17 March 2019


Welcome and Intimations

Call to worship

Hymn 97 O God, you search me and you know me


Sermon, part 1: Introduction and “Manifesto for an individual”; “If”
See below for full text

Hymn 500 Lord of creation, to you be all praise

Sermon, part 2: Manifesto for “Progressive Christianity”
See below for full text

Hymn 510 Jesus calls us here to meet him

Sermon, part 3: Manifesto for the Kingdom
See below for full text

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-16

Hymn 291 When out of poverty is born



Hymn 484 Great God, your love has called us here


Manifestos – Individual, the Church, the Kingdom

This morning I am probably going to say too much.  The church today is being forced to examine what it means to try to be a person of faith, to live in and within a community of faith and to take seriously the gospel teachings and descriptions of the kingdom.  So I am going to do three things, concerning us as individuals, as part of the community of the Church, and as heirs to the teachings not only of the world as it is but as it shall be.  No small task. But to try and keep your interest I am using three readings of different types and different types of literature.  I could call them three manifestos, but maybe that sounds too grand, the first is a poem, a manifesto for an individual, the second is a statement by a group of modern church people, calling it “progressive Christianity”, and the third is a familiar biblical description of the kingdom.

The first is a poem which I have loved and been inspired by, although in certain ways it is dated by the historic context of its author. I had a friend many years ago, he was a farmer in Fife who died both tragically and young, and this was his favourite poem. I used parts of it in his funeral service as he was a person of integrity and kindness.  Many of you will know the poem, I used to be able to recite it by heart. But just in case I can’t I have the words.  It’s called “If” and it’s by Rudyard Kipling.

Manifesto for an individual.  (It’s not overtly religious but it is about integrity)

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 
If you can trust yourself when others doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good or talk too wise.
If you can dream and not make dreams your master, if you can think-and not make thoughts your aim.
If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same,
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken, twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss.
And lose and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the will, which says to them “Hold on”.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you but none too much.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.

I would prefer if it ended, “You’ll be a human being, a daughter or a son.” The language is a bit masculine, but it has some wonderful phrases. “Being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated don’t give way to hating. I think my favourite is; about meeting with triumph and disaster and treat these two imposters just the same.

There is a lot of human wisdom there, and it is surely valid to use literature of a variety of type where it contains many insights in keeping with much of the teaching and words of Christ.                   

Hymn 500 Lord of creation, to you be all praise

When I was a divinity student studying theology, one of the exciting debates of the time was called the “Honest to God” debate, There were leading proponents like Bishop John Robinson, who challenged people to look for the meaning in Christian language instead of arguing about what was literally true and what was metaphor or description in statements of belief.  Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, there are still vast differences of opinion among those who form the church community. This is one of the reasons why I believe many people stay away from church and its worship. They think you have to believe a list of things to be a member of this community when actually we are a community of seekers rather than a group which dogmatically claims to have all the answers. Certainly we are the holders of a rich tradition of wisdom, of stories, of insights, but we are all on a journey.

There is a group, a movement a challenge which is trying to describe what the church community has in common in the present age.  Loosely called “Progressive Christianity” they have suggested 8 points we have in common.  It’s not a creed but rather a description and in these days when from Presbytery level and all places we are being encouraged to reassess the purpose and community of the church.   This manifesto for a church says as follows:

By calling ourselves Progressive Christians we mean we are Christians who:

  1. Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead us to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life.
  2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of the many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.
  3. Seek community that is inclusive of All people, including but not limited to :
  • Conventional Christians and questioning sceptics.
  • Believers and agnostics
  • Women and men
  • Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities
  • Those of all classes and abilities
  1. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe
  2. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes
  3. Strive for peace and justice among all people
  4. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth; and
  5. Commit to a path of life- long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

I find these eight statements quite challenging but meaningful. It might seem too broad for many, but it is an interesting list and worth thinking about. Personally, having worked in an interfaith environment I have not assumed that people of other faiths and beliefs are necessarily wrong. There are wonderful people all over and to me I can say that from my standpoint and tradition that I see something of Christ in people from other faith communities.  I think as a list it is possibly more accessible to people who are not already thirled to or involved in the church and its worship. It is emphasising that the Church is an inclusive community, that all people despite their race, colour, culture, gender, age, orientation, or level of ability are equally valued and welcome. All humans are in the image of God, according to our tradition and are therefore of infinite value. That our behaviour towards each other expresses what we really believe, and that we have a responsibility towards the whole earth as well as to our personal journey of life and growth.  It’s quite a set of statements, and worth consideration.  Manifesto for a church of today.

Hymn 510 Jesus calls us here to meet him

The third reading – what I suggested is a manifesto for the kingdom, is part of the Sermon on the Mount.  But we’ll hear it at the end of this reflection.   We have heard so far of an individual’s search for integrity; not responding to lies or hate in like manner, respecting life and others, and developing one’s own responsibility.  We have also heard of the church community seeking actively to overcome some of our narrowness and prejudice towards those who are different, and seeking to live in a responsible and loving way towards others and the world we live in.

The teaching and the stories of Jesus usually surprised his hearers. He didn’t just say, be nice to each other, he suggested that the poor and the marginalised in society were the people who needed particular attention. That we should go out of our way to address the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely.   But he did it in a way which has been referred to by many as an upside-down kingdom.  He suggested that success does not simply go to the strong, that victory does not go to the gifted, that happiness is not the possession of the rich, and satisfaction not to those who receive the plaudits in worldly terms. 

In one way we are looking confidently to a future where justice and peace will reign, in another way we are describing the present where things are not really the way they often seem.  Jesus teaching of the kingdom was probably the main theme of most of his stories. How many of his parables begin ..”the kingdom of heaven is like… and he describes shepherds and farmers, lost children, loving fathers, spreading of seeds and reaping the harvest, finding a lost coin of small value, or a pearl of great price.”   The values of the kingdom are not the values of the world. There is an edge to them which catches us short whenever we are become too self- satisfied or too clever or too settled with our own circle.  They bring us back to earth when we are too full of ourselves but they lift us up when we are down or doubting our self-worth.

Reading Matthew 5: 1-16

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went into a mountain. There he sat down, and when his disciples had gathered round him, he began to address them. And this is the teaching he gave:

Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.   Blessed are the sorrowful; they shall find consolation. Blessed are the gentle; they shall have the earth for their possession. Blessed ere those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied. Blessed are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them. Blessed are those whose hearts are pure; they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called God’s children. Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  Blessed are you, when you suffer insults and persecution and calumnies of every kind for my sake. Exult and be glad, for you have a rich reward in heaven; in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.  You are salt of the world. And if salt becomes tasteless, how is its saltness to be restored?  It is good for nothing but to be thrown away and trodden underfoot.   You are light for all the world. A town that stands on a hill cannot be hidden. When a lamp is lit, it is not put under the meal-tub, but on the lampstand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. Like the lamp, you must shed your light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.

Thanks be to God for this reading of his word.