Sermon 31st December

At this time of year, we’re between two places.  We’re still in Christmas mode – there are, after all, 12 days of Christmas, but it somehow doesn’t feel like that as many shops take their decorations down on Christmas Eve to make room for the sales!  Decorations are both put up and taken down before Christmas.  We’re between the birth of Jesus, the homage of the Shepherds and the visit of the wise men which we will mark next week.  We’re also between two years.  It seems fitting, today, to reflect on the turn from 2017 to 2018.

2017 has been an eventful year. The 45th President of the United States took office just under a year ago. To the press, he’s the gift that keeps on giving, to many Americans he is simply not up to the job and they look back at the last president with nostalgia regardless of party politics.  Who knows if they will be on their 46th President by the end of 2018.

This year we’ve seen the Duke of Edinburgh retire from solo engagements and watched the Queen on Christmas Day, thinking how remarkable she looks yet realising that, before too long, there will be change in our central institution.

The government were hugely ahead in the Polls this time last year and, at Easter, the Prime Minister invited the country to return her to office with an increased mandate so she could form a strong and stable government. I suspect whoever’s bright idea that was has been firmly told off. World affairs continue to trouble us – North Korea and the US square up against each other, the Chinese President looks like he is trying to outbid Chairman Mao in his control of the country and Mr Putin acts more and more like a bellicose Czar.  The European Union is consumed with Poland seeming to undermine its own democratic institutions and the desire of a tiny majority of Brits to leave.  Turkey seems to become more authoritarian and a narrow nationalism which wants to turn its back on those in need seems to have come to prominence in some European countries.  It’s a bit grim.

On a more local, and cheerful, level this time last year some of you had interviewed me and I had been invited to preach with a view for the Southside Cluster. 2017, for Ian and I, has been exciting with moving to a new city, meeting new people, and learning to work in different ways –myself with three churches – Ian between two cities.

In our church we have seen changes.

[Stewarton…we have seen the excitement unleashed by the new building and, despite knowing we have much to do, we are looking forward to moving in, seeing it developed and using it as a tool in invite people to make or renew their commitment to the Lord.  This year should be pivotal for us as we work together to follow where God calls.]

{Barrhead…we have seen people re-engage with us, you have, I think, enjoyed having a regular minister with you most weeks, we’ve renewed the projector and have plans to improve the sound system, we’ve, sadly, lost Walter but have welcomed Gordon into membership.  We continue to reach out through the Café and have an influence in the town which far outstrips our size.}

Who knows what the year ahead will bring.  Hopefully a better international situation, more clarity on what Brexit may mean, and a stronger, even more vibrant church here.

The readings set for today help us in our reflections. Our first reading, from Ecclesiastes is interesting. Known by the folk song Turn Turn Turn, the passage is famous but not one we often think about.  We don’t know who wrote the book nor when it was written – the best guesses range in a 300 year period between 180 BC to 450 BC.  The writer has grown tired of the changes of life, it’s ups and downs, the way fortune worked out.  He felt that all of life was meaningless – older English translations of the book have that as “vanity” but meaninglessness is a better rendering of the Hebrew word.

And yet, the writer is not a cynic; he thinks that there is still a reliable order that God has put in creation –  a time and a season for everything – as we heard earlier.  The writer advocates humility, which is closely related to the fear of the Lord. We are to recognize our own mortality in the face of God’s eternity and be appropriately chastened: “I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe.  This isn’t a bad attitude to develop at this turning point in the years.  The writer isn’t criticising humanity itself, but the silly, dangerous things we get up to.  That is meaninglessness when compared to God’s eternity.

Our Second reading, from the Book of Revelation has the famous passage promising the New Heaven and the New Earth where, the heavenly Jerusalem, the abode of God, will be brought down to earth. This is no vision of the elect being grabbed and taken away from the earth, but a restoration, a renewal of earth where all that is bad will pass away and God will live in the midst of his people.

At the end of this old year and standing at the start of the New Year we are left with challenges.  What will we let pass away?  What will we be done with?  What will we turn to in 2018?  How will we seek to embody the Gospel to those around us?  How will we be signs of God’s coming Kingdom, the new Jerusalem where there will be no more pain, crying, weeping or mourning?  For just as we live now between two years as Christians we live between two countries – the land we inhabit and the Kingdom we know is coming.

As you came in you were given a little card with the passage from Ecclesiastes on it.  Use that card to help you decide what you need to turn from and what you need to turn to.

Will you pray with me?

God of the years,

Be with us at this year’s ending,

Help us to turn from resentment, anger and bitterness.

 

God of the years,

Be with us at this year’s start,

that we may turn to you, love, and generosity.

 

God of the years

Help us to watch and work

For the coming of your kingdom.

Amen.