How Awesome is this Place – sermon preached for Dedication Sunday 2019

How awesome is this place!

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

How awesome is this place – it is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.

Now Jacob was on the move. He wasn’t at home when he had that dream about Jacob’s ladder.

The truth is, his father Isaac seems to have become fed up of him moping around on his own in the Promised Land and had decided that the only thing that could be done with him was to tell him to pack his bags and head off out of the Promised Land and go back to where the family had come from.

In the verses just before the story of the dream about the ladder things are very clear.

Isaac basically tells him to go off on a quest and not come back until he’s got a wife to come back with.

Isaac had met his wife as she drew water from a well and he more or less orders Jacob to go off and do likewise. Go back to the homeland. Hang around the wateringholes and don’t come back until you’ve found a wife just like your mother.

I don’t know whether anyone here has ever been put in a similar situation. I do know that such an order would have been unlikely to work on me, for a number of reasons, but Jacob wasn’t me.

Yes father he says. And off he trots to the old country.

We know what his dream was at night, but what were his daydreams as he travelled.

Did he dream of finding the perfect spouse?

Or did he just dream of shutting up his old man?

Did he dream, as young men sometimes do, of riches and wealth and possessing many camels?

Or was his the journey of someone satisfied by the simple life?

Did he dream of winning the equivalent of the lottery of his day by coming home in possession of a wife or two, who would bring land and livestock into the family business?

Or did he never intend to go back at all?

Did he dream of becoming a patriarch himself? Or did he dream of smashing the patriarchy and establishing equity and peace once and for all and an end to fathers projecting their own impossible dreams onto the lives of their sons.

We don’t know. But we do know that somewhere, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, he had to rest and fell asleep and had a dream that has captured the imagination of countless people through the ages. A ladder. With angels. And the angels moved up and down. And heaven and earth were connected. And God was there.

I don’t know what your dreams are as you make your way through life. I might guess I suppose – there will be people here who do dream of the lottery win and riches and wealth being theirs. There will be others who dream of academic success. Or to climb another step up their workplace ladder. Or for a child. Or for a spouse with lovely eyes.

When two or three are gathered together there are many dreams amongst them.

And some may have loftier dreams that are not just about themselves. A dream of a calmer and more rational politics to re-emerge from our current chaos. A dream of safety for those who are beloved but in danger, far, far away. A dream of a world that can recover from our climate vandalism and be a nourishing and safe place for all of God’s children.

Such is the stuff that dreams are made on.

But not Jacob.

His dream is one of those that seems to come from outside himself.

In the turmoil of his journey to satisfy his father’s desire for grandweans, he stops and rests and to his considerable surprise, God is there.

I don’t know exactly what the dreams of those who laid the foundation stone of this place were.

They were surely seeking a place to worship safely. They were surely seeking a place to worship magnificently. They were surely seeking a place to know God and from which they could make God known.

Their exact dreams I cannot quite know. But I know that God was already there.

As it happens, I also do not know exactly where the foundation stone is that was laid to mark the beginnings of this place.

We know it was laid with some ceremony but try as we might, we can’t find it.

(One theory is that this pulpit may have been built in front of it and if so I may be standing more or less on top of it).

But surely those who laid it brought all their dreams and turned them into prayers that day.

I don’t know what they dreamed of. But I know that God was with them.

I don’t know what those who come after us will dream. But I know that God will be with them.

And I don’t know all of your dreams and hopes and desires. But I know that God is with you today.

Today on this dedication Sunday, we celebrate this place, giving thanks for all who built it for those who have kept it and for those who have loved it through time.

This is a place that has been the place of so many thousands of people coming and going through life. Some for a fleeting moment. Some for a lifetime.

But finding in this place that Jacob’s dream is kept alive and is shared by a living, loving, open, inclusive and welcoming community at this point in time who believe that God is here, right here and ready to share love and blessing with those who scarcely dare suspect that might ever be true.

Jacob’s dream of the ladder is sometimes criticised these days. It seems to suggest a universe in which heaven is up there and the earth down here and a separation of all that is earthly from all that is holy.

And that notion of having to climb up the ladder to heaven rung by rung – that seems to suggest superhuman effort needed to find God.

But no. Read it again.

The point of the dream is that one little line that gets so overlooked. In the middle of the dream Jacob sees a ladder stretching from earth to heaven but finds that God is standing beside him.

It isn’t that we have to push the angels out of the way and haul ourselves up to heaven.

It is that God has come down that ladder. God is already here. And we are already loved.

How awesome is this place said Jacob.

How awesome is this place, say I, as I look around me today.

This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.


Whose Spiritual Mantle Will You Inherit?

Sermon preached on 30 June 2019

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

Just the other week I was chatting with someone who asked me where I had studied.

I told them that I had read Divinity at the University of St Andrews.

Straightaway, the question came back – “Oh, whilst you were there, did you have a Chariots of Fire moment on the beach?”

For those who don’t know, Chariots of Fire was a huge film in the 1980s. A story based around the 1924 Olympic Games, which famously opens with a group of runners running along the West Sands in St Andrews.

An iconic moment.

These are the fastest, fittest men in the world.

Easy to see how I could be mistaken for them running along a beach.

The film title, I think was inspired by that bit of Blake’s poem Jerusalem:

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

But originally, of course, it comes from the second book of Kings and the reading that we heard this morning.

Elijah and Elisha are preparing to part at the end of Elijah’s life. And as they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.

It is one of those biblical images that is so vivid but which probably works better on the radio rather than on the television. Better in the oral tradition than something that we might try to capture in a picture.

As the two prophets walk and talk they have their own chariot of fire moment.

The elder Elijah asks what he can do for Elisha and Elisha says he wants to inherit a double share of Elijah’s spirit.

Not a bad thing to hanker after I think.

As we reflect this morning, I’d like you to just hold Elijah and Elisha in your minds.

One of them will soon take over. Pick up the mantle and carry on.

And thinking about them I want to say something about leadership – spiritual leadership to be sure, but it is worth thinking about how leaders operate in general sometimes too.

It is no secret that this diocese has been struggling to find a new bishop. The second round of the election process has not resulted in an election and we are now moving to round three, where the other bishops become the electorate.

There is considerable angst about what kind of person we will get and whether or not they match up to what we want.

I think that leadership is particularly difficult in the modern age.

Someone said to me recently that they really want the bishops of the church to take a firm lead and say what they mean and implement procedures clearly and decisively.

The same person then went on to say that whenever the bishops have done this, they have made precisely the wrong decision and should have done nothing at all.

This is the paradox of leadership in our current age. People want firm leadership. However, everyone expects to have an opinion and expects that opinion to be adhered to and if it isn’t, oh how easy it is to vent one’s spleen online and oh how quickly rage ensues.

Who would be a leader in such circumstances?

And what qualities does a leader need?


It may be my particular involvement in the discernment process to try to find a new bishop for Glasgow and Galloway that makes me a little weary of the search. But I do know I’m getting tired of being asked what kind of bishop I want.

Indeed, I find it rather more inspiring to think about whose mantle we should be picking up. Whose spiritual inheritance should we be claiming, with the audacious demand that we inherit a double portion?

Those from the bibilical tradition? – Elijah who could call down fire from heaven, Peter (whose feast day falls this weekend) who managed to be forgiven for more than most people, Mary whose Magnificat still inspires us daily.

Those who have campaigned for justice for people of all races? – Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela

The Stonewall rioters and those who came after them demanding equality for LGBT people?

Or the new generation who have worked and are working to stem climate change like Greta Thunberg?

As we think about Elijah and Elisha walking and talking before Elijah is wheeked away to heaven, can we have a wee chariots of fire moment and think about what spiritual leadership looks like.

The biblical tradition seems to have a lot to say about those who can see what is coming over the horizon. Visionaries, prophets, bringers of change.

The uncomfortable saints who are easier to deal with in stained glass than in the flesh.

Leadership needs to look different in the modern age to the way it looked in the past. More collaborative. Less dictatorial. More about encouraging people to work together than forging out as a one person band. With a greater ability to listen and be seen to listen and consult than has ever been the case before.

We seem to have a bit of trouble moving to a new paradigm for leadership in all areas of life including the very troubled political sphere.

So it is worth thinking about where we each get our motivation and encouragement from. Who inspires us? Who motivates us? Who encourages us?

Answering those questions will probably take us some way in working out what kind of leadership will be effective either in the church or in the rest of life.

So as Elijah and Elisha walk and talk before the chariot of fire arrives, I simply ask you to think about that question today.

Whose mantle do you wish to pick up?

From whose spiritual tradition do you wish to inherit double?

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