Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sermon 26 June, Wk 4 Galatians series 'Fruit'

In the shadow of Thursday's EU referendum...

Psalm 16;   Galatians 5:1, 13-25

A million years ago, when I was an older teenager –  yes, it really was a long time ago –
I had a habit of cutting out and collecting
wise sayings with a twist, bad puns,
and deeply philosophical questions and statements, such as:
‘Do red corpuscles live in vein?’
[I never said they were good!]
‘Be odd, for God.’
At one point, in youth group, we were exploring the very same passage from Galatians that was read earlier, and thinking about the fruit of the Spirit. I remember our Youth Pastor looking at us all at one point, and observing:
‘God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts’
A saying that I immediately took note of and added to my collection .
The expression made such an impact upon my younger self,
that thereafter, every time I walked past a block of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate in a shop, Galatians 5:22 and 23 would pop immediately into my head.
I’ll be curious to see if that now happens to you...

Having begun Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we’ve covered
a wee bit of ground now – and we’re beginning to move into the home straight.
We’ve been thinking of themes around
change and transformation;
of unity and diversity;
of being clothed in Christ.
We’ve thought about grace,
and we’ve thought about religious codes – or laws.
Paul talks a lot about law, and especially within this letter to the young churches
in Galatia, who have been beset by those who would impose old religious laws upon them.
Paul has been urging them to break free of these shackles
that they’ve bound themselves in and, in our text this morning,
Paul brings home the message of living in the freedom of Christ:
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’
He then talks of what it is to be called into this freedom:
and it’s not a freedom from all responsibility ...
rather, this freedom is found within the context of community,
of relationship...
a freedom that has love at the centre,
a freedom that shows the fruit of that love in service to one another;
a freedom that can see the old law boiled down to this:
to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.
To love and serve your neighbour is part of a communal, mutual giving:
building one another up,
growing, blossoming, flourishing together.

Paul is particularly keen to emphasise this context of mutual love and service,
this context of ‘commonweal’ –  a guid Scots word...
He’s keen, because he’s addressing a community
that has been seriously at odds with one another:
split and riven by divisions about what it is to be a ‘true’ follower of Christ.
And the arguments that they’ve been having have been harsh and bitter and destructive.
Paul is alarmed by what’s been happening to these young faith communities,
communities that he’d shared the gospel with;
communities that had grown in faith, and strength and love;
communities that were learning the way of peace by following the Prince of peace;
communities... who were now so at odds with one another that they are seen to be
‘biting and devouring one another’,
and if they continued down this path they would destroy each other.
To stem the flow of violence and self-destruction of these faith communities,
Paul reminds them to ‘live by the Spirit’,
to be ‘led by the Spirit’ rather than living under the law.
He reminds them of the fruit of the Spirit:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But note what begins the list: love.
Love is the starting point – where God is, there is love.
Love is the root which enables the fruit to flourish.
And Paul is not saying don’t disagree with one another,
remember he recognises diversity within the unity...
Rather, Paul would seem to imply that by seeking to live in, and be led by the Spirit –
even amidst differences of opinion –
the community will work together to find a way
to accommodate one another so that all may flourish:
they may occasionally disagree, but through the Spirit they can
find a way in which to do so healthily,
to do so in a loving manner.

While it seems a life-time ago, it was only 21 months back,
that I stood here in front of you all, conducting worship –
but worship done whilst preaching as sole-nominee to hopefully become minister of the parish.
Then, as now, it was a couple of days after a referendum.
Then, as now, there were campaigns run,
from both sides of the debate, that were less than savoury:
name-calling, taunts, sometimes sheer bullying,
tactics aimed to instil fear,
tactics used to cover up lack of any concrete policies...
Then as now, communities began to divide down opposing lines,
then as now, families found themselves on different sides of the fence,
...then as now, in the aftermath,
there are those who rejoice at the result,
and those who are dismayed.
And then, as now...
we, as the community of love -
each one of us having voted in different ways for what we believed was genuinely
the best way forward for Scotland, or the UK -
then as now, we must model love.
We must love one another – no biting or devouring one another...
we must love our neighbour – the neighbour we know who may
have voted quite differently from us;
we must model love, and show the fruit of the Spirit
in our conversations,
in our communities:, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,’
let us live in that freedom so that we work towards
restoring harmony,
rebuilding fractured communities...
let us live in that freedom by serving one another in love –
showing to our friends,
our neighbours,
a positive way forward as we, as a nation, walk through a new way of being in the world.
Whichever way we voted on Thursday, we still have to live with one another:
how can we find ways to practice the fruit of the Spirit
as we get on with the business of living?
Where might we demonstrate kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control...?
How might we find ways of living joyfully, and at peace, with one another?
As we live into the freedom we’ve been given,
remember to listen to the voice of the Spirit,
guiding our steps,
urging us onward in the way of love...

As I was pondering what to say today, I remembered an old story –
and, I don’t think I’ve shared it with you, but if I have, bear with me!
It’s a story about a community of monks...
The community had once been a thriving order, but over the years had fallen on hard times.
Only 10 monks and their Abbot remained, and most of them were quite elderly.
They were also dispirited, and sometimes crotchety,
and occasionally would fall out with one another;
...the joy seemed to have gone out of the place.
The Abbot decided one day to go walking in the woods that surrounded the monastery,
pondering how he could reconcile his brothers to live in peace.
In the deepest part of the forest lived a hermit and the Abbot found himself
drawn to seek the hermit out and ask for his advice.  

The hermit welcomed this brother in God, listened in silence to the Abbot’s story
of bickering monks and then commiserated with him.
The Abbot asked the hermit what to do.  
But the hermit shook his head,
‘it is a difficult situation, brother, I am not sure what to advise you...
but what I do know is that Jesus is among you.’
They embraced, and the Abbot headed back to the monastery.

Upon returning, he called the brothers all together and told them of his meeting with the hermit.  Trying to recall the conversation, the Abbot, a little muddled, told them
‘the hermit said that Jesus is one of us. I’m not sure what he meant.’
They sat silently for a while, prayed together and went off about their duties.
But as they went about their work, each one began to wonder
about the hermits words...and if it was true:
was Jesus one of them... and if so, who?
Could it be the Abbot?
Or Brother Philip, or perhaps Brother Benedict or...
For days, each of the monks puzzled over which one in their midst might be Jesus...
And as the days turned into weeks,
and the weeks turned into months,
still the mystery held their attention:
‘which of my brothers is Jesus?’
And as they pondered, a strange thing happened:
they began to treat each other with more and more respect,
on the off-chance that one was indeed Jesus.

By the end of the year, the community had become a place in
which each member held extraordinary respect and love for the other –
indeed, love and joy seemed to radiate from them.
What had been a place of brotherly bickering
had become a place of healing and reconciliation as each served the other...
For as each served the other, there indeed was Jesus.

People passing by the monastery would often linger,
as they found themselves strangely compelled by the place.
Occasionally, they would meet one of the monks working in the gardens
or walking in the woods,
and in conversation would discover that Jesus was in their midst.
Folk found themselves drawn to come and spend time there,
to play, and to pray, and to bring their friends with them...
knowing that they would find welcome
and perhaps, even Jesus, at this place...
a place in which joy had returned
and a growth in numbers,
all seeking to find Jesus in the midst of them.   ...  ...

As I stand here, looking at all of you,
I echo the words of the hermit:
‘Jesus    is among us.’ ...

And so, as we look at one another here this morning,
let us see Jesus in the face of each other...
And as we go back into our homes,
 to our places of work,
or places of play and rest,
or as we walk along the street...
let us see Jesus
in the faces of the ones we encounter.
And as we do so,
may the fruit of the Spirit blossom in abundance...
and may we build, in our small way,
communities of love - this day, and always,
based on the great love of God,
revealed in the Son...
and, in so doing, bring in God’s kindom.
 Let’s pray:
Christ, our brother
Help us love one other
As you have loved us.
Help us live in, and be led by your Spirit,
bearing fruit that brings blessing upon us,
our families,
our communities,
as we seek to walk in your way of peace.
We ask, in your name,

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sermon, 19 June, Galatians series wk 3: 'Make the world more beautiful'

Not at all where I'd originally intended upon going with the Galatians reading...
but in the light of this last week's events...sometimes original intentions need changed.

1st READING: Psalm 22:19-28
2nd READING: Galatians 3:1-5, 23-29  

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

There’s a lovely children’s book called ‘Miss Rumphius.’
The story is told by wee Alice, and it’s about the great-aunt
who she’s been named after.
Sometimes great aunt Alice is also known as ‘the lupine lady’,
or called by her formal name: Miss Rumphius.
When great-aunt Alice was the same age as wee Alice,
she’d visit her grandfather who was an artist and who also lived by the sea.
Sometimes he’d let his little grand-daughter help him when he was working.
At other times, she’d sit on his knee, and he’d tell her
stories of all the adventures he’d had travelling around
the great, wide world to faraway places.
She vowed that she, too, would live by the sea,
and that, like her grandfather, would travel to faraway places.
"That is all very well, little Alice, "said her grandfather, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 
And so, little Alice grows up, and indeed, travels far and wide,
just as her grandfather had done.
And having come to the end of her travels, she settles down by the sea.
But she always remembers her grandfather’s words about making the world more beautiful.

It’s when she falls ill, and is laid up in bed, that she looks out of her window
and spies the lupines she’d planted the year before, swaying in her garden –
blue and purple and rose... beautiful.
And thinks again of her grandfather.
And so, Alice – Miss Rumphius – makes it her mission to plant lupines:
around her house,
around her village,
all along the highways and byways, and beyond.
As time passes and seasons change the lupines blossom into loveliness –
giving cheer to all those who see them.
Giving hope to all those who feel hopeless.
Spreading beauty just as her grandfather had asked.
The story ends with great-aunt Alice handing on the baton to her wee great niece.
"When I grow up," wee Alice tells her, "I too will go to faraway places and 
come home to live by the sea." 
"That is all very well, little Alice," says her aunt, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 

‘Make the world more beautiful’
It’s a fine sentiment, in a world that currently feels
jangly, disjointed,
harsh, and ugly.
We see the headlines shouting at us from the newspapers,
or blaring from the screen;
hear rhetoric and hate-speech,
watch as the world seems to be careening dangerously towards
the edge of a waterfall where it may well land on jagged, pointy rocks
at the bottom and be splintered into thousands of shards.

I can’t even begin to make sense of the targeted hate-crime
against LGBT folk last weekend,
nor the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox,
nor of football hooliganism,
or the ongoing war in Syria,
and the millions of displaced, dispossessed people
struggling to escape death because of that war.
Then there’s Vladimir Putin and his dangerous posturing,
all the uncertainties around the upcoming American election,
not to mention our own referendum next week
and the vitriol and negativity and fear-mongering
coming from both sides of that particular debate.
‘Make the world more beautiful.’
It’s a fine sentiment...
but how can we when the world feels so dark and full of fear:
fear that breeds intolerance, hatred, violence;
fear that freezes the very blood in our veins;
fear that saps us of our energy and robs us our joy?
It feels so hard to fight against the fear.

And then, we read the words of Paul,
to the young faith communities of Galatia;
words written to correct some issues that had gotten a
tad out of hand, yet nevertheless, words that spoke to a climate of fear:
fear of deviating from religious rules.
Words written in a time of Roman rule:
where there was a well-ingrained fear of deviating from secular rules.
These were words written to people subjected to a mighty, conquering oppressor;
words written in a time where the distinctions of
race, culture, status, gender, and faith mattered in society –
and where Paul states that they no longer do.
It’s a time where to question the authority of Rome was to risk your life –
where you hoped you’d be okay if you just kept your head down and got on with it;
a time where emperors were supposed to be worshipped as gods
and, where to be a follower of Jesus would put you outside the
bounds of Roman Law.
A time, where, like now, it was easy to cover yourself in the clothes of fear,
even with the strange stability that Roman occupation brought.

And so Paul writes:
‘You are all sons (and daughters) of God, 
through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you 
who were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ’
In this climate of fear,
he reminds them of their baptism:
of whose they are;
of the faith they professed when they were baptised;
of the faith that broke the chains of legalism and set them free;
of the faith, and of the act, that washed the old away,
that chased the darkness out;
of the faith that stripped away the ragged clothes
of fear, of suspicion, of division
and which clothed them in Christ:
the light-bringer,
the life-giver,
the love-bearer,
the liberator.

Paul’s words remind us,
that in our baptism, we belong to Christ, just as the Galatian Christians did.
We belong to the One who lived his life
so freely,
and so fully,
that those who preferred darkness and diminishing others were driven to kill him.
I’m minded of the words of the philosopher, Albert Camus, who said:
‘the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become 
so absolutely free, that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’

Jesus’ life, was an act of rebellion.
To live freely and fully, as Christ did, and to rebel against the chains of fear,
makes this world a more beautiful place:
for it denies the power of fear its opportunity to choke the life of the world
completely into dull, deathly submission.

To live freely, to live into our baptism, and to be clothed in Christ,
is to see life differently:
to live in faith, not fear –
hope, not hate...
It is to seek the freedom of others...
to see the face of Christ in others regardless of the self-made distinctions
that society, and fear, try to create.
And to behold the face of Christ is a beautiful thing.

In the service of welcome, which greets guests at the beginning
of each week on the island, the Iona Community talks of
‘seeing Christ in the stranger’s guise’.
In our baptism, clothed in Christ, we are called to see others
as if they, too, are clothed in Christ.
In doing so, we go against a prevailing culture that seeks to put up walls,
or to name those we don’t know as
‘terrorists’ or ‘economic migrants’
or a thousand other labels...
To be clothed in Christ is to stand against the fear and hate and darkness
that wants to divide and conquer and destroy.
As a community of faith, we stand together, as brothers and sisters in Christ,
pointing to him,
pointing to freedom and light –
and that his light is never overcome...
And, clothed in Christ, as we point to him,
we show the world a different way of seeing
and of being:
we point to a different ending to the story,
as we focus on God’s love and goodness,
and, as we, through our baptism, wear that love and goodness –
share that love and goodness,
it's like the scattering of lupines...
blue and purple and rose,
bringing beauty into a world struggling so hard to find it.

Clothed in Christ, we are heirs to the promise that God made to Abraham:
we share in his blessing and as we do,
so we share the blessing as we love God and love others –
as we turn our own focus from fear to God,
whose perfect love casts out all fear.

Earlier this week, poet Maggi Smith –
no, not Dame Maggi –
published a poem online, which has subsequently gone ‘viral’ –
meaning, it’s turning up everywhere on social media.
It speaks to the complexity of the time in which we live,
and it speaks of beauty.
I’ve substituted a word, out of good manners,
but otherwise, this is what she wrote:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real [s**thole] dump, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right?
You could make this place beautiful.
                                                               Maggi Smith

Earlier in the service, water was poured into our baptismal font,
and after the service ends, I invite you to come and dip your hand -
or your fingers into the water - to remember that you have been
clothed in Christ and need not fear.
Remember: it is for freedom that we have been set free in Christ:
set free, and called to bring in the kin-dom of heaven on earth:
to make this place –
this planet, this country, this parish,
one another...beautiful.   Amen.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sermon, Sun 12 June, Yr C: 'The shock in Antioch' - from Galatians 2:11-21

1st READING: Psalm 5:1-8
2nd READING: Galatians 2: 9-21

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

The ‘rumble in the jungle’...
the ‘thrilla in Manilla’...
Foreman, Frasier, and Ali –
perhaps the greatest boxers of all time,
and whose rivalry, skill, and power
awed, stunned, and entertained millions back in the day.
Ali, who was buried on Friday
in Louisville, Kentucky,
was more than ‘just a boxer’, however.
Since his death, the airwaves and the internet
have been filled with retrospectives, and clips.
Many of them naturally focusing upon his prowess in the ring,
but more than a few noting that this physically powerful man
was also funny, articulate,
and used the power of his fame
 – or notoriety –
as a vehicle for social change.

An Olympic gold medal winner in 1960,
the story, told by Ali,
is that he came home from Rome,
went into a restaurant,
and was refused service because of the colour of his skin.
Marching out of the place, he headed for the Ohio river,
took off his gold medal,
and threw it into the swirling waters in disgust.
Throughout the rest of his life,
Ali championed civil rights,
believing and fighting for a society
that would include and embrace all.
And because of his belief in a free and fair society,
he was no stranger to controversy –
from the ‘Establishment’, of course,
but occasionally, from those who were also
championing civil rights –
who felt he should follow their way of doing things.
He was a powerful and passionate man
– a great humanitarian -
and I think the world is a little less sparkly with his passing.

This morning, in our passage from Galatians,
we meet two heavyweights of the faith,
who, according to our text,
lock horns over ways of doing things –
of living out the Christian life:
we come across a face-off between Peter – the ‘Rock’ –
and Paul – ‘the persecuter'.
And in a nod to Ali and co., let’s call this meeting
the ‘shock in Antioch’.

Last week, we talked about the gospel and of transformation and change;
this, in light of Paul’s anger at what had transpired
since he’d last spent time with the faith communities in Galatia.
A quick re-cap:
a group had come along, after Paul had moved on
to preach the gospel to others.
This group had basically told the new believers
that they had to meet certain conditions in order to be ‘of the true faith’;
these conditions being an acceptance of Jewish rites – circumcision –
and of following the law laid down in the Torah.
It was ‘Jesus plus the law equals proper belief.’
And the young in the faith,
wanting to follow Jesus,
had bought the ‘Jesus plus’ formula that this
group had brought among them.
Paul was horrified:
he is quick to rebut the erroneous teaching.
He reminds the Galatians that the gospel is ‘good news’:
is Jesus, and...
only Jesus -
not ‘Jesus and something else’.
No works,
no law,
just pure, and utter grace from God:
the freedom of forgiveness,
the freedom of new life –
life in Christ.
The old had gone,
the new had come.
And, telling the Galatians his story,
his ‘road to Damascus’ experience,
he reminds them that,
the power of God’s love in Christ alone
was what had transformed him from persecutor to preacher.

The gospel, as we heard last week,
is about change and transformation.
And there’s more:
it’s about welcoming all,
building bridges, not walls.
As Paul continues in his letter,
he tells the Galatians of meeting with Peter –
first, in Jerusalem, and later, in Antioch.
Things initially seemed to be going well in Antioch.
Peter was meeting with the new believers,
in fact, Peter was eating with the new believers...
Peter, who before his encounter with Jesus
would never have ritually defiled himself by eating with non-Jews.
For Peter, there has been a change:
Jesus has broken down the barriers between Jew and Gentile,
uniting them in himself.

Peter had previously had a vision of ‘clean and unclean’ foods,
had seen God clearly blessing non-Jewish followers of Jesus,
such as the centurion Cornelius.
Peter had discovered the inclusive love of God for all,
not just the chosen few.
But there, in Antioch, he has a wobble:
a group sent by the disciple James, comes from Jerusalem to visit.
Peter is suddenly conspicuous by his absence
amongst the Gentile converts,
afraid to be rebuked by this group from Jerusalem.
And his actions cause others around him to wobble –
those disciples who had a Jewish background
also withdrew themselves from their fellow believers in Christ,
with Paul almost spitting out in disgust:
and ‘even Barnabas was led astray.’
Good, solid, faithful companion that he was,
when someone like Peter –
someone who had spent years in the company of Jesus –
comes to town and acts in a certain way,
then, out of respect for his authority and experience,
you’re not likely to stand up and go:
‘um, Peter, I’m not sure this is such a great idea.’
You’re not likely to...
unless you’re Paul, that is.

Paul’s not afraid of making a stand,
not afraid of rocking the boat.
As he, himself writes to the Galatians:
‘When I saw that they were not acting in line 
with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all...’
and then he goes on to show how he publicly called out Peter.
Paul does seem to have a bit of a habit of getting folk
to pin back their ears and listen to him.
But, in this particular matter, Paul is right
and Peter’s done a ‘Peter’ and messed up.
Paul’s one tough cookie –
he’s determined to demonstrate
the all-encompassing wideness of the gospel:
that God’s love is for everyone.
To remind even Peter, that great pillar of the faith,
that in Jesus, all barriers are broken down –
although different, yet all are one in Him:
Paul says:
‘I have been crucified with Christ 
and I no longer live, 
but Christ lives in me.

Transformation and change, yes,
along with unity in diversity.
Here Paul is showing
to Peter and his companions from Jerusalem...
to the Galatians...
to us,
that faith is about expanding the way we think,
is about refocusing the way we think;
it reorients the heart and soul and spirit.
Within the all-embracing love of God,
in faith, having been loved by God,
we love God in return –
and, in faith, extend that love to all humanity.
‘Through death and resurrection, Christ comes 
to dwell in the human heart and to produce a community 
based not on social distinctions but on love.’ [Wendy Farley, FOTW, 136]

Another nod to Muhammad Ali:
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky.
Interesting things seem to happen in that city.
The great 20th century spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, was a monk.
He had spent his life rejecting the world,
encircling himself in silence, and prayer, and meditation.
One day, away from the monastery, and wandering the streets of Louisville,
Merton had an epiphany, a lightbulb moment, if you like.
In his book, ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,’ he writes:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, 
in the center of the shopping district, 
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization 
that I loved all these people, 
that they were mine and I theirs, 
that we could not be alien to one another 
even though we were total strangers...’
Merton goes on:
There is no way of telling people that 
they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, 
the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire 
nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, 
the person that each one is in God’s eyes. 
If only they could all see themselves 
as they really are. 
If only we could see each other 
that way all the time. 
There would be no more war, no more hatred, 
no more cruelty, no more greed...’

A gospel of transformation and change.
A gospel of welcome: of unity and diversity.
A gospel of love.
Love is not always easy.
And there are times when loving some folk
is particularly challenging.
Perhaps a way of walking in love
is trying to imagine how God sees them;
and trying to walk in someone else’s shoes –
to try and imaginatively enter into that person’s life;
to wonder, and to ask what their story might be
before we make a quick judgement.
Loving people when they do things differently
to the way we might prefer is also challenging...
but in love, first ask just ‘why’ they may be doing things that way.
And then, there are those we may see in the media –
people in positions of power who have misused that power in shocking ways –
whether ruling their land with an iron fist of fear...
or ruling the roost at home and making everyone walk on eggshells.
How do we find a way to acknowledge that even those we see as unlovely
are nevertheless, beloved of God -
even though God may weep at the choices they make?
How do we love certain others, when they don’t love in return?
How do we love those who have caused us deep, deep hurt?
So often, it feels easier to harden our hearts;
to become judge and jury;
to choose the way of violence, of vengeance...
or, depending on our situation, of using passive-aggression.
So often, the way of love is held up as weak, as ‘wishy-washy’.
Choosing to love is the hardest thing that we can humanly do.
Choosing to love
is costly.
Choosing to love
is choosing to follow
in the footsteps of the One
who knew what it was to love fully –
even unto death...
Choosing love is an act of faith
and an expression of hope:
a hope that reaches beyond death and sees new life –
resurrection and reconciliation.
Paul was using fighting words when he challenged Peter.
In a similar way to Muhammed Ali,
this powerful, passionate, and articulate man,
used the power of his fame
– well, his notoriety –
as a vehicle for social change:
However, as he continued defending the good news of the gospel –
Paul was also using his power to effect spiritual change,
by showing the gospel of life-giving grace for all.

For Paul, the gospel – the news of God’s love in Jesus -
spoke of a love wider, bigger, than we can ever fully understand.
A love that, every day, has a new beginning
as we die to self and allow Christ to live in us.

Let us, as Christ’s community,
choose to walk in love now, and every day:
learning to find the beauty and wonder in God,
and in one another,
and let love be our prayer in action.  Amen.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Picture prayers: On St Columba's Day

'St Columba on his farm in Scotland' - Anthea Craigmyle
I love this painting by Anthea Craigmyle of St Columba: a homely, earthy depiction, which also picks up that sense of cheerfulness much attributed to him [although I do feel a sense of the Pythonesque - hard to resist humming: 'Always look on the bright side of life].

O God, who gave to your servant Columba
the gifts of courage, faith and cheerfulness,
and sent people forth from Iona
to carry the word of your gospel to every creature:
grant, we pray, a like spirit to your church,
even at this present time…
[prayer from the Iona Community]