Baptism of Jessica Anna Blair, daughter of Cairy and Iain
Jonah 1: 1-17.
The story of Jonah and the whale.
The story of a man who was told by God to go to Nineveh and tell them they had to change their ways or disaster would strike them down. So Jonah decides that’s far too dangerous and off he goes to Spain. While on the journey there a storm erupts and eventually the sailors fling him over the side where Jonah is swallowed by a whale. The whale then takes him to Nineveh where he preaches to the people and they change their ways and everyone kind of lives happily ever after.
Is that story not just a bit incredulous?
Forgive me for this, but is there not something fishy about this story?
Hands up if you truly think this story is a reflection of your life's story.
Hands up if you even believe this story to be true.
So I decided that I wouldn't talk about that story, instead I would talk about something scary in my story.
I am sitting in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow minding my own business. I have just been accepted by Strathclyde University to study Applied Microbiology. When out of nowhere an idea comes into my head...’You should become a minister.’
Literally it comes out of nowhere. I have the choice of becoming a microbiologist and earning a real stack of money. Having a great career where I might even win a Noble prize in Science...or becoming a minister.
And the even weirder thing is that it kind of makes sense to become a minister. So I consider it.
And that idea causes chaos all over the place.
I go home and tell my parents that I am thinking of becoming a minister and my mum bursts into tears, my dad asks me how I could do that to my mum and my dad threaten to kick me out the house.
But that’s not the scary bit.
It’s 1985. I am in Aberdeen. I have finished my Applied Microbiology degree and just about to start my Divinity Degree. I have been sent to a church called Ferryhill North to learn how to preach. It is my first day with the new minister and he asks me where my clerical gown is. I tell him I don’t have one. He asks me why I don't have one, all ministers should wear them. I ask him why.
And he says, ‘We hide our humanity so that God can shine through us.’
And I say, ‘But doesn't God work through our lives, so it is in our humanity that God shines best. Why would we want to hide that?’
And at that instant, unbeknown to me, I have become a trouble maker. Every report that goes into the department then has a thing about asking awkward questions, and every subsequent minister that I get is sent a copy of those reports. So they are sitting there waiting for me to give them awkward questions. Now the truth is that I sometimes asked reasonable questions, but because these ministers were hypersensitive because of what they had heard about me, they took those reasonable questions and thought they were awkward.
So my reputation, completely unbeknown to me, grew. But that’s not the scary bit.
It’s 1988. I am being interviewed to see where I will do my probation year. Now wherever I go I become the responsibility of that area. So for the last three years I have been the responsibility of Aberdeen. And because of this reputation I have the last thing they want is for me to be their responsibility any more. They want to get rid of me, but I don't know that.
They have a list of all the churches that can take probationers.
So they ask me what kind of church I think I should go to. And I tell them that I am thinking of a deprived area. I have been thinking for a while that I could work in a deprived area but I'm not sure, and if I go to a deprived area for my probationary period then I can see if that would work or not.
Well they want their deprived areas to go to people who have lived privileged lives, brought up in Bearsden or Morningside so that they can see how the other half live...as someone who was brought up in Govan and Corkerhill I don't count.
But they don't care about that, they just care that I am out of Aberdeen.
So they say to me, ‘Have you thought about a place like Kings Park in Glasgow?’
Now Kings Park is a upper middle-class area in Glasgow, but I don't know that.
So I say, ‘I don't know that area, what’s it like?’
And they say, ‘It’s a mile away from Castlemilk. So you can guess just how deprived it is.’
So I agree.
But that’s not the scary bit.
It’s 1989. I have been at Kings Park for a year and had a great time. I have looked at this time as the last opportunity to do whatever I want to do with a safety net of two experienced ministers watching over me. As far as I am concerned I can try out the weird stuff that I am not too sure would work at all, and then see if it works. Because you are never sure until you try.
This has not gone down well with the minister of a very conservative church that just wants their probationer to tow the party line. You know what was really funny; they were too polite and posh to ask me to change. Which is fine, except it is that minister that has to write my reference...so when I am looking for a church I am categorised as brutally honest, too unpredictable, too much of a risk.
That’s not the scary bit.
I end up being unemployed for a year.
During that time I was asked if I would work for nothing in this church called Camphill Queens Park.
They were 1 million pound in debt.
They hadn’t had a minister in three years.
They had just been abandoned as a church and left to die.
The average age of the congregation was about 85. They weren’t able to meet in the church because pigeons had lived in there for years and the place was a mess. So they met in a wee hall. I agreed to be their unofficial, unpaid minister.
Now they weren’t paying me so I could have decided to do as little as possible, just do the Sunday stuff and visit the hospitals and do funerals. But instead I decided that I was their minister, even if they weren't paying me, so I would do what I thought a minister should do. And with a congregation that old there was a lot of housebound elderly folk, so I would try to visit them.
But that’s not the scary thing.
It’s 1990. It’s a wonderful, sunny day, and I can’t get anyone in. It’s about 3.30pm, I have tried 6 homes and got no one in, and I have to decided if I will call it a day and just go home or try one more door to visit. I decide to try one more door and so end up visiting John and Helen Lloyd a couple of the housebound of Camphill Queens Park.
Think about this, and this is the really scary part...If I hadn’t decided to be a minister 10 years before, I wouldn’t have ended up in Aberdeen,
And if I hadn’t been a pain in the neck up there I wouldn’t have been sent back to Glasgow.
And If I hadn’t had a great time in Kings Park then I wouldn’t have been a year unemployed.
And if I hadn’t taken decided to fill that time by unofficially working at Camphill, and if I hadn’t decided to try one more door then wouldn’t have been visiting that elderly couple.
Why is that scary?
Because that nigh I get a phone call from their son thanking me for visiting. His parents hadn’t had a visit from their minister in years and he appreciated it, he then told me he was in charge of Castlemilk West Church and would I consider putting in an application. I did and two months later I was the minister of Castlemilk West...where I met a Roseanna Walker and the rest is history.
Because if I hadn’t met Roseanna then Cairy wouldn’t be born and then neither would Jessica.
Doesn’t that sound incredulous, doesn’t that sound a bit unbelievable?
And yet it is true.
That is the true message of Jonah.
You see it's not that the story of Jonah is too amazing and incredulous and maybe a bit unbelievable.
The truth is that all our lives are a bit amazing and incredulous and maybe a bit unbelievable.
That’s the point of Jonah.
You see the weird and wonderful things were going to happen to Jonah, just in the same way as weird and wonderful things happen to us. That’s not something we have any control over.
We don’t have any control over what happens to us, we do have a choice in how we react.
The choice we have is what we will do when life comes our way.
Jonah had the same choices we do...would he follow the path God wanted for him, or follow the path he thought was best?
When he followed his own path, the path that he thought would make his life easier, then his life went all over the place, he went from one disaster to another.
When he followed the path God wanted him to follow, it didn't lead to an easier path, going to Nineveh wasn't an easy option, but it did lead to a better place.
A place where there was healing, where there was contentment, a place where safety was created, where people could find hope.
And here’s the thing.
When Jonah followed the path God had for him, that didn't just affect him that had ripples in the lives of others for the better.
So the choices we make will have ripple effects on others as well, for good or for evil.
So decisions we make today, will affect Jessica, will affect our closest families, will affect our neighbours, our friends, our workmates.
In 1980 I started a series of decisions that in 2018 has led us here.
Decisions we make today will affect others in 40 years time.
Do we really trust that we have the skill and the wisdom to make those decisions and they will be decisions that will be for the betterment of ourselves and others?
Isn’t it more likely that God’s path would lead to a path of greater hope and joy and peace?
Just because you are making a living doesn’t mean you are making a life.
And just because you are making a good living doesn't mean you are making a good life.
Making a good life depends on the decisions you are making.
And I would suggest that like Jonah the only choices we have is if we will decide to follow the path we think we should go on for our own well being,
or the path that God wants for us, a path that seeks the wellbeing of all.
But be really careful which one you choose, because you never know what the ripple effects will be.