16 September 2021

The Five Marks of Mission –

    1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
    2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
    3. To respond to human need by loving service
    4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
    5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The five marks of mission read well. I think few people would contest them or, at least, would find it difficult not to acknowledge that they all constitute part of what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.  But is everything there or are there omissions.

The most startling omission for me is that there is no specific reference to children and young people and the importance of nurturing their faith. Clearly, the aging membership of the Kirk has been largely due to our failure to pass on the faith to  our children and grandchildren.

In his ‘Scottish Gods’, Steve Bruce assures us that those new churches which appear to attract a younger group of Christians  suffer from the same flaw. They diminish over time because they too haven’t learned the secret of passing on the faith to their children.

There is so much talk abroad about engaging with the anonymous other. It seems paradoxical when you think that there are so many named people within our family circle who have not espoused the faith. Why is this? Can we learn the secret which will unlock our present predicament?

From personal experience working with young people in four charges, I know it to be true that when a congregation works with young people it works with all generations. The converse is not true. This has been  validated by the sociologists. Jesus’ teaching and  Isaiah’s prophecy is true. ‘A little child will lead them.’ into the  Kingdom of God.

15 September 2021

I have had Christmas cards with an African Madonna and a Chinese Madonna. Initially, they surprise. But since there is no description of what Jesus looked like in the Gospels and the Christ came to demonstrate God’s love for the whole world, it seems refreshing to consider the Incarnation in a different national  context.

Afterall, this is what the Incarnation is all about – the enfleshing of God in human form. ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ writes St. John. God becomes man in a particular cultural context but his love embraces all people, all cultures.

For long enough the predominant image of Jesus has not been  brown as you would expect of someone born in the Middle East. It has been white. The Nativity Set which I adore has a Christchild lying  in a bed of hay with a very white, Western face. The manger is celebrated, Bethlehem is not.

But for centuries, this culturally based image has spearheaded much of the missionary endeavour of the Western Church. One of the most famous images is ‘Head of Christ’ by Warner Sallman which sold half a billion copies throughout the world. This blond, Western Christ did much to shape the  international conceptualisation of Jesus.

So much so that in African cultures where you would expect a brown or a black Christ, white has predominated. There are two dangerous things about this. Firstly, it leads us to think that if God became a human being in the shape of a white man then this makes the white man racially more superior to the black.

Secondly, and just as worryingly, failing to represent Jesus in his own cultural context has the effect of distancing us from his Jewish roots. Christian history has not been kind to the Jews which surprises because Jesus was a Jew himself. To what extent has this contributed to insidious anti-semitism?

14 September 2021

One of my favourite poems is Edwin Muir’s ‘The Horses’. We read it at school – and it has remained with me ever since. The nuclear apocalypse has laid waste the earth. Things will never be the same again. Out of the devastation, the ‘stubborn and shy’ horses, which had been banished by technological advancement, make their return.

They have come to restore ‘that long lost archaic companionship’ which was born out of Eden but was damaged by humanity’s  desire to see them as ‘creatures to be owned and used’. In their humility, they begin to pull the plough. Their ‘free servitude’, as the poet calls it,  has a transforming effect.

The imbalance of power which human beings exercised in their relationship with the horses has been challenged and now they can see the beauty in service freely given for the enrichment of the whole earth. It is both touching and illuminating. It’s the beginning of something new.

The poem has greater significance in the light of climate change and the destruction of the earth through our indifference and greed. Our recovery begins with an acknowledgement that the earth belongs to God and we are mere stewards of all that he has created. It is our calling to live in peace with all God’s creatures.

If the return of the horses marks a transformation of the earth, what would be required to mark a transformation of the Kirk. I am inclined to think it must  be a return of the children. For long enough, adults within the Kirk have neglected the children and put them in their place.

Through their baptism, children have been welcomed into the Body of Christ. Their membership is just as valid as ours. They have a unique gift. They have it within their being to show us what it means to be a Child of God. The peace of the earth depends on their inclusion and the exercise of their surprising leadership. As Isaiah says in his vision of the Peaceable Kingdom:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together
and a little child shall lead them.

13 September 2021

Yesterday was our forty-first wedding anniversary. 41 is not recognised as a number worthy of a special celebration.  It is a prime number and therefore only divisible by one and, of course, itself. However, the primes are special. Every number is a multiple of primes. They are the foundational building blocks of our number system and are  used in encrypting our banking details!

In any event, I sent Mary-Catherine a card. The specialist cards in the shops don’t appeal. But I saw this brightly coloured card of two parrots which I knew Mary-Catherine would enjoy. She loves bright colour as her quilts celebrate and she enjoys the birds in our garden and in the wild. Besides, Becky Brown’s painting was called, ‘Love Birds’.

Because the card was multipurpose and therefore blank inside, I had to add my own verse. I have always enjoyed the limerick and so I decided to write one about the two  parrots featured  in the card.  This is the first of three, I would like to share with you.

There once was a parrot and wife
who lived without any strife!
They repeated each day
in a sing-song way
‘I’m glad to be with you for life!’

My first limerick was written about a quarter of a century ago when our youngest daughter came home from school with a question from Mrs MacLeod, her teacher. ‘Sarah,’ she asked, ‘is your dad called Dr. Scott.’ Sarah didn’t know whether I was or I wasn’t. I was just dad to her. But I sent back this answer:

There once was a minister called Scott
who went to the school quite a lot.
He had a D.D.
before he was three
but after his name it was not!

Although at school, when the register was called, I was always, ‘Scott D. D.’ And this leads me to my third limerick. It grew out of a reprimand from the local Registrar. She complained that I wasn’t  signing the Marriage Schedules with black ink. I had thought my permanent blue-black ink would have sufficed. Nae chance! So I sent her this limerick:

There was a wee Rev from Traprain
whose Registrar thought him a pain.
She created a stink.
He got rid of the Quink
and now he can marry again!

Since I haven’t heard back from the Registrar in almost ten years, I can safely assume that laughter did not abound in the Registry Office!

12 September 2021

Aesop tells the tale. An eagle is sitting on a high rock watching a hare. He is ready to pounce. An archer is hiding near the high rock watching the eagle. He is ready to shoot. He takes aim and mortally wounds the bird of prey! ‘The eagle gave one look at the arrow that had entered his heart,’ wrote Aesop, ‘and saw in that single glance that its feathers had been furnished by himself!’

The fable ends with the eagle’s dying words. ‘It’s a double grief to me that I should perish by an arrow feathered from my own wings.’ The feathers which made his wings powerful enough to carry his prey, protect her young, soar into the lofty mountain-top are the very things which have carried the arrow into his heart!

And so it was with Aesop, the slave born in Greece so long ago. By his wit and wisdom, he overcame the misfortune of his birth and rose on eagle’s wings to become the trusted adviser of kings. Whilst he was working as the king’s ambassador, his wit and wisdom failed.

Far from pacifying an aggrieved crowd in Delphi, he angered them even more. They seized him, threw him over a precipice and silenced him for aye. His gift to the world was the very thing which brought him death and yet lives on to give us life!

And if it’s true for Aesop, it’s also true for the risen Christ! For the love of God in Christ was the very thing which made the Pharisees hate him so much! It’s the love which returned to wound him mortally like the eagle’s feathers and Aesop’s wit and wisdom. It’s the love which gives us life, not only life but the life everlasting.

11 September 2021

One night, a woman and her daughter arrived at Logie Manse. Mary-Catherine answered the door. ‘Is the Father in?’ asked the mother. Mary-Catherine rightly presumed she meant the minister. ‘Father,’ she asked me. ‘Have you any shoes?’ As it happened, Mary-Catherine did have a pair of shoes that fitted our visitor. But she was not finished.

‘Father,’ she said again, ‘I’m so tired. Do you think you could give us a lift to the Raploch?’ I nodded, got the car keys and we were off! When we got into the car, the daughter spoke for the first time. ‘Are you a minister or a Father?’ she asked. But before I had time to answer, her mother jumped in.

‘I just call him Father!’ she said. ‘He doesn’t mind what you call him.’ But when I told Mary-Catherine, she said, ‘I’d call you sucker!’ She was right, wasn’t she? I was a sucker, a fool. But isn’t that what we’re called to be – foolish people, certainly by the world’s standards.

What was it St. Paul said to the Corinthians? ‘For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God!’  And it is not just those who are called to proclaim a foolish gospel who are fools for Christ. This is our Christian vocation.

10 September 2021

In order to choose life, the people of God are given three instructions in Deuteronomy – love the Lord your God, walk in his ways, observe his commandments, decrees and ordinances. The most precise instruction is the least important. And the least precise instruction is given greatest priority. ‘Love the Lord your God.’ How do we do that?

In nurturing a child in the faith, this is where we must start. Not with the commandments, decrees and ordinances and all the ‘Thou shalt nots’ but with the simplest of all instructions, ‘Love the Lord your God.’

If we introduce a child to God and give her the opportunity to establish a living relationship with him, we will be less concerned about the instructions because we know that with God, they will be able to work these things out from first principles.

The second instruction turns out to be a bridge between the first and the third. ‘Walk in his ways.’ For us, it’s Jesus who says, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ Through him, we are able to establish our first principles. What are they? There are three!

The principle of love – an unconditional love, an undying love, a love which forgives and forgets. The principle of integrity – saying what we do and doing what we say. The principle of sacrifice – the wisdom of thinking, caring, living and even dying for others.

The living relationship and the first principles are much more important than the derivative instructions. They become part of who we are. They are integrated within  us. They almost become second nature. The instructions are only an approximation to life and living. They do not get to the heart of the matter for no-one can be instructed to love!

9 September 2021

Our homemade pond has continued to enthrall. The aquatic plants which Mary-Catherine carefully researched and  chose have acclimatised well and are flourishing in their new environment. There’s lots of  colour – white, blue, yellow red … And as she says, ‘You  don’t need to water them!’

This week’s  weather has encouraged us to sit outside around the pond  with refreshments in one hand and  fruit in the other. Gazing at the pond is a rich experience in its own right for as well as the established plants, there are the changing  reflections  in the water created by the light.

We have already seen two dragonflies or damselflies exploring the pond. Neither landed on the water but hovered above it as if trying to determine if this would be a good place to call home. I am pleased to say that they valued the hospitality of our garden for today two dragonflies returned.

Whilst we didn’t see them mate, the one was attached to the other in their amazing acrobatics. The dragonfly in front drove the motor. The one behind held on for all she was worth. Eventually, they got close to the water and this time touched it.

Flying from one edge of the pond to the other, the female dragonfly at the back flapped her body or through the action of the driver was flapped against some greenery  in the water. In this way, she was able to lay her eggs in the foliage under the waterline.

In a week, the nymphs would be hatched. Within five weeks, the nymph would be reformed in such a way that it could climb up one of the stalks of the aquatic plants and take to flight. We are on the lookout. Our gaze has been sharpened. A picture book has opened up. We are gazing into the heart of nature, the  cycle of life and  the Easter Gospel!

8 September 2021

Jesus was pre-occupied. Jairus came to see him about his daughter who was at the point of death. A woman in the crowd touched the hem of his garment. Rather than ignoring it, Jesus took the time and the trouble to find out who had touched him! As St. Mark says, ‘He looked all round to see who had done it.’

How often have we looked all round and seen a person awkwardly standing on their own in a busy social situation and made the effort to be more inclusive?

How often have we looked all round and seen the beggar on steps of cinema or theatre and raised our gaze high above their inconvenient need?

How often have we looked all round and seen the loss of weight, the sadness in the eyes, the hurried exit and thought, only momentarily, that there was trouble in the air?

This looking all round is the ministry of Jesus who, despite the pressing crowd and the busy schedule, has time to break off and seek out the anonymous woman who longed for healing and new life, the one whose pain is unacknowledged, whose longing is hidden from view.

It’s a ministry which can be exercised by everyone whether they are busy or not, whether they are a healer or not, whether they are male or female, young or old, here or there. For it’s a ministry of friendship which binds our common humanity together.

7 September 2021

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …’  It is not the race that you choose to run, the easiest race nor the hardest race. It’s the race that is set before you! We don’t have a choice. The race, the path, the circumstances of life are ‘set before us’. We cannot easily change them.

Things go wrong. People disappoint. Unexpected things happen. Opportunities pass us by. Tragedy befalls us. We cannot control things. The wisdom of the gospel is to accept this and having accepted it to make the most of it. For the pattern of a Christian life is modelled on the pattern of Christ’s life. There is the enduring and also the rejoicing.

Some people are remarkable exemplars of this like the parents whose son was tragically knocked down and killed. He was only thirty years old. Somehow they had the resilience to keep going despite the tragedy which had befallen them and to make sense of something which had little obvious meaning.

We shall always miss him but we do accept that his life’s work was done and God wanted him back.’ said his mum. And then with extraordinary equanimity, she went on to say, ‘I bear the driver no ill will as he was only the instrument of death. God was kind as he didn’t suffer in any way.’

The framework for her understanding had been provided by her strong faith and lifetime’s commitment to the church. She accepted the path that had been set before her and tried to work out what it all meant. Somehow, she found the grace to forgive and the resilience to bounce back.

Her response belonged uniquely to herself. Other people in similar circumstances would not necessarily have made a similar response nor have been able to reframe the tragedy in such a helpful and constructive way. For her, this was a blessing and confirmation of the power of her spirituality to put herself in the place where God could work his cure.