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Thursday Service – Dumfries Northwest Church; 23 April 2015: NAMES

Philippians 2

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
 did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
 by taking the very nature of a servant,
 being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
 he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death—
 even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
 and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
 in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
 to the glory of God the Father.

imageI’ve got a new granddaughter, born three and a half weeks ago. Her name is Maeve.

Her older sister, Cora, who is five, initially had problems getting the baby’s name right, and suggested to her mum, “Why don’t we just call her ‘Strawberry’?”
Names can sometimes be confusing.

I was at school with a lad called Hamish Marshall. But he signed his name “James” – “Hamish” being the Gaelic for “James”.
I can sympathise. I too have a first name that confuses many people. I was christened ‘Alexander’ but am known as ‘Sandy’ which is a shortened form – or a diminutive, to give it it’s proper description. ‘Sandy’ always reminds me of third-rate Scottish comedians or collie dugs!

My uncle was also Alexander, but was known as ‘Alec’ and I have a friend who is ‘Alex’ with an ‘x’

I once looked up a dictionary of names and to my horror discovered that another version is ‘Sanders’ – maybe, on hindsight, it is a bit more upmarket that ‘Sandy’

In Gaelic, Alexander becomes ‘Alastair’ or ‘Alasdair’

I once met a Russian lady at university, who told me that in her country, a version of Alexander is ‘Sacha’ – (Sacha Distel – French singer)

There’s a Nothampton Town football player – previously with Aberdeen – who rejoices in the name of Zander Diamond, as does Alexander Armstrong, the comedian and presenter of the TV quiz show “Pointless”, who is also known to his close friends as “Zander”.

Rather fancy that moniker!

And I’m sure there are many more variations on my particular name – as there are on so many others:

Robert can be Rob, Robbie, Bob or Bobby, Bert or Bertie. Catherines are sometimes known as Kate, or Katy or even Renee.

Another friend of mine was James, as far as his family was concerned, but Jimmy to myself and his other friends, even after he changed it himself to Jim.
He was the same person, of course, but others saw him differently – James for his parents, brothers and sisters – the name his mother and father had given him, the name which was registered after his birth, the name given at his baptism – his official name


But Jimmy to his pals who knew another facet of his personality – Jimmy, a familiar, easy-to-relate to kind of name – the name of a pal, a friend, a mate.

Then he himself started calling himself ‘Jim’ – more grown-up perhaps than Jimmy, more formal than Jimmy, but less so than James.

He saw himself as ‘Jim’ whatever the implications of that were.

Some people see us in different ways and call us by different names, as the case of friend Jimmy shows.

Perhaps something of this was reflected in the different names people had for Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah writing about the Messiah called him ‘wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’

The hymn writer, John Newton, once wrote:

‘Jesus my shepherd, brother, friend, my prophet, priest and king, my Lord, my life, my way, my end’

Jesus is different things, has different names, different aspects for different people – depending on their outlook, depending on their needs.

There is a bridge in an old European town where each archway has a carving of Jesus represented in a different way.

As the workmen cross the bridge early in the morning, they can pause for a moment at the figure of Jesus the carpenter.

The farm workers on the other hand can see him depicted as a shepherd.

The elderly and sick can view him as the great healer.

Those who are feeling tired or discouraged are reminded of Jesus the friend.

So all who cross that bridge can find the picture of Christ which suits their particular need.

And he fills all our needs.

He said of himself ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ and in him we find our direction, and our integrity, and our very being.

He said of himself ‘I am the Door’ and he opens up for us the way to a new kind of life.

He described himself as ‘The Good Shepherd’ and we know that he will protect us, direct us and guide us lovingly through life to the security of the fold.

And he said ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ – in this life and the next, we have nothing to fear.

He is our Redeemer, our Saviour, and our Friend.

And let us remember this – the Bible tells us that ‘God has engraved our name on the palm of his hand’…in other words, we are as near to God as our hands are to us.

God knows us through and through, every last detail about us (why, even the hairs of our head are all numbered).

 God knows us; Christ loves us – whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever our name!

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WERE YOU THERE? (thoughts for Palm/Passion Sunday – Sixth Sunday in Lent)


I remember reading a short story – the title escapes me, as does the author – and being captivated by it.

It’s a science fiction story and concerns a travel agency set in the future.

Now, this travel agency deals with the extra-ordinary: it caters for people who have become blasé about going to distant exotic lands, whether on this planet or elsewhere.

So, what they offer is this: travel to anywhere in history – an opportunity to take part in great world events as they actually happen.

This story concerns a large group of tourists who have decided – through this time-travel expedition – to visit Jerusalem at the time of Christ.

In the twinkling of an eye and the press of a button and the throw of a switch, they are transported to the Holy City……and find themselves arriving on Good Friday.

They discover themselves looking up at Pontius Pilate from his balcony, offering the crowd the choice of Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth for execution.

Not wanting to appear conspicuous, the time travellers feel that they ought not deviate from history, and so start to chant “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

And so, it is done.

But, suddenly, one of these visitors happens to look around and notices to his shock and horror that the mob crying out for Christ’s crucifixion is made up entirely of his fellow tourists.

Then he glances up at the windows of the houses round about him and sees that all the devout Jews are indoors silently praying

Whatever we make of that fictional story – apart from its logic, its historicity or its theology – note this theme, this recurring theme: somehow WE are implicated in the crucifixion.

This is the theme of the old spiritual,  “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”



And it’s the theme of many a hymn, and many a sermon.

Where you there when they crucified my Lord?

We don’t like this.  We would rather be counted among the crowd on Palm Sunday cheering and applauding that same Lord as he entered Jerusalem in triumph.

And if we could, we would have.

But human nature is fickle.  When things are bright and beautiful, and the sun shines on us, and all’s well with the world, we’re content – indeed happy – certainly without complaint, and God is glorified and worshipped and adored.

But when we feel let down, or misunderstand the situation, or if the world appears to be kicking us in the teeth – where then is that God?

It’s easy to change opinions, abandon principles, abandon faith itself.

We go with the crowd.  We go the way that seems right for the time.  We really can be fair-weather Christians.

And with that comes the very sins that crucified Christ – amongst them, selfishness and self-interest, corruption of ideals and abandonment of principles, hypocrisy and expediency

And the crowd that shouted ‘Hosanna’ when the occasion demanded it, prompted it – turns its cry to that of ‘Crucify’ because it suited them at the time.

In which group shall we be numbered?  The Judas people who still betray him when he doesn’t satisfy their selfish agenda?  The Pontius Pilate people who dismiss him when what he stands for contradicts expediency and pleasing the crowd?  The folk – like those in the crowd – who distance themselves from him when following him requires transforming self and society?

Or with those who honoured him on that Palm Sunday and continue to do so not just every Sunday but on every day of their life, offering him they dedication of their whole selves in his service and to his greater glory?

And as the hymn “At the name of Jesus” puts it:

“In your hearts enthrone him;

There let him subdue

All that is not holy,

All that is not true:

Crown him as your captain

In temptation’s hour;

Let his will enfold you

In its light and power”



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No Compromise (a short homily for Palm/Passion Sunday)

Palm/Passion Sunday – Year B:   Mark 11 verses 1-11


Most people will have seen Mel Gibson’s rousing (and historically illiterate) movie,  Braveheart.  In the film, William Wallace attempts to unite the feuding factions in Scotland in their fight against England in the 13th century.  In doing so, he tries to elicit the help of Robert the Bruce.




Bruce refuses to help and in soliloquy he says: “Wallace is an uncompromising man.  Uncompromising men are admirable.  But only a compromising man can be king.”

We can affirm that on Palm Sunday an uncompromising man became King of all history.

There may be times when we have to be flexible.  On strategies, we can compromise, but not in principles.

There must come a time when we ask: Is this the way it is–Yes or No?  Palm Sunday challenges the notion that all of life is but a part of the compromising process.

There once was an English priest called Charlie Andrews who became a friend of Gandhi in India.

Andrews worked and lived with the Indian Nationalists.  The Government, however, also used him as an intermediary to explain positions and decisions.

Most British people in India misunderstood him, because they thought that he was a traitor to Britain.  Many also said that he had compromised his Christian faith.

He was reviled and slandered, even although he wrote books with titles like ‘What I owe to Christ’

Andrews was really, truly, and sincerely, a man of God and a committed Christian.

He followed the way of the Cross in more ways than patiently bearing lies, insults, and abuse from the British in India.  He also lived a most spartan life in primitive village conditions, and lived tirelessly for other people.  Nobody in any kind of need was outside his concern.






During Gandhi’s illness, Charlie Andrews was constantly with him, and the press reported that he would sing Ghandi’s favourite hymn to him – ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’

Charlie Andrews never counted the cost to himself of anything he did.  That is the true mark of the loyal follower of Jesus Christ, who himself gave up his life for many.  Jesus Christ came to serve humankind, regardless of the criticism, condemnation, and misrepresentation.  He never compromised his message or his mission.

Nor did Charlie Andrews, nor have countless other followers of Christ in all centuries since Jesus uncompromisingly started to bring the Kingdom of God into the lives of men and women everywhere.

On Palm Sunday, the crowd cheered Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.  Later that week, the acclamation turned to condemnation, as they bayed for his blood with their cries of ‘Crucify him!  Crucify him!’

These people just could not follow Jesus all the way through.  For, when he became unpopular because of his uncompromising stand, they abandoned him.

Is our faith like that?  Are we fair-weather Christians, ready to drop principles or compromise our beliefs when the going gets tough, our position threatened, or our personal comfort disturbed?

On the other hand, are we like Charlie Andrews and his kind whose faith never wavered?  A man who stuck to his principles.  A true disciple of his Lord and Master who, undoubtedly, took these words of Jesus to heart:

‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’

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Mid Week Homily (Dumfries Northwest Church – 26/02/2015)

(using the Gospel Reading for Lent 1, Year B)


There are many folk  in whatever walk of life – who start off promisingly; then peter out.

 My late wife had a close friend at secondary school. She was bright, vivacious, intelligent – destined to go far.  Not only did she gain a good degree in sociology, but then went on to study genetics, graduating with a second degree.

Then things went wrong.  She got in with a bad crowd, married an abusive husband, took drugs, worked at odd jobs, and lived in a bed-sit with hardly any furniture.

 And this lasted many years, until, through the help and support of her brother who has his own business, she got a kind of low grade job, but she worked at it, and advanced through his organisation, going on to be a successful businesswoman with real responsibilities

 She grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and made a wonderful success of it – changing her miserable existence into fulfilling life and living.

 While some sink; others, through  pain or difficulty, learn

 And those who are able to learn from it generally are able to go on and make something of their life, for after the pain, the work begins.


Let’s now listen for God’s Word, as contained in Scripture: 

READING:  Mark 1 verses 9 to 15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Belovedwith you I am well pleased.”

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news     15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come nearrepent, and believe in the good news.”


 Jesus had a very special and exciting time when he was baptised by John in the river Jordan.

 But immediately that same Spirit of God, who had descended upon him at his baptism, drove him out into the wilderness.



Rubens: “Temptation of Christ”


The wilderness can bring a real clarity of thought.  Things which were confused and muddled before tend to suddenly drop into place, for in the wilderness priorities change.  Things are seen for what they really are, and their degree of importance shifts accordingly.  And this tends to happen whether we are thrust into the wilderness by horrifying events in life, or whether we deliberately seek out the wilderness for ourselves.

When he emerged from the wilderness, Jesus knew what his life’s work was to be.  He knew that he would spend his life in ministry, working in a very specific way for the Father.

Clouds so very often follow sunshine, and when this happens in real life, it seems such a harsh experience.  Something wonderful happens and we feel excited and thrilled and happy, but this is so very often followed by a plunge into the depths of despair for some reason or another.

 But perhaps the experience of Jesus shows that for Christians everything, all of life both good and bad, is in God’s hands. 

Perhaps the pattern should be that the thrills, followed by the depths, are a prelude to the real work we are invited to undertake for God.



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Short Homily delivered at Dumfries Northwest Church – Thursday, 6 November, 2.00 p.m

Matthew 11, verses 25 to 30 


These days, there are so many pressures upon us; there are so many people who are restless and frustrated and lacking focus and direction.

Let me tell you a true story about a friend of mine who discovered the secret of being fulfilled, and of knowing exactly how to get the most out of life.

This story is typical of my late friend Jimmy Bain.

A few years ago, the head teacher of a primary school in Roxburgh took thirty of her children on an outing to Edinburgh Zoo.

As they were driving along, their bus driver suddenly slammed on the brakes.  A stranger had dashed into the road and signalled the bus to stop.

A moment later he was telling the teacher that he had a message for them.

What had happened?  Was it some emergency?  They weren’t puzzled for long.

For the stranger disappeared into a nearby shop – and came out again carrying an enormous box of sweets and chocolate which he handed over to the teacher.

There was enough in the box for a treat for everyone, including the driver, and even enough for another hand out at school playtime the next day.

The stranger – it was Jimmy Bain – had been driving behind the bus, and had been taken by the children waving happily to him.

So, he overtook the bus and drove ahead to the first sweetie shop to buy them all a treat.

Indeed, he had bought so many sweets that he had to dash out into the road and stop the bus going past until the sweets were all packed in a box.

Hence the dramatic incident of the mystery man who had stopped the bus!

But there was no mystery about this most kindly and generous man.  Jimmy was a committed Christian who never thought twice about helping others, or making their lives happier – and it gave him great satisfaction.

He acted out of love – he had ‘taken the yoke of Christ upon him’




Jesus said ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest; for the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light’

Jesus would know all about yokes – the wooden yoke which was placed on the shoulders of an ox in order to harness the beast to a cart or a plough.

Jesus had been a carpenter, and knew how the ox would be brought to the carpenter’s shop and carefully measured, before a rough version of the yoke was carved.

The ox would later be brought back, and the yoke tried on him, before being carefully adjusted by shaving down the wood to make it a perfect fit. The yokes for oxen were tailor made

And the yoke of Jesus Christ – the way of compassion, mercy, justice, peace and, first & foremost, his own way of love – is made to measure for us…if we take his way upon us.

The burden laid upon us is love and is meant to be carried by us in love.  And love makes even the heaviest burden lighter.

Christ can give us peace and fulfillment in a restless world that doesn’t know where it’s going.

And through us and the likes of us, that busy, frenetic anxious world can find its peace and its rest and its joy.



 Lord, we come unto you and we lift up our burdens to you – our worry, our anxiety, our fear, our tiredness and we ask that put in their place your burden and your yoke.

 Help us to learn from you, to rejoice in you, and to serve you that we may find the rest that you have promised.

 We come to you today not only for ourselves, but for others – for those who do not know your peace, for those who cannot find rest.

 We ask your healing to be upon those who are sick; your wisdom and your love to be with those in despair; and your joy to all who feel unfulfilled.

 And we pray for all us gathered here this day in fellowship and in worship; we pray that your joy and your love will flow freely in us and through us as we take up our yoke and follow where you lead us

 This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.    AMEN.

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A Short Homily, preached at the Thursday Service (Dumfries NorthWest) on 30 October 2014


I love old movies – particularly, the great comedies, with Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.

One comic – probably the most famous and iconic of all – sadly, however, leaves me cold…..

I find Charlie Chaplin totally unfunny, maudlin, and over-rated.

Having said that, one of the greatest movie speeches ever was delivered by him in the talkie “The Great Dictator”.  Here are a few lines from it:

“And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

 “Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. 

“More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

 These words are filled with a  passion for humanity, with a compassion for people, with a love for folk, especially the downtrodden, the abused, the trampled upon.

Chaplin is better known for his portrayal of the “little tramp” and, I’m sorry, I find him in that persona as amusing as heartburn coupled with raging toothache!

In his film, “City Lights”, he plays someone – the “tramp” character – who brings grace, love, salvation and hope into two people’s lives….to both a poor blind girl and a rich man.

Chaplin befriends the prosperous gentleman who had tried to do away with himself when drunk,  In gratitude for saving his life, the rich man takes the little tramp home with him for dinner, and gives him money….. something he forgets about, when he sobers up…. accusing Chaplin of having stolen the money.

Chaplin escapes, and manages to get the money into the hands of a poor blind girl for an operation she desperately needs to restore her sight. Then, he is arrested and imprisoned.

The blind girl had imagined that the person who had given her the cash must have been a handsome, wealthy young man.

But on his release from prison, she – now able to see – doesn’t recognise him, and in fact makes fun of him, shabby and unkempt as he is.

Only in the final scene of the film does she discover that the shabby little tramp was her benefactor.

Love comes in all kinds of different packages. Love comes in all kinds of different shapes, colour, people and situations.

And how, so often, we fail to recognise it.

St Paul, of course, describes it (in 1 Corinthians 13) as the most powerful force in the universe. The most potent weapon for good and for God in the world.

And yet, how often are we blind to it?

As Chaplin says, in “The Great Dictator”, “Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little”

Without love, we are nothing, we are empty, we are intoxicated by our self-centred greed and quest for personal gratification.

Without love, without love, without love….. welcome to this dark world in which we are lost.

 During the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”

The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you. Jump!”

And he did.

Dare we take the leap of faith, when we love others?  Dare we make ourselves vulnerable, naked, open to ridicule… when we give and go on giving the gift that conquers all?

Dare we follow Christ’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves?

Dare we?…. and so help usher in the Kingdom about which we fervently pray, but do so very little to bring about in the hearts and souls of those still walking in darkness.


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