomforting, and you can see this from the way the psalmist moves the meditation on in verses 7-12
Suddenly, we find at verse seven, a certain twitchiness about being so completely exposed, a twitchiness that produces a desire to escape –
to try to run away from God. 
Except, as the psalmist oberves:
God is ever-present.
Whether the escape route takes us to the highest heights, or to the deeps,
to the extreme points of the compass at east or west,
or finds us attempting to hide in either blinding light or darkest night...
God is with us.
And in the midst of feeling crowded in by God on all sides, there’s this:
‘you would be there...

to lead help me.’ 
And so the sense of – well, I’ll use the term –
the sense of feeling stalked by God is suddenly diluted...
God is ever-present because God knows us,
wants to lead us,
wants to help us. 
The constant presence of God is not menacing, the psalmist decides, but one of comfort.

And this sense of comfort continues as the psalmist begins to reflect upon God, who is all-powerful.
And again, rather than meditating upon the power of God within the context of the vastness of creation,
here we see the power of God in the small,
the almost unseen –
God who knows us so intimately that he knew us even as we were being knit together in the womb
God as a knitter – it’s a nice image...
God present even there in that small hidden place:
God powerful creator not only of the universe – the big – but also, of us – of the small.
And every aspect of God focused in upon, and concerned with, our well-being.
And here is where I have a wee problem with this particular translation of the verse 14, a more accurate sense of the text here would be:
‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works’.

‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ – that’s us:
We have been created by God with the capacity to do acts of appalling 
horror –
fearful acts...
and simultaneously, we have the capacity to do amazing things –
acts of wonderful kindness, bravery, generosity.
And the all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowledgeable God gives us the ultimate gift:
rather than creating us and possessing us,
God sets us free to choose,
knowing that at times we will get it horrifically wrong
and that at other times, we will get it gloriously right.

It’s an awesome responsibility we’ve been given...
Which is perhaps why, when the psalm ends – and we didn’t read this bit out – but when the psalm ends, we find our psalmist,
having meditated upon the constant faithfulness of God,pausing...
and asking ‘examine me, test me, know my thoughts...and guide me in the everlasting way’.

The psalmist, while acknowledging how difficult a task it is to know God, nevertheless, in this meditation, can only respond by trying to articulate what is known from their own personal, lived experience of God:
that in every way imaginable,
God knows us utterly
and even so, accepts us totally;
that God is our constant guide and faithful companion on the way;
and, unlike that unrequited relationship with ABBA, that this is a relationship that is both requited, and eternal –                                              
that we are known by name,
and are more than useful:
we have been created in love,
are loved,
and are called to love.

As we ponder the One who knows us,
and who we in turn, are learning to know more deeply,
let’s take a moment of quiet to reflect, as we watch a short meditation on the psalm.

Let us pray:
God all-knowing
And all-powerful
We praise you.
We thank you that your faithfulness reaches beyond the heavens
That you are God of the big picture
And the minute detail;
That you are our comfort and our guide all the days of our lives
Help us to know you more deeply
And lead us on the everlasting way,
In Jesus’ name we pray... amen.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Friday Five: food fest

Ah dearie me, 'tis a wee while since I last played the RevGals Friday Five, but, given the circ's, how could I not?  *very big grin*
A couple of the questions were slightly trickier given my dual nationality context... and I could have cheated and answered 'haggis' to most of these.

My first ever Friday Five is dedicated to Nikki, sister RevGal, who was hungering for an opportunity to write about Haggis. With that introduction, today’s FF is all about food!

1) Is there a food from a foreign land whose reputation led to trepidation when you had a chance to give it a try? Given I grew up in a country that rejoices in having a go at eating 'weird' foods such as snake, emu, kangaroo, croc, witchetty grubs, etc.  not a lot phases me.  I did slightly baulk at snails the first time I confronted the dish in a fancy French restaurant.  

Did you find the courage to sample it anyway? Yes
If so, were you pleasantly surprised or did you endorse the less than favorable reputation that preceded it?  Bleurgh.  And again I say bleurgh.  The taste wasn't the problem - it was smothered in garlic.  The texture was just...yuck. *shudders*  And in the name of all that's good and holy, never, never again.  Actually, while you're at it, I'm quite happy to pass on the rollmops, thanks.
2) What food from your own country/culture gets a bad rap?  HAGGIS!! It's marvellous stuff, especially with a wee dram.  Or, nodding in the direction of Australia and Marci...Vegemite.  Wonderful if scraped thinly on hot buttered toast.

3) Of what food are you fond that others find distasteful?  Well, given some folk baulk at haggis... but apart from that, ceviche infused with Tanqueray Ranjpur gin is something I could become very fond of.

4) Is there a country’s food, not native to you, that you go out of your way to eat?  I could, of course, cheat here and say HAGGIS!!!  But as my grandparents were Scots, it's kinda in the genes.  Um, does Danish pastry count, or indeed, Haagen Daz? :) 

5) What is your guilty pleasure food?  Chocolate.  And cookie dough Haagen Daz [disclaimer: other brands are available] 

Bonus: What was your most memorable meal (good or bad), either because of the menu, the occasion, the company, or some other circumstance that makes it stand out?  This year's incredible edible event was the 'Seven Courses, Seven Gins' meal in the company of three other intrepid diners.  A pal was the common link between the four of us and thought it would be a fun experiment putting us all together in the same room to see what sort of conversation might occur.  Pal of hers - and now friend of mine as well - is an amazing cook and he offered the gin-themed meal.  A different kind of gin was used in the making of each course, and as each course arrived, a shot glass of the gin also appeared.
For our aperitif, and kicking things off in style - Edinburgh raspberry gin fizz...
Hendricks cucumber sandwiches
Tomato and Adnams gin soup
Game terrine with Brokers gin
Tanqueray Rangpur gin ceviche
Sipsmith jelly as our palate cleanser...
Pork in Beefeater sauce
Saffron gin rice pudding.

A very merry evening indeed - and remarkably not one hangover the next morning.  Which is perhaps why it is actually a 'memorable' meal.  Given I am not really a drinker, this was out of the ordinary on several levels.
Ingredients for a memorable meal...