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Sermon Notes 2013

Rev. Robin McAlpine has written a series of sermon notes which are linked to worship services and other special occasions.

This page lists the notes from 2013 with notes from other years available via the links on the right. To read any of the notes in full simply click on the dates below:

Service Sermon Introduction
24th December To see light you need darkness. So if the world is dark, you will see the light. The writer of the book of John gives us this great image of contrast and what a way to describe the birth of Jesus. There are no shepherds, but in their fields they witnessed the glory of the angels as they lit up the darkness of the night sky.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” ?

22nd December To see light you need darkness. It is an image of contrast. As darkness grows; so light seems to burn brighter. I wonder how we understand this Advent picture, the world that we live in as a dark place, and God’s messenger, the ‘light of the world’, coming to shine his light in all the dark places. But what is darkness?
1st December To see light you need darkness. It is an image of contrast. As darkness grows; so light seems to burn brighter. I wonder how we understand this Advent picture, the world that we live in as a dark place, and God’s messenger, the ‘light of the world’, coming to shine his light in all the dark places. But what is darkness?
17th November These words of Jesus are poignant as we reflect on what has been happening in the Philippines. “All this you see – the time will come when not a single stone here will be left in its place; everyone will be thrown down.” I’m not talking here about a prediction for the future fulfilled, but just the reality of today for many thousands of people. See what they see, and feel what they feel; as they look at what is left of their homes, streets, village or town; they grieve over the lost, the dead and they wonder how they will survive. We must join together in a bond of common humanity. Do what we can and give what we are able to give.
10th November The last pitched battle in Britain took place in April 1746, at Culloden; a prominent marker in Scottish history, for all sorts of different reasons; after it, our nation was never the same again. But that is history, is it not. Our more recent memories of warfare, on home soil, would be Northern Ireland, with casualties on both side of a religious divide, that for many people today are still raw and hurting, and not long ago we remembered the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict. As we remember, let us not forget the recent past, that people are still caught up in; where memories are as clear as the day events took place, and the pain is just as real. People will never forget, but if they cannot forgive, let us pray for the peace of Christ that passes the understanding of the peace of this world.
3rd November I’m not a great fan of heights, but climbing to high places is what links our two bible readings. The prophet Habakkuk climbs a high tower and Zacchaeus famously climbs a tree, one to wait on the word of the lord, the other to get a better view of Jesus.

I wonder what really made Zacchaeus want to see and hear Jesus? Have you ever thought about that? The story doesn’t tell us that, so we use our imagination, to wonder what had actually happened in the life of Zacchaeus, to make him climb that tree. Who had he been speaking to? Maybe someone with great enthusiasm had told him about Jesus, the friend of tax collectors? Here is an interesting thought, maybe had he met Jesus before? Maybe he knew Matthew, a tax collector, one of the 12. The stories of scripture allow us to fill in some of the gaps and wonder what else has been going on. Surely God had been working on the life of Zacchaeus long before Jesus comes to Jericho, but it is this encounter, that brings the story to a climax!

27th October There are times we know we are right; is there not, and we make sure everyone knows it! We all have our opinions, some we hold very dearly, and when we discuss things, we make sure other people know our opinions are the ones that matter. No matter the argument against our position, no matter that we know little about the subject, no matter how untenable, illogical or irrational our view is; we are always right! Or is that just me?
20th October I wonder if you are as baffled about prayer as I am! I get the speaking to God bit. It helps build our relationship with him. We don’t get to know people in the silence of a vacuum. I acknowledge that listening is as important as speaking. Sometimes God shouts at us, his words obvious; at others times we need to listen carefully for his still small voice. But what I struggle with is the idea that we can change God’s mind, particularly if we believe that God knows all things in advance. So does that mean; he knew we would pray about something, and so his ‘change of mind’ was actually already planned!
13th October How would you feel when the miracle happened? For many a long year you have suffered through illness, isolating yourself from normal life; you have seen other people go about their business, but you have not been able to join in. A barrier stands in front of you, whereby other people see you as different. Difference comes in many forms; race, religion, colour, health or age, for these ten men who encountered Jesus on his journey, they suffered from a dreaded skin disease, most probably leprosy and so would be classed as ‘unclean’.
29th September How do you feel and what do you think when you pass someone begging on the High street? Do you want to ignore them, make sure you don’t catch their eye. You might even cross the street to avoid them. Maybe you feel guilty; you are not like them, and thank God you are not, but somewhere deep down, you know it could have been you. Becoming homeless is easier than you think. Does your guilt make you walk by or do you quickly give them some loose change. You might be angry, how dare they make their situation so obvious and in my face, so it cannot be hidden. Surely the Council should be doing something about it. Even through all your suspicions, you think, does anyone actually want to live like this? You give money but wonder what it will be used for. You feel pity or compassion and wonder how you can help, for moment. You stop to engage this human being in conversation, finding out their story, their hopes, dreams and fears. Here is Lazarus in the midst of wealth.
22nd September This parable comes at the beginning of a section of Luke’s gospel where Jesus has a great deal to say about wealth and poverty, property and power, and their link with oppression. It takes us into a murky world of an economy full of complexities and moral ambiguity. Is Jesus really commending the actions of a man whose practice is distinctly dodgy? Is he being ironic? Is he using the story as a way to catch our attention, to make us ask questions about our own practices and consider what is really important?
15th September Being lost is a confusing and disorientating place to be. Whether it is climbing a Munroe in bad weather or trying to get somewhere important. You start to go round in circles, you can see where you want to go but can’t get there or you have actually no idea at all of where you are. You start to panic, a sweat breaks out, and no matter how fast you go, you don’t get any closer to your destination. You look around for points in the landscape to guide you, you stop the car to look at your map (you don’t a sat nav!) and wonder which direction should I head in or maybe I should just give up and go home! I‘ve been at a meeting, well I actually never got to the meeting, because by the time I found the venue, people were coming out and going home! To be lost is not a good place to be.
8th September You don’t find many overweight athletes, do you! They are kept in peak condition by their trainers, coaches, physiotherapists, psychologists and nutritionists, all in order that they might exceland win. Every part of the body and mind is honed as they strive to be the best.

“If you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest, dedications what you need” (Roy castle, ‘Record breakers’)

But it is not just being in tip top physical condition that matters, you also need to be motivated, dedicated to put in the hours; in the gym, on the road, on the bike or in the pool. All this work done away from the glare of the cameras; you maybe don’t feel like it, but you are up early, to make sure you keep to your schedule for your next big event. However, you could do all that and still not excel. You have strengthened the body to the best of your ability, you are physiologically strong, you have developed your skills, but there is still something missing. You never had the talent or the gift in the first place. In spite of all the hard work, you can tell the difference between the truly talented and the honest journeyman.

1st September “I’m like a shark, right at the top of the food chain. I take what I want, when I want. I truly am the reflection of perfection” (quote, apprentice contestant) I can imagine this person entering the wedding feast, as described by Jesus, and deciding they were important enough to sit in one of the best seats, and then look round and say, “I am in the right place. This is my seat. I am good enough to sit here”.
25th August As far as I understand it, the world of 1st century Palestine made no distinction between the spiritual and the physical. For them these two worlds were linked, you could not have on e without the other. This woman had an evil spirit that had made her ill for 18 years. She was bent over and could not straighten up. What people saw as a physical condition had a spiritual cause. We struggle with such language and imagery. Our modern scientific based society sees a very clear distinction between the spiritual and the physical, to the point that our spiritual lives are understood as a private realm, based on our personal relationship with God and the ‘outside world’ is seen as a separate physical entity. It is almost as if we live dual lives, with one foot in the world of the spiritual, we come to worship God, and the other foot is in the camp of the physical the rest of our lives. It is like trying to walk in two directions at the same time, whilst straddling a ditch. A 1st century Jew would not understand such thinking about life. For them, God the creator of the universe has made us to be spiritual beings who live a physical life for a period of time.
18th August Remember the words of Jesus as he called the first of his disciples, “The right time has come and the Kingdom of God is near!” The message of Jesus is obvious. What God has been saying to his people down through the centuries, is being fulfilled, right in front of your very eyes. If you do not look in the right places you will never see, and if you do not understand what you see you will never have vision, to read the “signs of the time”.
11th August I want you to think for a moment of those times when you know something is going to happen, but you are still unprepared for it. That moment in the film which still takes you by surprise. You know it is going to happen. The music is building up to it. You can feel the suspense, the director has created the atmosphere, but you still get a fright when it happens! And what a letdown, if it doesn’t happen, so you sit back and relax, then after a period of time, the unexpected happens. Your defences are down and the shock is all the more acute. You were no longer ready.
4th August What does it mean to be truly rich? According to the Forbesrich list, the richest man in the world is Carlos Slim Helu. Anyone ever heard of him? He is from Mexico, made his money in telecoms, he is aged 73 and worth a cool 73 billion dollars. Who do you think the most powerful celebrities are? Forbes uses certain data that they process through an algorithm that creates a power ranking. See their web site for details. So who came out top?
30th June Sectarianism is defined as “a narrow-minded adherence to a particular sect or party or denomination” and is so mething we would all condemn as having no place in 21st century Scotland. It places barriers and causes divisions that can often lead to or can be an excuse for violence. It was no different in Jesus day. They had no under standing of political correctness. So when Jesus and his disciples prepare to enter a village in Samaria seeking accommodation; this was the fastest route from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover, the hatred between Jew and Samaritan comes to the surface. If Jesus was on his way to the capital of the Jews, then he was not welcome here.
23rd June There is still a certain amount of stigma or at least, misunderstanding around mental health issues. I wonder why that should that be? We are after all, creatures of body, mind and spirit. We seem to be able, most of the time, to respond to physical illness with sympathy and concern, yet when we move into the world of mental health or spiritual “dis-ease”, we are much less comfortable.
16th June Have you ever ‘gate crashed’ an event? You haven’t been invited, but you have turned up any way! You occasionally hear on the news, a party is advertised on social media and it is ‘gate crashed’ by lots of other unknown people and the effects to the parent’s home are sometimes devastating! I can’t help but thinking that the woman who lived the ‘sinful life’ , she might have been a prostitute; did she ‘gate crash’ the home of the Pharisee, he certainly was not going to invite her, or was it anopen invite and she attended to see Jesus, or, here ’s a thought, was she invited by Jesus? Jesus had already violated all social and religious taboos to reach out to the marginalised; those racially excluded, those economically deprived and those religiously considered unclean.
9th June You can hear the sceptics cry, ‘They were never dead in the first place’ ! It is not something I suppose we will ever prove one way or the other. The man from Nain or the widows son, were they really dead? Stories can get exaggerated, especially if they are passed by word of mouth as the biblical narratives were before being written down, sometime centuries later. We have probably done it ourselves, maybe for a bit of extra effect as we have passed on that interesting story or bit of gossip (could do Chinese whispers along a few pews) and there is the “Chinese whispers effect” as stories change in transmission. Events can also be used for very specific reasons; they become stories with a purpose, which actually become more important than the literal truth of the events themselves. They become like parables, so we need to dig a bit to find their true meaning.
26th May I am not sure where you begin with these five verses from Romans. It is one of those passages of Paul, packed full of theology, it is bursting to the point of overflowing with so many of the key words of Christian faith; it is one of the great pieces of biblical writing that inspires and over whelms all at the same time.
19th May Show me and then I will believe. You might have heard the story but you need to journey there yourself and see it with your own eyes. What is it about vision that enables us to trust? In some cases it is allied with touch which makes the story real; those “Thomas the doubter” moments. At other times, even from a distance, if we see it with our own eyes, we will know it to be true.
12th May The situation was reaching crisis point, there were mouths to feed and in one of the accounts of this s tory, it was late and getting dark. What were they going to do with all these people? They had followed Jesus because they had seen his miracles of healing. Were there ill people in the crowd seeking a healing touch? It would have been the natural thing to do. Here was an opportunity, he had healed others, why not me? I wonder if the disciples were concerned that the crowd might become restless, so we better get them something to eat.
5th May I wonder if like me you ask the question, what actually happens during a baptism. I am not talking about the visible sign of water placed on a child’s head or the vows we hear offered on behalf of the child. I am talking about the ‘invisible’. What goes on underneath, around and within these acts and words? In other words, what is God up to? What have we actually witnessed, visible and invisible?
28th April Real love is tough and God’s love is strong. How we use language is very important, for if we give the impression that love is a weakness, only for the sentimental, then the love of God is misunderstood and we should not be surprised that many people, and I would suggest in particular young men, will say if God is love, then God is not for me.
21st April Picture in your mind the scene of Jesus walking through the temple. He is walking in a part of the temple known as Solomon’s porch. The kind of place where they might have had discussions in the winter. (See picture) Let me step back in time for a moment. The original temple was built by King Solomon in the heyday of the nation of Israel around 1000 BC. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, after which the people in the southern kingdom of Judah were taken into exile. In the 6th century BC the second temple was built by the returning exiles and it was not nearly as grand as the original. This story is set against the background of the feast that remembered the rededication of the temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC, and finally it was renovated around 20 BC by Herod the Great. (Western wall / Wailing Wall is part of that) That is an image of Herod’s temple on the screen. It was finally destroyed by the Romans, after a Jewish revolt in AD 70.
14th April Have you experienced your life turning full circle, somehow back to a place you have been before. That is exactly what happened to some of the disciples. Called from their nets by Jesus three short years ago, they now return to what they know best, fishing. Yet think how their lives had changed. They were ordinary men, yet they had experienced the extraordinary in their journeys with Jesus; from the familiar of Galilee to the extraordinary of miracles, parables and resurrection. From the heights of transfiguration, Peter’s proclamation of Christ at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus resurrection appearances, to the depths of Passion Week, Peter’s denial and the crucifixion.
7th April Remember what has just happened. Mary Magdalene has not long returned to tell the disciples the great news. She has seen the Lord! And this was Jesus message to them, “...go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”

So why are they locked away, that evening, behind closed doors? What were they frightened of? What did they think would happen to them as a result of the loss of the body of Jesus? Did they think for example that the Roman authorities would accuse them of stealing the body and begin to spread the myth of resurrection? That would make them accomplices to treason and they had just witnessed what happens to traitors! Maybe they had every reason to be frightened.

29th March Good Friday Reflection. What did people say that afternoon, as they experienced, from so different perspectives, the reality of crucifixion? (Luke 23: 33-49)

“Forgive them Father! They don’t know what they are doing.” Didn’t they know what they were doing! They knew they were executing him! And even if they somehow grasped what they were really doing, as they watched on, how could Jesus offer forgiveness at the very time life was draining from him, to the very people who were killing him.

24th March Have you heard? He is coming, today, Jesus from Nazareth. He is on his way. You know who I am talking about, some say he is a Rabbi, others say he is a prophet, some even say he is the Messiah. I hope so, imagine living in the time when God will save his people and get rid of our oppressors. The story I heard was this. You see, a cousin of mine lives in Bethpage, near Jerusalem, and he overheard a conversation between this Jesus and a couple of the people travelling with him. Now, he sent them on ahead to get transport. No doubt some majestic animal fit for the Messiah to enter into the city of God. However, there is one thing that concerns me, the other rumour I heard was this; his army seems to number about 12, that can’t be right.
3rd March We live in a world full of disasters. Now that’s a good uplifting start to any sermon! But it is true. Think about wh at ‘news’ is today. It is primarily bad. That is what makes the headlines. And in the midst of all this bad news, that people seem to want to hear, the church attempts to squeeze into people’s consciousness, what we call the ‘Good news’ of the gospel.
24th February There are always those who have no choice but to go into hiding. Probably the most famous was during WW2, in Amsterdam, it was the family of Anne Frank, hiding from the Nazis. Through history countless o thers have done the same, in fear of their lives. Others continue to protest against violent regimes and speak for justice, in spite of the fact, that they know their lives are in danger. Some are famous (Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement in America) but most a re lost to history.
17th February What is it we look for in life, that seems to me is a fundamental question? How would we quantify the ideal life, what would it look like? If you had three choices; health, wealth and happiness, what would be your priority? If only it was that easy. We know that life requires all three. We all want to be free from “dis-ease”, to have enough money to give us ‘choices’ in life and an inner feeling of contentment that comes from a life free from worry.
3rd February If we are never angry, will we ever be motivated to change anything, like poverty, injustice etc. Here is a picture of me on my only protest march. I have never done it since and that is not good. How many of us ever meet or write regularly to our MP, MSP or councillors about issues that we are really concerned about? If we have not, then we have not been angry enough. We need to have a sense of anger to motivate us to speak or to act.
27th January Jesus is handed the scroll on which the prophet Isaiah was written. When the scriptures were first written down, moving from an oral tradition to a written form, it was all done by hand and both the ink and the parchment were expensive, so not wishing to waste any of it , later writings were added to earlier ones to fill up the scroll. For example, what we know as the writings of Isaiah the prophet, were actually written down and describe at least three different period of Israelite history and then added to each other on a single scroll, to get what we have today. A similar exercise was done with what we call the 12 Minor Prophets, whose total length, fitted onto one scroll.
20th January Weddings are a time for celebration. I wonder if Jesus enjoyed a party or liked a glass of wine? He was human after all. Seems a reasonable question to ask, unfortunately the story of the wedding in Cana in Galilee doesn’t give us an answer, but what a strange miracle to record, as part of the story of Jesus, changing water into wine!
13th January The rumour is winding its way through the narrow streets and alleyways of Jerusalem; it is spreading like wildfire through the region of Judaea. He is here, the promised one has arrived, he is out in the desert, near the Jordan, baptising. He sounds like a prophet, his words are challenging; his dress sense is a bit strange. We better go and see.
6th January They appear in every nativity story yet we know practically nothing about them. We have given them names, guessed at their number and assumed they were wise!

We are told they came from the east, probably from Babylon, the centre of astral observation of the time and that they studied the stars, so let’s call them astronomers.

Jesus has already been born, probably a few weeks earlier, and their sole knowledge is contained the phrase, “Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews?” Their knowledge is limited, so their search continues, guided by the star.

Click here to read sermon notes from 2012 ...