Grace in Flemington
The history of Flemington as a Church goes back to a Kirk Session meeting that would have happened up the road from here, either in the Old Parish Church, or its halls.
The year would have been 1875.
The attendants would all have been men. There would have been luminaries from the community present, doctors from the Stewarton Road, factory owners from Brownside Road, labourers from Gilbertfield Road.
And someone will have stood up.
They will have noted the vast amount of house building going on in the Flemington area
The number of miners moving into the pits around about
The men who were now moving with their families into the new steel works established 2 years previously.
And with all these people ar0und about,
An elder will have stood up and proposed, I do not know his name, I should probably look at the minutes.
And proposed that a mission hall be built.
Now why did he say that this was needed.
Why when people move to an area, do they need a Church.
It is not for food, it is not for money,
It might be for some form of moral guidance, so that people know the difference between right and wrong, that might come slightly closer.
It might be to foster a sense of community, that is important, but communities have been built around co-ops and dance halls.
Why did there need to be a mission hall in Flemington and Hallside, which led to this building being built in 1875?
Why does there need to be a Church?
Letter From Paul
Listen again to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the opening words…
1 From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from human beings or by human means, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from death. 2 All the believers who are here join me in sending greetings to the churches of Galatia: 3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father.
Now have a listen here from other letters. Turn if you wish to Romans 1
7 And so I write to all of you in Rome whom God loves and has called to be his own people: May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
The best thing that I want God to give you, says Paul to the Romans, is Grace and Peace.
“A gift without any expectation of return”
What is this Grace and Peace, a good definition of Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.
Another scholar, Spiro Zoidkiakis
“the absolutely free expression of the love of God, finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of God”.
The word grace goes back to another word meaning joy.
This idea of cheerful generosity, of undeserved magnificent kindness.
A favour, love, God, the absolute free expression of the love of God to you.
And peace, has all kinds of meanings,
it means the end of grrrr…., but it means more, it means aaagh,it means “every possible good”
And Paul, says, in Christ you have this now. You have this thing. The best possible good.
Look here we are again at Corinthians
1 From Paul, who was called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes – 2 To the church of God which is in Corinth, to all who are called to be God’s holy people, who belong to him in union with Christ Jesus, together with all people everywhere who worship our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
This is absolutely central to Paul. Have a look here at Acts 14
3 The apostles stayed there for a long time, speaking boldly about the Lord, who proved that their message about his grace was true by giving them the power to perform miracles and wonders.
The thing that Paul speaks, that he talks about is grace, at the beginning of everything, is Grace.
That’s what starts the day, the grace and peace
Every conceivable good.
That is what he speaks about, look at verse 26
26 and from there they sailed back to Antioch, the place where they had been commended to the care of God’s grace for the work they had now completed.
At the start of every letter,
At the heart of everything he speaks about
In the way that he approaches the risks and challenges of life
Grace and peace
Grace and peace
Grace and Peace
The Church is good at speaking about grace
We can come up with great definitions of grace
We can define our Protestant heritage by this word grace
We can come up with clever acronyms “God’s riches at Christ’s expense”
But the true challenge is to live it.
In arguments, possibly with children, possibly with spouses, possibly with brothers and sisters, or parents,
Can you begin with these three words “Grace and peace”
In our dealings with each other, as sisters and brothers of Christ
Can we race each other to get these things into action “Grace and peace”
It is hard to receive grace and peace, and yet the only way of going on
I was with someone last week against whom I had done something wrong and they found out and they forgave me. Grace and peace
In our conversation about each other, particularly when other’s are not in earshot,
Can we flavour every word with this sachet of gift from God,
Grace and peace
In the messages in our heads
There are words that fly across our head
If someone has annoyed you, and we are planning our retaliations
Can we get other words into that traffic jam of words that passes across the screen at the front of our heads, grace and peace, grace and peace.
I was dealing with someone last week who had made a pretty bad mistake, it was a mistake that they had made many many times,
And the first thing I was desperate to get them to say, before “Silly me”
Was “Grace and peace”
This goodness, this setting things right first of all by God.
Or what about this thing that so many of us carry,
This poor self image,
In Christian circles it can actually get rewarded, by being called humility, or service
But underneath there is something harmful going on,
I am not worth a lot, I am a failure
And other words need to interrupt those words, profoundly true words
Grace and Peace
Trying To Be Good
When we want to do better by avoiding bad, or by doing good,
What is the best way of doing it – to motivate ourselves into a frenzy of determination
To berate ourselves for past mistakes – give ourselves the hairdryer treatment
Or do we let these three magical words fly across our heads
“Grace and Truth”
God has given you everything, every possibly good, now what do we do
If you worry about what your family does to you, that the complaints that have effected your brothers and sisters, your mother and your father, and it is only a matter of time before what is wrong with them gets you
What is going to interrupt this inevitable genetics
Grace and peace
Grace and peace.
Grace and peace on the way down
Another time that you have to say “Grace and peace” is when you are on the way down.
The lowest point of my week was triggered by six words
“Neil, could you empty the rubbish”
Now I do suffer from the sin of laziness, and I don’t like being told what to do,
All that was in there
But it came at a rare moment when I just stopped to watch one of our children play,
And for 1 second, and then the six words
And it was like
“There is no good in this life, I am never allowed to enjoy the good in this life, everything in this life is grind and obligation and doing things for others”
And I am heading down, down and down
And I am writing this sermon, trying to say “Grace and peace, grace and peace”
And I don’t immediately get better, that takes a bit of time,
But all the time Grace and Peace is reminding me that the low point is not the end point
That after I have gone down, I will not be in the truth, that place is grace and peace, grace and peace
Philip Yancey relates a story which comes from a Danish author called Isak Dinesen.
It concerns a religious community in the middle 1800s in Denmark
An austere religious community which talks about grace and peace but knows little of it eking out a grey existence on the coast of Denmark, led by white bearded, grim man called the Dean.
This sect had renounced all world pleasures, they wore only black
They ate boiled cod and gruel, fortified with a splash of beer
They sang hymns about “Jerusalem my happy home, name ever dear to me”
But this life was to be tolerated, a grim waiting room before heaven.
The old Dean had two teenage daughters, Martine, named after the German reformer Martin Luther
And Phillipa named after the Luther’s disciple Philip Melanchthon
And there was in them light, but it was snuffed out
Martine caught the eye of a dashing cavalry officer, but successfully rebutted his advances so she might look after her aged father. Until eventually he rode away to marry a lady in waiting to the Queen, to Queen Sophia.
Then Philippa, she had the most beautiful voice, when she sang about Jerusalem it seemed like the heavenly city itself had descended. It just so happened that at the time a renowned opera singer by the name of Achille Papin, a Frenchman, was spending some time on that part of the coast recovering from illness, and heard Philippa sing, with a voice that would have graced the Grand Opera in Paris.
But despite his pleas, Philippa would not leave; Royalty would applaud you, you would taken through the streets in a horse drawn carriage to cheering crowds, but Philippa grew nervous around this handsome singer, the feelings that she felt when she sang some of the romantic arias with him. Eventually she declined. Her Father wrote a letter asking for no more music lessons and Papin returned to Paris as if he had misplaced a winning lottery ticket.
Much changed in the next15 years
The Father, the Dean, died; and leadership of the sect passed to Martine and Philippa. But it was difficult to hold the sect together, with all its disagreements without the help of their aged father.
One brother bore a grudge against another over a business matter. Rumours of an affair spread involving two of the members. A pair of old ladies had not spoken to each other for a decade.
Although the sect met on the Sabbath, and sang the old hymns, the worship had lost its lustre, and numbers dwindled. Despite the problems, Martine and Philippa remained faithful. Organising the worship and boiling the cod gruel for the toothless elders of the village.
One night, when it was raining, too dark and too muddy to venture out, the sisters heard a knock at the door. When they opened it a woman collapsed in a swoon. They revived her to discover she spoke no Danish, she handed them a note, it was written in the hand of Achille Papin.
Philippa blushed as she remembered the flutter of singing all those old arias.
The woman’s name was Babette and she had lost her husband and son during the civil war in France. Papin had found her passage on a ship and had written that the villagers might show her mercy. “Babette can cook” the letter read.
The sisters had no money, and felt unsure about this visitor, but consented to let her cook, and Babette softened their hearts. She would do any chores in exchange for room and board.
For the next twelve years Babette worked for the sisters. She cooked for the girls, their strange flavourless food, and she cooked for the poor of the town. She even helped with the Sabbath services. Everyone had to agree that Babette brought new life to the town.
Babette never referred to her life in France so it came as a surprise one day when Babette had a letter. A friend in Paris had faithfully kept Babette’s lottery ticket going and she had just one the lottery, ten thousand francs.
It happened that Babette’s lottery ticket win coincided with the day that the sisters were planning a celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of their father. Babette took them aside.
I have never asked anything of you since I came here.
The sisters agreed
I now ask you only the one thing, that you allow me to cook for your father’s celebration. The girls, slightly nervously, agreed.
When the money arrived, Babette disappeared for a few days to make arrangements, and then returned. Over the next few weeks, the residents of the village of Norre Vosburg on the coast of Denmark were shocked to see a remarkable procession of goods as boats docked to unload provisions for Babette’s kitchen.
Workmen pushed wheelbarrows loaded with small birds
The entire head of a cow
Strange creatures that lived in the sea
Huge tortoises moving their head from side to side
All these ended up in the sister’s kitchen now firmly ruled by Babette
The sisters were anxious, and agreed with the remaining members of the sec t, that they would remain silent eating this exotic food lest any offence were given when the didn’t like it.
The day of the feast, 15 December arrived.
A surprising announcement was made, an 90 year old lady announced that her nephew the cavalry officer who had once courted Martine, would be in attendance, now a general.
The table looked lovely, the villagers sat down to eat
Only the general remarked on the food “Amontillado” he exclaimed
And the finest Amontillado I have ever tasted he claimed.
He could have swore this was turtle soup but how could this ever end up on the coast of Denmark
The next course it is Blinis Demidorff he exclaimed
Veuvel Cliquot 1860 exclaimed upon arrival of the Champagne
The villagers remained mute.
Although no one spoke of the food, the atmosphere began to change
Their blood warmed, the brothers began to speak ,
The two women who had never spoken began to converse
Another woman burped, without thinking her neighbour blurted “Hallelujah”
The kitchen boy brought through the coup de grace
Baby quail in Sarcophage = amazing he said, he had only ever tasted food like this in the famous café anglais in Paris, the one renowned for its female chef.
He rose to make a speech
Mercy and truth have met together
Righteousness and bliss shall kiss each other
Eventually the sisters met Babette, exhausted in the kitchen
The best they could do “The food was nice Babette they said
We will remember this meal when your return back to Paris they said
But I am not returning to Parish replied Babette
But what about your winnings they said,
I spent them on the meal said Babette
She had spent everything on the meal.
General “We have all of been told that grace is to be found in the universe
But in our human foolishness we imagine divine grace to have an end
But the moment comes when our eyes are opened and see and realise that grace is infinite.
Grace my friends demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it with gratitude.
This is grace,
Turtle soup and quails eggs and every kind of good
And the cost has been paid in full by the giver.
Did you notice the cost in Babette’s feast
One of the reasons we instinctively rebel against Grace and peace is that it seems too good to be true
There is no such thing as a free lunch
There has to be a reckoning somewhere for the messing up that has happened,
Some kinds of act of cleansing
That is why we flagellate ourselves, berate ourselves, convince ourselves of our worthlessness
Or more determine that others have to pay for what has gone wrong
Because the moral shape of the world has to be righted, and it can’t just be righted by saying Grace and Truth.
Look at what Paul says here,
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father. 5 To God be the glory forever and ever! Amen.
The grace and peace doesn’t come for nothing, you are right to think that
When the part of you says “This is too good to be true, this can’t happen” you are right to suspect, but keep the thought going into verse 4, because Christ has paid the cost.
The colours of the Hall
I have had few more stresses in the last year, than worrying about the colours of our hall.
I am not sure why this affected me so much. Loads of people kept telling me not to worry. I was worried about shades, about departing from what we normally do, this brightness is a high risk strategy.
And yet there is something very meaningful there.
The yellow is like the sun, and the sun is like grace, fierce, passionate, life giving, absolutely 100% free.
I have been charged for food, I have been charged for water, I have never been charged for sun.
Sure, one might be charged for fake sun, but the real stuff always come free
It is like grace.
But notice the arch and the window, deep red, the colour of blood
The grace comes because of the blood
God’s riches at Christ’s expense
The yellow is there, because of the red
Galatians are Celts
You know that the Galatians had another word
The word for the Galatians was Celtoi, the Celts
The Celts from who many of us are descended, are Galatians
We find it hard to believe in this grace thing.
What you get is what you earn
What you give others is what they deserve
There is friendliness and cheer and hospitality, but too often it can be a disguise
There is humility and service, but often it can be a disguise
We have a history of violence and aggression
We are slow with our grace and peace
The gospel started with Christ
Came to Paul
Then came to the Celts, the Galatians, including us
In The Session House
When the speech was made in 1875, by a smartly dressed gentleman from Overton Road
Why did he say that we needed a mission hall in Hallside and Flemington
What were the reasons,
I would like to think that in his speech, he perhaps hinted that the reason we needed it was not to guard tradition, was not to keep morals, was not to provide an alternative to the alehouse
It was because we need something grace and peace
The best that God gives.
When the Church was dedicated on Christmas Eve 125 years ago,
What was celebrated was not above all fine architecture or monies raised,
It was a community that would live by, speak about, give flesh to Grace and Peace
When the communities that have lived here for 125 years have walked by this Church
And walked in its door
What did they find here
What kept them here
What was the goodness that sustained them in the home, in service, in work in Glasgow, in the steelworks, down the mine, in the Richmond Laundry
Grace and Peace
I don’t know who will be here in 125 years time,
Our job is not to survive
It will not be a failure if this brick and stone does not stay.
It is not the first job of a Church to stay open
It is the first job of a Church to glorify God
And in everything that it says
And in every way that it lives
At the beginning of every sentence
Grace and Peace
Grace and Peace
Grace and Peace