Old High St. Stephen's, Inverness

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Lost and Found: sermon for 15 September 2019, Proper 19

Scripture Readings: Psalm 14

Luke 15:1-10

Lost and Found

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

One of the brainiest Christians of all time was man called Anselm, a Norman who became Archbishop of Canterbury around 1,000 years ago. He’s famous for writing a treatise on the existence of God which began with the first words of our Old Testament reading, Psalm 14: ‘Fools say to themselves, there is no God’. And he went on to try to prove, through a very subtle philosophical argument, that the fools were wrong.

With atheism being so fashionable among some people nowadays, it’s tempting for us to misunderstand the beginning of Psalm 14. We all know people who say, ‘There is no God’, and they are not all fools. Perhaps in Anselm’s day, when the existence of God was taken for granted by so many, it did seem you’d have to be a fool to deny the existence of God. Today we have no such consensus. Indeed, there are plenty of people claiming we’re the fools: people like you and me who do believe in God are the fools!

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The Wisdom of Humility: sermon for the Kirking of the Council, 8 September 2019

Click here for the order of Service for the Kirking of the Council 2019

Click here for more information about the Kirking of the Council 2019

Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 3.4-15

Luke 14:1, 7-14

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I have just been reading a remarkable account of a British traveller who, just a few months after September 11 2001, walked across Afghanistan. It was just after the American-led invasion of the country, which drove the Taliban out of Kabul. The author writes:

The country had been at war for twenty-five years; the new government had been in place for only two weeks; there was no electricity between Herat and Kabul, no television and no T-shirts. Villages combined medieval etiquette with new political ideologies. In many houses the only piece of foreign technology was a Kalashnikov, and the only global brand was Islam.[1]

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I have called you by your name, you are mine: sermon for 1 September 2019

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Luke 13:10-17

I have called you by your name, you are mine

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This morning at St Stephen’s we had the joy of celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism. We baptised Caitlin Liddle, the granddaughter of Sandy and Rosemary Cumming. The baptism of a child is a time of great joy for the child’s family and friends. But it is also a celebration for the Church for family. For baptism remind us of many of the joyful truths of the Gospel. It reminds us that God calls us by name, that we all of us belong to God. And it reminds us about how new beginnings is at the heart of our faith.

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The family meal: sermon for 25 August 2019

Scripture Readings: John 6.53-59

Mark 14.22-26

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I used to belong to a student Christian organisation at university. At the end of each term, we would meet, as we always did, for a meal together. But at the end of the meal, instead of hearing a guest speaker as we usually did, we would remain around the meal table and share the Sacrament of Holy Communion, led by a local clergyman, a chaplain, or one of the Divinity Faculty staff. That experience completely upended all my thoughts about Communion. Sitting around the same table where we had just shared our meal was a powerful spiritual experience for someone who was more used to our rather formal and traditional services in my home church. It was a reminder, also, that sometimes in the church we make things too complicated! This was a reminder of how it started- a meal with friends in an upstairs room.

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Which gods? Sermon for 18 August 2019 (Proper 15)

Scripture Readings: Psalm 82

Luke 12:49-56

Which gods?

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

God presides in the heavenly council; in the assembly of the gods he gives his decision (Psalm 82.1).

Today’s Psalm asks us to picture a strange scene. The scene is a ‘heavenly court’, or an assembly of gods. The Lord God of Israel presides- but he’s not the only god there- he’s speaking to other gods.

This Psalm must be harking back to the earliest days of Israel’s religious history. In ancient times, people tended to believe in a lot of different gods- the Greeks had Mercury, Apollo and Zeus, the Egyptians made gods of the Pharaohs and worshipped Ra the sun god alongside other lesser deities. The genius of Israel’s faith was that they began to see that their tribal God, the God Moses had met in the desert, this God who had no name, this strange God who insisted on love and justice- this God was maker of heaven and earth, was greater than all the other gods, was, indeed, the only true God. This was an incredible insight that changed the world. But it was a change that happened gradually.

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Where your heart is? Sermon for Sunday 11 August 2019 Proper 14

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Luke 12:32-34

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I once knew an elderly lady who told me she had been worshipping in the same local country church all her life. She told me that, when she was a wee girl, her family had to go to church each Sunday. Her father was a gamekeeper, and if he wasn’t there the laird would have noticed and he’d have lost not just his job, but his tied house as well. Homeless and jobless if they didn’t go to church.

Thank goodness, we live in a different age nowadays. There is no great cultural expectation that we have to go to church. We come because we want to. It’s our own choice. And that old lady in continued to come to church, not because she was forced to, but because she wanted to.

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The Tyranny of Things: sermon for 4 August 2019 Proper 13 Year C RCL

Scripture Readings:

Ecclesiastes 1.12-14; 2-18-23

Colossians 3: 1-11

Luke 12: 13-21

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

If I was to set you homework, it would be to ask you to read the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes this coming week. For it is a remarkable book. As one commentator says,

…many readers find this book to be one of the most intriguing books in the Hebrew Scriptures, a fascinating mixture of darkness and light, confidence and doubt, piety and irreverence.[1]

I first read it as a teenager, struggling to make sense of the world, and the Christian faith I had been brought up in. It was amazing to discover a book, in the canon of Scripture, which seemed so honest about the world and the mystery of life. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers. Ecclesiastes is not afraid to say that sometimes we do not know all the answers. Ecclesiastes may be a rather gloomy book, but it reminds us that life, and faith, is ultimately a mystery.

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Pray for the city: sermon for 28 July 2019: Proper 12 Year C RCL

Scripture Readings: Genesis 18:20-32 GNB

Psalm 85 NRSV (said responsively)

Luke 11:1-13 GNB

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This week, I have been thinking about a minister friend of mine, now retired after long and varied career. He had served in a number of very ordinary west of Scotland parishes, and had also served as a university chaplain and with a major Christian charity. Not long after his retirement he started to work as a locum in a church in Fife, and found himself preaching to a congregation which, on most Sundays, included the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. But my friend took it in his stride, because he realised that the Prime Minister needed to hear the Word of God as much as an old lady in a housing scheme in Paisley.

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How can we be thankful? A sermon on Psalm 40: 30 June 2019

Scripture Readings: Psalm 40.1-10

Luke 17:11–19

Sermon

How can we not be thankful?

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

We have been hearing a lot recently about antisemitism- the irrational hatred of the Jews, which seems to be popping up again in this country and around the world. When I hear about antisemitism, by thoughts often turn to one of the first times I attended a Church of Scotland General Assembly, back in 1991 when I was a Divinity student.

The Moderator was one of my teachers, Robert Davidson, Professor of Old Testament at Glasgow University. On that particular day, there was a special guest: the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. After we had sung a metrical Psalm- unaccompanied, in the old Scottish style- Bob Davidson greeted the Chief Rabbi in Hebrew, and invited him to address the Assembly. It was, for me, a moving reminder of the Jewish origins of our Christian faith, and of how our Presbyterian worship continues to be suffused with those old Hebrew prayers and hymns, the Psalms.

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Woven in the Spirit: Pentecost sermon for the Kirking of the Tartans 9 June 2019

NOTE:

This sermon was preached at a service of the Kirking of the Tartans at the Old High Church, with the Association of Highland Clans and Societies

Scripture Readings: Exodus 35: 30-35 not Lectionary

Acts 2.1-21

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

One of the biggest events in our church calendar at Old High St Stephen’s is a Kirking- the Kirking of the Council, which we have grown in recent years into a very happy community festival. So it’s lovely for us today to be hosting, for the first time, another kind of Kirking, the Kirking of the Tartans. There is no more potent symbol of Scotland than tartan, but, of course, like many of the symbols of Scotland, tartan has its roots in the Highlands and in Gaelic culture.

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