This week's sermon

This week's prayer

Third Sunday after Pentecost / 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 / Chosen

For those of you who are new here in the sanctuary and those who are joining us from abroad, you may not know this, but down in the boiler room of St. Mungo’s, there is a vault.  I go down there from time to time when I am stuck on a sermon or when things have not gone well and I am feeling bad about things.

The boiler room is also where we keep the Ghosts of all the old ministers.  Naturally, from time to time, I run into St. Mungo’s favourite pin-up, Peter Brodie, and he always has some funny story to tell me.

Contained in the vault are not very fancy things,  Actually they are mundane things, easy to overlook.  I went down there this week, trying to get some ideas about what to say to you all this morning.  The vault is not very hard to find if you are serious about finding it.  It’s not too hard to open because it’s got no lock on it.  It’s not very big.  Nothing much to look at.  And this week, it was just about Communion deep.  It still contains some wonderful WORDS like:

Stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks. 

Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so. 

You know, old words like that.  Old words from the past that so many people today think are useless.

So I dug in there and the first word I pulled out this week was: CHOSEN.  I wasn’t sure what I could do with that so I went a second time [Dive in MOTION] and do you know what the word was?  You will not believe me: The word was Irn-Bru.   You’re joking.

For those of you listening from abroad, Irn-Bru is a Scottish carbonated soft drink, often described as “Scotland’s other national drink”.  I wonder what the other sister drink could possibly be.  Hmmm.  Irn-Bru is my favourite elixir that always indicates that I have returned HOME.  It is produced in Westfield, Cumbernauld, by A.G. Barr of Glasgow.  Did you know? I was just in Cumbernauld on Friday for a wedding reception.

I officiated the wedding of Blair Campbell and Helen MacLachlan.  For those of you who do not know, Blair is Billy and Marie Campbell’s only child and son.  One of our elders, Beatrice, who had watched the wedding ceremony online, wrote to me, “Saw Helen and Blair’s wedding on YouTube. They are so much in love.”  Yes, I know. I was there.”  I also have never seen a more nervous bridegroom.  It gave me a thrill on Saturday morning when I discovered that Helen is now Helen Campbell on Facebook.  By my troth, a good name.  She chooses to call herself Mrs. Campbell.  Chosen.

But first a story I heard.  I remember a wise old preacher man tell this story when I was just a boy.  It’s just a story, but I gave it a name when I was a boy.  I called it Christ’s Choice.  I don’t why I called it that but the story has a wife, a husband and 3 little ducklings.  Maybe Oprah will make it famous one day.

Christ’s Choice

It was Sunday morning.  A fierce storm raged outside. the weather was fierce.  Not fierce-mild.  But fierce-fierce.   The rain was now crashing into things sideways.  Something we here in Scotland know nothing about.  The wife would take the car but she still had make it TO the car so she put on the wellies, raincoat, the waterproof hat, the works.

She turned other husband and said, “Would you like to join me and hear the new minister preach?” “If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.” the husband replied.    He had gone nearly a full Scottish breakfast minus the black pudding and now the blood was draining directly to his stomach.   The fire place was roaring – a real fire place, a true luxury of any modern-day household – was roaring and he was feeling drowsy.   It was not long before he was dozing.

The husband was startled awake to find 3 little Ducklings making loud, shrill, whistle noises tapping at the glass door of the conservatory [TAPPING NOISE].  That high pitched squeak, the sound they make when alarmed that cuts through everything- like an oboe can cut through an entire orchestra, high above the loudest bellowing or trombones or the mighty trumpets.  Think of Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’, III. Adagio.

The ducklings were thumping into the glass.  There they were- hopping about with their mother nowhere in sight.  The ducklings were terribly confused and lost in the storm and their fluffy fuzz coat was soaked through and through because they had not yet grown their waterproof feathers.   They were desperately seeking warmth of their mother.

The ducklings were zigzagging this away and that.  If they were left in this storm, they would surely die.  The husband threw on his waterproof jacket and opened the glass conservatory door.  He did not love God but he did love animals.  All Things Bright and Beautiful – he remembered now from his Sunday school days.

He threw open the door and tried to corral the ducklings into the conservatory.   But the duckling were too confused, too startled, too scared and zigzagged farther away.    He tried making quacking noises but this backfired and the duckling hopped away in the other direction.  Nothing was working and the husband too was now soaking through and through.

“Oh, if only I could only become one of them” he thought to himself. “Then I can keep them from dying in the storm!”

Just then he heard, piercing through the wind and the rain and the panic, the old bell of the church as it began to ring, pealing through and cutting through everything like an oboe.  It was noon.  And that is what the bell knew how to do each and every hour.  And that old bell began to toll. You know.  Boom…Boom…Boom..

Oh, if only I could only become one of them …  But I’m sure it’s just one of those minister’s tales.  If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.”

Exegesis

Why was David chosen and not the other brothers?  I don’t know.  No one knows.  Only God knows.  The Scots may not understand fully but they fully accept that what’s for you will not go by you.  Destiny. Fate.  Fortune.  Providence.  We see it since the beginning of the Bible.  Cain and Abel.  Esau and Jacob.  Joseph and his brothers.  King Saul.  Now King David.  Chosen.

It pains me to say this but in a significant way the Christian Evangelicals are not very far from being correct when they say Trump was chosen.  He was.  I don’ like it but he was in a significant way.  But what does it mean to be chosen?  Answer:  Irn-Bru

 Irn-Bru

So what’s it like?  What do you  mean?  So what does it taste like?  It tastes like Irn-Bru.  What colour is it?  It’s orange.  So does it taste like Orange Fanta?  It tastes like Irn-Bru.  Surely it must taste LIKE something.  Yes, It tastes like Irn-Bru. 

Do you all know what I am talking about?  I know you know what I am talking about.  No other carbonated fizzy drink in this world tastes like Irn-Bru.  Yes, it shares some common denominators. It’s liquid.  You drink it. But it is singular. It stands alone. distinctive.  Uncommon.  Unique.  Nothing else in the world tastes like it.  So what is the secret Ingredient?  I don’t know but those who do know, could  tell you, but then they would have to kill you.  Are you thirsty yet?  Now some of you will go to the shop and buy Irn-Bru after church.  Tell them I sent you.

Uniqueness

There are many moments when we stare into the vast night or even an opalescent sky of summer, overwhelmed by things and ask “Does anyone up there care about me?  I know, in the grand scheme of things, I am just one person, one name, one matter that will fade to black.  But what if anything, is beyond the Alloa sky?

So often, we struggle in vain to be remembered in our singularity.  To be recognised for who we are.  But so many aspects of life conspire to make us feel insignificant, un-chosen.

If David is CHOSEN then surely everybody else was not chosen.  Rejected. Cast off. made redundant. discarded. unwanted.  Abandoned.

Yet into this we hear the words of John 3:16 once more.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”  Beyond the Alloa sky: the answer.  The Son.  The Son who comes to us as a child, a baby, brother, as Saviour.  Jesus saves.  Jesus chooses to save us.  Jesus saves.

Henri Nouwen, blessed be his name, writes: “the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.”  The powerful cure to this problem of self-rejection is the truth that we are God’s beloved, we have been chosen by Him.  That HE has “noticed me in my uniqueness and has expressed a desire to know me, to come closer to me, to love me.”

When we begin to reclaim our chosenness “we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.”  God is the infinite giver.  God is the only one who can give without loss.  Henri Nouwen reminds us of this awesome truth that God chooses us in our uniqueness: “Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious or valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others. That is the great joy of being chosen: the discovery that others are chosen as well.”   Each one of us is singular. Uncommon.  Unique.  Precious because we are unique. Unique because we are precious.  When this realisation comes to us, to some often, to others seldom, it still feels like a brief brush with eternity.

Chosen

Perhaps the assault on the nobility of old words like Chosen is the result of the sheer explosion of words.  It is estimated that the English language contains some 600,000 words.  By comparison, Elizabethan English had about 150,000, and the King James Version of the Bible contains only 6,000.  We have words for things that were unknown a century ago: Selfie, Unfriend, Crowdfunding, Hashtag, Glamping, Emoji, Cryptocurrency, Bromance.

The most unfortunate side-effect of all this is that many of us have become hard of hearing.  We learn to filter out words that are not necessary to our lives the same way we learn to sleep in a house next to the Airport or a church whose bell tolls every hour.

But a word like CHOSEN is a simple, basic, tried and true WORD yesterday, today, forever.

For our chosenness, found ONLY in the all SURPASSING beauty of CHRIST, will not put us to shame!

I stand here to tell you that you are chosen because that’s what the Bible tells me to do,  and Jesus promises that The gates of hell will not prevail against it.

The great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, was asked by a student once, “Professor, do you think that the way God has revealed himself in the Christian religion is superior to that of other religions?”  Barth replied, “No because God has not revealed himself in a religion, but in the Son.”  The Son.  God comes to us as the chosen Son.

It is in our very nature to be chosen as it is a child’s nature to walk.   As a minister who has been chosen, I believe that Jesus too chose to be one of us, to enter into the muck of life, to suffer loneliness and all those things that make us human.    But there is something terrifyingly true and comforting all at once about this strange existence.

Conclusion

Many people have dreams but I have an obsession.  It is called the Christ, Jesus.  I need more than a teacher – however, wise, however inspiring.  Like all of you, I need more than powerful deity.  I need someone who loves me even when I can’t live his way, when I don’t even want to live that way.   I need someone who cares for me and this whole lost world enough to hang on a cross to OPEN a way beyond my selfishness, fear, self-righteousness, ambition and my unforgiving heart.  I need a presence, a Living Lord, someone who will go through times of suffering with me and lead me through to the other side.  I need someone who will feel my pain.  In short, I need a SAVIOUR who constantly chooses me INSPITE of me.

Chosen.  I think we might start using this word again. Chosen.  I sense it really might be TRUE.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God. 

 

13 June 2021

Prayer of thanks giving and confession for Sunday 13th June 2021

Dearly Beloved, it has been too long since we gathered at the Lord’s table, so let us draw close and give thanks to God.

Let us pray.

God of all blessings, source of all life, giver of all grace: we thank you for the gift of life: for the breath that sustains life, for the food of this earth that nurtures life, for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life. We thank you for the mystery of creation; for the beauty that the eye can see, for the joy that the ear may hear, for the unknown that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder, for the expanse of space that draws us beyond the definitions of ourselves.

We thank you for setting us in communities; for families who nurture our becoming, for friends who love us by choice, for companions at work, who share our burdens and daily tasks; for strangers who welcome us into their midst, for people from other lands who call us to grow in understanding, for children who lighten our moments with delight, for the unborn who offer us hope for the future.

We thank you for this day: for life and one more day to love, for opportunity and one more day to work for justice and peace, for neighbours and one more person to love and by whom be loved, for your grace and more experience of your presence, for your promise to be with us, to be our God and to give salvation.  For these, and all blessings we give you thanks.

Lord God, your love of humankind extends through history and touches all of our lives.  Your love sees failings and forgives.  Your love feels pain and wipes away our tears.  Your love knows grief and comforts the sorrowful.  Your love sees sin and still loves the sinner.  We humbly ask you to forgive us when we fail to live lives that reflect your love.  Forgive us the many times when we take for granted all that you have done for us.  Help us to say “sorry” to those we have wronged. Transform us through your Holy Spirit and empower us to serve you this day and always.  We offer all these prayers in Jesus’ name.

Please join me now in the prayer that Jesus taught us:

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.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever.  Amen

Prayers of Intercession for Sunday  13th June 2021   

Let us pray.  God of all creation, you hold the depths of the earth in your hands.  You are closer to us than the air we breathe.  Fill our souls with your wonderful love.  Give us strength and courage to reflect your love into the world.  Let us never shrink back from who we are in you or hide our light inside ourselves.  Renew in us a sense of  joy, painting the dark shadows around us with your light,  your love and your salvation. Hear us today as we pray for a world too often dimmed by hatred, evil, power and greed.  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord we thank you for all who have shared their lives with us.  We pray for our homes, our loved ones, for friends who have guided us, for all who have been examples to us.  Hear our prayers for young people in our wee county and beyond who have been doing exams at school.  Let your love surround them and those who support them, parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers.  We ask you to be close to them as they wait anxiously for results and may they know that whatever the outcome you are still there for them. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Healing God, hear our prayers for Les Isaac, founder of the street pastor organisation in the UK.  During a routine operation earlier this week complications developed.  Pray that the skills of the doctors and nurses can help him recover.  We think too of Christian Eriksen who suffered a cardiac arrest while playing football yesterday.  We pray for him and his family at this difficult time and that Christian will make a full recovery.  We pray for all who woke up in pain this morning and for all who have lost their grip on reality.  We remember the restless and the weary, all who are not at peace with themselves or the world. Lord, be with each in their troubles and with all who care for them.  We think of the homeless – no safe place to sleep, no shelter from the weather, little food to eat, ignored by many.  May they know that your love surrounds them too.  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, bless all those who we love but have gone before us.  We share the pain and anguish of those who have recently lost loved ones.  The family of the 15 year old boy stabbed to death in London;   the family of 18 month old  Emma-Grace who drowned in a pond in her grandparents garden in the Falkirk area. We cannot begin to imagine what they feel like right now.  We ask you to be around them and keep them close in your heart and let them feel your peace.  We remember that as we weep with the grieving we embrace the joy of your promise of eternal life with you in heaven.    Lord, in you mercy, hear our prayer.

Almighty God, we pray for world leaders taking part in the G7 conference.  Give them clarity and wisdom as they plan the way forward on tackling climate change, coronavirus and other political issues.  We pray that they will agree to provide vaccines to those countries still in need of help in fighting this pandemic and in so doing make the world a safer place for all.  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of love and hope, renew in us a deeper sense of who we are in you.  Help us to be aware of your presence each and every day.  Make us instruments of love and praise.  May our words, actions and lives be living examples of your forgiving, healing, life-giving love.   We offer all these prayers in your Son’s name.

Amen