Sunday 29 May 2022

Welcome!

We know not everyone who is part of Westwood Church is able to be in church on Sunday morning however, we though it would be good to offer some excerpts from the Sunday morning service. Where we can, we offer parts of the service in text and audio file, whichever works best for you. If you want to plug in headphones to your computer, tablet or mobile phone now is a good time to do it ! If you want to offer some comment or feedback just use the comment box at the end of this post.

Scripture

John 17: 20 – 26

Acts 16: 16 – 34

Opening Prayer

The light is spreading.

It began one Easter when tombstones rolled and graves were found empty, Jesus was alive.

The news spread from disciple to apostle, from followers to strangers.

It spread like a fire, this news of new life.

It spreads still today here in this place, among us who dare believe that life and death is not all there is.

In this place new light is streaming, the Good News still has power to unfold and renew. We come to re-weave the unravelling fabric of community. To re-connect once more with the larger human family. To find once more that place of calm.

To remind ourselves that we belong. And to remember what it is we belong to.

We are many, as the stars that fill the night, as a flock of birds in flight, as the branches of a tree, as the waves upon the ocean.  We are also one body, and the work of Christ is done when we learn to live in real community.   We come to celebrate the life we share together.

We enter into this time and this place to join our hearts and minds together. To remember what is most important in life. To be challenged to live more truly, more deeply, to live with integrity of faith and kindness of heart and with hope and love, to feel the company of those who seek a common path, to be refreshed,  to be strengthened and to find the courage to continue to be who we must be; Christ’s presence in this world.

Accept then Lord, the gifts we place before you; offering our hearts, our lives, our service.  Offering a different path to that which the world offers.  Accept then Lord, the gift of our resources that these gifts might help us and your church to continue to be who we need to be, and do what we must do, and say what we must say, to the Glory of your Name.

Hear us as we join in the words of the Lord’s Prayer saying…

Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever.  Amen.

Address

A colleague asked me what I was most looking forward to during the General Assembly. “Heading home” might have been a suitably inappropriate reply.  Actually it wasn’t that bad; but it was very different to past years. Downsized, in-person and online attendance, a far greater use of digital documents. 

Truthfully though, there was something I was looking forward to… The Report of the Ecumenical Relations Committee.  Yes, I have an interest to declare because I did in the past serve on that committee along with colleagues I greatly respect.  I will always wait with interest to hear that report.  This year, the report contained a “Declaration of Friendship” the first draft of which I was privileged to read and I confess iI found it very moving and I still do.

That first draft of the Declaration of Friendship came entirely from the hand of Archbishop Leo Cushley of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. Personally I would not have changed a single word of it but the politics of Church demand that the Church of Scotland show that they too have had an input to the wording.  Thankfully that expression of friendship was not diminished by becoming a joint document.  It is simple, short, (just one page of A4) and actually quite profound in acknowledging the differences that lie between the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, acknowledging the hurts and harms we have inflicted upon each other in the past, acknowledging that at a local level Church of Scotland congregations and Roman Catholic Congregations share deep and lasting friendships, just as we do with Our Lady of Lourdes.  The root of this, the foundation of this, is our common faith in Jesus Christ and the acknowledgment that Christ calls us to be one.  If you are an internet user you can find a copy of the Declaration of Friendship on our church’s website.

It has been a little time now since Westwood and Our Lady of Lourdes worshipped together in renewal of Baptismal Vows or Songs of Praise, or worked with our local schools to show that we are in fact friends, not enemies, as some sections of society might have you believe.  The Declaration of Friendship lifts both Churches away from the lingering sectarian outlook that by association Protestant and Catholic faiths in Scotland have been tarred with. The friendship between ourselves and Our Lady of Lourdes remains and we will mark and celebrate The Declaration of Friendship together after it has been officially signed by both Churches.

Indeed during the pandemic I was so grateful for the friendship with Our Lady of Lourdes.  The Church of Scotland gave us a mountain to climb just to get our church re-opened for worship.  That mountain meant we remained closed when Our Lady of Lourdes was open and gathering for worship.  So I asked if we could use their halls to gather in.  And the answer was… yes, of course, but wouldn’t you prefer to use the Sanctuary! There was real, genuine kindness and friendship.

Friendship is at its best a deep and lasting relationship where friends are not and do not need to be the same,  Friends can have their differences of opinion, different interests and all the rest and still love each other deeply. Jesus expressed the value of friendship when he said in John 15 “ I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father.

And yet, the sad fact is that too many churches are seen as unfriendly places.  Your friend and mine, Rev John Brewster, has encountered that so many times as he has tried to settle into his retirement in Fife.  Too often he has attended a church where no one has said hello to him, sometimes even turning away from him when he has tried to start a conversation. And of course he has encountered the “Excuse me, your sitting in my seat!” Or,  “No you can’t sit here, I’m keeping this seat for my friend.” We laugh at these things because we recognise just how normal it has become to see or hear that kind of thing happening in churches; so normal that we no longer appreciate just how shockingly bad it is.  My hope is that the cut backs that are coming in the Church of Scotland will close churches like that because they have lost the ability to welcome the stranger, to offer that precious gift called friendship. If books are judged by their cover then churches are judged, not by the minister’s sermon, but by the welcome afforded to the stranger.  It is truly a daunting thing to walk through the door of this or any other church, not know anyone, not know how things work and somehow fit in.  If you want to test my theory just try visiting another church some Sunday.  Churches are places where we are meant to find a sense of belonging, to be included, not excluded, yet too many have, intentionally or unintentionally, excluded the stranger.

A theory exists that no one ever gets to know well more that 125 people.  Beyond that number we begin to forget names, family connections and so on.  In a place like Westwood where we have 80 or so people attending it should be quite possible for us to know each other by name and know enough about each other to feel that relationships are close and supportive. That we are friends, all of us, in the common bond of faith, not just a gathering of disparate people who happen to end up here each Sunday morning.

In this church, like almost every other, where there is an obvious need to build ourselves up, the thing we are most aware of is the limited number of tools we have by which to do that.  Allowing people to feel welcome must surely be the first and most obvious of the limited number of tools at our disposal. That hymn book or handbag that reserves a seat for a friend might be done as an act of kindness, yet can be a sign to another that they are not welcome.

The other side of that coin is that we limit possibilities for ourselves as individuals.  If we can only sit with those who are already our friends we deny ourselves the joy that comes from discovering a new friend, shared experiences, common ground.  “And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!  The words of Jesus in Matthew 5.

So I say it again…  My hope is that the cut backs that are coming in the Church of Scotland will close churches like that because they have lost the ability to welcome the stranger, to offer that precious gift called friendship. And maybe even have lost touch with what it means to be Christian.

I don’t think that Westwood is on a par with John Brewsters experience of churches in Fife but we would be fooling ourselves if we think its never happened here.  Some things in Christ’s call to be a congregation and a church may not come naturally to us, we may be ill at ease with what He asks of us.  But if everything he asked of us was easy, natural, simple and required no effort or thought what would be the point?  Easy is worth nothing. But knowing that we have made a point of removing the hymn book or hand bag that reserves a seat and saying , “ yes, sit here.” Will start a new friendship and the friend for whom the seat was reserved will also sit with someone else and strengthen another friendship within the body of Christ. There are no losers in that; only winners.

Prayer for Others

Lord Jesus, it is in these moments of prayer that we are afforded time to think on you and how we might be more like you.  So often you were found amongst people who struggle with life, all of them strangers to you, people you had never met before but you were able to make them friends through your kindness, your caring and listening.  May we be found amongst strangers offering them our time, offering a place to be, a seat at the table, may we linger with the intent… to care.

May we not just look for a new thing, but follow it through,

not just have an idea but make it happen,

not just complain about this and that, but do something about it.

In all our joys and in all our concerns, may we be ever mindful of the presence of God among us, the presence of God in our friends and in the stranger.

May we turn our words into action, our thoughts into reality, our good intentions into a way of life.  In all our joys and in all our concerns, may we be ever mindful

of the presence of God among us.

May we dare to speak of welcome towards the stranger

and find ourselves among strangers here, and loving them into community.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we really CAN make a difference in this world, so that we are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Jesus prayed, “that they all may be one”. We pray that we will find a role in this huge task; a gift, a message, a way to take part.

We pray that communities of faith will no longer be strangers but come together in friendship.  We pray that all may be one – even within this congregation, open to each other, knowing each other by name, free to sit, walk and talk with one another.

Lord hear us in our prayer; “that all may be one”…

AMEN

2 Replies to “Sunday 29 May 2022”

  1. Leo

    I agree with the comments about being friendly and speaking to others. You may be amazed to hear that the ” keeping seats thing” went one stage further in East Kilbride in the 1990’s. When my parents retired and started attending afternoon tea dances at various venues, they were amazed to see that some people had taken the trouble to crochet little mats to keep seats! Sadly, I attended a meeting recently aimed at the 60 plus age group and the woman next to me had her back half turned to me the entire time as she was speaking to her friend. However congratulations to Westwood Church as I have been made most welcome as a visitor.

  2. RevKev

    Hi Leo,

    Human nature is a curious thing! Anyway, thank you for the vote of confidence in Westwood. Delighted to hear that you have been made most welcome.

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