Sermon preached on 18 December 2011

Here's what I had to say in the pulpit this morning.

I wish I had a pound for everyone who says to me, “It must be a busy time of year”. I’ve heard that from quite a few people this week. Well, there’s no time in my year that isn’t busy. And I enjoy this time of year a great deal.

However, the more people tell you that you must be busy, the busier you think you are.

The more people say, it must be your busy time, the more convinced you become of it.

Before long you are so busy convincing yourself that you are busy that you don’t have time for anything else.
And then you think – Oh, I’ve to preach on Advent 4 and I’m such a busy bee – I know, I’ll reach into the cabinet and pull out something seasonal – they’ll never notice.

I rarely preach old sermons these days. I used to do but putting everything you say on the internet does make you sharpen up your act a little.

Particularly when you know your peers might be watching.

So, I had a nice little sermon from a while ago freshly unearthed from the past that I was planning on sharing this morning.
After all, there is no shortage of sermons about Mary in general and the Annunciation in particular in my filing cabinet. She’s our patron. And I’m a fan, after all.

So I had a nice little sermon all ready – you know the kind of thing – “Mary said Yes to God, what do you say?” You can always get away with preaching that in a church dedicated to the Mother of God.
But then something happened to pull me up short and make me want to say something new.

Was it the voice of an angel, whispering the good news in my ear that inspired me?

I fear it was not.

Was it the voice of God thundering from the heavens the glad tidings to share with you.

Sadly I have to say that it was not. (Not this week anyway).

No the voice which I heard was the voice of someone else entirely.

It was David Cameron.

I listened to the voice of David Cameron this week presuming to lecture clergy on what it means to be a Christian country and thought that it probably was worth saying something new.

I managed to get most of my sarcasm out of my system on the blog yesterday, so what you are getting today is what I thought about what he said spruced up and in its Sunday best.

It seems to me that David Cameron was very happy to call on Christians to more vigorously uphold Christian values and was pleased to declare that his view that this country is intrinsically a Christian nation. I’ve no doubt that some of you will have warmed to that. It seems like a soft easy message for Christians to absorb.

I must be honest in saying that it did not warm my heart.

There are enough people in the world who want to align the state with a religion and they are some of the people I fear most. As Episcopalians we must never forget we were a persecuted people and never forget that we stand more chance of thriving in a theologically neutral state than in a theocracy.

But the real question that David Cameron has raised, and it is a question that is worth trying to answer is what kind of values we do believe in whether or not we think of ourselves as religious.

I persist, by the way in my dangerous view that there is nothing particularly ethically distinctive about Christians. They seem to me, on close inspection, to be as capable of as much virtue and capable of as much wickedness as the general population. Never forget, after all, that the last man to be hanged in public in Glasgow for a set of particularly brutal murders was a member of this congregation and died with a curate from here at his side.

I also persist in the view that folk from other religions have as much of a chance of doing good as you, me or the nearest atheist and that may put me at odds with Mr Cameron.

This week, Mr Cameron has told a bunch of clergy what he thinks religion is about and asserted that the church ought to be proclaiming it that bit louder.

I find myself thinking, “Well, Mr Cameron, let me tell you what I think politics is about. And forgive me if that makes me want to raise my voice a little louder in public life.”

I think about a new politics where the mighty are cast down from their thrones. I think about a new politics where the lowly are lifted up. I think about a new politics where the hungry are filled with good things. I think about a new world where the old order is turned God-side up and the rich are sent empty away.

And I think that those things are about pensions and jobs and welfare. I think that those things are about society making better provision for the vulnerable, the weak and the needed. And I think that it is those things that need to be done more than ever when times are hard and when belts need to be tightened.

Sometime this Christmas, I invite you to a simple meditation. Sometime over the festive season, when it arrives, just let your eyes rest on an image of Mary. It might be the icon of our Lady over there. Or the holy couple when they eventually get to Bethlehem. It might be the Mother of the Lord on a Christmas Card. Or it might be the great mural behind me of the Angel proclaiming to a very local Mary the good news we heard about in the gospel.
Let your eyes rest on her and pray the gospel prayers addressed to her that we hear today and through the Christmas season for yourself.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

And as you pray, don’t pray for some vaguely amorphous pseudo religious values of right and wrong but pray a real prayer about pensions and welfare benefits and the business of building a society where every soul is valued and everyone is loved.

Pray a prayer about the world as it is and pray a prayer about the world turned into the world you want to live in. Don’t pray for a world infected by religion-lite. Pray for a world magnificat rich.

And you’ll find as you gaze upon our Lady that she is already aiding your prayers. She is already at work praying our prayers with us.

Holy Mary, mother of God. Pray for us sinners now.

Yes now.

And at the hour of our death. Amen


  1. Muriel says

    Worse still than “It must be a busy time of year” (today’s sermon) are the following remarks:

    Are you going away for Christmas?
    Are you going away for Easter?

  2. I shall have to remember “God-side up”. That, it seems to me, is a defining feature of the Kingdom.

  3. fr dougal says

    Excellent! What more can I say?

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