Here is this morning’s sermon. I am overwhelmed by the support that we’ve received today both locally and from around the world. My particular thanks to Police Scotland for their support which has been superb.
Comments will be heavily moderated on this post. I will not be allowing through any comments that appear to go over ground that has been covered either previously or elsewhere.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I’m not sure whether this will surprise anyone, but I’m not going to preach today on John the Baptist.
Today is the day we move on.
Today we hear the call of the first disciples who followed Jesus. People who had been looking for God in John the Baptist’s teaching who were to find the God whom they were seeking in the person of Jesus.
Did they know what it would cost to turn their lives around and follow him instead of following the way that they had been pursuing?
And what was it that made them turn to him?
What did he say? What was he like? How did they know that he was the Messiah? How did they know that they had found God amongst them in the person of Jesus.
The season that we are in is all about those sudden manifestations of divinity. Those sudden showings where suddenly God is present and recognised and known.
When I was first at college there was a U2 song which was a massive hit.
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.
I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
And I remember hearing a Christian friend say – how can they sing that?
For U2 were thought to be a band which leaned towards Christianity. They were respectable for those of us in the Christian Union to listen to.
How could they profess faith and still sing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
And how did Andrew know? And how did Peter know? And how did all the other disciples know that they had. They had found what they were looking for in the person of Jesus Christ. God amongst them.
And did any of them know the cost?
I didn’t. I know that. I never knew the cost of following Christ. Maybe no-one who ever knew the cost would really sign up to travel his way.
Andrew and Peter and James and John and all the rest who would follow on.
How did they know that they had found what they were looking for?
How do any of us know.
Let me tell you how I know.
I would not have wished the week that I have had on anyone. The international hue and cry about our Epiphany service was not something anyone here was seeking. Our aim and the aim of all involved was to bring God’s people together and learn from one another – something that did, beneath the waves of the storm happen, and continues to happen.
Nobody at that service that night could be in any doubt that we proclaimed the divinity of Christ and preached the Gospel of God’s love.
All of this raises questions about how we live in a globally connected world but I cannot believe that moderate churches in the West should follow a policy of appeasement towards those who are Islamophobic and particularly not towards the recently invigorated far-right media.
This week I have not known God in the hue and cry. I have not known God in the storm of abuse that I have heard from 10 thousand “Christian” voices claiming to know what happened here that night.
But I have known God in unexpected places.
I have known God in unexpected places but chiefly in kindness.
At one time of my life I knew God’s love primarily through an assurance of sins forgiven and an acceptance of God as Saviour and Lord. And I still know God’s love that way.
At other times in my life I have known God’s love shine forth through study and conversation and theology and intellectual endeavour. And I still know God’s love that way.
But this week I have known the love of God primarily in more kindness than I knew possible.
More kindness than I or anyone else who is fully human has any right to feel they deserve.
The kindness of an Orthodox Jew writing to tell me that though he disagrees with just about everything I believe to be true, he was thinking of me at night and I was being held in his prayers.
The kindness of a stranger, a complete stranger on a bus who overhearing me speaking on the a mobile turned and pointed to me and pointed to her copy of the Glasgow Herald and said, “Is this you – if it is, you’ve done a good thing, this Presbyterian knows what good you’ve done”
The kindness of someone whom I thought to be an enemy who reached out beyond my expectations and gave me help, advice and love.
The kindness of a young women displaying grace and strength and who wishes no Christian any harm.
The kindness and professionalism of the police in this city. I have glimpsed God in them too.
The kindness of friends from long ago and from the present who have known what to say and when to say it.
This week it was St Aelred’s day – Aelred the great prince of monastic kindness who said that members of otherwise austere religious communities should cultivate friendship and thereby know the God who loved them.
It was also St Kentigern’s Day, patron of our city, the dear old saint who stopped being known by his Sunday name and became known simply as Mungo which means the loved one and who died of old age in his bath. A holy life that didn’t end in violence or martyrdom or crusade or oppression but simply was known for the love which illuminated his life.
What did the first disciples see in Jesus that made them turn and follow him to the end?
What else but love itself? Pure, holy, divine and true.
One of the joys of the Christmas season that I’ve been catching up with online has been Jeremy Irons reading the complete works of T S Eliot and this week one much beloved quote shone through and illuminated the experience of my life this week.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Which do we chose to live by. The fire of love or the fire of hell. The fire of love incarnate or the fire of hatred. I have seen both. Which do we chose? That’s not primarily a question for eternity. It is a question for your next breath. And the next. And the next.
And I chose love.
I would not wish the week that we have had over the last seven days upon anyone. No one.
But I would wish the God I have known whilst the storm has raged, the God of kindness, compassion and love, upon everyone. Every single one.
Upon me and upon you.
And whilst God gives me strength I want to dare to proclaim with every breath, to a world that needs to know… God is love. God is love. God is love.