~ Ideas shared in our Sunday morning messages ~

Have you ever suddenly come across a word or a phrase that makes an indelible imprint on your mind? One word which springs to mind is Spirituality – Spirit-uality. This means living each day by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, reading the Word, praying, listening for the still small voice of the Spirit or giving praise and thanks to God.

Something to think about…

Each week we have a small devotion to contemplate for the days following the service on Sunday. These are included in the BUC newsletter for the congregation but they are also provided for you below to read at your own leisure.

For the week of Friday, 20th December 2019

This is the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. The previous weeks have explored the themes of hope, peace and joy, with this final week to focus upon love. The Isaiah and Matthew readings touch on the name Immanuel, which means God-with-us, and which is frequently associated with Jesus. As Christmas draws ever nearer, we reflection on that aspect of God-with-us represented by the incarnation of Jesus the Christ.

How do we engage with the Christmas story? How do we engage with the birth narratives of Jesus? Do we see the entry into the world of Jesus of Nazareth as a one-off, historical event? Or might the incarnation have significance for us, here and now?

  Michael Dowling

For the week of Friday, 13th December 2019

The theme of the third week of this Advent season is joy. What do we mean when we speak of “joy”? Does the word merely describe an exuberant high? Is it a feeling that elevates us, at least temporarily, from the baseline level of normal experience? There are many things in life that offer us transient pleasure. The operative word though is transient. In the words of a poem about the fleeting nature of lived experience: “Pleasures come, but not to stay; even this shall pass away.”

Is there something beyond the invariably brief experiences of pleasure in this life, something richer and more enduring, and which truly deserves the label “joy”? We will be exploring this and more this Sunday.

  Michael Dowling

For the week of Friday, 6th December 2019

What a prosaic lot we are!  When we read “ Lions will eat straw like cattle do” (Is. 11, 8)  we can easily dismiss that Isaiah book of collected prophecies of two and a half millennia back as a nonsense vegan dream.

Isaiah 35, 1-9  uses similar poetic language “The desert will sing and dance for joy”… no lions will be there … those whom the Lord has rescued will travel home by that road”. …

Isaiah  reflects the yearnings of a people for whom “the end of the age had not yet come and who lived by hope.”(James Smart)  They had hoped that kings descended from David would protect them but all had failed.  Isaiah 11,1  offers hope: “ Just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise ….  Unlike his predecessors “ He will rule his people with justice and integrity… Calves and lion cubs will feed together. (Is 11,6).            This is a ‘peaceable kingdom.      Our evening news bulletins remind us that still, in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, peace seems far off..  We may be worried by climate changes, political inertia, an increasing rich-poor divide.  Our leaders still seem to be failing us.    Strange, isn’t it, that we can find hope for peace ,because :- ‘ An infant hand, parts the darkness, to lead the poor of the earth”.  ( Hugh Sharpe)

Rev Dr Malcolm McArthur

For the week of Friday, 29th November 2019

This is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas, when we bring to mind the birth of Jesus. The theme of this first week in Advent is that of hope. The critical importance of hope can be seen by considering the effect of living without hope. To feel utterly without hope is surely the worst of all states, for without hope why would one bother doing anything? Hopelessness is an immobilising condition because, according to the hopeless viewpoint, all life-giving possibilities have been closed off. We can all lose hope at times, either in our own personal circumstances, or in how we view our wider world. Hope, in contrast, leaves the door open to new possibilities. Hope keeps us open to creative solutions to problems which, in the absence of hope, seem intractable. As we enter this season of preparation, we shall reflect upon and ponder: on what do we based our hope?

Michael Dowling

For the week of Friday, 22nd November 2019

Reign of Christ

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1:11)

This Sunday is Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, after which begins Advent, in preparation for Christmas. The epistle reading for the day is Colossians 1:11-20 in which the apostle Paul offers a prayer for his readers for, amongst other things, the patience to endure whatever comes their way. How do we understand patience? Do we mainly see patience as a reluctant “hanging in there” until things hopefully get better? Is patience largely a passive waiting? Or might patience be conceived as an active, dynamic practice? If so, how might such an active patience tie in with this strange thing called the ‘Reign of Christ”? We will explore such questions and others this Sunday.

Michael Dowling

For the week of Friday, 15th November 2019

This Sunday’s lectionary readings, from Isaiah and Luke, form rather a contrasting pair. Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem being created, or re-created “as a joy,” whereas Luke has Jesus speak of the temple, and indeed Jerusalem itself, being torn down. We will explore the themes of raising up and of tearing down, and how these themes are at the heart of the prophetic message. As we engage with these themes, we will consider how God’s prophetic word to us can be at times hopeful and comforting, and at times challenging and discomforting.

Michael Dowling

For the week of Friday, 8th November 2019

Luke 20 :27-38

This passage can take some swallowing!  Most of us don’t now think of heaven as “ Above the bright blue sky”.  To be honest, many are uncertain of what lies beyond our own deaths. When a loved family member dies we can be even more troubled about an after life.   We face mysteries beyond our ken.    Paul Scherer wisely reminds us :- We are forever reducing to the familiar terms of our experience, what we cannot and, in the nature of things , cannot know.”  The Sadducees (who, unlike the Pharisees believed there was no resurrection from the dead,) sought to trap Jesus!  Hence their trick question about the seven husbands.

Jesus met the Sadducees on their own ground.  If God was the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, then he must be the God of the living.  God is the great I AM.                        I’ve always loved  Wordsworth’s understanding of God, written two hundred years back as:“ A motion and a spirit that impels all living things, all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things.” I AM for every age.

Malcolm McArthur

For the week of Friday, 3rd November 2019

This Sunday the reflection will be in two parts: a short reflection on the Old Testament reading and a second short (and unrelated) reflection on the gospel reading.

Old Testament
The prophet Habakkuk raises the question, “How long?”
That is, how long will God permit injustice and violence to reign?
Can God do nothing to resolve things?

The reading touches on something called ‘theodicy.’ Theodicy is trying to make sense of three seemingly irreconcilable things: the understanding that God is all-powerful; the understanding that God is all-loving; and the observation that this all-powerful, all-loving God has created a world with so much evil. We will briefly explore some aspects of this conundrum.

In the gospel reading, Jesus encounters a tax collector called Zacchaeus. The encounter is narrated ever so concisely, and yet this encounter transforms the life of Zacchaeus. Can we engage with this very story through Zacchaeus’ eyes?

Michael Dowling