John 11:1-44

Lazarus.

Jesus’ friend.

Dying.

And what does Jesus do?  Something else.  There’s no hurry.  No rush to see him or any hint that he might save him.  So many miracles, so many strangers healed, made whole, restored… why not Lazarus?

Again the story is laden with symbolism but there’s some real raw emotion in here too.  Mary and Martha are two of his closest followers and Jesus seems pretty indifferent about their brother’s fate.  I wonder how they felt about Jesus at that point?

 

Of course it all turns out well in the end… or does it?  Lazarus will spend the rest of his life as the man who died.  And not just for a moment.  He was dead for days.  Long enough for decay and stench to set in.

How do you come back from that and live?

How do you come out of the darkness of the tomb back into the light?

But that’s exactly the point… I AM the resurrection says Jesus.

And Lazarus lives again.

(Perhaps The Stone Roses… for the offering?)

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I’m thinking…

That’s what the start of the week is for.

On Monday mornings at Morning Prayers we explore the scripture passage from the day before and shed more light on it having had time to reflect and digest.  When I get home I read the passage for this week and the process of thinking starts again.

I’m going to start sharing some of these initial thoughts, just in case you want to do some thinking too!

It’s Transfiguration Sunday.  Usually we would read the story of Jesus on the mountaintop where he changes and is joined by Elijah and Moses.  Instead we’re exploring a different kind of transfiguration…

John 9:1-41 – A man born blind receives sight

We take a big jump this week from chapter 4 to chapter 9 (you should read the bit in between!).

On Sunday our story of the Samaritan woman happened at midday, in contrast to Nicodemus’ nighttime visit.  Now we are plunged back into darkness and light in this story of a blind man.  There is loads going on and much of it reflects where John’s community find themselves;  Thrown out of the synagogue, at odds with the religious authorities because they can see while others are blind.

As always, John is writing in several levels at once.  There are some issues that jump out:

  • Sin and questions about who is to blame.
  • A healing that echoes back to the Genesis 2 creation story involving both seeing/light and water.
  • Religious rules that hinder rather than help.  Is healing on the Sabbath ‘work’?

I like that the man can see but doesn’t know who did it, or at least what Jesus looks like, and that his friends don’t recognise him now that he can see!  It’s like partial illumination… something that for the man is completed in his second encounter with Jesus.

Lots to think about.  What do you see???

 

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Today is Time To Talk Day.  It’s a pretty simple idea… talk about your mental health.

So why a picture of a dog and a record?

Well, because talking about your mental health isn’t always about talking about the things that are wrong, although that’s hugely important.  Mental health is something we all have.  Sometimes, like our physical health, it is good and sometimes we have things we struggle with.  And, like our physical health, there are things we can do to help us stay well.

For me at the moment the dog and the music are two of those things that keep me well.

I work in a job that appears to be full of people.  It is.  Some of those encounters are when people are happy and some are when people are sad or angry or upset.  Both of those situations can be difficult depending on how I feel at the time.  Happy people can be just as hard to be with as sad people.  Being with someone who is grieving can be hugely positive and life giving.  I suppose what I’m saying is that ministry is up and down and that’s as much to do with how I feel on any given day as it is to do with the mood or needs of the people I encounter.

It’s also a job that’s full of times when you are alone.  Times where you sit at your desk for long periods trying to write a sermon or a tribute for a funeral or responding to emails or all the other things that need doing.  I enjoy all of that stuff but it can be a pretty solitary existence sometimes.  The other bits make up for that.

Having Aonghus Dog around helps.  He makes me get up from my desk and go for a walk.  He reminds me that caring for someone or something is a good thing.  His enthusiasm for life reminds me that life is good and that having some fun is a good thing.  He doesn’t need me to be anything other than here.  And to feed him.  And let hm out.  And to love him.  He makes me smile.  Just thinking about him makes me smile.  He lifts my mood.  Even on a rainy miserable day taking him for a walk can be a highlight.  Or sitting next to him as he looks out of the window at the world passing by.

The music is different.

I’ve always loved music.  I was a DJ in my late teens and early 20s.

(If you studied in Edinburgh in the early 90s and made it to The Shack in Kings Stables Road on a Wednesday or Friday then we’ve probably met! )

There’s something magical about music.

Something beyond a collection of notes played in the right order.

Something transcendent.

Music moves us.  Well, it moves me.  It provides a soundtrack to my day.  (Springsteen live in Chicago on The River Tour in 2016 is currently playing…  That’s us at the back…) It reminds me of people, places, experiences and things but it is more than that.  Why is it that when opening chords of The Rising start I well up inside, not with sadness but with joy.  It’s the same when U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name starts.  Other songs make me cry.

Music taps into our emotions in a way that very little else can.

We bought a new turntable.  Partly because we’re cool.  But also because listening to vinyl makes you sit and listen.  Listening to a whole album takes time.  And commitment.  It’s a very different experience to listening to MP3s on shuffle.  There’s a journey to go on.  I like that.

So, for me, my mental health is greatly improved by a wee dog that likes music.

All I need to do is remember how precious those things are and make time for them, and for the other stuff that keeps me well.

So, what keeps you well?

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I love when someone asks,”Can we do ….?”.  Mostly the answer is easy… YES!!!  (And why are you asking me? It’s YOUR church!)

A Burns Supper… a family meal with poems, dancing, song and speeches.  And this is what it looked like.  150 people of all ages enjoying haggis, neeps and tatties, the talents of children and adults and, most importantly, being together in community.

And it was brilliant.

But, so what?

Look at the picture.  Do you see what’s happening?

Talking.

Listening.

Conversation.

We could have had separate tables but the long tables meant people were sitting next to other people they might not know, that older people were sitting next to young children, that people made new friends.

I used to have a colleague that talked about planning moments of spontaneity.  I love the idea that what we do is to create the space and the opportunity for stuff to happen… and then get out of the road.  One of the biggest temptations in ministry is to fill the space, to programme every moment and to make sure there is no opportunity to go off course.

When we do that we completely miss the point.

The space is the purpose.

The conversations are the point.

The relationships are what matter.

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For five minutes or a couple of hours on the first Sunday of the month people come and sit in a candlelit church.

Sometimes it is the simplest idea that catches the imagination.

Providing a place of sanctuary and stillness is one of the gifts the church can provide to a busy world full of stress and concern.

Be still and know that I am God.

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Over that past 6 weeks I’ve been hosting a series of Bible Studies called Everything You Know Is Wrong* (*probably).  It grew from a growing realisation that most people, despite being members and attenders at church for years and years, haven’t had the chance to explore the Bible much.  Lots of us are stuck at what we got at Sunday School because the stories we are told when we are children stick deep in our memories and nothing has happened since then to add to them.  So, we still think Jonah was swallowed by a whale, even though the Bible calls it a big fish and that Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, even though there is no mention of a donkey in any of the stories.

Those are symptoms of something deeper.

We don’t know how to engage critically with the Bible.

And that, I think, is problematic.

So, for the past 6 weeks we have been exploring what kinds of literature the Bible contains, and why it matters that we know, for example, that Genesis 1 is a poem and Genesis 2 is a myth.  They are different kinds of literature so we should deal with them differently.  And if you just got annoyed that I called part of the Bible a myth, you should probably go and do some thinking about what a myth actually is (hint: it’s a particular type of story that tries to explain a greater truth – like God created – and it’s kind of like a parable).

One of the other ideas we have grappled with is what ‘truth’ is, because there is more than one kind.  There’s the ‘scientific, mathematically provable fact’ kind but there is also the ‘I love my wife’ kind and there is the ‘tells us something about the nature of humanity and /or God’ kind.  Each of these is ‘true’.  Our problem is that we value the first kind more than the others, which is a problem when the Bible is written mostly in the second two kinds.  You don’t read a poem utilising mathematical proofs.  It may be a style that uses a certain kind of lines or words, but that’s about construction not content.  That a poem has 7 words in the first line and 14 in the second tells us something, but not what the poem is ‘about’.

We’ve had loads of fun and some pretty deep conversations about creation, sacrifice, promises, relationship, wilderness and incarnation.  We’ve discovered that the Bible is nothing like we thought it was and that we will probably never read it in the same way again…

and that’s great!

We may also have ruined Christmas.

 

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So… this happened…

I was Ordained into the ministry of word and sacraments on Friday 9th June and inducted to serve as minister of St Ninian’s Stonehouse.

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