Sermon for Christmas Day 2017

This is the sermon I preached at St Fillan’s on Christmas Day. It was inspired by something John Bell from the Iona Community said when I was on the Clergy Retreat last month. It might help to know that St Fillan’s is a small, mostly elderly congregation in the south of Edinburgh.

First of all today I would like you to shout out all the characters in the Christmas story,
whether they be animal, vegetable, mineral, human or angelic.  And when I say ‘Christmas’ I mean the whole of the Christmas season.

Elizabeth and Zechariah
Wise men
Angel Gabriel
Anna and Simeon
Sheep etc

What do they have in common? What do all the people in the Christmas story have in common?
They are all old. (Except for Mary.)

We see Christmas as a time for children but in fact Christmas is a time to celebrate the old and wrinkly.  Now isn’t that a comfort?  In fact, we are in danger of infantilising the Christmas story and that might be completely false.
Let’s look at the characters again…

We have Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Anna and Simeon as the bookends of the Christmas story.
Elizabeth, too old to conceive a child, but does.  A faithful old couple.  Zechariah was an old priest, Elizabeth his old wife, both upright in the sight of God and you don’t get to be upright until you’re really old.

Then the bookends at the other end of the story are Simeon and Anna, the couple we meet at Candlemas, at Jesus’s circumcision.  We’re told they are advanced in years.
Simeon, an old priest, waiting for a sign, and Anna, a prophetess and now a widow aged 84.  So I think we can agree that they are pretty old. Unless you’re 84 or older and still going to yoga classes in which case you’re as young as you feel.

But let’s have a look at some of the other characters we mentioned.
Let’s start with the angel Gabriel.  As angels go, he is pretty old. So old in fact, he first appears to Daniel in the Old Testament and that was quite some years before this wee story where he appears to Zechariah and then Mary.  (And just as a wee aside, he also appeared to Mohammed in the Islamic faith.)  So Gabriel is definitely an old, old angel.

Then there’s Joseph.  Older than Mary, that’s for sure.  Some scholars believe he had a family before he married Mary so may have been a widower.  And we know there is no mention of him in Jesus’ adult ministry so perhaps he was dead by then. We don’t know but we do know he was old.

Then there’s Herod – the old monarch.  The Roman king of Judea who was not a very pleasant man.  He died around the age of 75, a painful death of probable chronic kidney disease, not long after Jesus’ birth. So another oldie in our story.

And then there are the shepherds.  How do we know they were old?  Well would you trust your flock of sheep to young lads who are prone to falling asleep or to old men with prostate trouble who are going to be up and down all night?  My case rests.

And finally, the wise men, the Magi. And how do you get to be wise?  By getting old, that’s how.  You don’t get a PHD at the age of 20, that’s for sure. No, you have to have lived a life of experience: seen things, done things, lived a little and then when your party days are over you get interested in astrology or patchwork or the Rainforest Alliance or whatever is your thing.  Then you get to be a wise woman or man. Only when you are old.

So who did God trust with the Christmas story?  You!  Or people like you!  God installed belief in all those wrinklies to install belief in others. When God needed things done, it was the oldies who had a part to play. And not just any old part, an important part.

When God needs things done today who’s he gonna call?  Old people, that’s who!  All these churches, including yourselves, who have hoped beyond hope that young people would come along and save them.  Oh yes we need a Mary now and again, a good young person to say Yes to God and be obedient to his word.  But we all have a part to play in this ongoing story as well.

There probably were some other people, or at least one other person, who doesn’t get a mention in our biblical narratives.  And that’s the midwife.  When Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census, it was because his family were from there. And I’m pretty sure that some of his family, or the women at least, would have been there to help Mary give birth. And guess what? Midwives in those days were old too!

And we still need midwives.  When new things need to be done, God expects our encouragement.  So who has God planted in St Fillan’s to get things done?
A Gabriel, an old messenger trusted by God for important tasks?
A Joseph, a good old soul?
Some shepherds with prostate trouble?
A tyrant ruler king?
Some Elizabeths and Zechariahs, good devout people?
Some Simeons and Annas, the faithful remnant?
Some wise men and women?

Who has God planted to be the encouragers, to enable new things to happen?
Who has God planted to be the midwives, to bring new things to birth?

Well don’t look at me!
I’m far too young.

God took a huge risk in this story.  More than we ever imagined. In 1st century Palestine, one in four women died giving birth.  And one in three babies died in childbirth.  Only two out of three live but then most will have died by the age of 40.  There was a huge risk of mortality.

And there were other risks too.  Herod’s decree to slaughter all baby boys which led the family to flee to Egypt, a place not exactly friendly towards the Jews.

Then when he comes home Jesus’ own people pull him down to size and he is physically at risk of stoning.  He allows woman who are haemorrhaging to touch him, he constantly risks disease and contamination with the people he reaches out to.

What was God thinking?  This Incarnation was risky business.  God risks a lot sending his wee boy to earth.  God risks it all.

That little baby, all vulnerable and at risk of so many things, lying there in his swaddling clothes is put into the care of old people.  That little baby, with such a future in front of him, which nobody could really guess, is put into the care of old people.  It was the elderly who came to see him with their gifts because old folk are good at that.  They are not so busy with their phones and tablets and games and socialising that they think they’ll maybe do it later.  And I’m sure when that wee baby was born Mary asked her mum and her auntie and her older cousin Elizabeth what to do when he wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t do as he was told.  This story is full and brimming over with folk just like you. You are part of this story.

God risks a lot sending his baby boy to be with us.  God risks everything.
So, my question to you this Christmas day, is what could you risk for God?
And saying you’re too old is not an option!


Sermon for Christ Church Falkirk Dedication Festival 2015

Last year we celebrated 150 years in the life of Christ Church. We held a big celebration which took almost a year to organise. We invited all those special people who had been stepping stones on the way: past curates (now bishops); past rectors (now elsewhere or retired); and past friends. We had an exhibition of old vestments worn by all these worthies, and all the treasures were taken out of the safe for an airing. Wendy is still working on putting together a history of Christ Church, looking back at old magazines and we hope to have it available soon.

We are now a year on and again it is time to look back. Christ Church is about her people as much as it is about her building. A building which is need of considerable repairs in the coming months. On our Dedication Festival, we dedicate our building with its dodgy roof and flaking paint.

“Where do you work?” someone asked me last week. “Oh I love the look of that church whenever I pass it,” they replied when I told them. And it is a beautiful church, a unique building. We are very fortunate to worship in this space. The stained glass is exquisite, the proportions just right, and sometimes it takes your breath away.

But we mustn’t forget the people. They are unique too. Exquisite, proportions just right…? And sometimes you take my breath away. Just not so many of you these days. Even if we add in our 28 housebound members and the new people who have joined us this past year, we are still struggling to keep the building going and pay the bills. And I’m afraid that’s going to get worse in the months and years ahead.

But what warms my heart is the effort you all do put in. Look at these gifts today – birthday presents for Christ Church which make a huge difference. And I know it comes on top of our Harvest appeal and our last collection for the homeless. These gifts are a sign of the love you have for this place.

We love the place, O God, as we’ve just sung in our Gradual Hymn.

A house of prayer… how many prayers have been said in this place, I wonder?
The stones are seeped in them.
The kneelers are infused in them.
Prayers of thanks, of hope, of pleading.
Prayers of some of you as youngsters,
prayers right through your lives.
How many prayers said right here, I wonder?

We love the sacred font, the hymn goes on.
For there the holy Dove pours her blessing on little ones and some grown ups too.
Think of all the babies who’ve been baptised here.
Some still sitting here today.
Some becoming our future and our hope.
Promises made to care for them and share our faith with them.
Each one of us made these promises and we need to keep fulfilling them.

We love the altar, Lord.
Where we find his presence near.
How many hands have been outstretched and fed at that altar, I wonder?
Old wrinkly hands, arthritic hands, bejewelled hands, growing hands, wee pudgy hands.
Each unique.
Each telling a different story.
Each reaching out to be fed.
To hold the body of Christ in our throne of hands.
To be fed and nourished for our journey.

We love the word of life, the word of God,
the stories told again and again at the eagle lectern there
and down there for the gospel
and in this pulpit where the clergy try to make sense of it all.
Words of peace, of comfort, of challenge, of joys that never cease.

We love to sing too.
Unless it’s a new hymn, eh?
Songs of triumph with occasional descants and harmonies.
Songs of joy and songs of mercy.
Which are your favourite?
The joyful rousing ones
or the quiet reflective ones?
How many songs have been sung in this place, I wonder?

And finally, the hymn ends with these words:
Lord Jesus, give us grace on earth to love thee more, in heav’n to see thy face, and with thy saints adore.
Give us grace to love thee more.
And I suppose I’m preaching to the converted here because you are here and I assume it’s because you want to love him more.
And next week we shall hear more of the saints who’ve gone before.

We love thy place, O God. We do. But do we love it enough to make sure it continues for another 151 years though?

And that’s the question I leave with you today.

Statistics show that the vast majority of people come to church for the first time because somebody invited them. It’s that simple. Maybe there are people you know who are just waiting for that invitation. They just don’t know how to ask you if they can come along. But think of what you have here, what joy and love you have received here. Don’t you want to share that with someone? If you do, then you can rest assured that you will have shared the greatest love of all.

How awesome is this place, said Jacob in our first reading.
How awesome is this place, say we.
This is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.

2015-10-25 10.05.53

Sermon on the Refugee Crisis

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23
James 2:1-10,14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Someone very famous – so famous in fact that I’ve forgotten their name – said that to do theology you had to hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Our reading of Scripture has to be informed by what is going on in our world today.
For it to be relevant to us, this book written two thousand years ago, can only be meaningful when we place it in our own context and in light of what is going on in our world.

So I wonder what you thought of when you heard these words from our first reading this morning:
The rich and poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity
and the rod of anger will fall.
Those who are generous are blessed
for they share their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor
or crush the afflicted at the gate
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.

God loves the rich and poor.
Those who are generous and share with the poor are blessed.
God cares for the poor and doesn’t think much of those who don’t treat them right.

So I’m going back to my newspaper in my other hand.
Actually I don’t read a newspaper. I don’t read newspapers because I don’t trust them. Having worked in PR in a past life and regularly sent stories to the press I know how often they got it wrong. They couldn’t be trusted to copy and paste a story accurately. And people got hurt. And if they can do that with my wee billet doux then heaven knows what happens to the bigger stories. And newspapers are so affiliated with political parties now that I’m not sure if any can be trusted.

But we all watch the news on TV or listen to it on the wireless.
And I also get news from my tablet, my phone or computer.
But however we hear or read it, we can’t help but notice what every bulletin is screaming at the moment.
The migrants, the immigrants, the refugees.
What do we call them?  And does it matter?

Well yes it does.
For according to my dictionary they each have different meanings.
But which is the name you’ve heard most?  Migrants?
According to UNESCO a migrant is someone who travels freely to another country for reasons of personal convenience and without intervention of an external compelling factor.
They travel freely, of their own accord, to make a better life for themselves.
And why not?
People in this country have been doing that for centuries.
Choosing to emigrate and live and work in another country.
Immigrants are those who have already done that – they live and possibly work in another country.
Our country has plenty already that nobody says a word about – those are footballers.
One law for the rich and another for the poor, it seems.

Interestingly most news articles seem to think that all those poor people in Calais, in boats, in stations are just wanting to come to Britain because they fancy a change of scene. Or worse.
Some newspapers would have us believe these migrants are coming to sponge off our State, getting benefits, using our beloved National Health, take all our jobs.
So tempting is our treatment of the poor – what with all those foodbanks – that they’d risk life and limb (and they do lose their lives) to come and have a bit of the action.

But what about the word Refugee?
We don’t hear that word quite so much in the Press, but perhaps we should look at the definition of it now.
UNESCO says we shouldn’t confuse the two.  Migrants are not refugees or displaced.  Refugees are compelled to leave their homes.
Migrants make a choice, although sometimes it is Hobson’s Choice.
It may be that there are no jobs in their own homeland.
But Refugees have no choice.
They live with the fear of persecution (or worse) because of their religion, race, nationality, or political opinion.
They have no choice but to escape for their lives.

Those are the people of Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and elsewhere living in the shadows of our world.
Some are seeking asylum – protection from death.
Many are well educated and many already work in our hospitals, our hotels and cleaning our streets.
Many have no homes to return to.

So there is a difference between Migrants and Refugees.
Migrants are getting the headlines, but I know most are actually refugees.
Either way, they are not getting a good press.
Their desperate measures are causing disruption to our roads, our travel, our holidays in France, for heaven’s sake!
But remember…

God loves the rich and poor.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.
Those who are generous are blessed.
Do not crush the afflicted at the gate
for the Lord pleads their cause.

Some of you might be of an age to remember, or at least have heard of, the Kindertransport.  In 1938 twenty thousand Jewish children were sent away from Hitler’s regime.
Britain and the USA were reluctant to take in Jewish refugees at that time but public opinion forced them to give in and many children travelled (with no adults) to the UK.  Some lived with families, others in camps and special homes and many Christians and Quakers were instrumental in making that happen.
9,000-10,000 came to Britain hoping that one day they would be able to go home again and be reunited with their parents.
For the majority that never happened.  Their parents died a horrible death in concentration camps.

But I wonder why that kind of thing can’t happen today with the people of Syria?
Why is nobody planning this kind of aid?
Why aren’t the churches?
Instead we watch men, women and children drown in dark waters trying to escape a regime just as awful as Nazi Germany.
And this week I hear that the Germans are being so generous in their treatment of refugees that they’re being told to stop sending so much.
The descendants of those on the Kindertransport are now helping others as much as they can.

And then I laughed when I read our second lesson today – from the letter of James…

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor.  The rich oppress, drag you into court.  But if you show partiality between the rich and the poor you commit sin.

I laughed because a couple of weeks ago Songs of Praise went to Calais to the camp there and oh what a song and dance there was about it.  The Press were baying for blood, screaming about how ridiculous it was to be giving them air time on our precious BBC and spending our licence fee in the process.
But like the Italians imprisoned in Orkney, these refugees had built a little church in their camp. So important was their faith that they had cobbled together a chapel made from sticks and blankets and they went there to pray.
The poor in the world are often much more rich in faith, I suspect.
And we have dishonoured them.

What good is it, my sisters and brothers, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

This is why we need to read the bible with our newspapers in the other hand – or our ipads or phones or radios, however you hear the news.
But what can we do?
An article I read this week said:

Faith communities… can play a significant role in making the human issues of forced migration and displacement central,
challenging misleading language,
highlighting unjust or victimising policies,
and opening up space for alternative perspectives and conversations.

In particular, those of us who are Christians need to remind ourselves that we are the product of people movements – some forced, some voluntary, some hopeful, some fearful.
It is out of this resource of experience, and our founding texts that point to justice and compassion as going to the heart of what God requires, that we should seek to respond.

So challenge the language you hear with your families, your friends, your colleagues.
As Christians we have to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Even if our neighbours are clamouring at the gates to get in.
Our job, as Christians did in 1938, is to open our arms and welcome the stranger.
No ifs no buts.
It’s a simple law.

In your handout there are lots of ways you can get involved if you wish.

Not easy – no one ever said it was going to be easy – but it’s what we’re called to do.

Sermon for Pentecost 7 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

One of the most interesting parts of my sabbatical has been visiting other churches. And there’s nothing quite like visiting other churches to appreciate how good your own is! Most of the time I have been ignored. Oh perhaps I got a smile at the door as I was handed pew sheets and a hymn-book – but not always. At the Peace people did indeed shake my hand, or limply touch my fingertips without even looking me in the eye, but you could tell they were just being polite before they could have a natter and a real smile for their friend in front of you. And then at the end I handed my books in and mostly nobody even noticed. Only once was I invited back for coffee.

In churches where I was known it was very different of course. There it was smiles and welcome-backs and catching up on news. So it was very tempting to keep going back to those ones.

And then there was the worship itself… Oh jings, but some of it was dreary. Hymn singing that you could hardly hear; (and you know, if you’re going to insist on only singing hymns written before 1900 at least sing them joyfully);
dull, dull, dull sermons straight out of a biblical commentary;
and Eucharistic prayers recited as if it was the phone book.
How great are we, I kept thinking? And we are great! And I really missed you!

But when I was reading today’s lessons the Old Testament reading reminded me of one church I visited where things were completely different. Let me remind you of those verses from the 2nd book of Samuel:

‘David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals… and David danced before the Lord with all his might.’
Dancing and joyful songs and musical instruments – surely not in worship? Surely not in Scotland? No indeed, this was New York.

St Mark’s in the Bowery to be precise. A church tucked away in the East Village, nothing much to look at outside, in a rather poor neighbourhood.  But oh what a welcome! And of course you’re thinking ‘those Americans are a bit over the top when it comes to welcome and worship’ and you could be right. But you know, before the service people really cared that I was there and asked where I was from. “Scotland?! Oh wow! My grandmother came from Scotland.”  “Scotland? Wow! What brings you here?”  “Scotland? Wow! How lovely that you’re visiting us!”

Let me read you the welcome on their pew sheet:
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery works hard to be a welcoming place. What that means here is that you are welcome, as you are, to participate in any of our worship services. We believe people encounter the holy here, and we want that for you.
We know that church might be something you have wanted to do for a while; a dream come true; kind of scary; possibly awful; or really exciting for you. We won’t assume.
We would like you to know that all kinds of people come into St. Mark’s week to week. You might find yourself next to a life long member, a new-ish one, or someone who has walked in for the first time. Don’t worry that you have to do what they are doing.
We love children. We are delighted to have them in our services. If you are worried that your child is distracting others, please do what you need to do to be comfortable, but don’t worry that we are worried. If you find it difficult or distracting to be near a child who is making noise, feel free to move. We want children to remember the church as a place that reflects God’s love for them. If you feel that you have been approached in an inappropriate or unhelpful way during your time at St. Mark’s, we would like to know. If you feel that something about how we do things causes you to feel unwelcome, we would like to know. Please talk to an usher, a priest, or email or call the office.

The service was relaxed, the music was mostly modern (quite a few Iona hymns actually) but we also sang The Lord’s my Shepherd to the Scottish tune Peter and Hazel had on their wedding day: Brother James’ Air. And the people really, really enjoyed singing them. There was even some swaying along to the music too. I couldn’t see an organ so they used a piano and if you felt like singing in the choir all you had to do was turn up half an hour before the service and join in the practice.

The sermon was funny in bits and serious in bits and there was a story (and you know how I love a story) and gave us all something to think about when we went home.

We sat in rows in a circle round the altar in the middle and when it came to the eucharist we stood in one big circle round it. “Come along!” they said. “Come and join us!” And Winnie, the priest, really meant that Eucharistic prayer, she believed it, you could tell. Then we passed the bread and wine along the circle from one person to another.

And you know that big AMEN at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer? That one that I’ve told you has to be said loudly and affirmed? Well they sang it and clapped it and swayed to it and someone even produced a tambourine for it.

So when I read this morning’s reading about David rejoicing and dancing in the temple, St Mark’s in the Bowery is what I thought of. I remembered the joy they had for all their worship. A joy that showed on their faces. A jazzy, gospel, blues kind of joy. A bit too cringey for you?  For us in Scotland? Well perhaps. But what a sense of enjoyment I got there, of loving the Lord with all their heart and soul – and bodies too.

And afterwards when I was sitting in the sun in a nearby park jotting down my memories of that service, I saw the people from the church coming round with a big shopping trolley handing out food and drinks to the homeless folk there. Just like David who, when he had finished offering the sacrifice, blessed the people and distributed food among all the people – to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. (And I have some Hershey’s Kisses for you when you leave today.)

Now we may not be up for the dancing and singing but we can support the homeless by bringing food along for the Salvation Army. Do what you can in your own neighbourhood.

And perhaps in time, you’ll be so inspired and excited about coming to church that you’ll go out of here singing and dancing. You’ll know you’ve welcomed the stranger in your midst, made them feel at home in your little Temple of the Lord here in Falkirk. You might even want to go home and write it down so you never forget the welcome you got and how wonderful you feel. You might even believe that you are loved by God and you want to show it.

You might.

man dancing in kilt

Baby Annabelle’s baptism sermon

Annabelle, I don’t think you are going to understand what I am going to tell you this morning.
But I hope your mummy and daddy and granny and granddad and uncles and all the rest will remember a wee bit of it and tell you from time to time.

Because today I want to tell you that you are unique.
You are special.
Of all the people who have come and gone on the earth, since the beginning of time, not ONE of them is like YOU!
No one’s hair grows exactly the way yours does.
No one’s finger prints are like yours.
And just like your fingerprints, your lips have little markings on them, little grooves in the skin … and everyone has a different pattern, so no one’s lips are like yours.
No one smells just like you.
And no one’s eyes are just like yours.
No one is loved by the same combination of people that love you – NO ONE!
No one before, no one to come.

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY UNIQUE!baby footprints pink

And as you grow up I want you to enjoy that uniqueness.
You do not have to pretend in order to seem more like someone else.
You weren’t meant to be like someone else.
You do not have to lie to conceal the parts of you that are not like what you see in anyone else.
You were meant to be different.

And if you did not exist, there would be a hole in creation, a gap in history, something missing from the plan for humankind.

Treasure your uniqueness.
It is a gift given only to you.
Enjoy it and share it!

So many people these days feel like they are nothing more than a number on a computer card somewhere in a government file.
But God says you are more than that.
You’re a special design.
You were made special.
Because that is the way God created you.

You are different.
You are not just a number.
And because you’re different … YOU are important.
Maybe not important to the government but you are important to God.
Because He is the one who designed you.
He is the one who made you different.
He is the one who made you unique.
(Along with your mummy and daddy of course.)

Scientists have only just recently discovered how unique and special each one of us is — how special you are.
But God has known this all the time.

God knows all about you.

She knows what you need.

She knows what you feel and what you think.

She knows exactly what you have done.

And She loves you in a way that is only for you.

Because God made you special, She has a special interest in you.

Her love is for you and it is special.

Her plan for you and your life is unique too.

It’s special.

That’s something worth thinking about.

I have a little present for you.zebras
It is a zebra.
Because recently I found out that all zebras are unique – just like you.
Each zebra has different stripes so mummy and daddy zebra can tell which is their baby in a crowd of baby zebras.
Each baby zebra is unique and special.

So mummy and daddy Gray have the job of telling you all about the stripey zebra and why it is unique.
And they will also tell you how special you are, because that’s what mummies and daddies do too.

And to finish I have another surprise.


Because each bubble is unique too.
There are no two bubbles the same.
Each one is a different size or shape or colour.
Each is special.
Each is unique.

Just like you.



The sermon: short and sweet

Yesterday I had the local 1st year class from the local secondary school in for a romp around the church. Their teacher gives them a worksheet where they have to draw holy symbols, find the font etc, and name the saints in the windows.  The eagle lectern is referred to as ‘that big burrd’. After they have finished I get the chance to tell them what goes on each Sunday in Christ Church. We all dress up for that bit.

So one little girl had begged to be the priest and we always like to encourage women in this church so she got to wear the green stole and chasuble and went around making a sort of popish blessing on everyone. It is funny what kids think we do. The wee server carried the processional cross like a bayonet and the ‘choir’ had to process lickety-splick behind him as he charged down the aisle. When we got to the sermon our priest climbed up the steps to the pulpit, nearly breaking her neck on the chasuble as she did so (don’t read this Health and Safety Officer) and stood there waving her arms about. We discussed what a sermon might be like: explaining the hard bits in the bible, telling us how to live today in the light of the gospel etc.

“So come on then,” I said, “give us a sermon.”

Long embarrassed pause.

“Come on, what do you think I might say to encourage people?”

Another pause.  Then…

“Eat your greens!”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Remembrance Sunday

A couple of weeks ago we had one of our afternoon tea parties for our housebound members. I went round all the folk there and asked them to share their war stories with me. So let me now tell you some of the stories –some of the memories people have of growing up in war time Britain. Today is Remembrance Sunday – a day to remember them. These are the stories that we must not forget. These are your stories.

Joyce told me that she had been evacuated from the Channel Islands at the age of 13 with her mother and brother just weeks before the occupation.

Barbara was 10 and remembered well the sound of the sirens in Aberdeen. Her dog sat shivering until they could get into the cellar. She remembered concerts in the back green in aid of the Red Cross and that there was a real community feel about the war period. Neighbours helped neighbours. Soldiers from the local barracks were invited to have tea in family homes. She said the great thing about the war was that you only had to go to school for half a day, because there weren’t enough teachers as so many were away fighting.

David was just a baby but he remembered the blackouts on the windows and peeping out to see the planes when they went overhead.

Elsie too was young but said she has no memories because her family protected her from the horrors and she was never told about it.

Margaret was six and lived in the country with a dairy farm next door so they were never short of food. But prayers were said every night to bring the boys home safely.

Molly’s father was away for 4 years in the 8th Army with General Montgomery and when he came home her two brothers didn’t even know him. She also remembers saving up for a plate of chips at Moscadini’s Cafe in Manor Street, and then losing her ration book there. It took weeks to get a new one so it was a very lean time but neighbours helped out. And even those who had little still collected money to send food parcels for prisoners of war.

Chrissie remembered her first job at the age of 14 and the girls there invited her to a night at the theatre in the Gorbals. That was the night of the Clydebank Blitz and when she came out she realised she didn’t know anyone or how to get home. She saw a couple she vaguely knew and went and asked if she could walk home with them. They agreed and they spent the next few hours dodging in and out of closes. When she got home she remembers her mum giving her the biggest hug ever!

Gladys’ war memories were of being tired. She worked 14 nights and then 14 days in the De Havilland factory in Lancashire. Because of where they were there were constant bombs and air raids.

Dorothy worked in a factory weaving cloth for parachutes. She tried to join the Navy but didn’t get in.

Eve was in Egypt as a typist in the Navy. She met a handsome pilot on board ship from Durban and he decided that Eve should be his wife. There was a sense of urgency in relationships – live for today because who knew what would happen tomorrow, so they married in Cairo Cathedral with just a few friends in attendance.

Freda became a Wren at the age of 19 and was sent to Portsmouth. She had never travelled on her own before and her father asked someone on the train to look after her. Freda worked in the Signals Office and during air raids she had to go below to take signals from ships in the harbour to give to the officer on duty. She met her husband there and when they married in 1943 she had to leave the Wrens. She also had the vivid memory of walking into a lamppost in the blackout!

And another romance took place when Mary met her husband in 1941 at a local dance in Yorkshire. Word had got round that some new soldiers were in town so all the girls headed off to the local school where the dance was held. She remembers walking home with Jack watching incendiary bombs dropping and the flames reflecting in the water. They were so near the Power Station but somehow never hit it. Living in the country that was about as much of the war that she experienced but they did have lots of evacuees from London. Mary was a Chief Inspector of Arms at a munitions factory, a wages clerk in a factory where the Swordfish plane was built, and for a time worked at Montague Burtons Leeds Tailors booking out khaki trousers to despatch to the troops. She cycled 15 miles each day, paying 5/- a week for her bike which was the cost of the bus fare.

Everyone shared their memories of rationing – of 1 egg a week, 2oz of cheese, 2oz of butter and 2 oz of lard. 4oz of sugar (but extra in the summer to make jam) and 4oz of tea. Of eggs in ISIN glass which preserved them for months – no sell by dates then. Of torches with pinholes from the blackouts and sulphur badges which could be seen in the dark.

Many of the stories shared the same themes of community and support, of neighbours helping neighbours, of sacrifices made. There was fear, yes, but bravery too – of having to get on with life amidst the horror of war, of having to adapt to new places and new jobs. And there was love, hurried love but lasting love. Love and separation, love and loss.

These are your stories. Today we remember them and give thanks. And we remember those whose lives were given in sacrifice for a new and better world.

All Age Eucharist – Epiphany V

We don’t have a lot of children here at Christ Church. We would like to have some more but for now we rejoice in our teenagers and welcome any little grandchildren when they come along to visit. I think when I first came here the thing that people wanted most was more children. As Morag Buxel, the Diocesan Youth Officer, famously said at last year’s Synod, “If you want more children in church, it is up to you. Procreate!”  That didn’t go down terribly well with our Vestry, not many of them being of child-bearing age! At Christmass we did put on a Christingle Crib Service and there was a good number of grandchildren and other youngsters who came along. This gave us the confidence to try a monthly All Age Eucharist, the first of which was on Sunday.

The liturgy I used was cobbled put together carefully when I was at St Mark’s Portobello (with the approval of our beloved Bishop) and is simple and easy to understand. (In fact, one adult said to me that if we used that Creed every Sunday she’d be a lot happier and could actually join in!) All good, so far. But the thing that causes me most angst is the sermon. It can take me days to write something creative and memorable – and I know I don’t always get it right. In fact, I’m sure they are often remembered for what went wrong rather than the message I was trying to put across. It is agony for me. Agony, I tell you.  Then I came across this quote by M Craig Barnes from The Pastor as Minor Poet:

No one in the sanctuary should be more excited about the Sunday sermon than the person in the pulpit… If the preacher isn’t thrilled by the sermon, why should anyone in the pews care about it?.. The unspoken secret to great preaching is that no one should enjoy the sermon more than the preacher.

OK, so I’ve got a bit of work to do there then!

But the great success of Sunday’s service was the last song by Fischy Music.  I know that many adults are too embarrassed or reluctant to join in the actions with some choruses, but somehow Fischy have got it just right by using Sign Language. So we all sang along heartily to God Knows Everything and everyone left with a huge smile on their face. And, as a bonus, I’ve learned that some of our young people already know Fischy Music from school so I may well be getting them up to teach them in future.

And before we know it, we will have all the children up at the altar with candlesticks, crosses and thuribles. Well, that’s my hope anyway.

Easter 5 Sermon

This  is the story from the beginning of today’s sermon. Sorry, but I can’t remember where I picked it up from and have adapted it a little.

It is France.

It is a small village in France.

The year is 1943.

Imagine the cobbled streets.

Perhaps a fountain in the square?

The church with a bell tower and in the door a black cassocked priest, perhaps with a hat to keep the sun off.

It is war time so the shops have little in the way of produce in the windows but they are colourfully decorated.

Red, white and blue bunting along the front.

Women gather with baskets over their arms and blether on street corners.

The cafe has a few tables outside and some men sit smoking and drinking, eyes wrinkled from the sun.

An idyllic scene at first glance.

But remember this is war time.

On that corner in the doorway stand two young men in German uniform.

Their job is to watch.

To watch the women go into the shops,

to watch the men in the cafe,

to watch and report back anything untoward.

They are young, these soldiers.

They look about eighteen, no more.

Far from home and on short rations.

They may be the ones with the upper hand but they don’t look like they are enjoying it much.

The priest has seen how skinny they look and so each day he goes from door to door with two large baskets begging food for them.

A few eggs here, some bread there, a few home-grown vegetables from this house.

All gratefully received by the occupying forces.

Then one night the local resistance movement blows up the local bridge into the next large town.

The Commandant demands reprisals and orders everyone to gather in the square by the fountain at 6pm for a special announcement.

He brings in reinforcements and on rooftops and in upper windows there are armed soldiers silently watching.

Every man between the ages of 16 and 65 is to step forward to the fountain.

There, in front of wives, mothers and girlfriends, they are shot.

Shot dead.

The fountain runs red with the blood.

The distraught and angry villagers turn on the priest.

“If you come again asking for food for these murderers, we shall kill you.”

On the day of the funeral the little church with the bell tower is full and overflowing.

Every family has lost someone.

The old priest stands up and reads from the Gospel of John, the passage we heard today:

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.’

Later that day he stands in the village square, with tears in his eyes, watching the local people filling the baskets he has placed at his feet with food to feed the enemy soldiers.

Easter Day Sermon

Happy Easter!


Lent is over and today the party begins.

For fifty days of unremitting joy we are in party mode.

Unremitting joy!  Do you remember how to do that?

Oh, it will come back to you, I’m sure.

Today I want us to think about our names.

I never used to like my name Ruth.

When I was young the nasty women on radio or TV were always called Ruth – never the nice ones.

And then there was that mad nun in the Black Narcissus – she was a Ruth, I seem to remember.

The one that swung from the bell rope with a crazy look in her eyes.

No, I never liked being a Ruth.

I wasn’t named after anyone in the family – my parents both had that delight and didn’t want to inflict it on anyone else.

And I was told that my name was chosen so that it couldn’t be shortened.

There were to be no nicknames for me.

Of course, my best friends over the years have called me Ruthie so so much for that idea.

But as the years have gone on I’ve become accustomed to my name.

I don’t hate it like I used to.

I’ve accepted that I’m a Ruth and there’s not much I can do about it.

So, what about you?

Hands up if you were named after someone – family or otherwise.

Hands up if you were named after a special event or occasion – you know, like the Beckhams named their children after the place they were conceived.

Hands up if you were just given a name because that’s who you look like.

Any other reasons?

Our names are special.

And we do feel better when someone calls us by name.

I am hopeless at remembering names.

I never forget a face but names always escape me.

I blame it on my thyroid – it plays havoc with your memory.

I’ve told you the story about Helen Brown, haven’t I?

Well it is always worth repeating…

There was a preacher who took pride in knowing everyone’s name. (not me)

One Sunday a woman sat near the front who hadn’t been to church in a long time.

The preacher couldn’t remember her name.

Just before the Blessing, his memory returned.

At the door, the preacher smiled and said, “You look like Helen Brown!”

The woman looked startled, then shot back,

“You don’t look so good in black yourself!”

Names are important.

So in our gospel story this morning we hear that familiar story about Mary Magdalene in the garden early in the morning.

She has come very early when it was still dark and got the surprise of her life to find the stone rolled back and the body of her beloved Jesus gone.

She runs as fast as her legs will carry her to tell the others and two of them return with her.

But when they find him gone they go off home but she stays.

She stays and weeps.

Weeps for the loss of her loved one.

Then it gets more and more crazy.

Angels appear.

Talking angels too.

‘Where have they taken him?’ she asks.

But before they answer a man appears who she takes to be the gardener.

Why didn’t she recognise him?

Too many tears?

Was her vision too blurry?

Or did he look different?

Did he have a different body after he rose from the dead?

And we are told it is only when he says ‘Mary’ – when he calls her by name, by her own name, that she recognises him.

Because only our friends know our names.

And maybe he had a way of saying it.

A certain tone.

A certain warmth.

But why didn’t she recognise him before he said her name?

What was it about him saying her name that made her recognise him as her friend and teacher?

I don’t know the answer to that one.

But a gardener wouldn’t know her name.

So what is it about the Easter Jesus that makes it so difficult for him to be recognised?

Well, perhaps the answer is that his body has been transformed.

Last week, anyone could have spotted him easily as his six-foot body walked around in Jerusalem.

We may not know what he looked like, but we can rest assured that Mary and the others all did.

They knew him well.

But today, this very special day, that body has been transformed.

That body has been transformed and lives on.

Lives on and continues to be active over two thousand years later in the community of Christians.

He is embodied in them.

In us.

We are the body of Christ.

There is no other.

Perhaps that’s why his body is different because now his body is us!

Over four hundred years ago the great St Teresa of Avila put it this way:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours. No feet but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which Christ

looks out in compassion for the world.

Yours the feet with which he goes about doing good.

Yours the hands with which he continues to give this world God’s blessing.

When Jesus’ friends first proclaimed this Good news, that is – that in spite of being strung up on  a cross, and dying, and being buried in a tomb – Jesus still lives on, they preached this with such enthusiasm that the crowds thought they were drunk.

One doesn’t hear of many of our clergy being accused of that these days!

So today, you’re allowed at least to smile, to show that Lent is over, and its Easter!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

And now we continue with the name thing for at Easter it is tradition to renew our baptismal vows.