10th January, 2021

Opening Prayer - Eilidh Canning of Ardnamurchan Parish Church

Dear Lord,


As we come before you today, weary, hurting and anxious, we ask that you continue to keep us safe.


Lead us through this challenging time as we cling to your word - our source of strength and hope. We ask that you be with every one of us in our different places as we come together to worship you. 


Thank you for the love that you remind us of every day – the sun appearing through a troubled, dark sky, a bright rainbow reminding us that you will never leave us and the sacrifice and extreme kindness of those who care for those in desperate need. Thank you for that guiding light that you weave with love through your word, lifting us out of our present darkness. 


Help us always to remember that we are one with you, and continually serve you as we encourage others to know the joy of your presence and the redeeming love you offer to everyone who comes to you.


We ask in Jesus’ name


Amen


Readings from Acts and Mark



Reflection by Ella Gill, Reader

Missing the Mark

Since early times baptism has been a significant landmark in the journey of faith – 

In the Church of Scotland baptismal service, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is recalled;

Reading from the Book of Common Order;

When Jesus was baptised in the waters of the Jordan, the Spirit of God came upon him. His baptism was completed through his dying and rising again.

Our baptism is a sign of dying to sin and rising to a new life in Christ.

It is Christ himself who baptises us.

By the Spirit of Pentecost, he makes us members of his body, the Church, and calls us to share his ministry in the world.

By water and the Holy Spirit, God claims us as his own, washes us from sin, and sets us free from the power of death.

In this sacrament, the love of God is offered to each one of us.

Though we cannot understand it, or explain it, we are called to acceptthat love with openness and trust of a child.

The baptism then takes place.

I think that these words are difficult to understand even when they have been explained.

The words basically ensure that all the elements of the story of Christ’s birth, ministry and death as well as the picture of the Trinity of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are included in the promise which is being made and they tell us that we are included as a member of the church family.


Most of us will have been baptised when we were very young and will not remember anything about it.

And although the promises will have been taken on our behalf by adults, it is up to us as we become more able, to honour this promise which was made in the power of the Spirit at that time.

How do we do that?

Donald spoke recently of the transforming power of love of God, but made the point that there will only be a transformation if we learn and change.

Two actions – learn and change.

One of the praise items from that week urged us to ‘take up the invitation of heaven to come and see the Saviour’.

The wish to learn, the willingness to change, and the focus on the life and teachings of Christ – these are our aims and objectives as our faith journey continues.

Where do we start?

Let’s look at the words we use when we are talking about faith in God and Christianity.

It would take more than one reflection to do this in a meaningful way and the reading of many centuries of theology.

However, I want to highlight one of the words which is used but, in other context of daily living, does not crop up very often – in other words, in my view, it is not a commonly used word outside of the church.

That word is ‘sin’.

I want to look at the word ‘sin’ –and what it means, because it one of the central topics of Bible teaching.

We are told that our sins will be forgiven.

In the baptismal service we see that our sins are washed away.

What is sin?

How do we stop sinning?

Are there people who are not sinful?

The Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn puts it well when he says – the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

In other words, we are all a mixture of good and bad and where we need the help is in developing to good and minimising the bad.

The love of God and the teachings of kingdom values – love, peace, faith, honesty are our goals – and to have a goal and working towards it implies learning and transforming - but how do we get there?

Let’s look at that word ‘sin’ again – does it help us understand how we get to our goal and what our goal is – or even where we have gone wrong? 

Both the Greek and the Hebrew word for ‘sin’ means ‘missing the mark’.

The word has its roots in archery and refers to the archer having not got his arrow to where he wanted it to be – the archer has missed the mark.

Is that a more helpful word than sin?

Let’s think about it?

A few years ago, there was an interactive game produced which you could play on the tv – the wii.

It was an absolute God send when the family came to stay and the weather was not good.

Many of you will be familiar with it I know, but, for those who aren’t;

You appeared on the screen as a caricature of yourself – you could design yourself and give yourself a name – other people playing did the same.

Then there were different game or sport DVDs which you could use and you could participate and score points.

One of the sports DVDs included archery.

You would start at the basic level and using the hand controls you would aim and fire at the target and score points according to how close you were to the bullseye.

Throughout the game it might register if you were doing something wrong and give you a prompt to keep you on the right track.

If you didn’t score very well your caricature – or wii person – would be on the screen looking forlorn.

If you did well your wii person was jumping for joy.

As time went on, if you got better, the game suggested you should advance to different levels and then it would give you more tricky situations and you would go back to getting low scores.

Now,you might be shooting at a target much further away and having to take into account crosswinds which would deflect your arrow, or people running around distracting your focus.

From getting a very low score at the outset you could plot your improvement – or not – as you negotiated more complex situations.


But this is a game – we are talking about real life, judgement of the problems we meet in daily living, the choices which have to be made and actions which are needed.

Isn’t it the same in essence? 

To ‘miss the mark’ you must have a goal or a target in your sights.

Missing the mark in real life can leave you feeling forlorn – no matter what that target is- encouragement and prompts give you the energy to try again – determined not to be outdone.

In that process of trying again and again we transform and we grow because wewantto try again.

Because wewantto hit that mark, or get nearer to it.

The crosswinds making the game of archery more difficult could, in real life be the problems which come unexpectedly and knock us off our stride or distract us. The theory is the same – judgement, choice and action.

But let us come back to the words we use – how we communicate in real life

The use of the word ‘sin’ for not getting things right for me implies the consequence of punishment – not learning through encouragement.

It tells me nothing about the goal, and how far my efforts have got me. It gives me either a ‘fail’ or a ‘pass’. 

Is there any incentive to try again – not really!

Missing the mark makes me want to try again because I can see how far I am away from the goal and, with appropriate prompts and practice, maybe I could achieve what I couldn’t before. 

I might succeed in the long run.

God wants us to achieve our goals, He sent His Son to help us and then the Holy Spirit.

 They say that God loves a trier and I think that the Holy Spirit would endorse that view as we strive to reach the kingdom values.

We’ll ‘miss the mark’ many times but hopefully get nearer and nearer to it as we learn and transform into the people God would wish us to be.




Prayers for others and ourselves, by Bridget Cameron, Ardnamurchan Parish Church.

Loving and Heavenly Father

We pray that we and all people                                                                           

may work  together so that the resources

of the world may be distributed and used

for the greatest benefit of all.


We pray that the beauty of our country

and all creation be appreciated and our

countryside left untarnished.


May our children grow up happy 

and  healthy through all the 

changing times we live in.

We pray that they may come to know

of your continuing love for them.


At this time of responsibility and decisions

about future relationships with our neighbours 

in Europe we pray for our leaders

that they lead wisely and listen attentively 

knowing peace in their deliberations.


We pray for those making difficult decisions 

due to Covid as they affect so many livelihoods,

family lives, and stressful financial situations.


At this time of uncertainty within our

Church communities we pray that we are mindful 

of our neighbours, strangers and are helpful to those who

are struggling with loneliness and ill health.


Lord as we long for the lengthening days

and also for the end of lockdown,

which has been difficult for many,

and as we wait for the brighter days of Spring

and the earth to begin to live again 

we turn to you with confidence in 

your creation of the changing seasons.


Continue to walk with us through these dark days

assuring us of your light, which no darkness can overcome,

and of your love of which we are constantly surrounded.


Amen




Something to do - paper doves.

You will need: a paper square (A4 sheet trimmed). instructions for an origami dove such as atdoves

Why not try making one of these doves to retell the story of Jesus’ baptism.  As you do this, wonder about who you would be in the story and what it would have felt like to be that person.  Perhaps try this and imagine yourself a different person each time.


Sunday 3rd January, 2021

Reading from John 1: 1-18 - The Word Became Flesh (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, 

and the Word was with God, 

and the Word was God. 

He was with God in the beginning. 


Through him all things were made; 

without him nothing was made that has been made. 

In him was life, 

and that life was the light of men. 

The light shines in the darkness, 

but the darkness has not understood it.

  

There came a man who was sent from God:

his name was John. 

He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, 

so that through him all might believe. 

He himself was not the light, 

he only as a witness to the light. 

The true light, that gives light to all, 

was coming into the world. 


He was in the world, 

and though the world was made through him, 

the world did not recognise him. 

He came to what was his own, 

and his own people did not receive him. 

Yet to all who received him, 

to those who believed in his name, 

he gave the right to become children of God, 

children born not of natural descent,

 nor of human decision or a husband’s will,

but born of God.


The Word became flesh and lived among us, 

and we have seen his glory, 

the glory of the One and Only, 

who came from the Father, 

full of grace and truth. 


John testified concerning him and cried out, 

“This was he of whom I said, 

‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” From his fullness we have all received one blessing after another. 

For the law was given through Moses; 

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

No one has ever seen God 

but God the One and Only, 

who is at the Father’s side, 

who has made him known.



Reflection by Rev Fiona Ogg

Happy New Year!


New Year’s Honours list came out during last week. The system, whether it is felt to fulfil its remit or not, is set up to celebrate, honour and highlight the good work of people from all walks of life as they strive to give back to others more than they receive - to work hard at promoting the well-being of all, often before their own well-being - to go the extra mile without expectation of personal reward.


Some people are well-know -

Lewis Hamilton has equalled Michael Schumacher’s record number of Grand Prix wins and won BBC Personality of the Year. Hamilton repeatedly speaks publicly to encourage youngsters from minority backgrounds to believe in themselves and step into areas of life where they are currently underrepresented. He has gone beyond words by establishing a programme at the Royal Academy of Engineering to encourage more young people from black backgrounds to enter into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This role model is of mixed race, from a broken home, lived on a council estate in Stevenage and his father worked four jobs at a time to support Lewis’ early racing career.


Others are not so well-know - 

Nicola Stove from Shetland, a manager in the Red Cross. She has co-ordinated welfare visits, patient transport, PPE distribution, helped provide food parcels, medication and financial aid and assisted in food banks.



There are some you may know -

Fergie Macdonald, the ceilidh king, has inspired many to become musicians or take an interest in traditional music. Fergie, who has released more albums that the Rolling Stones, has always fought to raise the profile of ceilidh music in the hopes that it would be recognised as part of the wider music scene. His music has brought comfort to older generations and inspiration to younger ones.


The honours system awards people for exceptional achievement or service. It is public recognition and reward for those who are examples of incredible and consistent hard work, selfless commitment and public service. Often they dedicate their reward to others. 


There are many in all walks of life, whose work continues, sometimes recognised but often not.


All through history there have been people who have quietly and unobtrusively lived lives of public and private service, dedicating of their time and talents to others - unsung heroes. These are people who have gone beyond what has been expected of them - because they felt impelled to do so.


What it was inside them that urged them to step up and serve?


Altruism or philanthropy maybe? 


Altruism can be defined as disinterestedness, so perhaps philanthropy is a better way of describing service to others. Philanthropy, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is for love of others, practical benevolence, kindness, helpfulness - for no self interest. 


Again a question, where does philanthropy come from? 


The desire or need to connect in a positive and constructive way with others, to give back to community - yes, it’s something within us, or that we got from our parents and families, from the example of others - but there is still the question of where does it come from?


Ultimately, as they’re not thought to be biological or physiological, what is inside of us in the way of feelings, values, instincts, may come from something outside of us. While there are many, many organisations involved with philanthropy, some have connections with faith while others don’t, there is something that impels us to help and support each other, regardless of faith or none.


In the Bible, Mark records a story (9:38-41) of Jesus’ disciples complaining about a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ response is from a different wider perspective that, ‘whoever is not against us is for us.’ 


Maybe, the something that connects us all, even non-believers, that something driving philanthropy, is from what or who is called God? So much can’t be explained or labelled. Why should the values, instincts, deeds of philanthropy not be rooted in the deep mystery so many call God? 


Last week, in his message, the Moderator suggested a change in perspective and that we look at the bigger picture of God working on a timescale and in ways humanity would never expect, nor always understand. Why should God not work in all sorts of unrecognised ways - who are we to limit God? 


Right at the start of his Gospel, John writes of this different perspective and deep mystery - that the Word was with God and was God. John’s words tell of something beyond our understanding permeating the whole of creation, including humanity and bringing light into the darkness. This mystery came in human form, in the person of Jesus who showed how to live out the values, feelings and even the philanthropy of God.

He (Jesus) was in the world,

 and though the world was made through him, 

the world did not recognise him.

There is much we are reluctant to recognise or give God credit for. In these strange times let’s take a moment to pause, and try to see that philanthropy might be one way God works through others. Those who are not against God are for God.


Whether someone is willing to consider their philanthropy comes from God or not - perhaps it is - but the world knows it not.


May God work through you, may you be willing for this to happen, and may you give God the glory. 


Happy New Year and God bless.



Prayer

Creator God, we thank you for 

every spark of life above us and below us, around us and within, 

for every moving thing: 

the planets and stars, 

the wind in the tees, 

waves on the shore;

 for everything with the breathe of life, 

creatures that creep, fly, leap, soar, 

for human beings.


Forgive us when we walk around with our eyes closed to the beauty and wonder of creation and to your presence in the world. 

You are alongside us in the joys and grief of life and death,

in the darkness and the light.


Thank you, Lord, that when we look 

we see you in the thoughtfulness of friends, the kindness of strangers. 

We give thanks for the blessings of food, warmth, shelter, 

of internet connectedness allowing us to be with friends and family.


We ask your blessing on all who work to make life richer and fuller for others in a thousand known and unknown ways. 

Lord, bless their works and bless them too.


God of life, may we stand with you on the side of all that is life-enhancing.

May your light shine in and through us - 

may the credit be yours, now and always, Amen



Something to do.

It’s the start of a New Year and the time when many make resolutions - why not resolve to dedicate, or rededicate, yourself to living in such a way that others learn about God because of you. In such a way, the Great Commission of Jesus will be fulfilled. ( Matt 28: 18-20 ).

You could use these words as a prayer.


I give you my promise to live my life and enjoy it to the full.

I promise to respect all life; to preserve and protect is however I can.

I promise to do my best to make life better for those for whom life is a constant struggle.

In this, I ask your help. Amen


Sunday 27th December, 2020 - worship from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (to give the role its full title!)

Worship conducted by The Moderator of the General Assembly with contributions from The Moderator’s Chaplains and music from The Heart & Soul Swing Band and Community Singers, Esther O’Connor and Alan Campbell. 


Welcome and Call to Worship

Hi everybody. Welcome to worship.

How was your Christmas? How has your year been?


I know some of you have been able to be back in your sanctuaries. 

Others of you have not been able to set foot within your church for the better part of a year and I can imagine that that has been really tough. Personally speaking, I know how much I have missed being in our buildings and being with my brothers and sisters.


Well today, we are going to worship! 

It's a special time, the ending of one year the beginning of a new year. 

We give thanks to God that he has been with us and pray that he will continue to be with us in the time to come.

So together, let us worship God. Let us sing to his praise and glory. 

We are beginning with a brand-new Christmas song written and played for us by the Heart and Soul Swing Band.


Opening Praise: ‘Yo ho! Yo ho!

Yo ho! (Yo ho!) 

Yo ho! (Yo ho!)

God loves (God loves) 

us so! (us so!)

He sent (He sent)

his Son (his Son) 

so he (so he) 

would show (would show)

God’s grace (God’s grace)

so free (so free)

for all the world to see (That’s you and me!) 

Yo ho! Yo ho! We truly know, God loves us so!


When the world was dark as night and in need of saving light 

(God was there before us)

In a tiny little boy came the gift of Christmas joy 

(God would soon restore us)

Through his love for you and me it was plain for all to see 

(God would not ignore us)

As we go from A to Z we’re as loved as loved can be, 

He’ll always adore us. 


Yo ho! (Yo ho!) 

Yo ho! (Yo ho!)

God loves (God loves) 

us so! (us so!)

He sent (He sent)

his Son (his Son) 

so he (so he) 

would show (would show)

God’s grace (God’s grace)

so free (so free)

for all the world to see (That’s you and me!) 

Yo ho! Yo ho! We truly know, God loves us so!


Let me tell it to you straight, coz the news is really great

(God got there before us)

Through a tiny little child, we are fully reconciled 

(God would soon restore us)

When the world was down and out, full of dread and full of doubt 

(God would not ignore us)

Do not fret and do not fear, God is Love and Love is near! 

He’ll always adore us. 


Yo ho! Yo ho! We truly know God loves us so!

Yeah!


Prayer: ‘Come let us adore’

Response:

Adore, come let us adore

O come let us adore Him.

The Lord, worship Christ, the Lord.

Let all that is within us, adore.


Almighty and everlasting God, 

with heads bowed and hearts lifted up, 

we worship and adore you. 

For you are from everlasting to everlasting. 

In the beginning you brought all things into being 

and when the time was right, 

you came among us in Jesus. 

And so we worship and adore for he is Christ the Lord! 


Adore, come let us adore

O come let us adore Him.

The Lord, worship Christ, the Lord.

Let all that is within us, adore.


Lord, your love for us is extravagant beyond description 

and wholly undeserved. 

We know we have fallen short. 

We know we have made for ourselves other gods. 

We have given our worship in other directions. 

We have not followed in the footsteps of Jesus 

as you have invited us to do. 

And so for your amazing love, 

we worship, we worship and adore. 


Adore, come let us adore

O come let us adore Him.

The Lord, worship Christ, the Lord.

Let all that is within us, adore.


Good and generous God, 

some ask ‘What Child is this?’ 

We answer, ‘This is Christ the Lord!’ 

And should give us voices with the angels to adore him, 

the excitement of the shepherds to speak of him 

and as those who travelled from afar to bow before him, 

receive the gift of our hearts. 

We love you Lord Jesus. 

We worship and adore you.


Adore, come let us adore

O come let us adore Him.

The Lord, worship Christ, the Lord.

Let all that is within us, adore.


In Jesus’ name, we pray Amen.


Bible reading: Luke 2:25-38

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:


“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”


The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: 

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, 

and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.


Thanks be to God for his word, Amen.


The Message

The fact of the matter is that I know very little about art. I don't come at it with a critical eye; the most I know is that there are different genres, different time periods, some of which I am drawn to, others less so. But beyond that, my reaction to art is very much a gut reaction. Certain pictures I like, others I don't. Simple as that.


So my knowledge base is very limited but I think I know this; to properly appreciate a painting, you've got to step back. If we are too close, it's difficult if not impossible to see properly. If I am going to see the big picture, yes everything the artist intended, I need to step back. It's a matter of perspective.


These two pictures illustrate the point perfectly. If you home right in on one particular part of the painting, you might conclude that it's a painting about one small detail, for example the dog in the foreground. In fact the dog is just a small part of something that is much bigger scale. You don't get that unless you step back, to get everything in perspective.


If it's true that we need to step back to fully appreciate a painting, then I'd want to suggest that it's equally true for all of life as we try to see it in its fullness and, if at all possible, make sense of it. And if you really want to begin to ponder the big questions - what's it all about and where is God in all of it? - then absolutely you need to step back.


Well stopping might be difficult but absolutely, we can slow down and understand that we are in a long game, not a sprint.

I want to suggest that we need to do the following.

  1. We need toPause
  2. We need to bePatient
  3. We need to focus on thePermanent and not just the passing
  4. We need toPersist


Number one, pause - 

which can be so difficult when life is lived at such a pace. There seems to be little time to step back. I think many folks have worked harder and have been busier in these last nine months than at any time before! And if not in offices and work spaces then from one zoom meeting to the next. It's been go, go, go! Friends, take some time to step back, to pause.

Even in the midst of the busyness, it's good to take a moment to focus on that which is a little more enduring than most of what competes for our attention.


Number two.

God acts. God makes good on every promise. God is completing the big picture. It's just that his timescales are of a different order to ours.

That's why we have to be patient. When I call a business or a CallCenter 

I want to be answered right away, no been put on hold! When I'm web browsing I want instant connection! And don't even start with traffic jams or Scotrail delays! I mean I've got a life to live; things to do, places to go, people to see. You know, I'm in a hurry! Let's get this thing moving!


Reading the Bible, I never get the impression that God was in too much of a hurry. 

Think about Abraham for example. He was 75 years of age when the promise was made to him - a promise repeated three times - that he would be the father of a great nation. Don't you think that in the 25 years between promise and fulfilment that he began to wonder if it was going to come to pass?

Or what about God's people in exile? For 70 years they were removed from Jerusalem. Don't you think they ever doubted that God was going to come through for them?

 Or the thousand years between David and Jesus?

No, God is not in any hurry. And that requires us to be patient in trusting him. 


So we pause. We exercise patience. And we remember that that which is permanent is equally as deserving of our attention as that which is passing. That’s number three.


Now of course, this modern day church before me is much more recent but there is evidence that there has been Christian worship on this site for some 1300 years. Can you even begin to imagine what happened through all of that time? While people have worshipped on this site, there have been wars, famines, plagues, revolutions, reformations, unions, ups and downs, comings and going is, blessings and curses. All of life.


Even today, all of life streams past the holy place. And the backdrop to all of that? The eternal God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. We are reminded that ‘we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish but naught changeth Thee.’


Much passes but much remains. 


So there was Simeon, a God-fearing man, waiting for the salvation of his people. How long he waited for, we have no idea, but he never gave up on the promise that was made to him by the spirit, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, the coming of the Lord. ‘The grass withers, the flowers fall but the Word of the Lord and yours for ever.’ Simeon persistent.


And beside him, Anna, the old prophetess. No doubt written off by many as an old fool and yet there she was, worshipping, fasting, praying, waiting - trusting that God would deliver on his promise.


That's number four. That’s persistence. 


Folks, the big picture is that God always keeps his word. Abraham and Sarah were able to have a son. The exiles were able to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the city walls.

And a descendent of David was born. Jesus. Immanuel.


And Anna and Simeon were able to see that for which they had waited so long. Simeon declared, ‘for my eyes have seen the glory of that which you have revealed.’


What about us? Will we pause? Will we exercise patience? Will we keep our eyes open for that which is permanent and not just passing? And like Anna and Simeon, will we persist that we too might see that God is acting, that God is with us, that the salvation of God is ours too - and that his Kingdom is coming, little by little, for those who have eyes to see. 


I know, in the thick of it, it can be difficult but let us step back that we might see the whole scene of what God has done, is doing right now, and of what God will do in all the days to come. 


That's the big picture.


Amen, and may God bless us in this reflecting.


Prayer

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’


Let us pray,

Lord God, we look back on a year like no other and we could stay looking back, mourning for the loss of lives, the cancelling of so many events, the separation of family and friends. We could stay complaining about all that was done and undone.

Sunday 20th December, 2020, Advent 4

Reading from Luke 1:26-38 - Mary says yes.


Opening prayer from Ella Gill, Church of Scotland Reader.

Today is December 20thand we are approaching the shortest day and the longest night of the year.  The winter solstice.  The darkness of the night seems to be continued through the day with the rain and the clouds and I am sure we are all looking forward to a time when the light will return.  


In addition to being the shortest day tomorrow – we are being told that tomorrow that the planets of Jupiter and Saturn will align, being closer than they have been since the Middle Ages, in what is being called a Christmas Kiss.  They will look like one brilliant star – like the star of Bethlehem.


In our houses, as we approach Christmas, we will be lighting lamps and festive candles to pierce the darkness of the days.  And in the darkest of years, in the dark sky the brightest of stars will be shining – maybe hidden by cloud, but it will be there.


And over the last 3 weeks as we have joined together for worship, we have been lighting the advent candles. 

The light of hope

The light of peace

The light of Joy

And this week – the light of love

Each one focussing our thoughts on different aspects of God’s message.


Let us think about the light of love as we let it shine into our lives.


God of Hopefulness, God of peace, God of Joy and God of Love

Who are we, Lord God,

that you should come to us? 

When the voice of the prophet was silent and the faith of your people low;

When darkness had obscured light and indifference displaced zeal.

You saw that the time was right and prepared to send your Son.

We give thanks that you have visited Your people

and redeemed us in Your Son.

That love, which came down at Christmas,

 at the stable in Bethlehem

entered our lives in Your beloved Child,

God is that love who brought the message of hope, peace, joy. 

Paul reminds us of what love is;

It is patience, kindness, only happy with the truth

It is not selfish

It is not jealous

It is not bad tempered

It does not keep a record of wrongs

It does not give up

God wants us to love Him and love our neighbours as ourselves;

Can we do it?

So often we fail, we miss the mark.

But Love does not give up – and, if we are to follow God’s commandment, neither must we no matter how tempting it might be. 

God of eternity, help us to keep trying and forgive us our failings and help us to grow in your Son’s likeness

So that through our lives we can show His love to the world

Not the indulgence often seen at this time of the year and thought of as a demonstration of love but the care of real love.

and as our hearts receive His peace:

This Christmastide help us to renew our resolve.

 Set us free from faithlessness that we may be ready to welcome him, he who comes as Saviour and Lord

There is light shining in our darkness, the light of stars, the light of candles and the light of Love.

Open our eyes and hearts and let that light in.

Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.


Reflection by Rev Donald McCorkindale, AKSM Churches

If you didn't know before, you know now that I’m a Saturday night preparer of worship! I’ve just been listening to and taking in all that the Prime Minister and First Minister announced regarding further Covid Restrictions. Plans for many have been turned upside down, as hard decisions for government have been taken - in order to contain the spread of Covid. Coming as they do in this fourth and final week in Advent - some talk of Christmas being cancelled.

It’ll be very different... very different from the different we thought we were in a week ago. Plans will change... Life will change...

As it did for a young teenage girl two millennia ago, when an angel burst into her otherwise ordinary life! In the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the place where the angelic encounter is remembered - is known as Mary’s kitchen...

News of a teenage pregnancy - to an unmarried mum - might cause a stir - some awkwardness, embarrassment to Mary’s family - and to Joseph’s - what would the neighbours say?

Yet Mary heard in the strangeness - The voice of God. She was to be the bearer of God to humanity. And said... ‘may it be so’. Mary said to the angel - Tell God I say yes!

Let me tell you too of a teenage boy who said Yes to God

Not Joseph, we dont really know - but he’s presumed to have been older...

A story of a boy who went to Sunday School thru’ childhood and in teenage years pondered a question... was this God stuff for real? Some of his pals seemed to believe it was and lived as though it made a difference.

At the back of his Good News Bible was a reading plan - suggesting Luke was a good place to start... and having made a decision to start reading the Bible - it wasn't far into the story that a verse struck him - Chapter 1: v 37

“Nothing is impossible for God”. 

And in a way he said yes to God and so began a journey of faith in this God for whom nothing is impossible

Life for this young boy - took a turning point... Faith became very real...

A few years later - a thought - that he... I’m sure you realise I should really say... “I”! I had a thought... a feeling... an “angel voice moment” that maybe God was calling me to be a minister... to be a bearer of the Good News of Christ... to Awaken, Develop and Sustain faith in the Christ Child born to Mary, born in me... born... in you... and to play my part and encourage others to get involved in what God is up to.

Our faith stories are all different... Some recall a dramatic moment. Some a gradual realisation. Some cannot remember a time when faith in Jesus was not a part of life.

This Christmas, as Covid turns our world upside down we have been given time to reflect upon the things that really matter... Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

For Mary, as it neared the time for her to give birth, more disruption - a trip to Bethlehem - for a census, and there - no room at the Inn, it just wasn't as she had planned, and her son was born in an outhouse.

Friends In this hardest of years, where is God in it all? A question I ponder... Where is God through the suffering... the loneliness, isolation, the fear... 

Where is God in... the glimpses of Love - the sense of community, the new ways to worship - Hear/ share good news - New ways to communicate - Last Christmas we had around 220 followers on the AKSM Church page - last time I looked - 351

Some will be colleagues, family and friends, happily involved in the life of other churches...

Some around Strontian, Ardgour Morvern - Acharacle and Ardnamurchan... Faith awakened, Faith developing and being sustained in these dark days... 

Hasn't it been good to be able to share with neighbouring congregations - and beyond as we did last week with the Lochaber wide worship...

These are difficult times for the Church of Scotland... but we see glimpses of new things

Folk haven’t given up on the church, God hasn’t given up on his Church. It’s God’s Church.

As God called Mary - Bearer of God’s Son

So God called the Church into being - by the same Holy Spirit that came upon Mary. God Calls me... and you... to be the bearers of Good News love, joy, peace and hope

To be bearers of Christ to the world...

We are going to hear a beautiful song - No wind at the window... with it’s wonderful closing line...

Yet Mary, consenting to what none could guess

Replied with conviction, "tell God I say yes." 

If God is prompting you... to a deeper life of faith, if God is prompting you to respond to the call to ministry in formal or informal ways... if God is prompting you to spend time reading his Word, if God is prompting you to be a loving neighbour, if God is prompting you to have that difficult conversation, if God is prompting you to say sorry... 

If God is prompting you... and the angel voices stir... Say YES!

No wind at the window, no knock on the door
No light from the lamp stand, no foot on the floor
No dream born of tiredness, no ghost raised by fear
Just an angel and a woman and a voice in her ear

Oh, Mary, Oh, Mary don't hide from my face
Be glad that you're favoured and filled with God's grace
The time for redeeming the world has begun
And you are requested to mother God's son

This child must be born that the Kingdom might come
Salvation for many, destruction for some
Both end and beginning, both message and sign
Both victor and victim, both yours and divine

No payment was promised, no promises made
No wedding was dated, no blue print displayed
Yet Mary, consenting to what none could guess
Replied with conviction, "tell God I say yes."


Prayers for others and ourselves

Loving God,

At this Christmas time like no other we have experienced, 

we give thanks for Your goodness,

for the strength that supports us,

and the light of Your love which surrounds us.


As we plan for a time when we would normally perhaps be with friends and family, help us to make sensible decisions which show loving consideration for all and not just what suits us.

And remind us to extend that love and consideration to those who are alone and may be feeling especially isolated and fearful at this time.


We give thanks for Your Holy Spirit at work in Your Church and in our hearts, revealing Your truth, renewing our lives in new ways as our church families support their communities and each other at this time.


Hear our prayers for those who have suffered as a result of the pandemic this year.

Those who have lost loved ones and sense the loss more keenly because they have not been able to be with them or share in their funeral.

Those who have lost their jobs and businesses due to the economic effect of the pandemic.


This year especially we think of the care services as well as those who rely on them. 

Bless them in their work as they bring healing, love and peace through their service.


We give thanks for the hard work and determination of all the essential workers as well as those who are involved in researching how best to handle the pandemic and its effects.


The school and university terms have ended and we think of;

The children who have had to adapt to a different sort of schooling.

The teachers who have faced many problems while trying to maintain a safe environment as well as teaching.

Grant them time for rest and recuperation over the holiday period. 

We are approaching the end of the year and hear the discussions over the future relationship, we will have Europe, we ask for guidance for those who will lead us into that future.


We pray for people living here as well as around the world;

for those who live in fear of violence,

Those in difficulties because of unrest within their country

or threat that comes from without,

for those whom the land cannot sustain, through natural disaster or famine or war,

and for those affected by the selfishness of others in their unthinking use of resources,

or from greed that cares nothing for the consequences.


In spite of all our needs and problems which we lay before you now

We praise You, gracious God, for we know your love for us is unending.


Reveal to all the world the light which no darkness can extinguish, our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us that there is no place which is far from your love,

no person who is less than another,

no situation which is not subject to Your grace and hope. 


We pray that the light of hope, peace, joy and love will shine on us all at this Christmas time and always.

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour. 

Amen

Sunday 13th Dec, 2020 - Advent 3 from the congregations of presbytery.

Order of Worship

Introduction: Richard Baxter,Fort William, Kilmallie and Kilmonivaig


Call to Worship, Psalm 126: Stewart Goudie,North West Lochaber


Hymn: CH4-334, On Jordan’s bank, the Baptist’s cry announces

Introduced by Marion Kinnear,Kinlochleven and Nether Lochaber


Opening Prayer: Sandy Stoddart,Glencoe and Duror


Hymn:CH4-305, In the bleak mid-winter

Introduced by Morag Muirhead,Fort William, Kilmallie and Kilmonivaig


Readings:

Isaiah 61:1-4:  Anthony Jones,Fort Augustus and Glengarry

Isaiah 61:8-11:  Bill Skene,Fort William, Kilmallie and Kilmonivaig

John 1:6-8:  Malcolm Kinnear,Kinlochleven & Nether Lochaber

John 1:19-28:  Ella Gill,Western Lochaber Group


Conversation and Sermon: Donald McCorkindale,Ardgour, Strontian, Morvernand Richard Baxter,Fort William, Kilmallie, Kilmonivaig


Prayer for Others and Us: Fiona Ogg,Acharacle & Ardnamurchan


Hymn:CH4-301, Hark! the herald angels sing

Introduced by Ann Winning,Glencoe and Duror


Benediction: Go now in the light of the Christ-child and the power of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the good news of the Father’s love, to share His message of hope, & to put his love into action in your lives.


Take in your hearts the song of the angels, the joy of the shepherds, the awe of the Magi and the wonder of Mary.


And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon you and all whom you love this Christmas season and forever. Amen


Introduction  Richard Baxter

Welcome to our worship on this third Sunday in Advent.


Whatever form of online worship your congregation has been used to, it probably isn’t like this! 

Today ministers and readers from all over Lochaber are sharing together to reflect on passages which are all about hope. 


Stewart Goudie lead into worship with some words from Psalm 126.


A Prayer for Deliverance

126 When the Lord brought us back to Jerusalem,

    it was like a dream!
How we laughed, how we sang for joy!
    Then the other nations said about us,
    “The Lord did great things for them.”
Indeed he did great things for us; how happy we were!
    just as the rain brings water back to dry riverbeds.
Let those who wept as they planted their crops,
    gather the harvest with joy!
    will come back singing for joy,
    as they bring in the harvest.

Lord, make us prosperous again,

Those who wept as they went out carrying the seed

Amen


(Richard continues…)

Wait a minute, Stewart – what is there to celebrate? What is all this singing for joy about? What makes you think God is listening as you call Him to do great things and to restore your nation and to bless you with harvests? What gave you that idea? ….. Oh! He’s gone.



Opening Prayer  Sandy Stoddart

Just wait… Let’s pray together first.


Almighty God, we praise you for the joy and hope which are part of the message of this Advent season.  In your love you sent your son to be a bridge between heaven and earth, helping us to feel your nearness and revealing to humanity something of the wonder of who you are.  


We thank you that, living among us, Jesus broke down barriers and built bridges to help us to see your love for all people and encouraging us to show such love in our lives.  Thank you for the opportunities that have been given, and have taken, to love our neighbour. 


Forgive us for the times we’ve pretended not to hear or to see the need in others.


As we wait again for the coming of your son, help us to think about your love for us, to think about the love we’ve shown and have withheld, and may we use this time wisely to align our lives more closely with Jesus and be lead by him.  


Hear us, as we pray now in the words he taught us.  Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  

For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever.  

Amen.


Conversational Sermon– The Good News at the Heart of Christmas

with Richard Baxter and Donald McCorkindale.


DMcC:  Right,nowask your question.


RB:   All these people in these readings are celebrating good news aren’tthey?


DMcC: Yes


RB:  The Psalm was about God bringing people back singing for joy, celebrating God’s goodness, rejoicing in the fruitfulness of the landwhich could meet                their needs. Isaiah is talking about a God whobrings good news to the poor, heals the broken-hearted, releasescaptives and all of that.


DMcC:  Correct.


RB:   And then he talks about loving justice and hating oppression andmaking the world fairer?


DMcC:  He does.


RB:   And John comes telling people about the light even although heisn’t himself the light?


DMcC:  That’s right.


RB:  So my question is, where’smygood news? Where’sourgoodnews? What’s going to make a difference not years and years agoin Israel but today in                    Lochaber?


DMcC:   I suggest you look at the passages again, and think a bit morecarefully.


RB:    Right I’ll give it a go. Let me find that psalm. “When the Lordbrought us back to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!” 


So the people in the psalm were going home. Who’s going homenow? Well, I suppose some students who have been getting testedare going home ……

and people who feel it’s safe to meet families within the limitationsof the Christmas guidelines, they’ll be going home. And maybe there are a few people  coming home to church, renewing their faith, through all the online ways of worshipping.


“Those who wept as they went out carrying the seed will comeback singing for joy.” There’s not much of a grain harvest inLochaber, especially in December! But when people go to theshops they find the shelves stocked, they find their needs met andthere are opportunities to share – through  foodbanks, charities and acts of kindness……. 


Alright I’ll concede that there is good news for us in that psalm,reminders of God’s gifts that we should appreciate. ……. ButIsaiah will be different.


DMcC:   We’ll see. 


RB:  “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit and chosen me to bring good news to the poor.” What would goodnews to the poor look like? That we’re going to share ourresources more fairly? That people won’t be left without theessentials of life? That people needing work will be able to findjobs?


And healing the broken-hearted. That would need someone to carefor them, take time for them, someone to listen, someone to walkalong their path. 


To announce release to captives. There aren’t many jails inLochaber, but I suppose there are people held captive by theirmental ill-health; people held captive by their circumstances;people held captive by habits and addictions. But fixing all that is along term project, not a quick fix. Only devoted care and a real investment of time could help with that. So how’s all that going tohappen in Lochaber?


DMcC:  Look again.


RB:  Oh, I see. It’s at the start. The sovereign Lord has chosenme……and sentme……. And filledmewith His Spirit. 


All these signs of hope aren’t supposed to just happen out of thinair.  We’re supposed tomakethem happen and before we say “Icould never do that”, God has already given us His Spirit to helpus.


I know I was looking for hope, but I hadn’t expected I would havetodosomething about it.


DMcC:  Are you satisfied yet?


RB:  Surely John the Baptist is always good for some gloom anddoom? Let me see what he has to say.


“God sent His messenger, a man called John, who came to tellpeople about the light, so that all should hear the message andbelieve. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about thelight.”


Well that’s a relief. Isaiah seemed to be telling us we had to be theones changing things, and John says, “It isn’t me. I’m just tellingyou about the one who will really make a difference.”


Actually John’s very keen on saying who he isn’t. “I’m not theMessiah,” he tells us.  I’m not Elijah. I’m not the Prophet.” John’sno world-changing saviour. But he does have a job as the voice of one crying in the desert, get ready, make a straight path for theLord.” 


And all that is still true. I’m no world-changer and probably youaren’t either, but we can point to someone who is. We can tell what we know about Jesus, the true light of the world. We can say,“Don’t look at me, look at him!”


So when it comes right down to it, there are plenty or reasons forhope this advent time. There are the things we already have forwhich to give God thanks. There is His provision for our needs.There is the scope for people to spend a bit more time togetherover Christmas, even if we’re only part-way there. Thedevelopment of vaccines and the plans to distribute them are asign of light at the end of the tunnel and another cause forthanksgiving.


But there’s also the challenge from Isaiah. There is hope for allkinds of people who are struggling, but it depends on us.  We are the people equipped by God’s Spirit to make ourcommunities places with good news for the poor, healing for thebroken-hearted, and freedom for the captives.


And yet the ultimate hope doesn’t depend on us. It comes fromJesus, the light who is to come into the world and our job is topoint to him, and to say, “Follow Him.” He’s the one who bringshope and new possibilities. He’s the one we’re looking for. He’s the one we’re depending on.


I think I’ve answered my question.


DMcC:  Good. What was the answer?


RB:  The answer is that God is just as much involved in our world as Heever was. The answer is that Jesus is our hope and the light of theworld, the one who’s coming changes everything. And the answeris that God puts His Spirit on us to be the people who declare Hisgood news, share His message of hope, and seek to put His loveinto action.


DMcC:  I’m glad you sorted that out! I think we should probably pray about it.



Prayer for Others and Us, led by Fiona Ogg

Loving lord we thank you for all you have given us in Christ, 

for our meaning and purpose, 

the joy and fulfilment we have in serving Him.


We pray now for those who find it hard to have hope, and peace and joy -

we reach out to them in their moment of need 

and ask that the light of your love break through into their darkness.


We think of those who are hungry and undernourished, 

homeless and refugees, sick and suffering, 

human beings just as we are.  

We think of those caught up in wars, 

with fear and hatred all around them, 

homes and livelihoods destroyed, 

each day living under the threat of violence.


We pray for those who feel overwhelmed by life, 

who are lonely and frightened, sad or weary, 

dreading what the next day may bring.


May we be the ones calling in wilderness of their lives 

just as John the Baptist was the one calling in the wilderness.  

May we be those who follow Christ, 

and who bring fresh hope and help and healing into the lives of others 

as Christ did.  

We ask that we play our part in fulfilling His purpose 

so that hope may come to those who need it this Christmas.


We ask that the light of Christ may break into their darkness, amen


Nick Fawcett's Prayers for All Seasons, book 2 



Something to do

It’s the third week of Advent - and a few days closer to Christmas.


Let’s take a few minutes to think about what comes to mind for ourselves when we think of Christmas.  


What are the first three things that come into your mind when you think of Christmas?


What might be the first three things that come into mind for a primary aged child?


What might be the first three things that come into mind for your neighbour?


What might be the first three things that come into mind for the homeless person on the city centre street?


What might be the first three things that come into mind for the refugee in a camp for displaced persons?


What might be the first three things that come into mind for Mary and Joseph?


How might what you do at Christmas influence the lives of some of these people?  


Why not start by wondering what part John played in Jesus’ mission.  

Then wonder what part you play in showing others the love of God that came in Jesus, the one Christians say they follow.





Sunday 6th December, 2020, Advent 2

Reading for today

For online worship click the link on the front page.

Reflection by Jean Whitton, Church of Scotland Worship Leader

We’re likely to hear quite lot from Mark’s Gospel in the next 12 months since it is the gospel on which the Revised Common Lectionary (that’s a list of suggested readings for church services) will focus in this new Church year.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the gospels and generally thought to be the earliest one.

Mark doesn’t waste words. He starts straight away telling us that he is writing good news. Good news about Jesus. The first words in the first verse of his gospel

‘The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah’

And this good news hasn’t just appeared out of thin air, it is firmly rooted in the story of God’s people. 

A people who had suffered and been oppressed for many centuries. They had been conquered, exiled, occupied. Those willing to listen had been comforted by the words spoken by the prophets, words telling of God’s promise to send the one who would save them, the Messiah. And so they had waited, waited for centuries.

And now Mark says the Messiah has come. Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. The promises made by God long ago through Old Testament prophets have been fulfilled. Mark quotes both Malachi and Isaiah.

Good news indeed!

A hymn we often sing at this time reflects this passage.

‘Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes, the Saviour promised long.’

The Old Testament prophecies also say that there will be a messenger who will prepare the way for the Messiah. 

It was common practice for a messenger or forerunner to go ahead of dignitaries to ensure that the people knew that someone important was coming and could be suitably prepared for them. The messenger or forerunner also made sure that there were no obstacles on the road – broken down carts etc. We see something of this today in the police motorcyclists preceding diplomatic or royal cars.

Mark identifies John the Baptist as this messenger. In the eastern church ‘John the Baptist’ is known as ‘John the Forerunner.’ 

John, like the Old Testament prophets before him, is to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, the coming of Jesus. The description of John’s appearance, his hair garment and leather belt, and his behaviour place him firmly in the line of those prophets, as does his call to repentance, to turn back to God and be forgiven. Clean your act up, turn to God and accept his forgiveness. Get yourself prepared for the one chosen of God is coming – the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ 

We will hear more about John the Baptist next week. 

Mark clearly sets his account, his good news, in the ongoing story of God’s people. The story from the past, the Old Testament, the story that was happening in his present and the story that looks to the future. This good news is not just something that happened 2000 years ago in an obscure area of the Roman Empire. It happened in Mark’s and John the Baptist’s day and it still happens today and will happen in the future. We are part of the ongoing story of God’s People. 

We are in the season of Advent. The word Advent means ‘coming.’ The Advent or Coming of Jesus can be seen in at least three different ways - in the past, in the present and in the future. The good news continues.

In the past, the First Coming at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. The coming we look forward to celebrating each Christmas, Immanuel, God with us. The good news of God’s love and mercy that Jesus showed us. But we don’t just celebrate an ancient event, for we know that Jesus told us that He will return in power and glory bringing in the reign of love and peace, when death and sorrow will be no more and His Kingdom will be established in its fulness – this is the coming in the future, the Second Coming, which we heard about again in last week’s gospel reading. 

And in between the First and Second Coming is the coming in the present, the coming that Jesus, our risen Lord, offers to each one of us every moment of every day. If we open our hearts to Him, he will come in – forgive us, heal us, comfort us, help us, befriend us.

We are part of this ongoing story of God’s people – the story that includes the prophets and people of the Old Testament. The story that includes the first disciples and the people of the New Testament. The story that includes the church, Christ’s body on earth, people who have followed Jesus throughout the intervening centuries – those who have been evangelists, missionaries preaching the good news, some whose names we know, like St. Nicholas, the prototype of Santa Claus, who is often remembered on today’s date, the 6thDecember, but many whose names are not known, those countless ordinary men, women and children who spread the good news by their everyday lives. The story goes on.

Each one of us has our part to play in this ongoing story of God’s people – spreading the good news, showing people God’s love, helping others to come to know Jesus in the little events of our everyday lives. 

In these days where so much has changed, so much been lost, where so many feel surrounded by darkness, feel that they are in a wilderness, can we each be a voice that cries out the good news - in our own small way can share the hope that knowing Jesus, knowing a loving Father brings. Can we sing out ‘Hark the glad sound, the Savour comes, the Saviour promised long’ 

‘Hark the glad sound the Saviour is here longing to offer his love, his healing, his comfort.’ 

We cannot keep this message to ourselves. Amen


Prayer

Loving Father help us to sing with our hearts, our lives and our voices.

Hark, the glad sound! The Saviour come,
the Saviour promised long!
 Let every heart prepare a throne,
and every voice a song.

He come the prisoners to release,
in Satan’s bondage held;
the gates of brass before Him burst,
the iron fetters yield.

He comes the broken heart to bind,
the bleeding soul to cure,
and with the treasures of His grace,
to enrich the humble poor.

Our glad Hosannas, Prince of Peace,
Thy welcome shall proclaim;
and heaven’s eternal arches ring,
with Thy beloved Name.

Philip Doddridge (1735)

Hark, the glad sound! The Saviour is here, longing to offer his love, his healing, his comfort.’ Amen.


Something to do

It’s the second week of Advent - and a few days closer to the latest posting dates! Have you written any cards yet? Perhaps now is the time to start?


If you feel creative, why not make a few cards, for those people who are most special to you. 


As you write the name of the recipient you could say a short prayer for them and let them know you have done so. You would be sharing the love of God with them and preparing the way for them to wonder why you do this. Perhaps you sharing God’s love will be the first step for them to open their hearts to receiving and sharing the gift of God’s love themselves?



Time for Reflection

We take time out to reflect on the losses and bereavements of the last year, and to prepare ourselves for the future


Sunday 29th November - Advent 1

Reading for Advent 1

Reflection by Rev Fiona Ogg, minister A & A 

Hope changes everything. 


This Sunday, today, is the start of Advent. It’s when, usually, the first of the Advent candles is lit - and that candle symbolises hope. At the start of the darkest of times of year, the start of meteorological winter, we mark the coming of the light of hope into the darkness. The candle and its light might be only symbolic but they are visible and tangible expressions of something much, much deeper - the very human need to have hope in life. 


No matter how desperate anyone’s life is, having hope makes an enormous difference. Whether it’s in the aftermath of personal tragedy now, eg through a life changing accident or illness, the death of a loved one, or with the loss of a job and livelihood, or through miscarriage of a baby as happens to so many. So much can change in an instant and it feels like we are alone and in a very dark place. These can bring the loss of hope, the possibilities and potential hope gives.


Christians meant to be people who find hope even in the darkest of circumstances - how on earth are we meant to do that as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death! 


Hope can be the tiniest of lights in the darkness - it may be someone being along side you, with no words, just being there. Life happens, good and bad happens, how we deal with life matters; I hope and pray, beside you is, in one way or another, the flicker of hope that this is not how life is meant to be. For people of faith there is the belief that this is not how God meant life to be. 


For people 4,000 years ago, in Isaiah’s time, hope that invasion and annexation by the Babylonian Empire was not how life is meant to be, 

For people 2,000 years ago, in Jesus’ time, hope that invasion and annexation by Roman Empire was not hoe life was meant to be.

For us today, in time of invasion by a virus, the annexation of our lives to the restrictions of trying to limit Covid, this is not how life is meant to be.

For people living through war or famine or violence, hope is what makes the difference between life and death.

For people throughout time, hope is the light in the darkness, the inner voice giving courage, comfort, consolation, hope is the reminder that there is the possibility of something more.

For those who believe in God, it’s the knowledge there is more - life is more than this.


Signs of hope are around us, they may be easily seen with the eye but not by our soul. 


We may see a bud swelling and bursting with new leaves opening into summer sunshine. Giving the possibility of, later in the year, fruit to sustain life through the winter.


Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. 


There are passages in the Bible that record the glories of nature all around us. The sun rises and sun sets that happen, whether anyone sees them or not - it’s how they are meant to be, potential fulfilled. 


There are many stories of hope coming to individuals, families and nations through the brith of a baby. 

Each baby born is a wonder - how do all the cells know what order to get themselves into to make a little human? What actually kickstarts to living and breathing? To watch the smallest baby, any baby, unclench its hand, unfurl the fingers - how does that happen? Then when the baby makes eye contact with you for the first time - in that moment is a connection so deep, so much more than we will ever understand.


In each baby born, here is hope that this baby will grow and be all it can be; the potential in that tiny body, the possibility it will have life in all its fulness. 


During Advent Christians wait to commemorate the coming of the Messiah. 


We remember that, in a baby, a slippery, vulnerable, crying, challenging new-born, came hope for the people of the world, the potential for something different and the possibilities of something new.


In time of Covid, winter darkness, and (with Christmas coming) individualist materialistic and consumerism, hope breaks in through Jesus. Jesus was such a baby - he showed us how it is possible to live fulfilling lives in difficult circumstances. To live with care and compassion and love for all. Jesus brought hope that this is not how life is meant to be - there is potentially so much more. 


For Christians, Advent is a season of preparing for the coming of hope. Christians prepare to celebrate the miracle of the birth of Jesus. Think of the possibilities and potential that comes in Jesus. Happy Advent! Amen.


Prayer

Lord God,

We pause and give space for you.  

Help us remember all that we have and all that we are 

is because you created us.  

God of mystery and majesty,  

comforting close and disturbingly distant.

Lord, we are awed by your greatness and humbled by your vulnerability.


We are glad of your presence, yet fear it too.  

There are so many ways we fear we have let you down.

We have not looked after the planet the way it should have been; 

we have been careless of our responsibility for others; 

we have not lived up to our potential.

We know you are the source of love and ask forgiveness.

Help us to be more aware of a different way to live.


We bring our prayers for the world, 

for others and for ourselves.

We dare to hope there is the possibility for change.

Now, we pause and listen, we grieve and despair.  

During Advent, we wonder at the possibilities and potential that comes with a baby, with new life.

May each baby be welcomed and cherished.  

May each child have the possibility of a safe place to live, a roof over their head, clean water to drink, food in their belly, education in their head.  

May each adult be able to fulfil their potential and live as you meant them to live; not at the expense of any other but in harmony and love with one another.

God, that’s a lot to ask!  But we take this moment to pause and commit ourselves anew to take our part in showing the light your kingdom here in our lives. 

Accept this promise, give us courage and strength to do better today and tomorrow than yesterday.


May we go with hearts and souls filled with eager expectation of the fulfilment of your promises.  May we share the blessings you give and may we be blessed in return.

Amen.



Sunday 22nd November, 2020

Reading form Matthew

Reflection by Rev Donald McCorkindale, minister ASKM 

Here we are at the end of another year - 

yes we are at the end of the church year. 

Next week we begin an Advent journey; 

a journey of joyful anticipation and expectation as we journey towards the incarnation, 

the birth of Christ the King as a babe in a manger.   

What might it mean to celebrate Christ the King Sunday? 

We celebrate the reign of our Lord Jesus, 

the reign of kingdom values of love and justice and peace 

set against the worldly empire ways 

where there can be violence and intolerance and hatred. 


This Sunday, 

this last Sunday before Advent, 

is sometimes called stir up Sunday. 

There is the tradition that the Sunday before Advent was the time to prepare all the ingredients for the Christmas pudding and to stir them up. 

There is also a traditional prayer often used on this Sunday, with its words, ‘Stir us up o Lord, we beseech Thee.’ 

I wonder if we need a bit of a stirring up in the church. 

In the midst of these difficult times, 

and I'm thinking not only of a Covid situation but 

the difficult times we knew we were facing before Covid hit us, 

as we address decline and crisis and maybe even chaos within the church.


Our parable today asks us a question, 

‘What have you done?’ 

What have you to cause Christ the King to say, 

‘Well done! It’s that little thing you did you did for me.’ 


It's the parable of the sheep and the goats. 

How can a shepherd tell them apart? 

Well apparently goats ears flop down and sheep's ears point up. 

But it may not have always been that way 

and there is some archaeological evidence to suggest that in Jesus time the similarity or the difference between the beasts might not have been as we imagine. 


It’s a difficult parable, and they all are. 

One of the difficulties in this story is that when those likened to the sheep who have done the good things - 

when Jesus says to them, 

‘Well done, the least little thing you did for them, you did for me.' 

and those who are deemed to be righteous, good, loving, kind, serving the kingdom ways say, 

‘When did we, when did we help you?’ 

Those people hadn't seen it as an intentional outworking of keeping in with God. 

Maybe as soon as we realise we acted in a way to please God then we negate the effect of what we've done? 


Today rather than asking you what have you done to cause Christ to say to you, ‘Well done!’, 

rather than go down that way, let me put it the other way round 

and say to you, 

‘Well done, for you has been doing the little things that Christ has notices and you have been serving Christ the King’; 

in the little actions, the little things that know you have been doing, 

the phone calls and going the extra mile helping a neighbour, 

picking up a prescription, doing a wee bit of shopping for someone else.


Serving Christ the King does place great demands and expectations upon us 

it's a serious business 

and yet sometimes, 

sometimes our most effective, most loving may be when 

when we simply be, when we are the people that God has made us to be. 

Not pondering why, 

not counting the cost, 

not looking for any reward. 

It's then that we’re sheeplike. 


And, you know, sometimes sometimes I'm a bit goat-like, 

sometimes you are a wee bit goat-like, 

we all can be. 

When we fail to grasp the opportunity to do the loving and kind thing. 

And that's okay, 

it's okay particularly in these Covid limiting times.

We need to be easy on ourselves.

Maybe it’s when we are easy on ourselves that more naturally comes they are loving and serving others. 

Not a forced must do to keep in with God, 

must do to notch up a few more points, 

but loving and living out our part in God’s covenant with all the world. 

A covenant promise of peace and love and justice. 


Remember how the parable began - 

all the nations will be gathered together, 

and as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 

the nations, the nations of the world will be put to the left or the right.

Our aligning with the values of Christ the King, usher in kingdom of God. The little things I can do, you can do, make a difference. 

The little things matter and Christ the King says, 

‘Well done, you did that for me!’ 

When all those little things are added up, 

that is good news, good news for all nations. 


God bless us in these words, this reflection 

and all the little things that we can so to make a difference. Amen



Prayer, from Bridget Cameron of Ardnamurchan Parish Church

Creator God

You made this beautiful world we live in.

We marvel at the changing seasons saying, 

“How great thou art”


Help us to be good stewards and to be thoughtful and a good example in the way we use the resources of the Earth.


Lord help us to pray with understanding as we remember the needs of others.


Comfort all who are ill or sorrowing,

those who are concerned for dear ones in these uncertain times of the pandemic.


Uplift those who have difficult choices to make,

May they know of your continuing love.


Loving God we think of those who hunger for food or justice, 

those who lack homes or human dignity. 

Help us to be generous with our means and our prayers to improve these situations.


Remember your Church in our communities,

as we worship in new ways. 


Be with the children and young people of the area as they too have new ways of learning. 

Help them to know of your caring love.


We thank you for all who work in the caring profession, 

in hospitals, hospices and care homes.                                                                          

Grant them strength and peace as they deal with so many difficult situations.


For those in government grant them wisdom and good judgment in their decisions.


Give your light to all the world and all people,

that respect and tolerance will grow amongst them, 

and peace will encircle every nation.


Hear our prayers as we believe that through our prayers 

you guide, heal and bless us,

Through Jesus Christ our Sovereign Lord.

Amen.


15th November, 2020

Reading - Matthew 25: 14-30, the parable of the talents

Reflection from Ella Gill, Church of Scotland reader.

Over the last few weeks we have been considering some of the parables which Jesus taught.

Jesus painted pictures with his stories – stories set in familiar surroundings for the people he was addressing.

His stories had many layers for the people listening and have many layers for us as we look for meaning for us now. 

The story we hear today is in a format we hear in other parables – there is a master and there are servants and usually the master is a depiction of God or Jesus and the servants are either ordinary people or Pharisees.

We will have heard these stories many times;

But beware, we can sometimes get a bit complacent as we hear the familiar stories and by doing so do not pay attention to what is really being said.

As we read this parable, we are already a step ahead as we hear there is a master and there are servants and we are predicting the outcome – relaxing into the story, thinking I know what’s coming here and maybe not taking too much notice.

but that is not what happens here – we are in for a surprise

as we get towards the end of the story and listen to what the 3rd servant says to his master that we might think – he’s being very critical of his master.

And then when we see the master respond and feel

– hang on that’s harsh, that’s not fair – and it should prompt us to go back and  really examine what has been going on here.

And when we do that – we see what might be a biblical version of The Apprentice – that rather unpleasant portrayal of young people vying with each to show how they can gain the approval of the boss and at the same time outdo the other competitors.  

We see that the master is not God or Jesus – it’s not clear who Jesus is talking about – possibly the Pharisees, but it could be any landowner, and the abilities of the servants which are being rewarded are not kingdom values but are the basest of earthly values.

You will be familiar with this parable but today – listen to it or read it through this new perspective.

Let’s look at the story.

We are told that there was a man and he was going away and so ordered his servants to be in charge of his property and he gave each a sum according to his abilities -  

It is obvious that the master had more faith in some than in others because he gave them differing amounts of money – 5,000; 2,000;1,000 gold coins.

We are told the varying amounts were because of their abilities.

So far so good.

It is only on the master’s return that we can see the fuller picture.

The servants come into see the master one by one.

The master is delighted with the servant to whom he gave 5,000 coins because he has doubled it – we are not told how- but that was obviously what the master wanted – the measure of the servant’s ability is shown in the measure of the return and the servant was rewarded with even more responsibility.

The 2ndservant has achieved the same but to a lesser extent – but has doubled the amount and is rewarded similarly.

They are clearly from the same mould as the master.

And now the 3rdservant;

The master and the 2 other servants are in the room as the 3rdservant speaks plainly.

He describes himself as being afraid, but is he?

It would have taken a great force of character to say what he said next; 

He might have been frightened but he was very brave – he was on dangerous ground.

He says – I know you are a hard man and you reap where you have not sown and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed


Remember the others are listening as the master is told he isa thiefand takes advantage of the work of others.

When challenged like this the master does not deny the accusations but repeats them – with no indication of regret.

‘You knew did you that I reap harvests where I did not sow and gather crops where I did not scatter seed.’

He says you should have put the money in the bank and I would have got the interest – in other words -he is saying to the servant, you didn’t have to do what the other two have done – you could have just put it in the bank.

But it is as if the servant just doesn’t want anything to do with this money which he buries as if he is dealing with stolen goods.

Removing himself from both the money as well as the way it was gained.

The master describes this behaviour as ‘bad’ and lazy’ and you don’t get the feeling that it is just the loss of interest on the money which is upsetting the master but also the lack of compliance to the way he would have his servants behave.

 The first 2 servants were successful in the master’s eyes and he heaped praise on them;

They had followed his lead by making money - probably unethically and immorally and not only that – taking pride in what they had done.

The servants had been put in charge of the money – they hadn’t been told to double it – but they knew that to gain favour that would be what the master would expect – and so 2 of them doubled the money they were given – we don’t know how but we can imagine they would have learned from their master how to do this – following his lead of dishonest practices.

Sure enough, they were described as good and faithful servants! 


This situation is as common today as it obviously was then and in this parable Jesus is drawing attention to how difficult it can be to try and live ethically and morally in a world with different values. 

Values which are far removed from the Kingdom Values of love, honesty and faithfulness.

How hard it can be to stand alone

To stand apart when it would be far easier – and financially rewarding or popular – to ‘go with the flow’ and join in with the crowd – endorsing what is happening.

Have you been in such a situation? 

It might be in a social situation when you feel that your values are at variance with those around you – with social media it can be too easy to get caught up in an exchange and sharing views which – if you stood back, or paused – you might think – these comments are not kind and are destructive – would I like to receive these comments.

If the answer is no – then step back – the comedic way in which some critical views are presented encourages the exchange.

 But there is no reason to endorse them by sharing them and giving credibility where credibility is not due.


In the work environment it is not so easy to step away from opinions and practices you find affront your values.

Within the demands of your job you could be expected to carry out tasks which you find incompatible.

Last week end Remembrance services were held and wreaths were laid at memorials and many thought of relations who had lived through – or died – in recent conflicts. In this environment one can easily imagine that many found what was expected of them affronted their moral code.


Remaining separate while still living and participating in society, whether that is at work or at home, can be a challenge.

But it is a challenge which can be met and has to be met if we are to follow our conscience.

The Coronavirus restrictions have given us a bit of practice recently – creating space between ourselves and others while still functioning in society -  we are now well versed with the concept of ‘bubbles’ in our communities and at work.

Separate and yet together.

He may have felt afraid, but this servant was brave enough to follow his principles – and not only that – he told his master in no uncertain terms what he thought of him 


Perhaps he is the first ‘whistle blower’

And his fate is the same as many other whistle blowers – out on his ear for speaking the truth and refusing to be drawn into the same working practices as the master and the other 2 servants. 

A high price to pay – but a much dearer one would have been to lower his standards and ignore what his conscience was telling him.


Prayer for today

Father God, We come before you today, just as we are.

Help us to be open minded and ready to listen, to hear your words of wisdom.  


You have made each of us different; 

each of us unique and each of us ready to contribute something special to your work in the world.


Help us not to compare ourselves with others but to know that we are good enough for you.  

Remind us that no one else can do what we can do; 

you have given each of us different gifts and talents to do your work in our own unique way.

Forgive us when we use those gifts and talents for only ourselves.

 Lord God, you remind us that none of us lives only for ourselves, but that we live in community, connected and dependent on one another, and on the world we live on.


Help us to live in love, caring for one another, building up one another, because you first loved us.  

May we always be aware of the needs of others.  

May we never be silent in the face of injustice and suffering.  

May we seek to work towards inclusion, equal opportunities for all so that we share each other’s burdens, sorrows and joys.


Help us to use our gifts and talents always for good, so that your kingdom is seen here on earth.  Amen


Something to do

Think seriously and realistically of the things you are good at. If you are feeling brace, ask a friend to help. Not just the things that are on your report card but those things that are the added extras. Perhaps you are good at crafts, or baking, or computers, or, or ….


You could write these things on post it notes and stick them up somewhere you can see them.


When did you last use these gifts and talents to help someone else? Which person in the story do you most resemble?

Why?


No matter who you most resemble, imagine that, over the next week, you used your gifts and talents as much as possible. Would that make a difference to those around you? These are all gifts and talents given by God and to be used. Any time we use these God-given gifts and talents we are bringing a touch of heaven to earth.