Minister’s Blog

31 December 2018

On Friday, we succumbed to the pull of nostalgia and bought tickets for the recently released, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’. We were not disappointed. Although the songs may not be as memorable (time will tell!), it retains some of the original magic.

Emily Blunt may not sing as well as Julie Andrews but she is a much feistier Mary Poppins – and that’s a closer approximation to the original PL Travers’ creation. Seeing a 93 year old Dick van Dyke dancing on the banker’s desk was worth the ticket itself!

Instead of chimney sweeps, we have leeries. Instead of street art, we have a Royal Dalton punch bowl. Instead of flying kites, we have balloons. Instead of afternoon tea on the ceiling, it’s a topsy turvy world  generated by Meryl Streep no less!

Mary Poppins is one of my favourite literary characters. I admire her sensitivity to time. She is able to discern the right time to come and the right time to go. And she is quite unsentimental about the going –  leaving as quietly as her arriving. Her last words are, ‘It’s time!’

This is an essential characteristic for ministry. Some stay too long. They cannot let go the conceit of indispensability. Some don’t stay long enough to make any significant difference. But there is a right time to come and a right time to go. Moses knew that. Jesus too!

Minister’s Blog

30 December 2018

One of the highlights of the past year was the opportunity to do some more study leave. The topic was infinity and spanned two disciplines – mathematics and theology. Our two Scottish confessions describe God as infinite and, of course, mathematics is replete with infinity!

My first degree was in Pure Mathematics so it was great to be able to engage with the mathematical material once again. Whilst I was hesitant about working across two disciplines, I came to understand that the pursuit of truth was essential to all aspects of learning.

Two obvious observations. The more you study a subject, the more you realise how much you do not know. This is both humbling and exciting.  The more you look at two different areas of learning, the more you are able to identify common ground. This is illuminating.

In 1975,  one of the University chaplains suggested this sphere of exploration to me when I was studying Pure Mathematics at St. Andrews. It has taken me forty-three years to rise to this challenge! It has been worth the wait!

Minister’s Blog

29 December 2018

As usual, we had brussels sprouts with our turkey and all the trimmings. They were particularly good this year. We didn’t need to wait in line at Asda or Tesco to buy them. They simply arrived at the back door unannounced and unexpected on Saturday night.

As you can see from the photograph, there are still some left and we look forward to consuming them shortly. But you can also see that the sprouts didn’t arrive in a plastic bag (God forbid!) nor a paper bag (save our trees!) but on their stock!

This is surely the greenest mode of arrival – and to be commended. This was the spirit of Christmas greening the earth and enfolding the gift in generous anonymity. Who was this unseen green grocer?

There are lots of brussels sprouts being harvested in one of the fields at Knowes at the moment? Others are harvesting sprouts from their gardens for they can lie undisturbed throughout the winter and don’t need to be harvested until eaten.

We greatly appreciated the gift and are intrigued by its anonymity. It makes us wonder about our neighbours and friends and casts them all in a beautiful light. For someone looked upon is with favour and blessed us with the love which came down at Christmas!

Minister’s Blog

28 December 2018

A member of the congregation sent me an interesting  reflection on the incarnation. Surprisingly enough, it was written by Jeffrey Archer and entitled, ‘The Son of God’. In it, he plots the ordinariness of God’s work in Christ from the baby laid in the manger through to the king enthroned on a cross. He concludes:

When he died at the age of thirty-three, there were no obituaries in the local press reporting his achievements, no glossy supplements highlighting his colourful career, no radio programmes to discuss his legacy and no box sets recording any of his miracles.

But then, he’d never relied on focus groups to advise him on current trends, or advertising gurus to spend millions promoting his brand, or spin doctors to sharpen his image and he didn’t require social media to keep his followers up to date so you could be forgiven for assuming he’d be forgotten in a few days.

So how can one explain that over two thousand years later, Jesus Christ is still the best-known celebrity on earth? Could it just be that he was the Son of God?’ What do you think about that?

Minister’s Blog

27 December 2018

Recently, there has been an extraordinary display of origami paper doves in Salisbury Cathedral. It was created by the artist, Michael Pendry, and was displayed in Munich, Jerusalem, San Francisco before arriving in Salisbury.

There were 2,500 doves in the installation and everywhere it goes it gets bigger. For Pendry invites people to make up their own  origami dove and write a message of peace on it. These doves  are then incorporated into the next installation.

In the cathedral, there is a beautiful font with four spouts where the water runs freely into a drain in the floor.  As well as the flowing water, there is also the still water. The water is so still, you can see a reflection of the stained glass windows.

When the doves were hanging from the ceiling, you could see them reflected in the font. That was very special. For when Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan, a dove descended from heaven and God said, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’

That didn’t stop Jesus from starting life as a homeless baby having to travel to Egypt as a refugee to escape the cruelty of King Herod! Ever since then he was concerned for people who were homeless, hungry, friendless.

Minister’s Blog

26 December 2018 – Boxing Day

On their  fourth orbit of the moon, the astronauts aboard Apollo 8  had an extraordinary experience. Just before Christmas fifty years ago, they were the first people to see not a sunrise but an earth rise. Bill  Anders took this photograph. Here you can see the earth rising above the moon. It is the first time anyone on earth had ever seen this!

On Christmas Eve 1968,  they were orbiting the moon for the ninth time when they broadcast to the earth. About a quarter of the earth’s population heard them speak. They  read the first words  of the Bible, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ From this perspective, it is obvious that the earth is not the centre of the Universe but  just another planet.

I have a framed copy of his photograph above my desk. It is a constant reminder to me to readjust my perspective and see things from God’s perspective and not my own. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave  his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ says St. John. And this is what we celebrate on Christmas Day.

The one who made the stars in space and gave the planets their orbits, came down to earth in the form of a little baby called Jesus.  Just as the photograph of the earth taken from the surface of the moon makes us look small, so the picture of the baby laid in the manger makes God look small too! But it’s through  smallness and helplessness  that God’s work is done and  the world will be saved!

Minister’s Blog

25 December 2018 – Christmas Day

‘No room in the inn’ has become a metaphor for all those who walk the streets of Christmas alone. People who are homeless, cut off from family and friend, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants. People with no food,  health care, hope, nor peace.

And like the Christchild in Stirling’s Thistle Centre can claim no place nor space as their own. It took three years for the church to persuade those in charge of the Thistle  Centre to change their minds and allow a Nativity scene to be displayed there!

For long enough, the authorities said that they wanted to remain religiously and politically neutral and thus avoid offending their customers! Of course, the foolishness of their position is easily exposed.

By virtue of refusing to allow a Nativity Scene to be displayed you are making religious and political statements. You are declaring you are not sympathetic to the very religion which is amassing your fortune in Christmas sales.

And you are aligning yourself with those who want to restrict the right which Christians have like everyone else under the UN Declaration of Human Rights ‘to freedom of opinion and expression’.

And what offence was a Nativity Scene going to give their anonymous customers? It was educating the people about  the season. It was adding a piece of visual art to enrich their  gaze. It was telling a tale which for at least sixteen hundred years has been part of Scotland’s cultural heritage!

Is this rampant secularism or political correctness or is it simply a lack of imagination or perhaps, more likely, a fear of the imagination which will take people to different places, to think different thoughts and to become a different world?

Minister’s Blog

24 December 2018

The East Linton Primary School Assembly was a sell-out once again. The gallery was full of parents, grandparents and friends of the children who filled all the seats downstairs. The children read the Christmas Gospel and sang some carols. The choir and the Infant classes sang and several children played their musical instruments.

I spoke to the children about the  good and bad news in Christmas.  ‘Here’s the good news – Santa’s been but the bad news is his sleigh crashed into  the front door and smashed it to smithereens!’ The children burst into fits of laughter.  ‘Here’s the good news – we’re having turkey and all the trimmings  but the bad news is that the dishwasher has broken  and the children have  got to do all the washing up!’ More laughter!

When I began to unpack the Nativity Story with, ‘Here’s the good news – an angel came to tell Mary that she was going to be the mother of Jesus but the bad news is that she didn’t have a husband yet!’ The laughter continued right through until we got to the end, ‘Here’s the good news – Mary, Joseph and the baby made their escape from Herod but the bad news is that they were forced to become refugees in a foreign land!’

There’s nothing finer than the laughter of children nor is there a sweeter sound than children finding joy in the upside down world of the Christmas Gospel. When I got to the end of my address, the laughter stopped. For in the good news of the baby born in Bethlehem, there is the bad news of his homelessness and status as a refugee.

This is the real world of our Christmas where fourteen million people in the Yemen stand on the brink of starvation! The Good News is that we can do something about it  but  the bad news is that  sometimes we forget that God’s love came down at Christmas and that’s why we celebrate today!

Minister’s Blog

23 December 2018

In one of the fields around the Smeaton estate, there were two Ryeland sheep. They are small and plump, dark brown in colouring. They were not happy. The one sang tenor, the other sang bass although not in tune.

Often there are horses in this field or Highland cows. On one occasion, I saw a bull. He was being separated deliberately from his female relatives to protect them from his amorous advances.

Later on, I saw the rest of the Ryeland  flock in a field by the main road. When I met Caroline,  I asked her about the separated sheep. They had been kept behind for a good reason. They were going to visit the Tea Room.

I know that dogs and horses can be very good therapy especially for people who have difficulties with communication. I suppose the same could be true for these carol-singing sheep but the immediate attraction is not so obvious.

I don’t know how the sheep got on amid the soup, sandwiches and scones but they were seasonal. For there were shepherds in the field looking after their sheep by night when the angels came and sang their hymn of praise, ‘Glory to God, peace on earth!’

Peace on earth began with lowly shepherds being included around the manger and before that, the birth of one who was to take the name, ‘Lamb of God’, for he was slain for the sins of the world’s lack of peace!

Minister’s Blog

22 December 2018

The snowdrop has been true to form. It has blossomed in the manse garden just before Christmas. It has happened almost every year since my induction. This photograph was taken yesterday.

Although we haven’t had much frost, the temperatures have been lower and we have clearly passed through Autumn into Winter. The presence of the blossoming snowdrop is evidence that Spring is not far away!

It seems strange but I have never seen in the snowdrop an image of Mary but she is there. The flower is white, symbol of purity and virginity. The head is bowed low to the ground replicating Mary’s traditional pose over the manger in the Nativity.

And, of course, the snowdrop is our first intimation of Spring and the new life which follows at Easter. ‘The desert shall rejoice and blossom.’ says Isaiah about the coming of God. And Winter is our desert rejoicing today with a little Spring in the bleak midwinter!

Minister’s Blog

21 December 2018

According to the National Records of Scotland, Olivia and Jack were the most popular names for a girl and a boy born this year. Apparently, Jack has been in the top spot for eleven years and Olivia has been the most popular girl’s name for the past three years.

Interestingly, none of the names which we chose for our children appeared in the top ten girls’ or boys’ names. Over a period of thirty years or so fashions change. Anna and Sarah were popular in the eighties as was David.

Naming a child is one of parenthood’s greatest privileges. In the name, we confirm the child’s existence and characterize her identity. So long as there is someone to call us by name, we will never be just a number or a statistic.

But even if people forget our names, God will never forget them because he has written our name on the palm of his hand and knows who we are since before we were born. As the psalmist says:

‘When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother’s womb,

when I was growing there in secret,

You knew that I was there – you saw me before I was born.’

Minister’s Blog

20 December 2018

When the angel visited Mary with the unexpected news that she was going to be the mother of Jesus, he said,‘Do not be afraid!’ When he appeared to Joseph in a dream, he said, ‘Do not be afraid!’ When the angel visited the shepherds, he said, ‘Do not be afraid!’

Throughout the Bible, God’spresence is punctuated with the words, ‘Do not be afraid!’ God says to Abraham,‘Do not be afraid. I will shield you from danger!’ And to Gideon, ‘Do not be afraid, you will not die!’ And to Isaiah and the exiles, ‘Do not be afraid. I will save you!’

In his presence, they all sense what one theologian described as the ‘mysterium tremendum’ – the tremendous mystery surrounding God which produces a sense of fear whenever the mystery is disclosed.

Like Moses standing before the burning bush or Jacob at the foot of the ladder stretching up from earth to heaven, we sense that we are standing on holy ground and we are filled with awe!