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Sermon Notes 2014

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 2014 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 Not everyone can play the leading role in the movie. For any story you need a good supporting cast. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, in Palestine, were no different.

In the narrative of the nativity, cast in a central role but with no real part to play, is a man named Joseph. Who wants to be Joseph, who can't even play the part of a real man. He is not the father of the child of the story. Someone else has taken on that role..., God. All that is left to him is to take the shame of the pregnant and unmarried Mary. In spite of the wagging tongues and the pointing fingers, it is indeed honourable, on his part, that he takes Mary to Bethlehem, finds somewhere to stay and is by her side at the chil d's birth and we must assume, took on the role as Jesus human father. His only comfort is his dreams, in which an angel appears and says to him, do not be afraid, this is all God's work.

23rd November A few years back I was having a conversation with John Swinton, Practical theology professor at Aberdeen University and he used a phrase that came back to me when I was thinking about the words of Jesus in Matthew 25. The context of our discussion was about the pastoral care of people with learning disabilities. He said, if you look at another human being, especially those who are ‘different’ from us, do you see‘ the face of Christ’? I think that is what Matthew 25 is all about. Hard as it is, the man with his dog, sitting under a blanket down the High street, is the face of Christ. The family who seeks food from the food bank are the faces of Christ. The couple who have lost their home and seek refuge in a hostel have the face of Jesus.
16th November Freedom did not happen in Martin Luther Kings lifetime, but maybe partly fulfilled in the election of another President, Barak Obama. King saw himself standing on the shoulders of Moses, who many thousands of years ago was denied entry to the Promised Land by God. “I will let you see it (says God), but I will not let you go there.” (Deuteronomy 34: 4) So both of their journeys were never completed, but for the people of God, their‘ long road to freedom’ included a n escape from captivity in Egypt, 40 years of desert wanderings and eventually they did enter the Promised Land.

I also began to think about the rehabilitation of soldiers injured by IEDs in Iraq or Afghanistan ...

The following items are associated with this sermon:

9th November I am grateful to Lorraine Fairful for sending me an email about the origins of the ‘Last Post’. Let me read the story to you.

The enemy was a son. The enemy was family. That is what happens in civil war.

As we remember the violence of war, with its huge loss of life, so graphically portrayed in many TV programs commemorating the outbreak of WW1 100 years ago, we are challenged by this question; how deep is your love. How wide is your forgiveness? How high is your sense of justice? It all depends on what it is rooted in. There is the depth of love based in our natural humanity and kinship in which we might love our family and friends, though sadly even that is not guaranteed; but to love our enemies, our love must be divinely in spired by the the love of Christ in us, for others.

2nd November How many of you remember your baptism? I suspect very few , as most of you will have been baptised as infants. That is the reason why we have in the Church of Scotland a service of confirmation. It is a confirmation of the vows of baptism, taken by your parents.

In Paul’s day he would have known no such division. Normal practice was adult baptism; a one stage process that required no confirmation. So today we might have had a large tank at the front of the church, like in the Baptist church or we could have gone down to the River Forth for a baptism of full immersion!

26th October They were shocked. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Yes, they knew the history of the desert miracle experienced by their ancestors but, how can this man, standing in front of them, give us his flesh to eat? It was uncomfortable language.

It all started with another miracle, where Jesus feeds the 5000. We must assume that it was some of these people who witnessed the miracle, who then engage Jesus in conversation the next day, we are told on the other side of the lake.

19th October I want to begin by thinking about ‘Body image’. How people perceive themselves and how they think others see them, is hugely important for many people today.

I thought I was fat and ugly even though people said oh your so Beautiful and skinny. I looked at myself in the mirror everyday looking at my weight and how I did my hair and how I looked. I was late for school everyday cause I was too focused on getting myself perfect and everyone thought I was Beautiful and skinny but I didn't see it. (14 year old girl)

It is like sometimes watching yourself on a video and saying is that me. I don’t like what I see, and is that really how other people see me?

28th September I want you to imagine that you find yourself in a really difficult situation, and you are there because you have put your trust in someone else. I want to ask this question; when the going gets tough, what is a legitimate response to make; to keep the faith without question or to put that person to the test? What would you do? I think our natural instinct is to challenge the person or persons who we see as the decision makers. Where are we going with this? It’s not working out. The easy option is to complain and not accept that we all have our own responsibilities in seeking the right way forward.
21st September One of the most difficult things in life is to live‘in the moment’ and give 100% of ourselves to the‘now’. Our minds are constantly wandering to the ‘tomorrows’ of our life, but that comes with the territory of what it is to live as a human being. But we live with, and we cannot ever run away from our worries, anxieties and concerns for the future.
14th September Because we live in on island and we are so close to the coast we knew that water is a barrier. Unless you are a great swimmer or own a boat, it is impossible to cross. I watched recently a fascinating program on the building of the Forth Road Bridge. Think how isolated Fife must have been before all its bridges were built. The road bridge opened 50 years ago permanently crossed a barrier linking the east coast of Scotland to Edinburgh. It has greatly benefitted the economy of Fife and has been a great advantage to all of us, except we are we sitting in a queue of cars!
24th August Baptism reminds us of the miracle of birth and surely must raise in our minds questions about the source of life. This inhabited planet of ours with the optimum conditions for life. There are of course huge unanswered questions about how we got to where we are or is there life on other planets. I perused some web sites looking for the answer to this question, what are the odds of life occurring by random chance? Many of them I did not understand, but one said this, it’s a bit like throwing 4 billion pennies into the air and having them all land heads-up. Take out of that what you want!
17th August Families are often torn apart. For example and for various reasons, families are split up through adoption and we hear the stories of people in later life searching for their birth parents. The desire to be reunited is strong. Or children taken into care for their own protection because of abuse or addition. Today in the midst of civil war, families are shattered; girls are stolen, and boys become soldiers. Relationships get fractured, people go their own way and the family unit is broken up. In the underworld of crime, young girls are trafficked, often lured by the chance of a better life.
13th July I wonder if we look for the unexpected or do we assume that life will never surprise us? If life is a constant, operating within known parameters or boundaries, then we know how to cope with it. It’s safe, we have been there before and we know exactly what to do. I am not thinking here of the surprise birthday party or that unexpected but welcomed gift, but surprises in the form of challenges that are all part of life’s experience. In one way, surprises can be positive, giving us energy and motivating us to think that bit more creatively, but we are not always ready to deal with it. It can upset our equilibrium, there is an edge to it that might take us out of our comfort zone, it rocks the balance of our routine and we end up having to think differently.
22nd June Where one door shuts, another one opens. I am not sure that I really believe that! The idea that there is always an alternative path to follow is not the experience of many in the world. It seems to me that so many people have either nowhere else to go, from experiences we can’t begin to comprehend; those trapped by poverty (child prostitution in Brazil) or violence (bombed out districts of Damascus only 20 minutes away from the presidential palace) and if they can escape, it is certainly not their choice to undertake the journey, and it is a path that neither you and I would wish to travel; it is often the path of the refugee, fleeing from civil war in Iraq, from cities like Mosel, to makeshift camps, and that is to name just one nation in turmoil. Where one door shuts, for many it remains firmly closed, and what is life like, growing up and living with constant fear, despair and a sense of hopelessness. But they are resilient people and they will do what they can to protect their children.
15th June I wonder where your favourite place in Scotland is? Where would you go and stand and wonder at the variety, creativity and power of the world around us? Would you stand at a loch side and view the shimmering water as the sun sets; would it be on the top of a hill or mountain casting your eye across the unfolding landscape laid out before you, snow clad or full of summer colours; what about the sound of waves gently or crashing onto the beach, that mesmerising sound mingled with the cries of birds overhead and breathtaking views across the water. In your mind’s eye, where have you travelled; a quiet garden full of colour or a place full of trees changing to reds and yellows at autumn? Share with someone round about you.
8th June We sometimes read the Old Testament as if the Spirit of God did not exist. When we think of the spirit, we think of Pentecost and those dramatic days in Jerusalem. Yet interwoven into the many stories of the ancient people of God, the spirit is there, we just need eyes to see; it is there in the power of creation, in the words of the prophets, their brave cries seeking justice; it was given by God for mighty deeds, for craftsmanship of the highest skill, for wisdom and under standing and even new hearts. I will give you a new heart and a new mind; I will put my spirit in you. (Ezekiel 36: 25-27) It was the spirit of God that formed the mighty army in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones.
25th May If you looked for the God’s of today where would you find them? Where does society bow down to worship and what shrines do people enter today? I remember listening to someone a while back talking about architecture and how the entrance to many buildings today, including new supermarkets, have a “church like” quality. So I was thinking, what are they trying to convey as people enter these places? And it is true, if you want to know where lots of people go on a Sunday, visit a retail park. I am not suggesting for a moment that people who visit our retails parks on a Sunday morning are somehow equating it with a religious experience. That is just plain daft, but it does say something about the practicalities of modern day life and people’s priorities.
18th May It is not easy to stand up against the crowd, to go against the flow of conversation and be the lone voice, sometimes straining to be heard against the noise of the world; or to move in the opposite direction, weaving in and out, to avoid the jostle of those coming towards us.

To hold your own in the safe environment of healthy debate is one thing, to know that if you raise your head above the parapet, the situation might get nasty or even violent, is quite another. The voice of the prophet was never welcome, especially if they spoke that which no one wished to hear. In the Old Testament, prophets clashed with kings, the voice of God challenging the people of God. They spoke up in spite of personnel danger. We can all think of modern day examples, of lone voices, who speak against injustice or hatred, seem ingly powerless, unless the voice of the people unites in solidarity with it.

4th May Have you ever been caught up in the emotion of the crowd? I think, in some way, we have all been there; we have heard the great orator, in the midst of fanatical supporters, part of worship that touches the soul or music that inspires. We come away feeling somehow different or challenged to respond in some way. When the crowd heard the words of Peter, especially when he said that they were directly involved in the death of the Messiah, they were deeply troubled, something had touched their souls deep with in, so they said to Peter and the other disciples, what are we going to do? A response to God was now required.
27th April What kinds of people make speeches today? Best men at weddings or I suspect that one group of people who might come to mind, are politicians or maybe world leaders; always wanting to get their message across on issues they see as crucial to domestic or world affairs, maybe choosing a venue that links in with their theme; recently, Gordon Brown on the independence debate or Barak Obama talking about the situation in Ukraine and US relations with Russia.
13th April I wonder what the equivalent of Palm Sunday would be today? Might it be the open top bus and the crowds welcoming the Raith Rovers team parading the Ramdsens cup? What would be the mood of the crowd? What would be the sense of expectation building up? And in the midst of that growing excitement, what would the crowds be shouting? After all, this has not happened for a while!
6th April If you had to create in your mind a lifeless scene, I wonder what it would be; the carnage of WW1 trench warfare; devastated crops or animals in the midst of a drought, an Antarctic storm or images of death from tsunami or genocide. And who would be standing in the midst of that lifeless scene: the soldier staring and trying to comprehend what is happening round about him; the farmer from Africa, wondering how he and his family will now survive; captain Scott and his ill fated comrades seeking direction and fighting the elements; the mother surveying her lost family, home & possessions through force of nature; the father, weeping over the death of family members, killed by people who were once his friends.
30th March Have you ever been overlooked or felt you were over looked ; someone else was chosen, but you felt it should have been you. I remember at school when playing football, two people were chosen to be the captains, and then they did “tic tack toe” (describe) to see who would get first pick, and then they alternated who they wanted in their team. You stood there, hoping against hope that you were not going to be the last man standing, with the captain having no choice but to c hoose you!
23rd March Some people are naturally good at coping with exams. They stay calm, have a good memory and have worked out the best way to deal with the questions. Under such testing conditions they seem to excel. Others are not so lucky; they turn over the exam paper an d everything they have worked so hard to learn just seems to evaporate!
16th March Have you ever set out on a journey where you do not know where you are going? If you have, I suspect it was described as a “Mystery tour”. I have a friend who got married later in life and the journey from the church in Edinburgh to the reception was a “mystery tour”! A bus was laid on and we did not know where we were going. On the way, we were trying to guess where we were going! This journey did not concern us, we were a fter all, going to celebrate a special event, and the fact that we did not know where we were going, held no fear. We ended up at a castle, down in the borders.
9th March If you watch a film, many of them have as part of their plot line, a character, or maybe an organisation who have been lured by the power of temptation, to carry out certain acts , from world domination, robbery, kidnap to terrorism . At the heart of their actions is a lust for power, position, fame or money. To counter that, there are always the good guys, who normally, just in the nick of time, save the day. Their intentions are portrayed as honourable; they seek justice, equality and reconciliation. There are of course those who get caught up in the plot with no intentions to be the hero, but that’s what happens, or, the loveable rouge who seems to always end up on the right side of the law.
2nd March I used to do a bit of hill climbing and have climbed over 90 of the Scotland’s 282 Munro’s, including Ben Nevis, the highest in Britain at 4406 feet, deciding to avoid the tourist path, instead getting to the summit via the arête ridge. I have decided that Moses must have also been a “Munro bagger”.

On their way from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of God, the people of Israel stopped off at Mount Sinai. It is in the Sinai desert Peninsula of Egypt and is the setting of the story where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. I am sure some people here might remember having to learn them off by heart at Sunday School. Are you up for the challenge?.

23rd February I wonder what you imagine when you hear the word “Holy ”. Twenty seconds to think about it. Share with your neighbour, what do you imagine when you hear the word holy. I am sure there was a TV games show, my memory is vague about it, but people would be given the first word and they had to come up with the second word. For example, ‘fish’...fingers ’! So, ‘holy’... [‘Spirit’, ‘bible’, ‘person’, ‘place’, ‘grail’, ‘terror’].
16th February One of things we can say about life is that it is full of choices, and increasingly so. From the supermarket shelves, to coffee shops, to what you want your new car to look like and feel like, you accessorise it. People want to tailor their products and market them as ‘unique’. So unique that everyone has to have the same one! The word I believe is ‘bespoke’, it is for you. What does that say about how businesses market their products? It is the individual that counts. You can say, this is mine, I choose it. It has been made for me. Personalised and customised, designed around my needs and wishes. I matter. I am what I buy. It says something about who I am. This is about a commercial choice for those who can afford it or who go into debt to make sure they are like all the other ‘unique’ individuals with designer on the label; everything is ‘limited edition’ and all flats are ‘luxury’. One of my definitions of poverty is, little or limited choice. Choice is not there for everyone.
2nd February What would a world of justice for all look like? What would a world of compassion for all feel like? If everyone lived as God wished them to, what would we see, what would we hear and what would our senses be telling us?

We have never learnt the lessons of history. As we come to remember the 100th anniversary of the Great War; the violence of the trenches is seen today in the bombed out buildings of Homs in Syria; the civil wars of Africa; in the street protests of Egypt and Ukraine and the seemingly intractable conflict between Israeli and Palestine. For some young people, streets and alleyways have become their trenches, protecting their territory. A poet once wrote, “History repeats itself. It has to. No one ever listens".

26th January Reading the paper / book in dull light is almost impossible. You turn it one way and then the other, but it is no use, you have to get up and turn on the light. I state the obvious, you need light to see. It is difficult to live in a land of shadows

The great image of Isaiah is based not on blindness, but on the contrast of shadow and light. You can almost imagine a group of people stumbling along in semi darkness. Their hands out stretched, feeling where they are going, to make sure they do not trip over and fall. There seems in the image, to be just enough light to walk, but not enough light to truly live by.

12th January The first thing that went through my mind on reading the Isaiah passage was this; what is the difference between a slave and servant? One dictionary defines slavery as, “One bound in servitude as the property of a person or household”. And if you are interested, it is historically identical to the word “Slav”. It comes out of the widespread enslavement of captured Slav people in the early Middle Ages. But even today, we have new forms of slavery; people captive in other people’s homes (high profile cases in the news), the slavery of sexual exploitation, traditions that control the lives of women in many countries in the world and I would add to this list, the slavery of poverty.
5th January There is something about returning back to places that are familiar or which hold particular meaning or memories. Having journeyed back, with a sense of expectation or anticipation, these places may not always be what we remember them to be; you see, something has changed, and that is us. We stand and look at a familiar scene, we take in the sights and sounds, but they are different now, the memories or the stories of this place might not have changed in our minds, maybe of people long gone, but we have changed. We can either acknowledge the difference in us or we can be disappointed in the journey.

Click here to read sermon notes from 2013 ...