Sermon for ‘The Baptism of the Lord’ – 09.01.22

Isaiah 43:1-7  • Psalm 29  • Acts 8:14-17  • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

When preparing for the sermon this week, I came across a story about a young girl called Georgie who was at home with her mother.

Georgie had been a terror all day long and with each incident of bad behaviour her mother warned her, “You just wait until your father gets home!”

Eventually evening came and Georgie’s dad got home from work.

Her mother began telling him about their daughter’s behaviour. The dad looked at his daughter and before he could say anything the girl cried out, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Wow! If only it was that easy, that clear, that simple. If only we could say to the sorrows and losses in our lives, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Wouldn’t it be so wonderful to just be able to say to the struggles and difficulties in our lives, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

If only we could say it to the changes and chances in life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!” But of course, that is not how baptism seems to work.

Despite our baptisms most of us have suffered sorrows and losses in our lives, we’ve encountered difficulties and struggles, we’ve had to face changes and chances in life that we would rather have avoided.

And despite her baptism, little Georgie in the story was still sent to the naughty step by her father!

And yet she speaks a deep truth. She is absolutely right; she is untouchable. At some level she knows that her existence, her identity and value are not limited to time and space; to the things she has done or left undone.

She knows herself to be more than her biological existence. She knows herself as beloved. She knows the gift of baptism.

Baptism does not eliminate our difficulties, fix our problems, take away our pain or change the circumstances of our lives.

Instead it changes us and offers a way through those difficulties, sorrows, problems and circumstances – and ultimately a way through death.

Baptism transcends our biological existence and offers us a vision of life as it might be. Baptism offers us a new way of being – one that is neither limited by, nor suffers from, our “createdness.”

Through baptism we no longer live according to the biological laws of nature but by relationship with God, who through the Prophet Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

That means when we pass through the waters of sorrow and difficulty God is with us. That the rivers that can drown will not overwhelm us. It means that when we walk through the fire of loss and ruination we are not wholly consumed by the flames. For he is the Lord our God, the Holy one of Israel, our Saviour.

To know this, to trust this, to experience this is the gift of baptism and baptism always takes place at the border of life as it is and life as it might be.

That border is the river Jordan.

Geographically, symbolically and theologically the Jordan River is the border on which baptism happens.

It is the border between the wilderness and the promised land; the border between life as survival and a life that is thriving; the border between sin and forgiveness; the border between the tomb and the womb; the border between death and life.

We all stand on that border at multiple points in our lives. Some of us might be standing there right now. Some of us experience that border as a place of loss, fear or pain. For others it is a place of joy, hope and healing. In reality, it is both of these things at the same time.

The only reason we can stand at the border of baptism is because Jesus stood there first. We stand on the very same border at which his baptism took place.

Jesus’ baptism is for our sake and salvation. His baptism makes ours possible. The water of baptism does not sanctify Jesus. Instead he sanctifies the water for our baptism. The water that once drowned is now sanctified water that gives life.

Ritually we are baptised only once. Yet throughout our life we return to the waters of baptism. Daily we must return to the baptismal waters through living our baptismal vows.

We must confess our belief in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –  because God first believed in us.

We must continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers because the Holy Spirit has descended upon us and has filled us.

We must persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, we repent and return to the Lord because the heavens have been opened to us and we have seen our true home.

We must proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ because we have heard the voice from heaven declare us beloved children in whom he is well pleased.

We must seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves; striving for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being because that is how God has treated us and how could we do any less for another one of his children.

Sometimes our own body provides the waters of baptism – our tears.

St. Ephrem the Syrian spoke of our eyes as two baptismal fonts. Tears are the body’s own baptismal waters that cleanse, heal and renew life.

At other times the circumstances of life – things done and left undone by us and others – the ups and downs of living – push us back to the waters of baptism. We return in order to again be immersed into the open heavens, to be bathed by God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, and to let the name “beloved” wash over us.

There is truth in what little Georgie said, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!” My dear friends believe that! In and amongst life’s adversities say it and claim it for yourself! “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptised!”

Amen

May Our Lord bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

Feast of the Holy Innocents – Tuesday 28th December, 11am at St Columba’s Brora!

Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents are the children mentioned in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 2:16-18.

Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent his soldiers to kill all male children ages two and under that were in Bethlehem and on the boarders, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: A voice in Rama was heard, of lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailed her children, and would not be comforted, because they were no more.

We keep this feast in order to honour these children as martyrs – they are the first buds of the Church killed by the frost of persecution; they died not only for Christ, but in his stead” (St. Augustine).

Sermon for First Sunday of Christmas 2021

Sermon Luke 2.41-52

Thomas, Richard and Harold were three brothers who over the course of their careers had all done extremely well for themselves.

When they met up at Christmas they were talking about the gifts that they had bought for their elderly mother.

Thomas, the eldest and most successful, told his brothers, “I have built a big house for our mother. Four reception rooms, seven bedrooms – each of them en-suite – and even an indoor pool and sauna”

Richard, the middle child told his brothers, “I sent her a classic Rolls Royce Silver Phantom – I tracked down the actual car that she and our father had used on their wedding day.”

Harold, the third and youngest brother, smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beaten. Now you know how much our mum enjoys reading the Bible – but of course her eyesight is failing and she finds it very difficult to see even large print editions. Well, I have sent her a most remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took senior clerics in the church twelve years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Our mother just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.”

A short while later the mother of these men sent out her letters of thanks.

“Dear Tom,” she wrote to the eldest, “Thank you for the house you have built for me, it is very beautiful, but I have to say is too huge. I live in only one room, but I still have to keep the whole house clean!”

“Dear Dick,” she wrote to her second child, “What a beautiful car you have given me, but my dear, I am too old to drive very far now. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use it, but don’t worry, it’s nice and safe under a cover in the garage.”

The mother wrote to her youngest and favourite son, “Dear Harry, my darling boy. You have the good sense to know what your Mother needs and likes.
The chicken was Dee-licious!”

As parents, relatives, teachers, guardians, and friends of children we are quite rightly concerned for their well-being. It is our duty (and our joy – most of the time) to protect and teach them, nurture and nourish their lives and ensure that they grow up healthy and feeling loved. We all need someone to guide and guard our growing up, because growing up is hard work.

Growing up means establishing our identity and figuring out our place in the world. It involves creating relationships, setting priorities and making decisions. We choose values and beliefs that structure our lives and along the way we sometimes make mistakes – we can get lost and we can backtrack on decisions that we make. At some point, growing up means moving out, away from your family and finding a new home. This may be a geographical move, but it most certainly involves psychological and spiritual moves too.

So it is no surprise that Mary would be in a panic when she discovers that Jesus is not with the group of travellers that we hear about in our gospel this morning. With great anxiety she and Joseph search for him. Three days later the one who was lost has been found and Mary’s first words are, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” What I really hear is, “Where have you been young man? Your father and I did not survive angel visits, birth in a manger and live like refugees in Egypt only to have you get lost in Jerusalem.” But Jesus isn’t the one who is lost. He knows who he is and where he belongs. Mary and Joseph are the ones who are lost.

Today’s gospel is a story about growing up, but it is not Jesus’ growing up. It is about Mary and Joseph growing up – it is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are, it is really about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God, our world, each other and our very selves.

Jesus is the one who grows us up. He is the one who will grow up Mary and Joseph. Children have a way of doing that to their parents. They challenge us to look at our world, our lives and ourselves in new, different and sometimes painful ways. That is exactly what Jesus’ question to Mary does. She had put herself and Joseph at the centre of Jesus’ world and his question was about to undo that.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asks. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus is telling Mary she should have known where he was. It is as if he is saying, “Remember, the angel told you I would be the Son of God. Remember that night in Bethlehem – angels praising God, shepherds glorifying God. Remember the three men from the East, their gifts, and adoration. Remember Joseph’s dreams that guided us to Egypt and back. Where else could I be but here?” Jesus has put the Father at the centre of his world and asks Mary and us to do the same – to move to the Father’s home.

Real, authentic growth almost always involves letting go. Mary’s move to the Father’s house, her growing up, means that she will have to let go of her “boy”. Jesus was born of Mary, but he is the Father’s Son. He is with her but does not belong to her. She can give him love but not her thoughts or ways. He is about the Father’s business. Ultimately, she must strive to be like him and not make him like her.

Jesus has moved from Mary and Joseph’s home to the Father’s home. This is not a rejection of his earthly parents but a re-prioritising of relationships. It is what he would ask of Simon, Andrew, James and John. “Follow me” would be the invitation for them to leave their homes, their nets, their fathers and move to a different place, live a different life, see with different eyes. It is today what he asks of you and me.

Growing up spiritually involves leaving our comfort zone, letting go of what is safe and familiar and moving to a bigger place, to the Father’s place. This letting go is a necessary detachment if we are to grow in the love and likeness of Christ. It means we must leave our own little homes.

We all live in many different homes. Some of us live in homes of fear, anger and prejudice. Some in homes of grief and sorrow. Some o fus in homes in which we have been told or convinced that we don’t matter, that we are not enough, unacceptable or unloveable. Homes in which we have been or continue to be hurt or wounded. Homes in which we have hurt or wounded another. Homes of indifference and apathy. Homes of sin and guilt. Homes of gossip, envy or pride.

Every one of us could name the different homes in which we live, homes that keep our life small, our visions narrow and our world empty. The problem is that sometimes we have become too comfortable in these homes and they are not what God offers us. We may have to pass through them, but we do not have to stay there.

Jesus says that there is not only another home for us but invites, guides and grows us up into that home. It is a place he knows well. It is the Father’s home in which we can know ourselves and each other to be his beloved children, created in his image and called to be like him. It is a place where your seat at the banquet is already set. It is a home in which we live in rooms of mercy, forgiveness, joy, love, beauty, generosity and compassion.

Leaving home does not necessarily mean leaving our physical or geographical home though sometimes it might. It does mean examining and re-prioritising the values, beliefs and relationships that establish our identity and give our life meaning and significance.

It means letting go of an identity that is limited to our biological family, our job, community reputation, ethnic group, or political party and trusting that who we are is who we are in God. It means that we stop relating to one another by comparison, competition and judgment and begin relating through love, self-surrender and vulnerability. It means that we let go of fear about the future and discover that God is here in the present and that all shall be well. We stop ruminating on past guilt, regrets and sins and accept the mercy and forgiveness of God and each other. We see our life not in opposition to others but as intimately related to and dependent upon others.

So I wonder what are the little homes in which you live? How do they bound up your life, stifled your growth and keep you from the Father’s home? What might you have to leave behind in order to grow up and move to a better place? Those can be hard questions, painful questions. But ultimately they are questions founded on love.

“Child, why have you treated us like this?

“Because I love you. I love you enough to grow you up, to find you when you are lost and to bring you with me into the Father’s home.”

Fr Simon

A Thought for Advent

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. There is little doubt what most of us will be doing in the next four weeks – the Christmas rush to get everything organised – cards written, gifts bought and sent, the preparation of food, plans about whose turn it is to go visiting and anxieties about who’ll be offended if we don’t pay them enough attention etc etc…. The rush is on and it’s not surprising that there’s often a hint of panic in people’s conversations – “I’ll never be ready!”

In four weeks, it will all be over, in five a new year will have brought us another set of resolutions, in six the decorations will have come down, the furniture of life will be back in place and we’ll be back to – well, back to what?

Will life be just the same, or will we be changed?

If we take Advent seriously, there is a chance we will be changed because we will have had an opportunity to reflect again on what it means to say that God came into the world in the humility of the birth at Bethlehem and that he still comes into the world in all its mess and pain and joy, longing for us to recognise Him.

Advent is a godsend, a gift which stops us in our tracks and makes us realise that we hold dual citizenship (of this world and His kingdom) in awkward tension. We are all part of the scene – Christians sometimes appear to be rather superior about what we call ‘commercialisation’ and say that the real Christmas isn’t about that. But actually, if you think about it, the real Christmas is about precisely that: it’s about God coming into the real world. Not to a sanitised stable as we portray it in carols and on Christmas cards, but to a world that needed, and still needs, mucking out! Advent reminds us that the kingdom has other themes to add to the celebration, themes that are there in our scripture readings for the season: Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!

Advent reminds us that not only do we live in two worlds – the one that appears to be going mad all around us and the one that lives by the kingdom of God’s values, but that we operate in two different timescales, in chronological time and beyond it. And the point of intersection – where these two worlds meet is now. Scripture readings and prayers which are often used during Advent, remind us that now is the time when we have to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Now is when we meet God, because we have no other time.

At whatever level we operate, it’s a time for preparation – a time to put things right – to repair broken relationships or reach out to those with whom you have grown distant – and that might include working on your relationship with God.

Whatever else we have to do, there are only so many praying days to Christmas. It is prayer that gives us the opportunity to focus our recognition of God in every part of our lives. Prayer is not just what we do in what we call our prayer time. Prayer is how we give our relationship with God a chance to grow and develop and, just like any other relationship, it needs time. We don’t stop being related when we are not with the person concerned. We don’t stop being a partner, a wife, husband, child, parent or friend when that person is out of sight or when we are concentrating on something else. But we do become less of a related person if we never give them time.

So, Advent says, make time, create space so that our understanding of God’s love for us (and our love for God in response) can grow. The world is saying “Get on with it – don’t wait for Christmas to hold the celebrations”. Advent says, “Wait, be still, alert and expectant.”

The shopping days will come to an end – there will come a moment when we really can’t do any more. The point of praying or making a space is that we get into the habit of remembering God who comes to us every day and longs for us to respond with our love and service. Why not re-start your relationship with God by joining us at Dornoch Cathedral on Advent Sunday (28th November) at 6pm for a special Advent Carol Service? – Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!

Fr Simon

Advent in Sutherland and Tain

Advent Candles

Advent

Next Sunday (28th November) is the first Sunday in Advent, marking the beginning of the Advent Season.

An Advent Theme

We are all aware of the many difficult issues that the Covid pandemic has thrown into sharp relief and the heightened concern over our environment and the future that we will leave for our children and grandchildren and the tensions that all of this can create in relationships and for mental health. Against this background, we are planning to focus on a different aspect of Social Justice in each week of Advent.

Advent Candles

Traditionally the Advent Wreath has three purple candles, reflecting the liturgical colour for Advent, with a pink candle for the Third Sunday. These four candles are arranged in a ring with a white candle in the centre. There are several traditions about the meaning or theme of each candle. The scheme that accords best with the readings in our Lectionary is:

  • Advent 1 – The Patriarchs (and Matriarchs)
  • Advent 2 – The Prophets
  • Advent 3 – John the Baptist 
  • Advent 4 – The Virgin Mary 
  • Christmas Day – Jesus the Christ

The weekly themes of Social Justice will be reflected in our preaching as follows:

  • Advent 1 – The Legacy that we leave to future generations (mirroring what was left to us by earlier generations – including most of our Church Buildings)
  • Advent 2 – Freedom of Speech (the Prophets were often persecuted for what they said)
  • Advent 3 – Consumption (John was very frugal)
  • Advent 4 – Exploitation and Violence against Women and Girls (Mary was a vulnerable refugee)

Advent Study Groups

Our Advent Study Groups will also take up each of these themes week by week.

The groups will be held as follows:

Wednesday Mornings at 11am in St Finnbarr’s Church after the Midweek Service

Wednesday Evenings at 7pm on Zoom

Each of the Sessions will stand alone and so it is perfectly OK to attend in person some weeks and online for others, they are on Wednesdays 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd December.

If you wish to take part in the Advent Study, please let James know, so that he can prepare sufficient copies of materials/arrange refreshments. etc.

Blessings
Simon and James

Remembrance Sunday St Finnbarr’s Dornoch – 14th November 2021

The community in Dornoch are not able to mark Remembrance Sunday in the usual way this year. The service at St Finnbarr’s will begin with an Act of Remembrance at 10.45am in church. Please let others know about this earlier start time – thank you!

Advent Carol Service on the First Sunday in Advent

Advent Carol Service at Dornoch Cathedral

Sunday 28th November – 6pm

(Please enter via the west door and bring a facemask)

Collection in aid of ImpACT

(Raising funds to provide Clean Birth Kits)

Fancy being in the Choir?

If you are a singer and are interested in being in the choir for this event, please come along to our open rehearsals at St Finnbarr’s Episcopal Church (School Hill, Dornoch) on Thursday 18th November  and Thursday 25th November – 7.30pm until 9pm.

O come, O come Emmanuel!

Service for All Souls (2nd November)

As part of our Season of Remembrance, members from across our churches will be joining together at St Finnbarr’s in Dornoch on Tuesday 2nd November at 6.30pm for a special service at which we remember those we have loved and lost.

At this special service the names of the departed will be read aloud. We have lists of names from previous years, so if you have provided names already they will be read, we will also add the names of all those whose funerals we have conducted in the last year, but if there are additional loved ones that you wish us to add please let us know.

If you can’t make the service but would like someone’s name added to our lists, please email either ihssimonscott@gmail.com or revjcurrall@mail.scot or telephone Fr Simon on 01408 633614 or Canon James on 01862 881737 (please feel free to leave a message if there is no answer)!

Come Ye Thankful People Come!

As the Season of Creation came to a close, the congregation at St Finnbarr’s Dornoch celebrated their Harvest Thanksgiving Service this Sunday. Our humble offerings to our magnificent Creator God were given extra lustre by our four part choir who helped us to ‘Raise the Song of Harvest Home’!

Season of Creation – Self Directed Reflection at St Finnbarr’s

May be an image of text that says 'SEASON OF CREATION LOVING THE EARTH GOD LOVES'

Hi folks,

As September begins we enter the ‘Season of Creation’ and churches across the globe turn their attention to how the behaviour and actions of humankind are affecting the created world.

Many of us take ‘green issues’ very seriously, but others give little or no thought to what is happening to the planet on which we live – even pouring scorn on those who express their concerns about the very real and present threat to our existence as a species.

At St Finnbarr’s Church (Dornoch) we have put together a reflective walk – with a particular focus on water and the oceans – around the inside of our church building – looking at images and original artworks. Everyone is welcome to come along and take part in this self directed activity and church will be open from 11am – 12noon each Wednesday beginning on 8th Sept and finishing on 29th.

We hope you enjoy this reflection, but we also hope that you are challenged to consider the part you are playing in the climate crisis.

Fr Simon