Cliff’s Christmas Letter

Christmas Letter 2017

Dear Friends,

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

So wrote, Sir John Betjeman in his heart warming poem, “Christmas”. Not only might you be drawn to the sound of bells to announce the event, the heat from the stove around which to gather, the welcoming lamp in the window for weary travellers coming in out of the rain, and the colours of the stained-glass window. What a wonderful picture, painted so richly in less than forty words. That is what I love about poetry; the snapshot image described by the efficient use of language. Surely an example to all preachers, including myself!
Capturing the essence of all that appeals to the senses at Christmas-time, is one way to implant a lasting impression of this important celebration. The smells and tastes of the season will soon enter the kitchens of cooks baking cakes and puddings to be laid down for the weeks ahead. Already, the shops are gearing up for Christmas, and even before Hallowe’en is past, the shelves will shine and shimmer with glitter and tinsel, green, red and gold. Of course, the preparation for Christmas and eager anticipation help to intensify the pleasure of the big event, in the same way that expectant families await the birth of a child. The One upon whom we wait, is Jesus the Son of God and Saviour of the world who deserves every ounce of extravagance emotion and excitement.
Looking to the message of Christmas, offers a feast of images and stories, too many to mention all in one go, and so, the challenge, as for the poet in sifting words, is knowing what to use and which others to leave for another day. These are dark days, and for me, the image of Jesus as Light of the World, is perhaps one which rises to the fore. The nights are very dark, and the day length is short, so that light becomes important for us to do even the simplest things from dressing to our daily round of duty. Perhaps, therefore, Christmas lights in windows, adorning homes and trees, are such an evocative symbol, even for the least religious among us. Few can deny the practical importance of light, and this fact was not lost to Jesus, who was described by others as well as Himself as the Light of the World. And in His teaching, he would say to His Disciples to be like light and salt. Both essential in their own ways. Light to see by and salt to improve the taste of food and for its preservation. And so, whether you are celebrating in a romantic or a practical way, I wish you every blessing this Christmas-tide for the truth of Jesus to shine into and through your lives in every sense.

And is it true? And is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

No love that in a family dwells,
Nor carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple shaking bells
Can with this single truth compare-
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Kirk Session 25 October 2017

At a meeting of the Kirk Session in Tayvallich Church on 25th October 2017 the meeting was constituted in prayer by the Moderator, Rev Clifford Acklam.
Present were Moderator, Rev Clifford Acklam, Session Clerk, Mr Alan Cameron, Elders, Mrs Norma Kelly, Mr David Logue, Mrs Louise Logue, Mrs Libby MacDonald, Miss Ealasaid Mackay and Mrs Catherine Paterson.
Apologies were received from Mrs Valerie Cameron.
The Minutes of the Kirk Session Meeting of 26th September 2017 were approved.
Proposed by Mr D Logue Seconded by Mrs Norma Kelly The Minutes of the Congregational Meeting of 1st October 2017
were approved.
Proposed by Mrs Libby MacDonald Seconded by Mrs Norma Kelly The Minutes of the Kirk Session Meeting of 15th October 2017
were approved.
Proposed by Mrs Norma Kelly Seconded by Mrs Louise Logue
“Community Transformers” Visit

There was again considerable discussion on this subject. There was clearly a significant amount of discomfort felt by some members of Kirk Session and also by members of the congregation who had made their views known to their elders. It was therefore agreed that the group’s visit would be a private matter for Mr and Mrs D Logue and would not be held under the auspices of North Knapdale Parish Church.
Blythswood Christmas Shoebox Appeal 2017
Mr Cameron confirmed that Blythswood had been in touch to correct an error in the published timetable. The lorry will be in Lorne St. car park, Lochgilphead between 13.15 and 14.15 on Thursday 16th November 2017 and not as previously stated.
Email from Lomond & Argyll Advocacy Service – 3rd October 2017.
The service are offering a visit by a speaker to Cafe Connect. It was agreed that, in the meantime, we would ask for a supply of leaflets which can be displayed at Cafe Connect. Session Clerk will write.
Email from The Church of Scotland Council of Assembly – 11th October 2017
A road show to share and inform on the work of the Councils of the Church. The nearest venue is Renfield St Stephen’s Church on 11th November from 14.00 to 16.00.
Email from The Church Of Scotland Law Department – 13th October 2017 Advising on the changes to letting of residential property in Scotland w.e.f. 1st December 2017. This may affect the letting of a manse during a vacancy and further advice will be offered on request and also in updated form on the Church’s website.
The Congregational Meeting of 1st October 2017 supported the Kirk Session decision to offer for sale the building of Inverlussa Church. The Session Clerk has advised the Presbytery Property Convenor accordingly and the matter will now go to the December meeting of Presbytery with the request that the building be used for worship during the sale process.
Mrs Logue was not in favour of continued use particularly because of slippery grass. Since the sale process will inevitably be protracted, the grass at the gate will be replaced by gravel. There was also discussion around the form of a final service but this will be progressed later.

Rev Acklam encouraged us to read the World Mission Council’s report to the General Assembly. The report on this occasion focuses on the role of women in the church. A new booklet, “Women in The World Church” was given to members of Kirk Session.
There was nothing to report.
Our Safeguarding Committee met today in Tayvallich Church. Safeguarding Handbook 6 was considered and it was agreed to support the Church’s policy on domestic abuse, adopting the proposed charter and advertising it in our church buildings. The proposed training / refresher course has been postponed until early in the new year.
Mrs N Kelly again reminded us that the Property Committee had encouraged us to check our property boundaries. The Session Clerk will deal with this.
Treasurer & Finance
Mrs L Logue advised that she would transfer some funds from the current account to the deposit account.
No report. Mr A Cameron will liaise with the Fabric Convenor on issues which require attention. Surge protection adapters will be purchased for the electric organs.
Care for the Family – The proposed training session in Lochgilphead has been postponed until next year but in the meantime Rev Acklam has ordered a supply of information leaflets for distribution.
Sunday 26th November 2017
Morning Worship in Inverlussa followed by Christmas Fair and lunch in Achnamara Hall.
Thursday 21st December An Evening of Carols is being organised by Mrs Alka Foster – time to be finalised.
Christmas Eve Morning Worship in Inverlussa at 10 am Carols on the Green in Tayvallich at 4 pm Watchnight Service in Tayvallich at 11.15 pm Rev Acklam will lead worship this year. Christmas Day Morning Worship in Bellanoch at 11am Retiring offering in aid of EMBRACE the MiddleEast.
Messy Church The theme is on people whom Jesus met. This is the first time that the theme has been developed locally. There was some discussion around donations and it was felt that attendees should have the opportunity to give if they wish to do so.
Alpha The course participants continue to meet on Saturdays after Cafe Connect. (Amendment approved 28 November 2017 -Mrs Logue advised that an enquiry had been received about a future course in Tayvallich.)
Cafe Connect There will be no Cafe Connect on 25th November and 2nd December 2017.
Church Flowers Mrs E MacDonald asked if fresh flowers could be purchased as and when required. This was readily agreed.
Cleaning Rota  There is at present no cleaning rota for any of our buildings. It was agreed that this should be investigated further.
D.O.N.M. The date of the next meeting will be Tuesday 28th November 2017 at 7.30 pm in Tayvallich Church.
The meeting was closed by saying the grace together.

Sermon 3 December 2017

I wonder if you’ve heard this song about the end-times:
Steal away, steal away,
steal away to Jesus,
Steal away, steal away home
Steal away home,
I aint got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me;
He calls me like the thunder,
The trumpets sound within my soul,
I aint got long to stay here.

Here’s another song you might recognise, from today’s Scripture reading:

My Lord, He is a comin’ soon,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Get everything ready for that day,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

If you’re asleep, it’s time to wake up,
Awake o sleeper, arise.
If you’re in the dark, it’s time to be lit;
Awake o sleeper, arise.

My Lord, He is a comin’ soon
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Get everything ready for that day,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

The origin of African American Spirituals finds its roots in the days of slavery. The slave owners were not approving of the West African culture, but when the Great Awakening revival movement took hold in America, the Christian faith was encouraged amongst the slaves, as a way to pacify them and integrate them closer to the culture of the owners.
But little did the slave owners realise, that the spiritual songs, which their slaves sang, were encoded messages about their suffering, their longing for freedom. And by the time of the Underground Railroad, the spiritual songs of the salves would speak in code, about the opportunity of escape to freedom in the North.
Throughout the history of the Christianity, believers have known persecution at various times and places. At the time of the writing of Mark’s Gospel, the church was experiencing persecution under the Emperor Nero.
And so, the promise of the coming again of Jesus, was a welcome intervention of the Lord, into their lives and into the world as they knew it. And, this longed-for salvation from persecution, slavery and oppression would be shared by many Christians suffering at the hands of their fellow man, down through the ages.

These end-time passages, are what theologians call eschatological, remind us of the need to be ready, to prepare for the Lord’s coming again in glory, in power to judge and sort the sheep from the goats; the wheat from the chaff.
And if we trawl back through the scriptures, we find a lexicon of readiness.
Remember how the Israelites on the night before Passover had to cook and eat with their tunics tucked into their belts, ready to move at short notice.
The watchmen on the city walls, were always ready to look out for danger, and for anything of interest.
Shepherds, watching their flocks by night, would lie across the entrance to the sheepfold, ready to defend their flock.

In our Gospel reading, we are urged to be ready for the Lord’s coming, like servants who’ve been left in charge of our master’s estate until his return. For he will come when we least expect him, not with a fanfare, or with a herald out in front. As Matthew 24:32-44 says, “He will come like a thief in the night”.
But, why do we have all these warnings?
Surely, not to make us afraid of that day, no.
They are to motivate us to make our faith real, and to do our best with what God has untrusted to us.
We are saved by faith, not by works. But, that does not mean we abuse the freedom and the salvation God has won for us through Jesus’ death on the cross.
But, we are expected to deliver the will of God; his mercy and love upon the earth, with a sense of urgency and in the knowledge, that He could come back at any minute. But also, with a joyful anticipation that He is coming, so that we are not only carrying out our duties, but also preparing for the celebration.

We only have to go into every town, and see the Christmas lights along the main street. In each supermarket and boutique shop, there are displays and goods to celebrate Christmas. On the television, there Christmas movies, from everyone’s favourite to the golden oldies. And on the radio, the classic Christmas hit songs; from hymns and classical pieces, to concerts and recitals.
Everything is gearing up for and anticipating the magical, mystical and majestic events surrounding birth of Jesus.
But even before that, we must ready, just in case He returns before expected.
In preparing for Christmas, during the waiting time, known as Advent. It is tempting to plan as if the fourth Sunday in Advent will come and go and Christmas Day will roll around, just like any other.
But, to assume that Jesus, will not come and surprise us, before we celebrate His birth, would be a lapse in concentration, as if we had relaxed too much.
We must still prepare, our utmost for both, and not lose sight of the possibility that of the unexpected.
To do so, would be to become too fixated on this material world in which we live, and forgetting the Kingdom of God, to which we belong. Amen.

Sermon 26 November the sheep and the goats

Matthew 25:(15-30),

The Parable of the Bags of Gold
To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25 v 31-46

The Sheep and the Goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”

The whole of chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel works together as it should, because each parable, in turn, supports the other; reminding us that we need to be prepared for when Jesus returns, we need to use our talents wisely, and we need to care for God’s people without favouritism, or exception but always for the benefit for our neighbour in the greatest need.
Today’s parable is the most vivid of all; this Parable of the sheep and the goats is an example of how the talent, the gift of hospitality, if it is used, can help people in need in a very valuable, but simple and effective way, and when we do so, we are serving God.
Jesus often taught about the importance of not just inviting your friends and family to dinner, but the stranger and the needy, the outcast and the sinner; those people who were on the outside of respectability, and the wrong side of the tracks, but whom God always wants to welcome in from the cold, and to His table.
At the heart of the Gospel and Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God, is hospitality; caring and sharing the good things we have with all God’s children, and not just a select few.
I love Tom Gordon’s story called The Brown Coat, which he tells in his book, “A Blessing to Follow”. And in that story, he tells, how Jim an upwardly mobile professional, who wears his Dad’s old brown storeman’s coat to visit the workers on the factory floor and to have tea with them during their breaks on Friday. But what they did not know, was that Jim was one of the managers from the accounts office. They always just assumed that he was one of the storemen from the next building. And then one day, on his visit, he learned that one of the staff, had suffered a bereavement, and it was going to be a struggle to cover the cost of the funeral. So, come the following Monday, he popped down for a cup of tea, and passed on an envelope with some cash from a whip round to help with the cost of the funeral.
And come the day of the funeral, Jim was there at the back, in support of his fellow worker, but slipping away, quietly at the end, so as not to draw attention to himself.
Now there are many moving parts to this story that I found touching, but the most important for me is that Jim was taking the time to visit his colleagues and showing and interest in what mattered to them. He was spending time with them, and when there was a need, being able to share to meet that need in a simple, yet effective way.
He would never have known about a problem or someone’s suffering, if he had not got out from behind his desk and got alongside the people on the shop-floor.
And yet, simply spending time with people, sharing in their conversation and being able to respond to a situation in a time of need.
How we respond to people in need; whatever their plight tells the true story of how deep and real our faith in Jesus goes.
If Jesus asked us for a glass of water, or some food, or clothing, or to visit him in hospital or prison. Of course, we would go, but would we go only because it was Him?
In this parable, He is asking us to behave towards everyone in need, as if we were helping him. And if we see the face of Christ in the stranger, then we will do as he desires and serve Him.
Professor William Barclay tells two stories which amplify the message of our Gospel today:
St Francis of Assisi belonged to a wealthy merchant family. But, as a young man, he was not happy and felt life was incomplete. Then one day when out riding, he met a leper; disfigured from his disease. And, something moved Francis to get down from his horse, fling his arms around him and in his arms, the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ.
The second is a famous story about Martin of Tours, who was a Roman soldier, but also a Christian. On a cold winter day, he was stopped by a beggar. Martin had no money to give him, but the beggar was blue and shivering. And so, Martin took his cloak and worn though it was, cut it in half and gave half to the beggar.
That night in a dream, Martin saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus among them; and Jesus was wearing half a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to Jesus, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?” And Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”
And Barclay concludes,
“When we learn the generosity, which without calculation helps others in the simplest things, we too will know the joy of helping Jesus Christ himself.”

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,
And God will delight
when we are creators of justice and joy,
yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy!