Dedication Sunday Sermon – Responding to Antisemitism

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Religion changes over time.

How to run a congregation changes over time.

The things that you need to do change over time.

As I flicked through the readings for this morning, I found myself thinking first about Jacob dreaming of a ladder and the angels of God ascending and descending up and down it.

And I found myself wondering why Jacob didn’t seem to dream about whether the angels of God had successfully completed their Working At Height and Using a Ladder Safely training.

That may not have been what Jacob dreamed about, but it is the kind of thing that can appear in the dreams of someone leading a congregation these days, of that, I can assure you.

And then I read of him taking up the stone that he had been resting his head against and setting it up for a pillar and pouring oil on it.

And I found myself thinking, well Jacob, sunshine, you are not going to get away with that without writing to the Dean of the Diocese and filling in a Canon 35 application and finding out whether or not the congregation mind exactly where you’ve put the pillar.

Canon 35 being the stuff not of Jacob’s dream but of property conveners’ nightmares.

And then Jesus in the gospel is asked to tell them plainly whether or not he is the Messiah and he says, “I have told you but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep”.

And I find myself wondering whether the Lord of Heaven and Earth was very cleverly prophesying the GDPR regulations which ensure that we don’t send emails to anyone who doesn’t want them.

It seems to me very likely that he was.

Things change.

Religion changes.

We’ve changed.

As a congregation, we’ve changed a very great deal.

Another thing occurs to me as we read the story of Jacob’s ladder and that it a foundational story not simply for Christians celebrating their own identity in a Feast of Dedication.

This is a Jewish story. The idea that you can set up somewhere to worship wherever you wander being foundational to being Jewish.

This week I went to a conversation about anti-Semitism organised by the local branch of the Council for Christians and Jews.

I listened to Jewish people from this city speaking of being frightened to live here. I heard talk of people thinking of leaving Glasgow and leaving this country because hatred of their community and identity, is growing again.

I have a number of complex responses to this.

Firstly, to affirm that the hatred (or even the suspicion) of Jewish people is always and forever wrong. There are no political or religious excuses. In a time where objective truth is under threat, let us be known as a people who know right from wrong and can say whenever we encounter prejudice that it is wrong, no matter on whose lips it is uttered.

Secondly, to try not to make assumptions that anti-Semitism) is what other people do whilst we are free of it..

It is always easy to blame others for the ills of society. The person accused of sending bombs to people on the American political left this week was exposed on many occasions to rallies where cruel words carved out a space where violence might seem legitimate. And it is right to call that out.

And the vile attack on a Jewish synagogue yesterday was the worst and most violent expression of the oldest prejudice. And I condemn it as it will be condemned in pulpits around the world today.

But the truth is, there are people in this city who are frightened of being Jewish. Frightened not just of thugs putting bricks through their windows or someone turning up with a gun on the Sabbath but are frightened of the way Christians (that’s us) think and speak and preach. Frightened of our discourse about Israel. Frightened about the way we use Scripture, which, let’s face it is not wholly ours. For words shape the space wherein actions can occur.

And that situation must call us to reflect about who we are and where all of that begins.

And thirdly, my response to religiou people feeling frightened in this city (and this will take us back to our Dedication Festival) is to remember that to some extent we’ve been there.

It happens to be the case that we’ve needed police protection and been guarded whilst we worship on several occasions recently. Going back into our past history there were times when even the civil authorities were not on our side and we had much to fear not just from mob violence but from civil society itself.

That is part of our story. People used to be frightened to be Episcopalians in Glasgow. (And for good reasons). We were turfed out of the Medieval Cathedral by men with pikes. We worshipped here and there in this city in varying states of fear.

A wandering Aramean was our father. We share solidarity with all who are afraid to worship freely.

We share in celebration with all who celebrate. And we weep with all those who weep.

Today we happen to be celebrating those who kept the faith through hard times and ended up coming to this place to put down foundations and build.

Today we celebrate those who caught a vision they believed in and contributed to making it happen.

Today we celebrate not just that we are still here but that we are flourishing and alive and having fun being the people of God who worship in this way at this time.

As we do so let us pray and work for the same safety and confidence for all God’s children.

Things have changed for us.

Our usual mode these days is not fear but joy. That’s what we do here.

We’ve kept the faith, hung unto hope and we share the joy of being who we are supposed to be.

Religion changes. This congregation has changed. All kinds of things change for the people of God as their story unfolds.

But the love of God changes never. And isn’t part of our story – it is our story.

As we keep dedication Sunday today, I ask you to give thanks for those who have made what we have here today possible. Those who have taught the faith, kept the faith and yes, funded the provided for the sharing of faith with us.

As we celebrate our story, we proclaim the simple truth as we’ve done before and will continue to do – whoever you are, God loves you. God loves you more than all the reasons you can come up with why God’s might not love you.

Loves you yesterday, today and forever.

Amen.

Rigoletto Review – Scottish Opera 18 October 2018

Scottish Opera has chosen to begin its season of main stage operas this year with a revival – the production of Director Matthew Richardson’s Rigoletto which was first seen in 2011.

If anything the passage of time makes both the opera itself and this particular production all the more relevant. This is a piece that has #metoo written all over it and this production very successfully illuminates and condemns a world of male violence and privilege.

This always was a stylish show too. There is much to like about Jon Morrell’s design and the whole thing is fabulously lit throughout by Tony Rabbit. Significant parts of the action are played before strong sidelights which cast enormous shadows and it very cleverly begins to seem as though the shadows behind the characters are where the real business lies.

So far, so dark and that fits perfectly with the plot, but what was it like? Well, there is much to appreciate and there is no doubt that this is an enjoyable night. I happened to take a friend who had never been to an opera before and this is perfect first opera territory. The story is told clearly and with some elegance. The music is glorious and of course, you come out singing that tune, having been made very much aware that despite it appearing in TV advertisements and as background music everywhere, La Donna e mobile is as nasty a piece of misogyny as you will find in any repertoire.

However, there is a problem with this outing of this production and it is a simple one. Anyone who remembers seeing it in 2011 may well remember that the singing was simply better than the singing this time around.

Aris Argiris in the title role, we were informed before the curtain went up, was suffering from a cold. Certainly, that did not seem to have any effect on the power of his voice. However, its strength worked much better expressing Rigoletto’s rage than his tenderness. His acting is very fine and he dominated the stage. His Rigoletto very clearly bullies his daughter, as he is being bullied by members of the Duke’s court.  Lina Johnson gives a very touching portrayal of Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter though their duets lacked a little in emotional depth. Alas, the problem with Adam Smith’s Duke of Matua was that he had the apect more of a student portraying a duke than a duke dressing up to win the affections of Gilda as a student. He was delightful but I’d have believed him more if we’d seen more much menace.

The high vocal point in the whole production was the quartet Bella figlia dell’amore involving, Argiris, Smith, Johnson and Sioned Gwen Davies as Maddelena. This was a delight. It was also beautifully accompanied. Rumon Gamba kept the orchestra firmly in order throughout and tended towards the tender, which suited the singing completely.

The all-male chorus sing beautifully, look menacing and do obscene things with female mannequins. One could scarcely ask for more.

There is much to like and respect in this production. The story is told with grace, simplicity and style. Musically it is lovely, though excellence, sadly, eludes it.

This review appeared first in the pages of Scene Alba.

Rating: ★★★☆☆