Sermon preached for St Mungo – 13 January 2013

I have to confess that for most of my life I did not give St Mungo much of passing thought. I certainly encountered him when I was in primary school up the road in that I remember a wonderful Primary 5 teacher in Bearsden making us do a project on the great urban conurbation that we were living so close by. The topic was Glasgow and thus we all had to draw our own version of the city crest – the bird, the tree, the bell and the fish – each representative of miracles in the lives of our patron saint.

After that I didn’t think of him again until a couple of years ago. During the time after Bishop Idris had retired and before Bishop Gregor started, there was a period of time when there was no bishop around to go to civic events. These ended up being divvied up between the Dean and the Provost and perhaps the Synod Clerk, to ensure that the Episcopal Church was represented at events which needed a bigwig.

I don’t know what I expected when I entered the ordained ministry of the church. I certainly didn’t expect to be a stand-in part-time bigwig going to events like that.

However, it can be fun – so long as you learn to smile and nod a lot you go far and you find yourself eating sandwiches with entertaining company.

Thus it was on a January evening a couple of years ago I found myself being one of the formal guests at the ecumenical service held to honour St Kentigern (his posh Sunday name) whom we know in Glasgow more commonly as Mungo – the Loved One.

I decided before I went to look him up, to make sure I knew his story so that I would smile and nod in all the right places.

I found the story in the story of the founder of the city of Glasgow almost the perfect biography. He was gentle and kind and godly and good. The perfect saint for Glasgow. Well almost.

I did discover one fact about him that I think we’d better keep between ourselves, lest folk in the East hear about it.

The Patron Saint of Glasgow – he came from Edinburgh.

Anyway after this magnificent service in the medieval cathedral in the High Street there was a little ceremony down in the crypt at the shrine where Mungo is buried.

I found myself telling people about this for a week afterwards.

What happened was that an assorted company of the great and the good from the City gathered around with a wreath – quite a nice wreath of flowers and laid it with absolute solemnity on the shrine. It was as though for a moment, we had a mini-funeral breaking out.

When I was telling others about this, I found myself describing this moment again and again for it had struck me as very odd indeed.

They were treating him, I found myself saying of Mungo, as though he were dead.

Surely the whole point of keeping saints days and festivals is that we remember them and enjoy them for their lives are somehow curiously still going on. No doubt they live forever praising God in heaven. And certainly with Mungo, his memory lingers still – his miracles recorded in the crest we see on statues and lamp-posts and yes, even on my council tax bill and every other piece of correspondence sent by the City Council in this place that we live.

Mungo is not to be mourned but to be celebrated. Saints are not there to provoke solemnity in us but to remind us that life with God is gloriously good.

As I look at the city crest, I find myself realising that there is much that I don’t know.

I do not know whether Mungo ever really resuscitated a pet bird belonging to St Serf. But I know that God cares for a world that is alive with possibility. That creation itself hums with potential. That God loves all that lives.

I do not know whether Mungo ever really managed to miraculously restart a fire with a twig from a tree. But I know that God has given each of us sparks of creativity with which we can make this great city all the greater. That we can in collaboration with good hearted minds wherever we find them bring in a commonwealth of justice and joy.

I do not know whether Mungo really brought a bell back from Rome to ring in this city at the altar of his church and for the dead when they died. But I know that the bells ring out from this place on a Sunday evening reminding the world that there is still holiness and beauty and love to be found in worship that Mungo surely recognises as he joins us with the fallen of all the ages singing God’s praises and celebrating God’s festivals.

And I do not know whether Mungo really caused a fish to be caught with a ring in it the better to re-establish a broken relationship between the King and the Queen of Strathclyde. But I know that brokenness can still be healed by love. And that scripture has taught me that those closest to God are so often the least expected.

And I know that God is in this place. In this city. In this cathedral. That God is here now.

And in the presence of God I want to give you a spiritual exercise which you can try for a moment or two in the quiet space after this sermon.

Kentigern is known in these parts as the Mungo, Loved One. It is a pet name. A nickname. An intimate name. I don’t know when he started to be called – perhaps by his mother, for Mungo was born after a terrible assault and after she was thrown out of her home.

Cradling him in her arms, was it she who first called him Mungo – the one who was loved?

Whoever it was who named him thus, here’s your exercise for today. In the gentle peace of this place here in Mungo’s city or your own space wherever you live – say to yourself who you are.

Use your own name – the most intimate name you are called by anyone and as you breathe say,

I am … Kelvin … the Loved One. I am Kelvin the Loved One. I am Kelvin the Loved One.

Let the truth of that sink in – that God already loves you. And the memory of Mungo will be alive and fresh and honoured and true.

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Spirit.


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