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Sermons - November 2021

Sermon 7th November 2021

Sermon 14th November 2021


“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely
so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen
or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
them to your children and to their children after them.”
Deuteronomy 4:9

If at some stage today you travel on the London Underground, you may see a current advertisement, on the other side of the track. It shows a familiar, steep underground escalator. The escalator is “peopled”/populated, but not with the usual descending, or ascending figures – commuters, shoppers, family outings etc – instead, the figures lie prone, curled, heaped, and overlapping - apparently sleeping, or at least trying to.

The advert reads: “It happened to people like you on a day like today.
… See how the war affected all walks of life.”

There to promote the new Second World War and Holocaust galleries at the Imperial War Museum London:

The striking image is a contemporary recreation of an original photo
of civilians sheltering in the Underground during the Blitz.

I saw the advert in the Knightsbridge tube; a stone’s throw from St Columba’s – whose destruction by enemy action in 1941, we heard earlier, concluding:
“It (fire) slowly but surely enveloped the roof and when falling material set fire to the pitch pine pews below, there was no chance of saving the building.”
(Rev Dr Scott, minister of St Columba’s, Church Magazine May 1941)

Entertaining a ten-year-old in the recent half term, we visited British Museum and Madame Tussauds. Both famous locations record being damaged in the war years.
“It happened to people like you on a day like today.”

At this morning’s congregational service of Remembrance our wreathes were laid by a World War II RAF veteran (a sprightly, 100-year- old), accompanied by a currently serving, RAF Warrant Officer; two other wreathes were laid by one of our Sunday School children and her Mum.

Noel Coward, the flamboyant, witty English playwright and actor, witnessed to the aerial war, affecting military and civilian, in his wartime poem about Allied aircrews:
Lie in the Dark and Listen.

Lie in the dark and listen.
It’s clear tonight so they’re flying high,
Hundreds of them, thousands perhaps,
Riding the icy, moonlit sky.
Men, machinery, bombs and maps,
Altimeters, guns and charts,
Coffee, sandwiches, fleece-lined boots,
Bones and muscles and minds and hearts,
English saplings with English roots
Deep in the earth they’ve left below.
Lie in the dark and let them go;
Lie in the dark and listen.

The poem’s final verse takes a swipe at those who profiteer from the conflict, preserving their own safety, with the airmen fly their missions towards mainland Europe:
“Safe in your warm civilian beds,
Count your profits and count your sheep
Life is passing above your heads,
Just turn over and try to sleep.
Lie in the dark and let them go
There’s one debt you’ll forever owe,
Lie in the dark and listen.”

These fragments are prompted by the 80th anniversary of the destruction of St Columba’s by enemy action, At the time, the Church Magazine (May 1941), carried the headline:
“The church building was destroyed by enemy action in a recent air raid.
God willing, another building shall arise after the war.
Meanwhile, in spite of war, the church lives on.”

Accordingly, this year is also the 65th anniversary of the dedication of the London Scottish Regimental Chapel - 25th March 1956; the ceremony attended by the Queen Mother.

At a national level, 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the Remembrance Poppy. The British Legion was formed on 15 May 1921, bringing together four national organisations of ex-Servicemen that had established themselves after the First World War: Field Marshal Earl Haig, Honorary Colonel of the London Scottish Regiment and an elder of St Columba’s served as the President of The Royal British Legion until his death in 1928.

Inspired by the poem of Lt Col John McCrae, the World War I, Canadian medic, of Scottish parentage,
In Flanders fields the poppies blow…
an American academic named Moina Michael adopted the poppy in memory of those who had fallen in the war. She campaigned for it to become an official symbol of Remembrance across the United States and worked with others who were trying to do the same in Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Also involved, Frenchwoman, Anna Guérin In England 1921, she planned to sell the poppies in London.
There she met Earl Haig, the Legion’s founder, and persuaded him to adopt the poppy as the emblem in the United Kingdom. The Royal British Legion, ordered nine million poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately, raising over £106,000 to help veterans with housing and jobs; a considerable sum at the time.

In time Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-servicemen. Today, the factory and warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies each year. North of the border, Earl Haig's wife Dorothy established the 'Lady Haig Poppy Factory' in Edinburgh in 1926 to produce poppies exclusively for Scotland. (Four petals and no leaf, unlike poppies in the rest of the UK)

Much of this is familiar – I am sure there is more you could share. Earlier, after we heard the description of the destruction of the original St Columba’s, we heard the words of scripture:
“… do not forget the things your eyes have seen
or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Tell them to your children and to their children after them.”
Deuteronomy 4:9

In other words: Tell the stories, pass them on. Remember.
Not as nostalgia, but to inform our present day, with all its difficulties –
tell them, even while acknowledging our current day Armed Forces face some very public criticism for a variety, if proven, of breaches of codes of conduct and laws of war. Let our remembering be an honest remembering.

Finally, as we have dwelt this year on a city under aerial siege, I finish with another account of London in its time of war,
from Robert Lind’s essay, The Darkness:

“It is the moon that makes London by night beautiful in wartime.
It is the moon that makes the North side of Trafalgar Square
white with romance, like a Moorish city
and makes the South Kensington Museum itself appear
as if it had been built to music.
London under the moon is a city of wonder,
a city of fair streets and fair citizens.”

This afternoon, gathered as Regimental family, military and civilian, let us remember how the war affected all walks of life, call to mind the debt we will forever owe, and maybe pursue our vocation, to be fair citizens in a fair city, people like us, on a day like today.

Sermon 21st November at 11am

St Columba’s, Pont Street, Sunday 21 November 2021
Healing of Blind Bartimaeus, Mark 10:46-52

In November 2007, my wife and I went with a party of about 20 people from different churches in Scotland on a visit, or I might say a pilgrimage, to the Holy Land.

Some of you will have visited the Holy Land, and you will have reacted to it in different ways. But no one, no Christian certainly, could be unmoved to be so close to, indeed in the very places where Jesus lived and ministered as recorded in the familiar stories in the gospels.

For example, there is the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem. In the basement of that church there is a silver star set in the stone floor, marking the place where Jesus is said to have been born. Or take the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where, it is claimed, Jesus was crucified, and buried, and raised to life again. You can stoop down and go into the little chamber that was his grave.

But one particular visit that made an impression on me was to Jericho.

Jericho is about twelve miles from Jerusalem, in the West Bank, in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. We had a good time exploring the extraordinary archaeological ruins that have been uncovered there. Jericho is thought to be the oldest city in the world, going back about 11,000 years. You can see in the ruins layer upon layer of history, including what some archaeologists will tell you is evidence of ancient, fallen city walls. So we think of that very dramatic Bible story of Joshua and the Israelites marching round Jericho for seven days, blowing trumpets and shouting until the walls fell down, and the city was captured.

And it’s the city of Jericho that is the site of one of Jesus’ most remarkable healing miracles, the restoring of sight to the blind bigger, Bartimaeus, which is our text this morning. All three of what we call the “synoptic” gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke, contain this story, so, clearly, the gospel writers thought it very significant. In the gospel we’re looking at, in Mark, it has something of an eyewitness account, with a number of details that suggest it was recorded by someone who was actually there. Most likely is Peter, Jesus’ close friend and disciple, whom we know is the source of much of what Mark wrote.

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, for the last week of Jesus’ life, and the climax of his earthly ministry with his crucifixion and resurrection. There is a great crowd with them, following Jesus, listening to his teaching, and, no doubt , hoping to see one of his miracles.

Jesus and the crowd are leaving the city when they pass a blind man begging. Unusually, on this occasion we are told his name, it is Bartimaeus, which means son of Timaeus. One commentator that I read suggested that we know of Bartimaeus because he probably later rose to prominence in the early Church. Those who would later read the gospel, would know who this man was, and to whom the story refers.

That’s as may be. Here he is, a blind man begging, and when he hears the commotion of a great crowd passing by, and asks them what’s happening, he’s told it’s Jesus of Nazareth. He knew about Jesus of Nazareth. Something of Jesus’ reputation, and certainly his reputation as a healer, had been made known to him, so he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

(Interestingly, these words are a foretaste of what has been called the simplest and greatest Christian prayer, honestly and sincerely prayed by many Christians: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” If you ever wonder what you might pray, that’s not a bad prayer to start with!)

Immediately, those around him try and silence him, they tell him to be quiet, they rebuke him. But he persists, he won’t be silenced, and he shouts out even more loudly.

So, Jesus stops, and calls the man to him. He says to Bartimaeus — and it’s a most remarkable and wonderful question — “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “Teacher, let me see again.” Jesus says to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” We are told that immediately he regained his sight, it was restored to him, and he could see. And, joyfully, he joins with those following Jesus on the way.

Let me say just three things about this story, and each one from the point of view of Bartimaeus.

First, Bartimaeus clearly knows his need. He is blind, he can’t see, he can’t live anything like a normal life, looking after himself, and perhaps his family, and earning his living. He can’t do the things that other people took for granted. He has to beg, wholly dependent on the goodwill and the generosity of others.

In Oxford, one of the things that the Covid 19 pandemic did was to force the City Council to take the homeless and rough sleepers off the City streets, and house them in hotels and university hostels. We had one such hostel very near where we live in Oxford. It was extremely well-managed, and we were so pleased that such a vulnerable and needy group of people were treated with the respect and dignity of good accommodation, and giving them the necessary support to help them back to independent living. Sadly, just in these past few weeks, the numbers of homeless people begging on Oxford streets has again become all too apparent. I don’t know what London’s experience has been? I do know that this congregation has a fine record of service to such people. I applaud you as you continue in this good work.

Blind Bartimaeus clearly knew his need, and he cries out to Jesus for help.

Someone has commented about the story that it is, and I quote, “An eternal picture of the man in need.” In the Scriptures, when we read of blindness, it often points us to something much deeper than simply physical or bodily blindness. It points us to what we must call spiritual blindness, spiritual need. In so many ways we simply don’t see, or don’t recognise, or don’t acknowledge deep spiritual truth, and our deep spiritual need. We are blind! We are in need! We must cry out, like blind Bartimaeus, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Surely, none of us here this morning I can deny that we live in a broken, and a sinful, world. There is so much injustice, and greed, and corruption, and violence, and so many suffer in misery, in poverty, and in want. And if we look in at ourselves — and I confess that this applies to me — we know that we share in the sin that so spoils our lovely and beautiful world. There is a war on, against evil, and the powers of darkness. This is the plain teaching of the Bible. And so we turn to Jesus, who calls us, and who says, “What do you want me to do for you?” And our answer is, “We want to see!”

My friends, and when we are honest with ourselves, and realistic about the world in which we are living, we know it needs to be rescued, to be saved, and we need to be forgiven and renewed. That’s precisely what is offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ, and what he achieves for us through his cross and resurrection. The world doesn’t have to be like this, there is the promise that in Christ we will be “new creatures”, and a “new creation”, for “the old has gone and the new has come,” as St Paul puts it. That is, I believe, what this story of the healing of Bartimaeus teaches us, and to which it points us.

Now let me turn to my second point about Bartimaeus: he persisted. Bartimaeus persisted, he wouldn’t be put off, he wouldn’t be silenced, we’re told “He cried out even more loudly.” He continues to shout out about his need for help, until Jesus stops and calls him, and heals him.

Persistence I truly believe is a particular Christian virtue, and one that we particularly need at this time. There is much to discourage us and to dismay us. We know of the challenges and the real problems facing the Church of Scotland, and the Church more widely, certainly in the West. Answers aren’t necessarily clear or easy, but we are called as followers of Jesus to persist, in worship, in Bible reading, in prayer, in giving, in our fellowship together as we support and help one another, and as we reach out to our community and to our world. The Gospel message is uniquely what the world needs to hear, and to see, and in this good work we persist. We will not give up, whatever happens!

I wonder if there is someone in the church this morning who is tempted to give up? If so, say to you, my friend, my brother or sister: don’t give up, don’t lose heart, persist, keep going, in your Christian life, in following Jesus, in loving and serving others in his name. If we’re honest, we’re all of us challenged, and we struggle, and we don’t always know what to do, or say, but let’s see in the healing of blind Bartimaeus the call to persist, and keep going.

And my third point about Bartimaeus is that he follows Jesus. Now healed, and his sight restored, he joins the crowd, and follows Jesus along the way. Bartimaeus had experienced the power of Jesus to heal, he knew what it was to be the object of Jesus’ love and compassion, in Jesus his need to see had been met. Of course he follows Jesus!

Let me put it like this. I believe that our Christian faith begins with a personal encounter with Jesus. I know that’s very easy to say, and I know that it’s not easy to describe, this encounter, this meeting Jesus, this experience of him. The four Gospels all have accounts of Jesus meeting people, encountering them, with the result that their lives are transformed, they are converted, they commit to following Jesus as his disciples.

For us, that may have been our experience as a child. In the family, from parents, grandparents, or other family members, we were introduced to Jesus. Or perhaps at school with a Christian teacher, or someone in our church or Sunday School. Maybe our encounter came later, through a Christian friend or neighbour, in an office, or factory, or shop, or wherever. We know it changed and transformed us. So it remains our source of peace, and of blessing, and of hope for this life and the life to come, and a great motive to go out and share with others that they may come to know Jesus for themselves.

So to summarise: in the healing of blind Bartimaeus we see his need, his persistence in calling to Jesus, knowing that only he can meet that need, and then, healed, he follows Jesus on the way.

For a long time I have been struggling with the challenge of how we communicate, how we transmit, our Christian faith to the generation to come. We know our churches have so often few children and young people. What do we say to them, and how do we bring them to encounter Christ for themselves? We are thinking today in the service particularly of the kingship of Jesus Christ. How do we bring children and young people to accept him as their King, and commit themselves to serve in his Kingdom?

No easy answers. But at its very simplest and clearest, I want to say, guided by the Holy Spirit, that the Good News of Jesus is true, and it works. It’s true, and it works.

In our postmodern world of uncertainty, of “fake” news, of false reporting, of widespread deception in public and private life, and so many people not knowing what to believe, we can tell our children that this is something that is true. And it works!

Try it, and see for yourself. Find your needs met and life transformed in Jesus Christ, just as Bartimaeus did at Jericho when he met Jesus so long ago.

Andrew Anderson, Oxford, November 2021.

Sermon 21st November at 5pm

Sermon 28th November at 11am


‘Be on guard, so that your hearts are not weighed down
with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life,
and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.
For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength
to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Luke 21:

Each year, the month of November offers intimations of mortality.
In the wider church calendar, there are the markings of All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (2nd November.) Remembrance Sunday quickly follows,
and for us at St Columba’s we also hold our annual Bereavement Service,
inviting back the families and friends of those whose funerals/memorials
have been conducted by St Columba’s clergy, over the last seven years.

At a recent memorial service, the church absolutely full on a Wednesday evening,
there were warm tributes about the deceased –
from early years to prominent professional life.
Perhaps most memorable, and moving, was the tribute given by his three grown up children.
It took the form of a recitation - not exactly a poem –
but built round the call and response; the question: How long is a day?
The repeated response: Long enough to….
Original and affectionate, tinged with the eye-rolling frustration of family
who knew they are not recalling a saint, but someone who had shaped,
and will continue to shape their now adult lives.

How long is a day?

Long enough never to turn down an adventure
And to bring everyone along with you for the fun.

Long enough to make another friend around the world
And always get in touch and visit when you can.

Long enough to fall asleep to the 10 o’clock news
And long enough to wake at 10:15 and finish off your chores.

Long enough to always find something else to do before saying goodbye –
And ask the difficult questions just as we need to leave.

Long enough to know how to talk sense
But always long enough to have some nonsense up your sleeve.

Long enough to spot another bird and learn its name
To give the smallest things their due.

Long enough to take the long-term view
But also long enough to fill the next minute.

Be on guard… that the day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.
In the gospel, set for this first Sunday of Advent,
Jesus grabs his listeners by the collar with vivid imagery and fierce warning;
time of upheaval and confusion: roaring seas, distress among nations,
people fainting in fear.

Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Luke Chapter 21 begins with him watching the people make their offerings into the treasury. He draws attention to the widow’s contribution.
Then when the disciples are admiring the grandeur of the building
he launches into the warning that it will all be raised to the ground.
It would of course be sacked by the Romans in 70 AD.

But at the same time, he paints the picture – the promise,
of “the Son of Man coming in a cloud.”
I am still with you; the fear and the confusion
is neither the last word, nor the winning word.
Do not despair; do not be afraid;
do not turn away. Do not hide.
Why? Because it’s only when we embrace reality - that we experience the nearness of God.
The Church begins its new year when the days are still getting darker.
The season rejects shallow sentimentality and false cheer.
We begin, not with swaddling clothes, twinkly stars, shepherds in dressing gowns (marvellous as those things will be) —
but with the world as it really is, here and now.
“Gorgeous, fragile, and falling apart.” Debie Thomas

“Be on guard,” he warns his disciples. “Be alert.” “Stand up and raise your heads.” Look.
“Advent begins in the dark. It is not a season for the faint of heart.”
(Fleming Rutledge)
Jesus says, read the signs of the times, understand them,
just as you would understand summer is on the way,
when you see the fig tree sprout its leaves.
What do we understand if/when we read the signs of the times?
Rising sea levels, the extreme weather events, the forest fires?
Or images of refugees on the waters or rough sleepers on our streets?

In her weekly round up to the elders, Charlotte Bradford our Session Clerk
reminds us that December 1st is World AIDS Day, marked every year since 1988;
raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV –
opportunity too, to remember those who lost their lives to the disease.
2021 marks 40 years since the first cases of HIV.
Worldwide more than 30 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses
and a similar number of people are living with HIV:
it continues to be one of the most important global public health issues.

Each World AIDS Day has a theme, and for 2021 it is End Inequalities. End AIDS.
The situation in the UK has improved substantially in recent years,
but this is not the case around the world.
This World AIDS Day, the focus is on reaching those who have been left behind.

Do not be frightened to look – redemption may emerge from startling places.
A friend wrote to me this week of a project he is involved with
providing legal representation to children in foster care,
who are involved in school disciplinary tribunals.

Last month he and a colleague held a series of focus groups of foster children.
Initially the participants were quiet or hesitant;
My friend’s colleague encouraged him to resist any prompting
and to "embrace the silence".
In time, out of the silence, the voices emerged:
angry, defiant, pained, and sad - voices that carried the experience of being ignored,
talked at, talked down to, talked over,
by teachers and social workers who should have been there to help and to listen.

My friend reflected: “Perhaps we should all embrace the silence this Advent?
Hopefully in the silence we will hear the voices of others, and also our own;
I know that during this ongoing pandemic,
I am stifling my own internal chatter of anxiety, worry and loss.”

Advent reminds us that necessary things —
things worth waiting for — happen in the dark.
Spring's seeds require winter soil;
God's Spirit hovers over dark water, preparing to create worlds;
The Bethlehem child grows in the hidden womb.

Advent asks us to sit with the hear and now,
because the here and now is the place where God is,
however distant or silent God may feel.
Do not fear when the seas roar and the earth be shaken.
Hope fiercely and live truthfully.
Deep in the gathering dark, something tender continues to grow.
Yearn for it, imagine it, wait for it, notice it.
Something beautiful is waiting to be born.

Sermon 28th November at 5pm

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St Columba’s is located on Pont Street in Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Church is within easy reach of three London Underground stations – Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line), South Kensington (Piccadilly, Circle and District Lines) and Sloane Square (Circle and District Lines).

St. Columba's
Pont Street
London SW1X 0BD
+44 (0)20-7584-2321

Getting here by tube

Knightsbridge Station

Take the Harrods exit if open (front car if coming from the East, rear car if coming from the West). Come up the stairs to street level, carry on keeping Harrods on your right. Turn right into Basil Street. Carry straight on into Walton Place with St Saviour’s Church on your left. At the traffic lights, St Columba’s is to your left across the street. If the Harrods exit is closed, take the Sloane Street exit, turn right into Basil Street. Carry straight on past Harrods with the shop on your right, into Walton Place as before.

South Kensington Station

Come up the stairs out of the station and turn left into the shopping arcade. Turn left again into Pelham Street. At the traffic lights at the end of Pelham Street cross Brompton Road, turn left then immediately right into the narrow street of Draycott Avenue. After just a few yards turn left into Walton Street. Carry on walking up Walton Street until the traffic lights at the corner of Pont Street. Turn right and after a few steps you will be at St Columba’s!

Sloane Square Station

Cross over the square into Sloane Street. Walk along Sloane Street until the traffic lights at the corner of Pont Street. Turn left into Pont Street. St Columba’s will then be in sight.

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