Saturday, June 07, 2008

The things you see from the train...

Especially when you *don't* have your camera with you!

I was riding on the train from Glasgow yesterday. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon. I was sitting at a table seat, facing the direction of travel ,and reading a course manual on church growth which I'd pinched for a few days from the Diocesan office. A bit bored. Reading a bit and looking out of the window from time to time. Suddenly we pass a grassy meadow in the very centre of which are three young women dressed all in black doing some sort of unison dance.

As I recall, the gal at the head of the line was fairly buxom and had a head of flaming red hair.

I looked across at the guy on the other side of the table. He was still reading his potboiler and obviously hadn't noticed. "Bubble bubble, boil and trouble" I muttered to myself.

Scotland's always had a spare witch or two - this must be some sort of resurgent ritual reserved for sunny Thursdays at the beginning of the warm weather.

And I went back to my reading.

Twenty minutes later I'm bored again by a lot of affirmations set out in bullet point form about 'thinking big' and 'bringing ministry to the people'. I look out the window.

This time we're passing through a planted field - filled with ankle deep somethingorother - and there's a young man dressed in a black suit with a waistcoat, wearing wellington boots and running with big hopping steps through that field waving at the train and carrying an open blue and white umbrella - all this on a sunny day.

Again - nothing from the bloke across from me reading his book and breathing through his mouth.

Why? I say to myself, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable.

I'm less prepared, now, to go home and say to my wife 'guess what I saw from the train today'.

I must assume that there is no guild of people planted along the train route between Glasgow and Falkirk High who fill their days by entertaining and confounding train passengers. Things aren't set up merely to present themselves to my consciousness. Whatever people are doing as you pass them on the train will doubtless have some logic of its own. But fecked if I know what it might be.

I worried Caireen would feel my forehead or wonder what my friend in Glasgow had put in the coffee he served me when we were meeting.

And she didn't think I'd gone nuts. Or at least if she did she didn't say.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Matthew 9:9-13

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost

“There must be some mistake”,
the Pharisees thought,
“he’s started out on the wrong foot”
So they asked the disciples
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

We will never know if the critics thought they were being polite
by asking the disciples instead of directing the question to Jesus himself
or whether they were being nasty and trying to undermine his support.

But the question is asked nonetheless

Why indeed? Why does a teacher of righteousness not seek out the righteous
- people he has a natural affinity with?

I have ministered in many small towns
– places where people have long memories.

I have heard young people
compared unflatteringly to their grandparents
in such a way as to suggest
that their behaviour
and their fortunes
were something quite predictable.

Coming into any settled community as a stranger
one is struck by how inter-related everybody is.

There they are at the village fete:
rich and poor,
clever and not-so,
powerful and powerless
respectable and less-so.

It’s like watching a machine
seeing all the parts inter-related
one part meshing with another.

Everyone has his place
we know who to love and who to hate
who the teams are.

We learn this from a young age
We’re sent out to school as small children
knowing who to avoid.

Even in our families we have our appointed places.
I’m the capable one.
My big brother is such a worry to our parents.
He’s aged them, he has.

Or I’m the failure of the family.
I have to work hard to get ahead.
I’m not as clever as my brother.
Everything he touches turns to gold.

When the minister or priest is called to a parish or a congregation
there is a tacit understanding (sometimes)
that he will reinforce what everybody already knows
about what’s right and wrong, what’s good and bad,
who is on one side of the line and who is not.

It’s all so simple.
Why indeed would a teacher of righteousness not seek out the righteous?
Why would a pastor not stand behind his core parishioners
when a dispute arises in the congregation?
Why would he not share the quite natural grief and disappointment of parents and grandparents and siblings
with respect to a child who has strayed from her appointed path?.

The Gospels as you know
tell the story about the Good News of God shown to the world in the man Jesus.

The Gospels record the effect he has
upon the lives of men and women who had pretty well decided for themselves
where they were going
or upon whom the judgement of society had been pretty solidly passed.
He has a term for these folks: He calls them the ‘Lost Sheep of the House of Israel”

And the part of the story which we’re reading this morning
the calling of St Matthew
is not set as it might have been later in the Gospel
in the great city of Jerusalem
where a man might go and lose himself in the crowd
but in one of the small towns of Galilee
where the eyes of all are immediately fixed
upon a stranger walking into the village square
and where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

And so the question must be asked at the outset by us
the readers and observers of this story
as well as by the local Pharisees:

What will he make of this town
this teacher of righteousness,
this prophet, this holy man?

Will he come to know what we already know but quicker?
Surely he won’t need to have watched the slow downfall of this man.
He’ll know him to be a rascal from the outset.
He won’t need to carefully mark down how this one tarts herself up for the fellows.
He’ll see that right away.

And he’ll reveal his superior insight by wanting to associate with gentler folk.
He’ll seek out the city fathers.
He’ll plant himself at the feet of the Pharisees
who are people, after all. of his own kidney and his natural allies.

But that’s not how it works out.

And so the story of the calling of Matthew the tax collector
somebody who in the popular mind had made himself a pariah
by standing against his own people and entering the employ of their oppressors
is not so much about Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus
as it is about the whole mechanism of Jesus’ ministry to the outcast
and his ability to bring into being what was fortold about him:
that valleys would be exalted.
Mountains and hills laid low.

And so Matthew leaving his tax table to follow Jesus
is part of the same tradition
where his colleague Zaccheus climbs a tree in order to see Jesus
and finds himself hosting Jesus at his own dinner table
while Nicodemus – a member of the Sanhedrin
must steal away in the dead of night to hear Jesus –

part of the same story in which the woman taken in adultery
sees her accusers turn away
and those who were about to stone her to death
drop their fist-size chunks and rock and wander away
leaving her alone with Jesus
while in another story the ‘rich young ruler’ rides away on his donkey.

When Jesus is ushered in to a stable situation fortunes appear to change.
People receive a gracious welcome they had not expected
and find themselves in the light once again.
Some who expected to have an automatic hearing
find they do not.

The Gospels as they are read, preached and proclaimed,
remain an agent for change.
We are on the receiving end of this story this morning.
Who are we?

As they are read, preached and proclaimed
the very same Jesus extends the same invitation
– this time to man and women sitting in Church in West Linton
or listening on their radios.

We could remain observers of a story
about nasty Pharisees and lucky St Matthew
were it not for the fact that the Jesus proclaimed and preached in the Gospel
is a living Lord who speaks to us.

And we are men and women who have settled in our minds
who we are
and who our neighbours are.

We can draw a map and place ourselves,
for better or worse,
in a particular place.

So where are you then?

Are you a lost sheep
and do you suffer under the cold gaze of your betters?
Have you even grown comfortable with the diagnosis
that it’s just the way you are –
that life has dealt you a few unfair blows
and you’re now too old to change?

That would be the better news.

Because you could assume yourself
to be Jesus’ first choice in dinner partners
and have, therefore, become part of the problem
and not part of the solution.

There has been no mistake.
Jesus is set about the raising up of valleys
and the bringing down of mountain ranges.

The comfort of remaining firm
in the knowledge we think we have about ourselves and other people
is cold comfort
and no new news.

He prepares a better place for us all
if we will stay and listen
and, ultimately, be changed.

Did you appreciate this sermon? Did you nick bits of it for your own sermon on Sunday morning? Here's the collection plate. Fr Kenny's congregation in Dumbarton raises the lion's share of the budget of a primary school in Serrakunda, the Gambia.

The recording was made as part of New Every Morning - BBC Scotland's Sunday morning service and is used with their kind permission.

Follow this link to 'listen again' to New Every Morning or any of Radio Scotland's shows.

Monday, June 02, 2008

St Patrick's Breastplate
(sort of)

thanks to Malcolm over at SimpleMassingPriest for the link