A sermon for BBC Radio 4 – 7 July 2024

We were asked to produce a service to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 7 July 2024 a few weeks before the General Election was called. The service had to be recorded in advance as the date for the broadcast fell within choir holidays. Once the election was called, I soon realised that the service would be broadcast amidst all the Sunday morning chatter about the election result. So, that meant trying to think about how to speak into that situation without actually knowing the result of the election. That’s not an easy thing to do but I soon realised that we have skin in the game here. People from St Mary’s have been involved in the election as candidates, activists, tellers, agents and pundits. This is part of what we do here. I wrote most of the script for the service, which can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0020xkw but the reality is, these things are a team effort and some of the wording needed to be very carefully chosen for this one. I was the preacher for this service, and this is what I had to say:

The thing that I remember most is crawling around on the floor. That and the feeling in my stomach. People refer to stomach churning moments. I never knew what that felt like until that moment.

I asked people to pick up all their bags and coats and shuffle their chairs. And I got down on my hands and knees just to check one more time that nothing had gone missing.

I was looking for a bundle of votes that might, just might,  have fallen off the counting table onto the floor.

20 years or so ago, that bundle of votes meant the difference between victory for me and victory for a political opponent.

The imagined bundle of votes on the floor never existed. Victory wasn’t mine that day and I soon had to concede that someone else had won. Less than 20 votes were between us after weeks of frantic campaigning.

There is something incredibly moving to see votes being counted and stacked up in your favour. And it is gut wrenching – there’s no other word for it, to miss out by just a few votes.

Our procedures for choosing leaders, using stubby pencils to mark slips of paper seem a long way away from David being chosen as King of Israel by the acclaim of the people. But there’s things to learn even from that account.

David and the people entered into a covenant with one another. And that word, Covenant is laden with meaning as it echoes the various times that the bible speaks of a covenant being made between God and the people.

Speaking of the relationship between leaders and those looking for leadership as a covenant relationship is to speak of the trust between them as being nothing other than sacred.

A covenant sets boundaries on what someone can do. Sacred boundaries.

I’m not involved in party politics now. But when election times come around and I get to cast my own vote, I have a strong sense of the deep, deep significance in casting a vote in a land where everyone gets to be involved if they choose. That does feel sacred to me. Who I vote for is my business. The act of voting feels like an immense responsibility – an act of faith in a common desire for our land to be governed well.

And as I vote, there’s one thing that I long for, for all who stand in elections. And that’s also a deeply biblical notion – I long for all those seeking to make decisions on behalf of others, to be blessed with wisdom.


Lord of wisdom, lord of truth, lord of justice, lord of mercy.  Walk beside us down the years, ’till we see you in your glory …

I’ve stood in quite a few elections. Elections to public office and elections within the church. And looking back, I started doing it by standing in student elections whilst I was in college.

More often than not, things have not gone my way. Losing elections seems to be one of my hobbies.

And I’ve learned you get better at losing elections as time goes on.

I’ve also learned that having wisdom and having a win are not the same thing.

Indeed, many of the biblical writers are, at best, ambivalent about the powerful, but passionate in proclaiming that God’s love is particularly poured out on the powerless and the weak.

In one of the readings that we heard this morning and which will be read in many churches today, we hear of Jesus feeling powerless himself and then starting to send out his disciples to proclaim his message – a message of repentance, a manifesto for changing everything.

Repentance means nothing other than changing everything and turning yourself around to face a new direction.

But those disciples who were sent out with this message were far from being the powerful of their day. They were mixed up, muddled up and much of the time they didn’t seem particularly bright. They were argumentative and squabbled about who was the most important. They got themselves into factions and when Jesus really needed to depend on their loyalty they all ended up running away.

And yet, these were the ones who carried a message of love from God to the world. These were the ones who brought good news to the world. These were the ones who did indeed turn the whole world around with the stories that they spread about the Saviour whom they each knew intimately.

As they carried that message, somehow they knew that God was with them wherever they went. Somehow they knew they were cared for and nourished and beloved. The love they knew, was the grace of God that they had seen in Jesus and which Christians still see and proclaim with confidence and love for the world today.

When everything seems mixed up and muddled up. God still loves us. When there is fighting and division, God still loves us. When we need to know love most. God’s love is right there.

Worship and prayer often connect people with that love. And prayer connects us with all who are in need. My colleagues Oliver and Maggie now lead our prayers for the world.

Sermon on BBC Radio 4

It was great fun doing the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship live from St Mary’s today. There’s always a bit of an adrenalin rush about being involved with the production of 40 minutes of live radio.

If you were one of the million or so who tuned in then you’ve already heard this sermon, but the video gives you the pictures of what it looked like, including me preaching in headphones.

Sermon preached on BBC Radio 4 – 18 January 2015 from Kelvin Holdsworth on Vimeo.

When we follow Jesus, we follow into a whole set of traditions that remind us that God is with us – here, right here in the world.

A few weeks ago now we were in high festival mode in this church, as in most churches. The Christmas trees are gone. The baubles are packed away. The candle-ends have been removed from the windowsills and sent off for recycling. And there is only be barest whiff of incense in the air from the feast of the Epiphany.

But the church offers us time to reflect on what we encountered. For Epiphany is a season not a one off event. It’s a time for reflecting on what it means to live in a world that God has chosen to come into and be known in.

Very often I talk about God being a God of surprises and say that when we get to know God we should expect the unexpected.

But looking through the verses of Psalm 139, perhaps the big drama of the Christmas story should never have surprised us. For they too tell us that God is with us.

Most religions have patterns of behaviour and rhythms built into them. Across many traditions, the idea of praying at the start and the end of the day is common.

The psalms were clearly part of a cycle of prayer and they still form the backbone of daily prayer for millions of people every day. It isn’t hard to hear in Psalm 139 part of that ancient rhythm of reminding oneself early in the day that God is present.

The psalmist sings “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”

Prayer is offered here in this building every day. Whether there are just a few of us gathered in the little oratory behind me as is the case on some days, or whether it is a day when the place is packed out with people celebrating a festival or a morning like this when we share our prayer with people listening on the radio, this is a place where prayer is offered every morning.

I remember when I was working in a university chaplaincy knowing one of the people in the mail room who, if he saw me going back to the chaplaincy would call after me, “Say one for me – don’t forget, say one for me”.

And we do. We pray each day here for the world around us, for people in need. We remember those who mourn and those who are sick. The rhythm of prayer means that prayers are offered not simply for the peoples of the world who need it but because some are too sick to be able to pray clearly, some a travelling, some are on the run, some are anxious and find it hard to be still.

Every time we pray, it is like a little Christmas for every time we pray we live out the truth that God is with us in the world and with us in every kind of setting that we encounter.

God is with us in the bright days when all seems well. And God is with us on the down days too. God is with us when we know it. And God is with us when we struggle to recognise it. God is with us when we pray consoling words in a holy place. But God is with us in every other time and place too.

“Where can I go from God’s spirit? Or where can I flee from God’s presence?” asks the psalmist. And the answer is that there is nowhere that is separate from God at all. Everywhere we go, God is already there.

Years ago when widespread acceptance of the internet was relatively new, I got involved in a project where a church put a webpage up asking for prayer requests. The idea was that a small congregation would pray through the requests at a lunchtime service each week.

Word got out in the press that this was available and within a few weeks the prayer requests were flooding in. Hundreds a day were coming in. Thousands. And for a time, baskets containing printouts of the prayers were being placed on the altar of the church to represent the prayers being brought before God.

The truth is though that we are already surrounded by prayer because Christians pray for the world every day. And we are already close to God – and our psalms are amongst the many promises in the bible that tell us so.

The world is troubling at the moment. Massacres happen on the streets of western capital cities, in Nigeria and in places far from the eye of the media too.

It is easy to feel unsettled and troubled.

Indeed, it is reasonable and right to feel that way.

But I believe that peace and justice will come to our world and trust that God is collaborating in our lives to help us to bring peace to pass. We must never be cheated into thinking that trouble and violence are the way the world really is.

For God is with us in the troubled, perplexing but ultimately wonderful world. And with God, love is always the last word on how things should be.