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...]

Sermon – Christmas 2

Here’s what I had to say in the pulpit yesterday:

Video first

When I was young, Christmas was pretty much the same every year at our house. The morning would comprise of morning worship and after that there would be lots of driving to pick up older relatives so that the family might be together at Christmas.

Eventually gathered together around a specially prepared festive table we would eat and manage to get through vast quantities of food before listening to the Queen at three o’clock. And then and only then, unwrapping presents.

The thing that I want to remember today is one of my older maiden aunts. Actually a great aunt, who was always with us at Christmas.

The thing I remember was something that she used to say as we prepared to tuck into the food, glorious food, that my mother had prepared.

“Do you know,” said that maiden aunt each year, [Read more...]

A sermon for the City of Glasgow

Here’s Cedric’s sermon for the City of Glasgow from this morning’s worship.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Mexico Sermon

The Short Version

  • The Anglican Communion is in a mess
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury is in Mexico and he has preached a sermon
  • It isn’t really a very helpful sermon and is quite offensive

The Long Version

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury (I think we can stop calling him the new Archbishop of Canterbury now) has been preaching in Mexico. He preached a sermon earlier this week which was aimed at the troubles of the Anglican Communion. Though its conclusion is that we must all “walk in the light” which is pretty untroublesome, he has used language to get there which stigmatises fellow Anglicans and which I don’t really think is helpful at all.

The troublesome bit is this, where he speaks of the Anglican Communion in this way:

Like a drunk man walking near the edge of a cliff, we trip and totter and slip and wander, ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.

It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church.

It isn’t really helpful to characterize the troubles of the Communion as being “sides” in any case and neither of these images is remotely helpful.

The basic trouble in the Communion is that some of us think that gay people should be treated like anyone else and have our reasons for doing so. Others think that is wrong and have their own reasons for taking that view. The latter sometimes think that they alone believe a view consonant with the bible.

It is deeply unhelpful of the Archbishop to use language which appears to suggest that the risk that those who wish to affirm gay people present is one of a lack or loss of core beliefs. That just isn’t true and is a nasty slur against fellow Anglicans. The US and Canadian churches are not places where God is absent and if the Archbishop needs to find that out, he needs to go there and meet them, something that his predecessor seemed to find impossible to do.

People will read the sermon in the US and Canadian churches and take immediate offence. (I find it offensive here in Scotland, but there it will appear to be a judgement on their national churches). Those who wish to affirm the place of LGBT people do so because of their core beliefs as Christians and as Anglicans, not because of any lack of belief or loss of God.

Does the Archbishop of Canterbury not have anyone on staff from the US or Canada or someone who knows those churches who could look at this kind of stuff and say, “hang on a minute, Father, that might not go down too well?”

I suspect also that those who do not wish to affirm the place of LGBT people in the church may well say that intolerance is something that they experience from those who do. Neither “side” has the monopoly on that trait.

The other uncomfortable notion in this sermon is that it looks as though the Archbishop is painting a scene where there are these two squabbling factions and the bishops tentatively walk a narrow path of balance and moderation between them. Innocently tripping along the cliff edge, fearful of being dragged down one side or the other. (Do cliffs normally have two sides anyway?)

That is not my experience. Bishops are part of our problems. Indeed, the Episcopate is the place where a very great deal of these problems occur in the communion.

Here in Scotland, it sometimes seems as though the Bishops think they should present themselves as only possible “honest” brokers amidst naughty disagreement amongst others. It isn’t true and we all know it isn’t true. Our bishops are not of one mind yet appear entirely unable to model their diversity in a healthy way. What might help would be if they could come out and say, “Well we don’t agree about this but we still respect one another and work together and that is the answer to the Communion’s problems – Anglicans of different views are part of one organic whole, we need one another and are getting on with it”. That would be honest, helpful modelling of how to manage conflict. Instead of which we get a corrosive, conservative silence which is damaging the church and relations within it.

The basic question that bishops need to answer is a simple one and it is this:

Do gay people in their loving relationships have the potential to experience love that can be described as sacramental?

All else will follow from the answer to that question.

The Archbishop of Canterbury needs to be asked that question again and again and again. He seems to think gay relationships are something to be admired – describing some couples as living relationships of “stunning quality”. But does he think they can be godly?

Bishops (and yes, Archbishops) failing to answer basic questions about the godly potential of gay lives  is at the core of the problem the Anglican Communion has. That’s true here in Scotland and appears to be true for the Archbishop in Mexico on his travels.

We all deserve answers to those questions.

Sunday’s Sermon on Vocations

Here’s what I said on Sunday about vocations

[Sorry about the poor audio. We've some major problems with the sound system that are going to take some weeks to sort out - however, the Vestry are well aware that Something Needs to be Done].

The Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church have asked the whole church today to reflect on vocations. The idea is that on this Sunday, when the readings tend to reflect on the idea of Jesus as the great shepherd of the flock, we think about the notion of calling. So we must think about how we discern God’s calling and what we might make as an appropriate response.

I am aware as I begin to open up that subject that we are stepping on sacred ground and must mind where we go. Immense amounts of sadness and disappointment have been the result of vocations, and not exclusively clerical vocations, which the church has not been able to affirm and rejoice in. On the other hand, this is, as the gathering place for the diocese, a place where vocations are delighted in and celebrated in ordination services and in various ways of thanksgiving for lay ministry, including the Ministry Celebrations Service in the summer.

But I do with caution. And I begin with my own experience. [Read more...]

Dealing with Sundays like this

This was one of those weekends when the sound of preachers ripping up their previously prepared sermons could be heard across the land.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you just can’t get into the pulpit with what you have previously prepared, for the world has moved on. Everything has changed and something needs to be dealt with.

The classic example of that was the Sunday morning when everyone woke to discover that Diana, Princess of Wales had been killed overnight.

It happened to me in a more local way when the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport took place on a Saturday afternoon just before we were due to do a Radio 4 Broadcast service on the Sunday morning. Ten revisions of the script later, I preached one of the best sermons I’ve ever done and St Mary’s seemed to say something that was of national significance at a very tense time. The service was an object lesson in why worship needs to be done live on the radio and not pre-recorded.

That came over to me very strongly again this morning when the Radio 4 service was from the Keswick Convention. Though they got someone in to do a live prayer and head it up at the beginning, there was no hiding the fact that the service that had been recorded on Tuesday was intended to be heard in a different world to the one that pertains today.

There has been such a run of horrible news. The corruption that the press scandals have revealed, prominant figures dying, the extremely serious nature of the European and World economic stresses and then these terrible attacks in Norway have combined to produce a time when people are asking profound questions and looking for ways to think about our place in what feels like an utterly broken world.

Having to deal with days like today is part of what churches and religious people do. It is part of what we offer to the world. We can do it best, I suspect, when we have the full range of experiences of Holy Week in our spiritual repertoire.

Today, the congregation listened with rapt attention to the reading from the epistle, Paul’s incredible assertion of the power of the love of God in all circumstances.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or
distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able
to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Similarly, after the sermon, the place fell quiet and we sank into an unusually deep silence.

As it happened it was Cedric who was preaching this morning, who preached an excellent sermon (available below).

Some weeks one preaches for laughs. Sometimes one preaches to beguile. Sometimes to educate, ellucidate or entertain. And sometimes you preach because it feels as though life itself depends on it.

Sermon for Kimberly's Induction

I had an out of town preaching gig last night in Dunblane, where I was preaching for the induction of the Rev Kimberly Bohan as she took up her post as Rector of St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dunblane.

Blogging coverage of the service itself (from Rosemary, I think) is here. And here from Bishop David.

It was a lovely service with more faces than I expected to recognise – people from St Mary’s, clergy from the diocese of Dunblane, St Andrews and Dunkeld, people who used to deliver my political leaflets and folk from St Saviour’s, Bridge of Allan. All in all a treat all round. (NB some of those categories overlap).

And this is what I said:
The story is this. A young woman gathers herself up and takes herself off at some speed for a town in the hill-country. There she finds a safe and secure place to be. There she finds a place where she can sing her own special song.

The young woman Mary flew as fast as she could to the sanctuary of her cousin Elizabeth�s home in the gentle Judean hill-country. There she abided awhile and there she sang the song, the Magnificat, a hymn of praise, a hymn of justice, a hymn of putting the world to rights and a hymn that Christians find is just too good to stop singing.

And tonight we seem to be celebrating a remarkably similar event. [Read more...]

Sermon Posted

I’ve just posted The Rev Ken Shaw’s sermon which he preached yesterday at St Mary’s.

To see it, hop over to the preaching page on the Cathedral website.

All heaven will break out

Here is the sermon that I croaked this morning. Not having much voice, I’ve no idea whether people could hear it or not. The snuffling of the mancold which I’ve been afflicted with prompted me to dip into the file of “old sermons about the rich man and lazarus” and pull this one out. Last seen in B of A three years ago.

I used to work with someone who had a PhD in Hell.

This always impressed me.

Well, to be strictly accurate, I think that it was all about the effect that different forms of belief in hell make to the way Christian people go about caring for one another. And very interesting that idea is too. For there are many different ways of understanding the afterlife that are current in the church today. Indeed, where two or three Christians gather together, you are likely to find two or three different understandings of hell.
Do you want to know what the truth about hell is? Want to know what the Bible really says about hell? [Read more...]