Sermon for Oliver Brewer-Lennon – 27 October 2019

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

Oliver! The time has come!

The removal van has departed. You told me this week that you can see the floor in every room in the flat. And you spoke as though that was your greatest ever achievement.

After what seemed to take forever: advertising and interviewing and appointing, you’re here. After what seemed like an age finding you somewhere to live. You’re here. After all that has made you and shaped you and prepared you and formed you. You are here.

Right here and right now you are going to be installed as the new Vice Provost for this place. A new beginning for us and a new beginning for you.

Let us just pause for a moment though and let the words of the scriptures that we have heard sink in as we think about what is happening to you today.

Let us just think about those words from Ezra which we heard read and which we heard the choir sing just now.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets and they all sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For God is good, for God’s steadfast love endures forever”

But what’s going on and how does it relate to you as you take up this new ministry?

Those who built that temple came from some distance. They had arrived some little time before having been living in exile from the promised land, their people having been forced to live in Persia, in the East, rather than at home in and around Jerusalem.

I hope that it is not too difficult for you to see yourself as one of them, invited to fulfil a Godly task – to build and ever rebuild the temple.

And if by saying that, we are identifying Glasgow with Jerusalem, there will be many Glaswegians who will agree for we know that this is a holy city.

(And if by saying that we identify the city in the East from whence you come, as Babylon, they will perhaps agree even more vigorously).

We know from the first records we have, that it is intrinsic to very nature of human beings to recognise particular places as special and to keep particular feasts and commemorations that matter to us as holy. People on great journeys has stopped at important places, and at decisive moments, to build cairns at the roadside to which they and others can always return.

Some of those cairns by the roadside are simple piles of stones. Others are positively gothic. And it is to a decidedly gothic cairn of stones that we call you Oliver Brewer-Lennon this very night as we celebrate our own dedication festival, giving thanks for those who have built and tended and built again, the church in this particular place.

We bring with us a particular history stretching back to those Episcopalians who experienced their own exile by being cast out of St Mungo’s in the High Street in 1689. We remember at this time those who gathered the congregation through lean and difficult years facing real persecution and violence and who built and rebuilt the church again and again before ending up here. And we remember those who have built the building and those who built up the people into this congregation that meets here proclaiming the open, inclusive and welcoming love of God that we ourselves have experienced.

We bring with us the tenacity of people who have lived through hard times, the determination of those who were making a pretty big statement when they built this place and we carry the infectious joy of those who know how to celebrate in a city that knows how to laugh.

And you Oliver. You bring stuff too: your own stones to add to the cairn…your own gifts to help us to build God’s church.

You bring with you all the charm of Kentucky, all the professionalism and creativity of the Eastman School of Music and the considerable and expansive friendship and love of so many people who have shared your journey up until now.

For you have found many friends, in… Babylon,  and elsewhere. And lots of them are here tonight. And lots more will be thinking of you and praying for you from afar.

The truth is, the children of Israel learned an enormous amount in exile. They learned things that they could never have learned if they had never gone to Persia – things which shaped them and formed them and made them.

Oliver, you have gained a lot on your travels – you’ve been formed as a priest by the church, and yes, by the world around you. And you are being formed as a human being by your beloved husband Joe.

You’ve had good times and bad times on your journey. And so does everyone.

But all that has happened to you has made you the person that we are calling tonight to this new role.

A new role for you. But an ancient role all the same.

The role of Builder.

Come and join a great work – the work of building up this place and this people.

“For God is good, and God’s steadfast love endures forever”

Oliver – stand up!

Oliver Brewer-Lennon, this is the work to which we call you tonight – to be the Vice Provost in this place and amongst these people. And to help build this temple of God and share that steadfast love of God using your own particular gifts and skills.

Do you accept this call?

By the help of God, I do.

Then may the Lord preserve your going out and your coming in. From this time forth forever more.


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.