Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Success of the Cross

 

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Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. So gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, an interracial, Christian farming community.

It was called it Koinonia (κοινωνία), a word meaning communion or fellowship that in Acts 2:42 is applied to the earliest Christian community.

The Koinonia partners bound themselves to the equality of all persons, rejection of violence, ecological stewardship, and common ownership of possessions

It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40s.
For several years the residents of Koinonia lived in relative peace alongside their Sumter County neighbours. But as the Civil Rights Movement progressed, white citizens of the area increasingly perceived Koinonia as a threat.

Ironically, much of the resistance came from good church people who followed the laws of segregation as much as the other folk in town. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried boycotting him, and slashing workers’ tyres when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen years, they tried to stop him.

Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him once and for all. They came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia Farm but Clarence’s home, which they riddled with bullets.

And they chased off all the families except one black family which refused to leave. Clarence recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, and, as you might guess, some of them were church people.

Another was the local newspaper’s reporter. The next day, the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smouldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.

“I heard the awful news,” he called to Clarence, “and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing. Clarence just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to get a rise from this quietly determined man who seemed to be planting instead of packing his bags.

So, finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?

Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.”

Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and he worked that farm until his death in 1969.

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Truants

Watching the (live stream) of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly last week, a face from the past popped up to ask a particular question during a debate.

I hadn’t seen him for many years, but he used to be a Minister in the town where I live, before he moved elsewhere.

He would pop into the local Infirmary (where I worked as the full-time healthcare chaplain) now and again, to visit the hospitalised members of his congregation.

Several times, when I was chatting to certain patients who worshipped at his church, they would remark on what a clever man he was, with a wide ranging knowledge of just about everything.

“You know” someone would tell me, “he’s even abreast of the day time soaps on TV, and has been keeping me up to date with them”

Another patient, “You know that antiques programme on the telly at 3 o’clock?  Well, Mr D was able to tell me that someone who had bought a piece of junk in a car boot sale for a couple of quid, had it valued by an expert at £500”

And so on.

Of course, they all missed the point – Mr D wasn’t out working every day, but was sitting in his Manse, watching afternoon TV!

–oo00oo–

Many years ago, Helen and the boys and I were driving somewhere on a particular Sunday morning – probably setting off on holiday with my in-laws in Suffolk (presumably because I had to be around on the Saturday for a wedding)

En route, I was amazed to see so many of my own Kirk members, including some Elders, walking their dogs, washing their cars, going to the supermarket…..with about 10 minutes before their “home” church service was due to start.

The cliche is true, as so many are, “When the cat’s away….”

–oo00oo–

Now and again, when ministering in Trinidad, we had a two hour Saturday morning discussion/training session for church Elders.

For one of these – held in the first week in July – I received a lot of apologies for absence.  The meeting itself was poorly attended.

Trinidad is four hours behind British time.  Last week in July. London – 2.00 pm.  And in those days, guess what happened in SW19?  Yep, the Wimbledon men’s finals. (shown on TV)

It was only on the Sunday morning, that some of my Elders (post service) asked, “Did you see that Match?  Wonderful!”  oops!

–oo00oo–

Lastly, a ministerial friend who was Presbytery Business Convener, sent in his apologies to the Clerk, saying that he was unable to attend the Meeting “for family reasons”

Aye, the “family” was his fellow football team fans!  There was a big European game that evening – and not only did he attend, but was caught on (TV) camera.  Ouch!

 

 

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And, behold He went to Aldi

Just back from a wedding.

On arrival, getting out of my car, this matronly lady engages me in conversation….

….”Are you the Vicar?” (I think that the clerical collar should have been a giveaway)

“I’m the Minister, yes”

“Are you here to ‘do’ the wedding?” (??????)

“I am, indeed – and what a lovely afternoon it is for it”

“I was at a another wedding just a couple of weeks ago. It was lovely. The Vicar gave a lovely sermon. He talked about Jesus at some kind of party. (* the wedding at Cana) and he, Jesus, not the Vicar, said that the ordinary people, you know the plebs, should just get the cheap wine – you know, the kind of stuff you can buy for 3 quid in Aldi…. not that they had Aldis or even Lidls in his day……

“But the toffs should get the really good stuff…..sorta like what I get from my wine club.

“Do you know that story?”

“I’ve heard something like it, but not quite the same”

“Of course, you’re Scottish. Do you use a different Bible?

“Would love to talk to you about it, but I’d better go inside now and have a chat with the bridegroom. See you later!”

Yes, back at home now, and just about to pour a very large glass of Merlot….. which later I will turn into water, such is the miracle of the human body.

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To everything there is a season…

Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1-15 (Authorised Version)

“To Everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…..”

These words from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes were probably brought to the attention of many people through the soaring harmonies ,backed by the jingle-jangle sound of a Rickenbacker guitar – by, yes, the legendary American band, the Byrds.

The song was “Turn! Turn! Turn!” composed in 1950 by Pete Seeger who based his lyrics on that Scripture passage; the Byrds’ electric and electrifying version being released at the end of 1965.

 

It seems like yesterday!

It will be fifty years this October that I went off to University at St Andrew’s (in 1966) with a copy of the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” L.P.

… and with high hopes

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…. and that time was then: way back in the mid-60s : those were the days when hair was long and attention spans short. We were going to change the world!

I was back in St Andrews a short while ago. It was exam time and it brought back memories – how, in 1973, I graduated and left to face the “real world”

The times, they were a changin’

But many of us don’t like change. We’d rather cling to the known, the tried and the tested.

Two summers before I left for the last time, the Byrds disbanded. Their swansong record was the old hymn, “Farther Along”…. perhaps ,in a way ,it was prophetic….

…. because, you see, we can’t stand still. If we do, we stagnate and our existence becomes stultified.

Nor can we, on our own, radically change the world – history is littered with failed revolutionaries -and you don’t need a college education to tell you that.

Nor can we put the clock back.

Many of us look with real nostalgia at old photographs.

Have you seen the collections of old Dumfries gathered together by Desmond Donaldson in that splendid series of books “Bygone Dumfries and Galloway”?

We look at these photographs and think, “Ah, those were the days!”

 

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With nostalgia, we recall the real sense of community that existed then – a time of neighbourliness, of mutual help and support. A sense too of identity.

This town was a place with a large labour force, employed locally.

Think of all the mills and factories there used to be: Wolsey at Ryedale, Gibson’s the glove maker at what was known as “Tartan Row” (Maxwell Street), Robertson’s, the Nithsdale Mills, McGeorge’s, Caruther’s Mineral and Soft-Drinks factory, the Carnation Milk factory, Johnston Cars at Heathhall …… and so on.

These industries employed literally thousands of local people…. so much so that the Suspension Bridge over the Nith was built for the Mill workers.

What about recreation?

Well, on a Sunday, there was a choice of twenty churches or other places of worship -probably 22 at one point.

Spoiled for choice for cinemas: the Lyceum, the Playhouse, the Electric Theatre (actually the Theatre Royal, the oldest working theatre in Scotland patronised by Robert Burns himself – and still going strong)

How about afternoon swimming in the Nith and then going to Dante’s Cafe or its next door neighbour, Setti’s, before going over the road to the Regal?

Or a visit to the famous Fuscos in the Vennel or to Piolis and then off to the “jiggin'” – Oughtons in the High Street or the Plaza just off it, the Imperial, the “Jungle” (or, to give it its proper name – the David Street Hall), the Unionist Rooms or the Assembly Rooms in George Street.

A nostalgic trip to Rugmans in Irish Street – where in 1969 Black Sabbath with Ozzy himself played… at the princely admission price of two shillings and sixpence (12 and a half pence in today’s money)

A nice cup of Earl Grey at the Steeple Tea-Rooms – a favourite meeting place at one time – for genteel ladies who shopped and lunched.

And what a range of shops: Binns, McGowans, Coopers, the Home and Colonial, Lennox’s, or Beatties for groceries…. so many emporia from which to choose.

Ah, the good old days! Relatively crime-free, a close-knit community, God-fearing, innocent to a degree –

– yet it was a time of long hours and low wages, of poor working conditions, of poverty – sometimes grinding poverty – bare-foot children, hunger, tuberculosis, damp and cramped housing, poor nutrition.

 

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The older photographs of ordinary folk going about their ordinary daily business are described by Donaldson (in the introduction to his first volume of pictures) are “poorly clothed, badly fed and disgracefully housed” – and he states, “It is obvious that those who suffered most were the children and the old people”

Of course, this ancient Burgh has a magnificent history. It is a place of glorious tradition and rich heritage: the Town of Bruce, Burns & Barrie and, amazingly, even more people of note and achievement – and that’s something we are justifiably proud and of which we should never lose sight.

Yet it’s just as well that we can’t relive the past.

To everything there is a season…….

What we have been given is the present.

The past is gone and the future is beyond our reach.

It is down to us to fulfil the promise of the past and to build the foundations for the future….. by what we do in the NOW.

 

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The New Testament doesn’t talk of God’s Kingdom in the past tense, or the future, as much as it does in the present. It is very much NOW that counts.

A potential follower of Jesus said that he first wanted to bury his father, to which Christ replied: “Let the dead bury their own dead”

And to another who first wanted to say goodbye to his household: “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God”

Another time, he said to his disciples, “Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? Seek first the Kingdom of God…. do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.'”

Christ talked about the importance of the present time. Faith can’t be preserved like last year’s fruit, nor can it be postponed. NOW is all we have – let’s make the most of it.

The grace of God is here -moving with us.

Our times are in his hand. He dictates the pace. He holds the key to change.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

To God alone belongs the past, the present and the future.

Let us recommit ourselves to God and let him shape and mould us -our present thoughts, words and actions – so that we may honour what has been achieved before us, to serve our neighbours around us, and to build for those who come after us.

Now glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning,is now, and ever shall be, world without end AMEN

 

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Clothed in righteousness

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May 27, 2016 · 12:19

Sermon – Change & Decay?

The newly retired Moderator of a fellow Scottish Presbyterian Church has an Internet blog, written in his capacity as a Parish Minister in his particular denomination.

He seems to spend virtually every post, criticising, condemning, and commentating negatively on the Kirk.

According to this narrow minded bigoted view, the Church of Scotland has become apostate, heretical, unbiblical – because of recent decisions made by our General Assembly and by words spoken by individual ministerial colleagues. He has actually gone as far as to suggest that the Kirk deserves to die – an appalling and unsavoury remark from a fellow Christian minister.

In the immortal words of Dad’s Army’s Private Fraser (John Lawrie – from just down the road in Dumfries), “We’re doomed. Doomed, I tell ye!”

Certainly, there is a lot happening within the Kirk that is causing strain and stress.

Take for example, the Assembly’s discussion and debate on the Overture regarding Ministers in Same Sex Marriage. Although that comparatively brief discussion was, on the whole, conducted in a civilised manner, before this, there has been so much bile, unpleasantness, and a downright lack of Christian charity.

Several ministers and some congregations have left the Kirk as a result.

Last Saturday, at the Assembly, 215 commissioners voted against the Overture. 339 voted “for”.

Division, disagreement, disruption

Over the years, numerically, we are in decline….. for many different reasons – such as members becoming older and sadly being no longer with us; of younger people who have no interest; of some long term members who – for whatever the reason – have just given up.

The way we were – St Mary’s Church, 1901

 

I was ordained in 1974. Then Kirk membership was about a million. 42 years on – it’s standing at around 370,000.

I remember sometime around 1990, a member of staff from the Church Offices came to address my then Presbytery – Lothian.

He talked about church decline by way of membership numbers, and mentioned that if the trend continued, Edinburgh (our neighbouring Presbytery) would have no members by 2029 – and would effectively disappear.

Friendly rivalry caused many of us there at that evening’s meeting to guffaw – though it was no laughing matter.

He paused for a moment, then said: “I don’t know why you’re laughing; YOUR Presbytery will disappear the year after – in 2030!”

But – let’s say this…..

 

  • The Church still stands.

Despite knock backs, despite setbacks, despite the downward trajectory we seem to be on – we’re still here….. we always will be.

Do you remember the story of Christ arriving in Heaven, and being asked how many folk he’d left to carry on, and he answers “Twelve”

“Twelve!” comes the incredulous reply, “Is that all?”

And he answers, “It’s enough”.

Things may not get as few as that here, but think of how the Church is actually growing – in Africa, Russia, China…… that’s more than enough!

I read yesterday that in 1900, there were 8 million Christians in Africa. Now there are 335 million. And the growth rate continues to accelerate.

For Christianity the 20th century was numerically the most successful century since Christ was crucified. By 2010, there were 2.2 billion Christians in the world, 31% of its population.

 

  • And we stand for something.

Societal patterns are changing, as are attitudes, and as is need.

What is Church? It’s a group or congregation. Very often interpreted as people coming together on – usually a Sunday – to sing hymns, listen to the Minister say prayers (as to actually praying themselves) and listening to a sermon for ten/fifteen minutes…. then going home for lunch.

That may be “being” Church…. but “doing” Church involves more, so much more.

Helping, feeding, caring for those in need should be the ‘why’ of what we, if we truly want to “do”, not the how or the what. Following Christ’s teaching demands that we share the essentials of life unconditionally.

This is integral not peripheral, the beginning and not a side-line or optional extra. Jesus’ unequivocally states that we encounter ultimate meaning when we treat others as we would wish to be treated, love others as we love ourselves and meet the needs of the vulnerable, excluded and marginalised.

This is the imperative which drives and shapes the Church and its existence as a servant community, taking us back to Christ’s theology as found in his Parable of the Kingdom in Matthew 25

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  • And the Church doesn’t stand still

If you cast your mind back to the short address I gave near the beginning of today’s service – about the dog and the rabbit……

Let me – as it were – turn it around a bit…… and remind you of that wonderful poem written by Francis Thomson – The Hound of Heaven…..

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him…”

Thomson’s story is punctuated by sorrow, failure and addiction. The squalor and self-medication of his age come through in every chapter of his life, ultimately ending in his death at age 48. But Thompson’s real legacy is not the opium that consumed his body, but the paw prints of a Hound he says relentlessly pursued his soul.

Thompson knew that Hound as the God Who draws sinners to Himself even as they flee from His voice, a dauntless Hunter of hearts.

 


In the 1930’s Stalin ordered a purge of all Bibles and all believers. In Stavropol, Russia, this order was carried out with vengeance. Thousands of Bibles were confiscated, and multitudes of believers were sent to the gulags-prison camps-where most died, unjustly condemned as “enemies of the state.”

An American missionary team were many years later to discover that there was a warehouse outside of town where these confiscated Bibles had been stored since Stalin’s day.

They got permission to remove them, helped by several Russians .

One helper was a young man-a skeptical, hostile agnostic who had come only for the day’s wages. As they were loading Bibles, one team member noticed that the young man had disappeared. Eventually they found him in a corner of the warehouse, weeping.

He had slipped away hoping to take a Bible for himself. What he did not know was that he was being pursued by the “Hound of Heaven.” What he found shook him to the core.

The inside page of the Bible he picked up had the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. It had been her personal Bible. Out of the thousands of Bibles still left in that warehouse, he stole the very one belonging to his grandmother-a woman, who throughout her entire life, was persecuted for her faith.

the “Hound of Heaven” who had tracked him down to that very warehouse with devastating effect.

Jesus is truly the ever-present, all-seeing “Hound of Heaven.” He can still track us down wherever we’re hiding!

He called that young Russian man and how many more like him will he seek and find!

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Chasing the Rabbit

 

A thought for General Assembly Week…..

There once was an elderly Christian gentleman who had a reputation for godliness, devotion, and faithfulness.

Once a newly ordained Elder visited him with his Communion Card, and, during their conversation, got round to discuss the decline in membership of the Church.

“Why is it” asked the younger man, “that so many people when they join the Kirk are so full of enthusiasm, then, after a few years, they effectively give up. They don’t have that initial zeal anymore.

The old fellow smiled. He said, “One day, a wee while ago, I was sitting in my garden on a lovely summer evening – my faithful dog by my side.

“Suddenly a large rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, and took off after it. He chased the rabbit across the lawn, through the hedge, down the lane. – and with unbridled passion.

“Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking along the road, up stony embankments and through thickets and thorns!

“Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the chase, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the pursuit. Only my dog continued to hotly chase after that rabbit.”

“In that story, young man, is the answer to your question.”

He sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand. What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?”

The old chap answered,

“you failed to ask the obvious question.

“Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase?

“And the answer to that question is that they had not Seen the rabbit.

“Unless you see the prey, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to keep up the chase.”

And perhaps that’s why so many – not all – are dropping out. They no longer keep their eye on the prize.

Not the prize of heaven, but the prize of the one who will get us there :Jesus Christ.

He is and always will be the only focus.

As St Paul wrote:

“I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me……I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

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Wedding – 21st Century Style

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May 23, 2016 · 11:27

Welcome to Hell

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My big fat gypsy first communion

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Mrs Quinn, mother of Julie

St Michael’s Church in Strabane is currently being fumigated after 14 people fainted, including the priest, due to intense fake tan fumes from mothers, daughters and allegedly one father celebrating the First Communion service in the town.

Fr Dunghan, who is known for his strong stomach, was seen wobbling during communion as the young girls lined up and finally keeled over after the 4th mother arrived to receive the holy bread. It was subsequently confirmed that another 13 men had fainted, who had previously been considered just sleeping.

Pianist Marjorie McLaughlin admitted she was finding it hard to read the music due to the intense smell:

“My eyes were running and all. And the stench was like a byre during the winter. What’s wrong with these people? There was one mother who wasn’t wearing any fake tan and she wasn’t allowed in the group photo until she went into the toilet and rubbed a handful of soil around her face to take the bad look off it.”

One young first communion celebrant was seen in tears after the service as her Tesco Fake Tan gave way during a sudden deluge of hailstones outside, leaving her dress orange and white and resulting in cruel taunts of ‘you’re from Armagh’ from her classmates.

Fr Dunghan, who is currently recovering with his maid, has urged local politicians to ban fake tan in Strabane unless it’s an open-air event:

“Holy smokes, it’s just not on. The lipstick and blusher I accept. In fact it can do wonders for a few of my parishioners. But this tan business has to stop or I’m leaving the vocation and taking up selling pallets or water filters with my trusty maid.”

Meanwhile, a father who was accused of also wearing fake tan at the service has denied the accusation, urging people to accept the fact that he’s just a car mechanic.

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