Here is a sermon I prepared earlier

Preached in St Mary’s on 6 September 2009. I can’t remember why I didn’t put it online ealier.

This morning I want to talk about the Syrophoenician woman whom we have just heard about in the gospel reading. This woman, whose name is unknown, is an intriguing character. She was an outsider for a number of reasons, not least her race, yet she seemed to be able to prompt Jesus into accepting an aspect of his mission that he himself seemed not to have faced up to before. She tells him he is there for everyone.

She came from outside Jesus’s home community. Today I want to talk about who are we and where we come from.

The Syrophoenician Woman, whoever she was, prompted a prayer which some of you could recite from memory – for it made it into the old liturgy which we used to use in the Episcopal Church and indeed in other Anglican Churches all around the world. Somehow it did not make it into what we do now? And there are reasons why which we might think about in the discussion groups today.

If I begin reciting this prayer, plenty of others could complete it.

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

If you are a cradle Episcopalian, the chances are, you will be able to recite that prayer until the day you die. And if you are not, these days, the chances are that you won’t.

Now, I’m not a cradle Episcopalian. Like lots of you here, I was not born into this aspect of the Church. I was born into the Salvation Army and used to worship as a child down in Clydebank. Things were different there and I carry things that were gifts to me from that community of faith which will also stay with me to the day I die. They are a part of what makes me me.

Things were very different for me in those days. Sundays were not like they are for me now. Nowadays I come to church and dress up in slightly anachronistic clothes and process up and down a lot. In those days, I used to go to worship on Sundays and dress up in slightly anachronistic clothes and process up and down a lot. You can see how much things have changed for me.

So, I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I am someone who has chosen this kind of worship and this kind of way of getting to know God and this kind of way of worshipping God and this kind of way of letting myself be known by God and this kind of way of knowing God in God’s own loving self.

And I love it.

But it was a very clear choice. (I never had a teenage rebellion, and never had any time when I was not a member of a worshipping community. But I did become an Episcopalian and from my background, that might just have been worse).

I had a choice. I choose to worship this way. And that sometimes enables me to articulate what it is which is worth joining. I think I can sometimes say very clearly what it is that I joined, what it is that I like and what it is about worshipping in this particular way which matters most to me.

It is rather unfashionable to preach about why someone might enjoy worshipping one way rather than another way. It’s not very politically correct. We have become so frightened of offending other Christians that we are not always able to speak out about what our own giftedness is.

Here is what I like and what I have inherited by adoption by joining this kind of church.

  • A church which can cope with human beings being really human.
  • A church where you don’t have to leave your brain at the door when you come in.
  • A church where the possibility of simply enjoying getting to know God is genuinely enjoyable.
  • And a church where the liturgy that we weave together each week gives birth to aspects of divine glory which still take me by surprise and which still teaches me something new again and again and again.

Can you find these things in another church community or denomination? Of course you can, but I’ve found them here. And this particular combination is the place where I’ve found a home and this particular combination is worth joining and worth defending.

For if St Mary’s and churches like it did not exist, I’ve no idea where I’d go. For many of us, this is the church of last resort.

Now, let’s get back to the Syrophoenician woman. She was an outsider at the meal she attended with Jesus because of her race and probably because she was a woman. She probably shouldn’t have been there.

Yet she spoke using language which teased and cajoled the Lord of heaven himself into realising that in God’s world there can be no outsiders. And that matters. It is that notion which I’ve found and that notion which is at the root of all I want to help you to build here.

I may not be a cradle Episcopalian. But I take the responsibility very seriously of celebrating with you here in Glasgow a liturgy that is special beyond our dreams. For the liturgy is the cradle of the numinous. In the sacred space where our liturgy is woven, the Lord of heaven and earth is born, deep, deep inside us.

We may not use the prayer based on that woman’s words about the crumbs under the table every week nowadays. But her words are no less important to us if we let them rest in our hearts and they prompt us to build a community which is open, inclusive and welcoming. So that we begin to leave our insider/outsider notions at the door and forget we ever had them.

Here in this place let us celebrate an inclusive liturgy in which all are welcomed, all are honoured and where everyone knows they are already loved. Amen


  1. How strange. I could have preached this sermon – except that my roots were in the kirk. But I wish I’d thought of it as a frame for more or less the same message.

  2. Elizabeth says

    Thank you for posting this. I found it very moving and am sad I missed it in the flesh (alas, the cost of living in the diaspora!). I too have found the 1982 SEC liturgy to be very special – I greatly prefer it to all the other liturgies I know – and what you said about church of last resort resonates deeply.

    And yet. I think we can dream beyond this liturgy. I don’t think it will be fully inclusive until the God-language is more diverse.

  3. I’m also a major fan of 1982. However, it did occur to me to worry: am I sufficiently over-attached to it that, if I’m still around in 50yrs’ time, folks will view me the way I now view those who enjoy 1920-odd and 1662?

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