Sermon at the Salvation Army in Clydebank

Here’s what I said yesterday at the centenary celebrations for Clydebank Singing Company at Clydebank Citadel of the Salvation Army.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Major, I wonder whether you’d mind me starting with a confession.

I know it is not the Salvation Army way but in the tradition that I come from, we have confession before we have anything. I tend to work a busy Sunday – I’ve already done one service this morning before I came here and I’ve got another regular one at 6.30 pm and sometimes I’ve got a couple more on a Sunday too. And all of our services begin with confession.

(To be honest, sometimes on a Sunday I just don’t get the time to go out and have a good sin between one confession and another – but that’s another story).

But the thing I have to confess this morning is that when I came through the doors of this place last night – I kept hearing people talk of holy things. Worship long past. Friendships made. Decisions to love God made here in this place and promises made here on this platform.

I have to confess that that wasn’t the first memory that I had. When I came through the door all I could remember was being chucked out of Sunday School here one week for being disruptive.

As it happens I can’t remember exactly who it was who turfed me out but it is a fair bet that it is someone whom I was sitting on the platform with last night. Sometimes God gives us the holy gift of forgetting things.

Major – I’ll try to make amends today.

A funny thing happened to me this week.

I got a year older. And I did it by having an unglamorous birthday.

Last Thursday was my birthday. No more for me the joys of being 48. From now on it is the waiting game that is being 49. What use is 49?

Fifty may be fabulous but there’s nothing glamorous about being 49.

But here we are celebrating a birthday that isn’t just glamourous it is exiting too – the 100th anniversary of the Singing Company here in Clydebank.

It is a huge honour to be asked to say a few words this morning. In coming back here, I’m coming back to a place that I’ve not been in for about 35 years. (And I’m sure that the last time I was here it was 3 times bigger than it is today – I don’t know how you managed to shrink it). Other people will be here on this reunion weekend with their own memories and their own reminiscences of what it was like to be here a long time ago.

But my roots here go back a little further. My own grandparents were the corps officers here in the 1930s and so in coming to speak here today I’m returning to their platform. And that feels strange – not strange in an unpleasant way but strange all the same. I know all kinds of circles have been turning as people have turned up this weekend.

I couldn’t have predicted that I’d become a preacher when I sat here week by week and meeting by meeting. And certainly my Sunday School teacher (whoever it was) wouldn’t have predicted it for me either.

Perhaps that experience of being excluded was the start of the ministry that I have today for one of the themes of my life is to provoke people into thinking about who is being excluded and who is being left out. My default position is that no-one is ever excluded from the love of God. And if I learned that here one way or another then I’ve a lot to be grateful for in coming back.

But I can’t help my mind travelling back through time.

The Singing Company here has been a thread running back through the life of the corps here for 100 years. As such it has had a huge influence on a huge number of people.

As I think back through my own family history here I find myself thinking of the people who saw this town change. I think of my grandparents coming here as corps officers in confident times. And hearing the singing of a fairly newly formed singing company when they did.

I think of my mother being held as a baby in a shelter up the top of the town by parents as the bombs fell.

As they waited for the bombing to stop, they didn’t know whether her brothers, my uncles (also singing company members) would make it home from band practise.

I only heard that story this year – I’d never heard it before.

But the truth is, God doesn’t give us the gift of nostalgia – it isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit. God gives us experience to prompt us to share in God’s loving works here on earth. That the kingdom may be brought one step closer every day that comes.

The story of my uncles picking their way up the hill really came home to me in recent weeks when I realised that the bombs are still falling on people. And that young people are not just trying to find their way to safety up Kilbowie Hill – they are walking across Europe.

And they need the same things my uncles needed. They need safety and security and someone to welcome them.

I think our task is to join with others in welcoming them in God’s name.

Inevitably this weekend, we think of both joys and sorrows. Of highs and lows.

As I stand here I think of all the things that happen to all of us that I know have been in the conversation of all who have come to this reunion weekend. Loves and partings. Births, and deaths and marriages and all the things in-between.

And there is one constant thing that we find people do through it all.

They sing.

This Singing Company has sung through changing times and through changing days.

Yet I’ve no doubt that there’s something at the core of what it does that has not changed at all.

For through all our sorrows and through all our joys we sing of a God who loves us.

I don’t know whether you are someone who comes here week by week or someone who has just turned up out of the blue for this reunion. I don’t know whether you can still remember the things that you sang years ago or whether your mind goes blank when you think about what you sang here. I don’t know who you are or why you’ve come here today.

But I do know that God loves you. And I know that simple truth was the very cause of setting up the Singing Company and the reason that people have given their time and their energy, their talent and their skills – simply because they’ve caught something of the idea that God’s love is real and God can be known and that the joy of the Lord is worth singing about.

And that’s all I’ve really got to tell you this morning. God loves you to bits.

It is the same message that my grandparents preached here. It is the same message that the singing company has sung about for a hundred years. And it is the same message that we take into the future. The love of God gives me hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

I’ve no real idea whether the Singing Company will be around in another 100 years. I hope it is but I can’t know what the future holds.

But I do know that in a 100 years it will still be the case that God loves human beings and wants everyone to be drawn into that love.

When we come to a reunion it is inevitable that we look at the way we’ve changed. But the truth is, when we sing together we find ourselves singing about things that haven’t changed at all. God still cares for us and God still loves us.

Last night the massed Singing Company sang through a concert where the love of God was the ever present theme.

We have only one life to live. And God has only one message to give.

Which is that all you need is love.

Love, love. All you need is God’s love.


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