One of the features of my summer this year has been to meet and correspond with a number of people from other parts of the world who are visiting or planning, a visit to Arran in the near future.. Generally speaking they’ve never been before and their trip is a culmination of many years of research and study and saving. In a sense they’re pilgrims. They’ve embarked on a journey of discovery that’s becoming more and more popular these days. Perhaps it’s due to the rise of television programmes on this subject but I do think that we’ve always been interested I finding out about our ancestry. We want to know where we’ve come from, We want to have a sense of belonging. It makes us feel secure, even if what we find out is not altogether ‘savoury’.
We might discover, as David Tennant (the former .. and to my mind the best,.. Dr Who ) as he did that our ancestors were not people that we would have been proud of. David found that some of his antecedents had been involved heavily in sectarian hatred in the North of Ireland. He was ashamed to discover that but it was something that re-enforced for him the huge debt he owed to his a family, a family that had moved on from the sectarian lifestyle and the values associated with it. His father, the Reverend Sandy McDonald, a former Moderator of the General Assembly, was open-minded, generous and ecumenical and he passed that on to his children. It’s good to think, for instance, that we’ve moved on in our families, that we’ve learned from past mistakes to the benefit of our children, that we’ve tried to stop them from making the same bad decisions that some of their predecessors have made.
Coming to Arran, for me, was a bit of a surprise! And as far as family is concerned, it’s been a treat. I’ve found out things about my parents that 1 didn’t know and I’ve met people who knew them in quite a different capacity and were able to give me insights that I would never have had otherwise. I came her as a baby and during these most formative years of my life grew to love the sea and the concept of community that exists in small places like this. In my job, particularly nowadays, it’s the norm to move around. We’re no longer expected to stay in one pace for a long time. I personally think that’s a good thing for congregations and for ministers although there are exceptions as there are in other walks of life and so it’s a rare treat for a minister to be called to a place where they have some history. My sense of belonging has helped my ministry here and even when I move on that sense of belonging will go with me because it’s changed me and that will contribute to whatever I’ll do next in my faith journey.
Today we heard the story of Moses, one of those Old Testament stories that most people of my generation and older know well from school and Sunday school and it’s still taught in schools now, even in this very secular age. The 5-14 curriculum includes the story of the Exodus because it’s one of the pivotal texts for the Jewish and for the Christian religion. We as Christians, need to know where Jesus came from. What kind of ancestry did he have and my goodness they were a mixed! It doesn’t get much racier than the Old Testament! Everything is in there, prostitution, adultery, murder, theft, betrayal, genocide.. you name it. And it was these people that became the foundations of Christianity for the whole world. Their history and their struggle, to come to terms with their God, was the perfect cradle for the Son of the living God. They became the rock on which our Christian Church is built, and so although we’re Western Christians with our own history and our own traditions we’re connected through our faith in Jesus Christ to this other history, some call it salvation history.
And God has something to say to us in the stories of these ancient peoples. We don’t need to look very far, for instance, to see modern day Exodus Stories. Whole communities travelling across vast expanses of barren country looking for a better life, searching for a home for their children, escaping starvation and poverty or oppression, just as the ancient Israelites did. We’re horrified at the cruelty of the Pharoah who wanted to kill all the male children in the Israelite nation but sadly we can see many Pharoah-like figures in the world even today. Leaders who are consumed by their own importance and who are prepared to sacrifice their own people to achieve their ends. In our story, Pharoah, like many despots, was afraid that someone would rise from the oppressed nation and stand up to him. And of course all his plotting and cruel scheming was not enough to stop that happening. Moses grew up, ironically, right under Pharoah’s nose and yet he was the one to lead his people out of slavery. A whole nation walking into an unknown future, led by a man who wasn’t sure quite where he was taking them, walking into a barren land but walking in faith. Of course you and I know that that was not nearly the end of the story and we’ll look at some more Old Testament stories throughout September.
Who am I? That’s the question that we’re all asking throughout our lives. We’re all searching for this sense of belonging, a sense of connection with the past. Jesus, in our reading from Matthew asks his disciples that question. What are people saying, about me, who do they think I am? They come upwith some suggestions from the past history of their nation but only Simon Peter recognises him…
You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
One of my good friends is going through the process of finding out about her birth parents. Both of her adoptive parents have now died and she feels that it’s the right time now to go on this journey discovery. She’s looking for her true identity, but it won’t change who she already is. So in a sense, she has two places of belonging. She is the biological child of two parents and yet she’s also the product of her upbringing.
We as Christians, have two families. We’re the product of our own personal histories. We’ve benefited, or been damaged, by the experience of those who have gone before. Whichever it is, it’s our responsibility to try to make sure that we learn from the past and pass on those lessons to those that come after us. And if we’re not parents ourselves we`re not of the hook because we all have an effect oil the society in which we live. We are collectively responsible for the future we offer to our young people.
As Christians, our other family is a worldwide one. It’s a family of faith and its foundations are solid ones. Our Church is built On the rock that was Peter. The one who recognised the face of the living God. We are the people who have recognised the face of God in our lives. We have somehow been touched by his hand and that’s why we
re here today. We belong together. Like all families we have some problems, we have some history of which we're ashamed, we have some hard work to do to make the future one that is better than the past. We have stories we need to share together. But were a family that is open. There are spaces in our community that need to be filled. We can offer a sense of belonging to those who are searching. In a world of shifting sands we can offer a firm and reliable foundation on which they too might build a better future for themselves and those who will come after us.