The History of Leith

July 16, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

400th Anniversry Sermon-South Leith given by the Rev Ian Gilmour.

Readings 1 Samuel 1: 12 -19
Acts 2: 22-24 and Acts 2:43 – 46

“WHAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIAL?” A question from Denise Burke , an American who worked here for 18 months. She is speaking about you – members of South Leith in an paper she wrote for University.

If our Bible passage from ACTS shares some insights into Christian Community in its exciting fledgling period. Then, like most new ventures it was a dynamic joyful sharing caring community. It attracted people easily but could not and did not sustain this pattern. Just how do you remain true to your roots and sustain hope over the long term, for example 400 years I decided to listen to an outsiders view: Which is where Denise comes in:

“Their work is not unique. The call to love and to serve is the same call issued to each of us who follow Jesus. But where many have been happy to make their response an intellectual exercise these folks have rolled up their sleeves and made the answer to the call, their job. Work is such a part of who they are; you cannot separate it from their very nature. In work they find fulfilment; in the challenge of work they find their spark.

SLPC can engender HOPE because its people have worked hard at the right things carefully, incrementally over the long haul.

Now 100 years ago sitting on the dais at the 300 year anniversary service was a living example of LOVE FOR LEITH. Dr James Mitchell, minister for 40 years. It was undoubtedly hard work. He had come to an unhappy congregation and had left a congregation still dis-united but he had given his best.

John Arthur local historian, reflects on one episode from Dr Mitchell’s ministry. “Late 19th century there was a slump in trade in the Port of Leith, thousands paid off. With no wages families faced hunger, Dr Mitchell and the Kirk Session provided soup kitchens and clothing stores. Now many today may sneer, saying they could have done this, that or the next thing! But this is 21st century thinking being applied to the 19th century.
They just got on with it without any deep philosophical discussion. The point is they saved many lives”.
John continues, “ Truly if there is a golden thread running through the history of South Leith it is the ability of the Church to see a need and to meet it, in different guises, for several hundred years, an incredible record.”

Dr Mitchell could easily have sat back and rested when his successor came to Leith. However, his persevering commitment continued. He was the proactive chair of Leith hospital. He visited all the similar hospitals in Scotland researching how to make Leith’s healthcare the best it could be.

I honestly can’t do justice to the volume of rich stories about the What’s When’s and Who’s of South Leith. Thank God for historians. Think for yourselves your time in South Leith how many have retired from their jobs to give, energy and time to this community. The Jack’s and June’s, the Marion’s and Allan’s the Tom’s, Rita’s and Pearl’s, ‘course they are all really pearls. To make a pearl requires sacrifice, time and energy

This point is that a unusual quality of care has come from the leaders, elders and members of SLPC
Leith has been loved here when in chaos and when in clover!

The service on this day 100 years ago was a high point for this congregation as 3,600 people came to church at the various services held. Dr White the minister preached brilliantly and wrote about the congregation’s tremendous record of service Schools Hospitals, plague…,The KS was basically the Town council for centuries.

Yet just 5 years after 1909 later came war to end all wars A developed Christian Nation pitted itself against other mature Christian nations. Each preaching, praying for God’s support while the red blood of the youthful generation oozed across the fields of France . I think this was a key turning point, a disaster from which the Christian faith has struggled to recover in Europe. Numbers attending church throughout Northern Europe have crumbled, there are reasons to be pessimistic about any rapid change in trends.

The truth is even Leithers are looking for hope in other places…

But where does hope come from?

Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had. It gives confidence The key words are Expectation, trust, anticipation,
It is a key tool for the followers of Jesus, crucified but risen.
And Leith is a hopeful community, it displays the audacity to hope even when that sky are grey over Old Reekie, there will be Sunshine on Leith.

3 Stories to finish –
Hope always springs eternal when people are prepared to sacrifice

Today somewhere in Afghanistan a young Leith woman will be asked to respond if a bomb is found by her fellow soldiers. She was baptised and married here and works as an expert in defusing bombs. She has put herself on the front line by her choices to serve her country and attempting to make the world a better place. Did the stories of Jesus picked up here and in her family influence her?

This month one of the great African leaders of the 20 century stood just there. Dr Kenneth Kaunda. His message was simple he received it from his parents Love God and Love your neighbour . It served him well in national and international politics. He sees the connections between what he did to create Zambia, then to support freedom fighters in other African countries, then the election of a black man as the President of the United States Dr Kaunda said, “Because of Obama, it is all worthwhile. THERE IS HOPE”.

President Obama had found for himself , when a community worker in Chicago, the church was one of the few places with the values to makes positive changes in society.

On his first Sunday in a Christian Church in Chicago, a service which was to reduce him to tears and to influence his subsequent direction, Obama heard a story about Hannah. Book of Samuel-the story of Hannah, who barren and taunted by her rivals, had wept and shaken in prayer before her God. Hannah was close to despair and for her and for us that is when hope becomes vital. She persevered and was rewarded her son Samuel was born who altered the course of his nation.

SLPC, like all churches currently, has experienced a reduction in names on the role, however, this has not dampened the spirit or commitment of the members, nor the functions of the church, it continues to serve this marvellous community and to look forward in faith.
This issues are changing :
How to relate to the other faith communities?
To be open and accepting of differing attitudes and sexualities…

Trusting God that He will lead the committed people who form SLPC today to continue to have the ‘audacity to hope’ .

Everyday and in every way to follow our Lord’s example to look outward for need around us and to respond to it with vigour: it is the way to continue to be a Surprisingly Lively Purposeful Congregation in the midst of the amazing people of Leith. Amen.

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