Did Jesus retire?

Last night at Presbytery we had the send off for Rev Margaret Muir (Glencaple and Lowther) who retires at the end of April.  With much laughter, some moments of cringing behind the desk, and obvious genuine love for one of our more entertaining ministers, Presbytery relaxed and celebrated what it meant for Margaret to work for the Lord.  Much was made of her legacy and it has to be said that she certainly leaves a legacy.  She has taught her congregations about prayer and spirituality, opened up the scriptures and put up with the Vicar of Dibley jokes with good grace.  And she shared some of what she hopes to do in the future but recognised that God has a plan for her and she awaits his direction.

Many ministers have retired to live a quiet life of rest and relaxation (and probably pulpit supply).  Margaret has hopes to continue to learn more from Scripture and to follow God’s plan for her retirement.  She retires from the parish ministry but she isn’t retiring from God’s work and call.  For me that is the most powerful legacy of all. And I heard God tell me to pray for her and the parishes she leaves.  So with nothing planned and simply the urge to pray I prayed – not with finesse but with genuine love for a woman who has constantly reminded me in the past year that God is greater than the church or me, and all is in His hands.

Reading through the Gospels and of course preparation for Easter can sometimes make us keep Jesus in the past.  He becomes a story, a wonderful story of hope and life and overcoming obstacles, but sometimes we lose his legacy in the keeping of traditions.  Like those who spoke about Margaret focussed on the past – on what she had done and said,  we too put Jesus in the past.

However we must remember that Jesus is somewhat like our Margaret – when he returned to heaven he didn’t retire from God’s work and plan.  He retired from parish ministry but he is still working for and with God his Father.  When he gave us the simple instruction (!) to go and make disciples he didn’t say it was all up to us because he was retiring from active service.  He said he would be with us always, even to the end of the age.

Let’s not treat Jesus as a has-been, retired from active service and put out to pasture.  And definitely, let’s not treat him as a wonderful story but let us worship him fully – recognising him as human and divine, Saviour and brother, the Word made flesh.

For when we stop treating Jesus like a story, albeit with a wonderful legacy, then those around us will stop seeing Jesus as a story too.

When Jesus is real to us, he will be real for others.

We are his witnesses for the 21st Century and there is no retirement age.

God bless

Love Sarah

Learning from biblical pessimists

Tonight I took part in a fascinating conversation about positive and negative attitudes with the Forth Youth Fellowship otherwise own as the FYF. Do you see the glass as half full or half empty? The young people were frank and challenging in their thoughts and very gracious with what could have been a difficult subject.

Being a YF we turned to Scripture and looked at some biblical “half-empty” people and what came of them.  We started with Jonah – he saw the glass half empty and legged it in the others direction.  He wasn’t for getting involved with those Ninevah folks.  And when eventually he does he is gutted because they change their ways and there is no mass destruction.  And no amount of pleading from God was changing his mind.

Then we moved to that fabulous tale of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 where he has lost the will to live. He is the last prophet left standing and he hears the queen of hearts yell “off with his head” – or words to that effect.  He too legs it but God is rather more gentle with him for it is fear rather than self interest that motivates his behaviour. God feeds him and allows him time to rest and heal. Then after a journey away from Jezebel and her minions he meets with God at the cave. There he experiences God’s power over nature and God comes gently once again. He sends Elijah to meet with the 7000 who believe as well as bringing him to Elisha, the one he will disciple. Elijah as we all know becomes one of the most highly revered prophets in the Jewish and Christian faith. Yet even he has bad days.

We finished with a look at Exodus chapter 3 and the infamous story of the burning bush. Here Moses argues with God – repeatedly telling God that he can’t do what He asks. No matter what God does or says, or “tricks” he shows Moses – Moses still says he can’t do it.  If anything Moses is pretty gutsy telling God he can’t do it but finally God wins with the help of brother Aaron.  Read on though and Moses becomes the one who changes the course of history for the Israelites and is right up there at the top of the faith tree. Moses even remains faithful when Aaron does not.

Being a glass half empty person doesn’t mean that good things won’t happen.  However Moses needed support and Elijah needed strength and with it, through God achieved amazing things. Jonah on the other hand refused God’s help and his story ends with him dejected and angry on a hillside.

Are you a Moses? Convinced that you can’t do it? With God all things are possible and there are folk who will support you until you find the way.

Are you Elijah? Hurt, broken, worn out, weary, stressed to the max? God brings you healing and strength for the road ahead.  He will provide people to share the load. He promises to never leave you nor abandon you.

Or are you Jonah? I pray not!

May you find God is faithful to you no matter your circumstances.

And I will do a blog on the optimists of the Bible soon – those who see the glass as half full.

God bless

Love Sarah

It was not nails that held Him there…

There stands the man who healed the sick and taught the uneducated.

There stands the man who fed 5000+ with 5 loaves and two fish.

There stands the man who calmed the storm and defeated temptation.

There stands the man who told stories and encouraged the weak.

There stands the man who welcomed women, children and incomers.

There stands the man who brought life to widows, children and brother Lazarus.

There stands the man who challenged unhelpful religious doctrine and called God Father.   

Here we stand joining with the mockers and detractors. 

Here we stand joining with the angry religious leaders.

Here we stand shouting “crucify him”.   

Now we stand idly by as Judas receives his payment. 

Now we stand idly by as Pilate washes his hands. 

Now we stand idly by as Peter denies his friend 3 times.

Now we stand idly by as all the friends run away.

Now we stand idly by as the purple robe is placed upon his shoulders.

Now we stand idly by as the crown of thorns is pulled down on his head.

We turn away as the blows reign down on his body.

We turn away as the soldiers mock and spit.

We turn away as the beam is laid across his shoulders.

We turn away as he trudges under its weight to the hill of crucifixion.

We turn away as the nails are hammered in – first wrist, second wrist, ankles.    We stand and watch as the cross is lifted and he hangs there, in the middle.  

We stand and watch as the sky darkens.  

We stand and watch as he cries: “Father, I give you my life”. 

We stand and watch as he breathes his last.  

The man who brought life gave his life for the life of us all. It was not the nails that held Jesus Christ, God’s only Son to the cross but love – pure unconditional love.   For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him will not die but have everlasting life.   

We hang our heads in shame, sorrow and wonder when the soldier praised God and said: “Surely this was a good man.” 

Written by Sarah Ross

Get emotionally involved with Jesus this Easter

Luke 19:28-40

Who is Jesus to you?  I suspect if I was to ask you to describe Jesus you could come up with any number of the words.  And if I was to ask you to describe your relationship with Jesus some of you would say that your relationship is like brother and sister, others just friends and others would have king and subject.  Some might even say Master and servant. 

The problem of how to relate to Jesus has always been.  Human beings are naturally complicated.  We are built to live in relationships and over the years we will have experienced a variety of relationships.  Parent/child, employer/employee, manager/staff, teacher/pupil, husband/wife, brother/sisters and of course friendships from the positive close ones to the ones that slowly fall apart over the years.  We know what it is like to be part of a selfish relationship where we give and the other takes.  And sadly some people know what it is like to be part of an abusive relationship.

Today’s story is an eye opener about how people understand the position of Jesus. 

And we have a perfect way of understanding their position.  I doubt any of us can escape from the Royal Wedding that takes place next week.  Now I want you to think about how you really feel about the wedding, especially if were to take place in Forth.  Some people are excited.  Some people are curious.  Some people genuinely don’t care.  Some people have already suggested that Prince William should become the next king rather than Prince Charles.  Some have always said we should get rid of the monarchy.

These different reactions to the Royal Wedding are indicative of what it was like 2000 years ago when Jesus rode in on his donkey.  Jesus had been travelling around for the best part of 3 years working with the marginalised – women, children, lepers, tax collectors and more.  He has proven that he can teach with authority, command crowds and work miracles.  Now here he is riding into Jerusalem being welcomed as the one who will overthrow the Romans. 

The fact he is riding a donkey and not a war horse – we could explain that away by suggesting the donkey is all that is available to Jesus.  The people didn’t mind what he was coming in on – as far as they were concerned here was the one who would restore Israel to the Jews.  Something we all like to do in our faith – ignore the bits we don’t like.  We can explain away anything that doesn’t fit with what we expect to happen.  The crowd did it that day – a donkey is not what a warrior king needs.  If anything that image would make the big scary Romans laugh.  But the people wanted Jesus to be their King of Israel in a human sense – a new King David. 

For sure Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was deliberately provocative.  He knew that the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were struggling with him.  He knew that his time was near and he made sure everyone knew that he was there.  He didn’t sneak in by the back gate, or under the cover of darkness.  Even though the time was coming for Jesus to face the music for his belief in God he still went with style. 

Sometimes we avoid those situations that ask us to be explicit with our faith.  Jesus wasn’t trying to offend people but to honour God. God doesn’t sneak around.  He doesn’t necessarily follow our rules but he doesn’t sneak around.  The birth of Jesus was told to shepherds, angelic choirs filled the heavens, a star was given to those from other nations, and more.  God doesn’t sneak around and he doesn’t expect us to either.  There are times when we have to be willing to be obvious with our faith.  Yet somewhere along the line we have been taught to hide our faith – perhaps because we live in a multi-cultural world.  Shall we ignore the ignominy that many fear the Islam faith, avoid the Jehovah witnesses like the plague and yet take the mickey out of the Christian faith?

There are Pharisees in our world too.  They tell us that we shouldn’t talk about Christ.  We can’t tell people about Christmas and Easter in our terms – yes presents and chocolate eggs – we are allowed those.  But can we broadcast that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life? 

Yet let’s not get downhearted – for 2000 years later, we are still gathering to worship our God.  The stories of Christmas and Easter are still told, if only because someone figured out how to make money from it, for the presents and chocolate is the donkey of the day.    Jesus is Lord over all and even creation knows it – and the stones would cry out.  If no one proclaims Jesus is Lord then creation will. 

Luke 19:41-48

For a few moments I wanted us to focus on the humanity and emotions of Jesus.  Part of the reason for this is simply to remind ourselves that we are dealing with a human being – one who is most certainly divine but one who lived his life as a human being. 

Over the years many stories have been written and films made about the real Jesus Christ.  Some have tried to be faithful to the stories if a little gory, whilst others have added to the stories, not least The Last Temptation of Christ or the Da Vinci Code.  Jesus with a lover, Jesus married or Jesus never died.  What we do know from Scripture:

·        Jesus was charismatic and able to draw people to himself.  Jesus didn’t always tell people what he was up to or ask their opinion or even seek a general consensus. 

·        Jesus taught his disciples and had 3 close friends – Peter, James and John – of whom one was to betray him. 

·        He delegated work and waited for the results. 

·        Jesus stood up to bullies, he challenged those in leadership often outsmarting them, he made people think and he worked miracles. 

·        He was often moved by great compassion for those suffering, he wept, he went off to pray because he was often spiritually exhausted by the work he did, he was practical and resisted being constrained by laws, though he acknowledged the laws of the land and kept them.

My personal favourite is his willingness to aim beyond the human and firmly into the divine court. 

He sent out the 72 with nothing but a message.  He fed the five thousand with 5 loaves and 2 fish complete with leftovers, and he turned water into the best wine.  He trusted God fully and proved God’s ability and willingness to provide again and again. Jesus was fully human – yes with an undeniable link to his father but human none the less.  Jesus gives us permission to be fully human –

·        to cry because there are those who cannot hear the message of love God brings.

·        to be angry because there are those who still abuse the privileges of God even today, and we must be wary of them.

·        but we must also recognise that just as Jesus demanded from God – so too can we.  Because of Jesus we too can aim for the divinely possible.

Our relationship with God our father, our mother, our creator, is allowed to be on a par with Jesus because of what Jesus did.  We are not called to have some lukewarm relationship with God.  We don’t have the perfection of Jesus though we can aim for it.  We might not have his ability to perform miracles – but I suspect that is more to do with our belief systems than the reality of God’s willingness to enable miracles to happen. 

What is your relationship like with God?  Do you see it as something that happens at a distance, perhaps only relying on God when crisis hits?  Or can you identify with Jesus his Son – someone who wept, laughed, got indignant even angry, who partied and prayed, who slept rough and ate with prostitutes?

In order to fully appreciate the wonder of Holy Week and Easter we must remind ourselves of the humanity of Jesus. 

Jesus did not give up despite everything – and at the very start of Holy Week we are reminded that he started with huge compassion and sorrow for his own people and righteous anger, even frustration at their lack of understanding and selfish motives.  And still he continued to the cross and beyond.  This is proof Jesus loves you.  This is proof God loves you. 

How awesome, how amazing, how life changing it is to know that God loves you that much. 

Don’t shy away from Holy Week – I hope you will share with us on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at 7:30pm in the Church, and there is worship on Wednesday as normal at 6:45pm.  And then of course Easter Sunday.  If you can’t share with us – take time over this week to read on to the end of Luke 23 slowly or use one of the other gospels, prayerfully and aware of the fact this happened to a real human being for you. 

Get emotionally involved with Jesus this Easter. 

Lent 4?

Well folks how is your Lent going?

I am doing okay with the comfort eating but obviously not so well with the reflective blogging!  Not that I haven’t been reflecting.  In fact there is so much to reflect on at the moment that my head is spinning.  And time is something that has become so filled up I haven’t had time to blog.  I have just uploaded some documents and trying to put the service together for Sunday.  We have also had a painter in, and moved bedrooms around and the whole house is in a guddle.  No room is exempt apart from the bathrooms. 

I don’t know about you but I don’t like clutter.  It just gets in the way.  But I do like the clean feeling when it is all tidied up.  And the great thing about a big mess is the feeling is increased.  Lent is a time when we are to declutter – our homes, our lives and especially our spiritual lives.  Over the months we pick up baggage – doubts, criticisms, and niggles that eat away at our faith.  Lent is a time to let go of the burdens we have collected whilst seeking healing, forgiveness and guidance.  In the desert Jesus would have prayed and thought about his 30 years in the family home and business.  He too had to let go in order to take up. 

I hope that you find time during Lent to let go and take up God’s offer of mercy and renewal. 

Psalm 139: 23-24 Investigate my life, O God, 
      find out everything about me; 
   Cross-examine and test me, 
      get a clear picture of what I’m about; 
   See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— 
      then guide me on the road to eternal life.  The Message

God bless you in your letting go and taking up.

Love Sarah

Ash Wednesday Lent 1

Lent is an interesting time of year that has become absorbed by culture.  For some it is a time to spring clean their lives by giving up chocolate, red wine or some other fun but not so healthy practice.  Others take a more positive step to take something up – work on a long uncompleted project, learn a new skill, read a book.  Tonight at Midweek Worship we are going to consider different options for Lent.  An idea I am toying with is whether or not we lay something down for the time of Lent – is it possible to lay down a responsibility for Lent and use the time to focus on another element of our lives? Many people are so busy in this world – yet we rarely stop to see what we are doing because we are so busy doing.  Is it possible to say that for the next 6 weeks I will take the time I usually spend running round like a headless chicken to sit down and work out how I spend my time?  Reading this I suspect many will say – no chance.  There is always stuff to do and it is impossible to take a break.  But do our children need to go to every social club – can we spend the hour together playing board games?  I don’t write this lightly for even as I type it I wonder if it is possible to say No.

I have set myself a 40 day challenge to read more and to put up a short reflection each day on the blog.  I doubt I will succeed but I want to try.  I have also given up comfort eating – trust me – if you knew how much cake I have been putting away recently you would be shocked.  Giving up comfort eating is for my health, and challenging how I cope with the difficult times.  Spiritually I am following a Lent book and from it I will put up my musings.  Perhaps I can develop some healthy spiritual behaviour as well for I am conscious in this busy world – work (even religious work) and family responsibilites drain the spiritual reserves. 

Jesus went into the desert and often went off by himself to pray as well as worked with thousands of people in need.  And if it is good enough for Jesus Christ, it has to be good enough for me. 

“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit; to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3 

Please share your Lent journeys with us if you wish. 

Loving God, we thank you for this time of penance and preparation as we prepare ourselves for Easter.  Whatever we have decided to do for Lent, help us be true to it – not just for our physical and mental health, but for our spiritual health.  May we use the learning curve to remember that we are yours and on you we rely.  And when we fail, lift us up and lead us forward.  Bring us into a deeper relationship with you.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.