Sermon on BBC Radio 4

It was great fun doing the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship live from St Mary’s today. There’s always a bit of an adrenalin rush about being involved with the production of 40 minutes of live radio.

If you were one of the million or so who tuned in then you’ve already heard this sermon, but the video gives you the pictures of what it looked like, including me preaching in headphones.

Sermon preached on BBC Radio 4 – 18 January 2015 from Kelvin Holdsworth on Vimeo.

When we follow Jesus, we follow into a whole set of traditions that remind us that God is with us – here, right here in the world.

A few weeks ago now we were in high festival mode in this church, as in most churches. The Christmas trees are gone. The baubles are packed away. The candle-ends have been removed from the windowsills and sent off for recycling. And there is only be barest whiff of incense in the air from the feast of the Epiphany.

But the church offers us time to reflect on what we encountered. For Epiphany is a season not a one off event. It’s a time for reflecting on what it means to live in a world that God has chosen to come into and be known in.

Very often I talk about God being a God of surprises and say that when we get to know God we should expect the unexpected.

But looking through the verses of Psalm 139, perhaps the big drama of the Christmas story should never have surprised us. For they too tell us that God is with us.

Most religions have patterns of behaviour and rhythms built into them. Across many traditions, the idea of praying at the start and the end of the day is common.

The psalms were clearly part of a cycle of prayer and they still form the backbone of daily prayer for millions of people every day. It isn’t hard to hear in Psalm 139 part of that ancient rhythm of reminding oneself early in the day that God is present.

The psalmist sings “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”

Prayer is offered here in this building every day. Whether there are just a few of us gathered in the little oratory behind me as is the case on some days, or whether it is a day when the place is packed out with people celebrating a festival or a morning like this when we share our prayer with people listening on the radio, this is a place where prayer is offered every morning.

I remember when I was working in a university chaplaincy knowing one of the people in the mail room who, if he saw me going back to the chaplaincy would call after me, “Say one for me – don’t forget, say one for me”.

And we do. We pray each day here for the world around us, for people in need. We remember those who mourn and those who are sick. The rhythm of prayer means that prayers are offered not simply for the peoples of the world who need it but because some are too sick to be able to pray clearly, some a travelling, some are on the run, some are anxious and find it hard to be still.

Every time we pray, it is like a little Christmas for every time we pray we live out the truth that God is with us in the world and with us in every kind of setting that we encounter.

God is with us in the bright days when all seems well. And God is with us on the down days too. God is with us when we know it. And God is with us when we struggle to recognise it. God is with us when we pray consoling words in a holy place. But God is with us in every other time and place too.

“Where can I go from God’s spirit? Or where can I flee from God’s presence?” asks the psalmist. And the answer is that there is nowhere that is separate from God at all. Everywhere we go, God is already there.

Years ago when widespread acceptance of the internet was relatively new, I got involved in a project where a church put a webpage up asking for prayer requests. The idea was that a small congregation would pray through the requests at a lunchtime service each week.

Word got out in the press that this was available and within a few weeks the prayer requests were flooding in. Hundreds a day were coming in. Thousands. And for a time, baskets containing printouts of the prayers were being placed on the altar of the church to represent the prayers being brought before God.

The truth is though that we are already surrounded by prayer because Christians pray for the world every day. And we are already close to God – and our psalms are amongst the many promises in the bible that tell us so.

The world is troubling at the moment. Massacres happen on the streets of western capital cities, in Nigeria and in places far from the eye of the media too.

It is easy to feel unsettled and troubled.

Indeed, it is reasonable and right to feel that way.

But I believe that peace and justice will come to our world and trust that God is collaborating in our lives to help us to bring peace to pass. We must never be cheated into thinking that trouble and violence are the way the world really is.

For God is with us in the troubled, perplexing but ultimately wonderful world. And with God, love is always the last word on how things should be.

Sermon – At the Well

Here’s this morning’s sermon. I went a little off piste from the text, but essentially what I wanted to say is in both the video and the words below.

Let me begin this morning with a poem. Just a short poem – so slight that you need to listen or it will pass you by. Water – by Philip Larkin.

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

I want us to think this morning about what it means to construct a religion – a way of being spiritual and to reflect on that with the woman at the well – the source of the water, that Jesus himself wanted to drink from.

Now. We seem to have forgotten what significance wells have had in attempts to learn to be spiritual.

Later today, those of you who are here with the Friends of Cathedral Music will make your way to the Medieval Cathedral in Glasgow to take part in a service there. It is the rock from which we were hewn – or the well from which we here once drew water. For the people who became this congregation were turfed out of there for keeping the Episcopal faith in 1689.

Should anyone find their way into the under-church in the Medieval Cathedral they will find one of the clues as to why that church is where it is. Just by Mungo’s tomb, set now into the walls is a well. It is easy to ask why they would build a well into the walls of a church but of course that is to get it the wrong way round. The Saint Mungo came to a holy place to minister. Came to a holy well where he lived and died and was buried. And above and around him and the well, grew the building that now stands there today.

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

So great is our need of water, so powerful is the need to quench our thirst that it should not be difficult to understand why wells were holy places. [Read more…]