Sermons - July 2020
Sermon 5th July 2020
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 05 JULY 2020
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
A church friend compiled a list this week, entitled:
What have I learned during the lockdown?
There’s a lot of chores, not even started.
*Shouting at the TV when the daily Downing Street briefings are on
is not good for one’s health
*Every time someone is interviewed on TV,
I spend an inordinate amount of time examining their book shelves
and commenting about their book selection.
*Reading stories to your grandchildren, via FaceTime is good fun
and gives hard-pressed parents a break.
*The planet is benefiting from silence and decreased activity.
Another church friend’s, lock down reflection this week:
“I have more time than usual, but manage to do less,
now that I am here all day and every day
without demands to get out and do something.”
Hard pressed parents or self-isolators –
there is more than one way to feel weary,
more than one set of burdens to carry.
Some, juggling the demands of young family and elderly parents.
Some, working harder now than pre-pandemic;
(Recall, the NHS worker - weeping in her car,
pleading for the supermarket hoarders to stop it, and give others a chance.)
Others, wrestling enforced idleness or lost employment.
Or the unseen burdens that are carried:
Awaiting a medical appointment, diagnosis or treatment –
for oneself, or loved ones.
Or the longing for justice, delayed or denied:
(The Civil Rights campaigner: “Sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Or the hard road of grief – the sharpness of its immediate impact,
Softened, but never fully dissipated by time.
[Slow realisation that one must live on, without that other.)
A recognition that card carrying, faith credentials are no guarantee of immunity:
A friend who is the Mother Superior of an enclosed/contemplative order of Anglican nuns –
Related, that such are the hectic demands of community -
with the majority of the sisters, elderly and increasingly frail –
leave little time, space or energy for her own prayer life.
[ The Franciscan Thursday prayer at Alnmouth:
“Pray for those who are too tired to pray
and those who know not yet how to pray.”]
As the Anglican Book of Common Prayer puts it sonorously:
“Hear what comfortable words our saviour Christ saith
unto all that truly turn to him:
“Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
It is a life raft invitation, a beautiful promise,
amid chill and choppy waters:
But it is not a standalone verse – it has both a preceding context
and a follow on demand.
Matthew 11 begins: Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples,
he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.
When John the Baptist heard in prison what the Messiah[a] was doing,
he sent word by his[b] disciples and said to him,
‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
Then Jesus asked the crowds about John:
A reed shaken by the wind? Someone dressed in soft robes?
A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet;
the one about whom it is written, the messenger sent to prepare the way.
If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
Let anyone with ears listen!
That is how we arrive at today’s gospel:
‘To what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”;
the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
“Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
That lovely gospel promise of rest is made in time of rejection,
of little visible success and of potential despair.
Jesus had preached in the Galilean lakeside towns Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum
and it had gone badly.
That is the point at which Jesus says:
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent
and have revealed them to infants…”
Infants – not necessarily the very young, but the little people.
It is an address to the ones who are open to him,
the wounded hearted and the seekers,
the not too proud, those who know they have reached their limits;
the burden carriers.
To these, the invitation; to these the promise:
“Come to me, all you who are weary, and are heavy laden,”
I will give you rest.”
Be sure of it. Have faith in it. Take courage from it.
But, that rest depends on a participation we may be reluctant to give.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me …
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(We love the verse about rest; not so keen on the message of yoking.
“It tells us that burdens are shared,
that we are not responsible just for ourselves, but for one another;
our work lets others rest; our rest makes others work.” Diane Roth, Christian Century
[Returning to our church friend:]
“I have more time than usual, but manage to do less – Why?
I think I am needing to be involved with the world again.”
Being involved with the world again might take many forms – headlining or unseen.
Not many of us are the Manchester United footballer, Marcus Rashford –
harnessing media attention for the campaign to combat food poverty during school holidays. For most of us, life operates on a smaller scale.
From St Andrew’s, Newcastle this week the report – a lovely spark of reconnecting:
“A small group spent Tuesday morning trying to tame the Church garden
and cleaning the building.
We were blessed with good weather which was very helpful
in allowing the whole building to be thoroughly aired whilst we were outside.
We hope to continue with this on Tuesday next.”
This afternoon there is the scheduled Clap for the NHS, marking the organisation’s 72nd birthday.That same organisation suggests five factors towards good mental health:
Connect with other people;
Be physically active;
Learn new skills;
Give to others;
Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness.)
Even with continuing restrictions for many in our congregations
there are ways to contribute and connect;
ways to lighten one’s own burdens and help others carry theirs.
None of us would underestimate how good it is to receive a message
or small gesture of kindness from another –
be it friend, family, church member or stranger.
For American friends this weekend marks Independence Day.
Think of the words of Emma Lazarus, at the base of the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
This same weekend the Moderator of the General Assembly of Scotland
calls on all congregations to be mindful of the Remembering Srbrenica campaign –
it is twenty-five years on from what unfolded across the Balkans
and the massacre of Muslims at Srbrenica in particular.
“Even now, there are divisive voices in our communities,
doing their best to emphasise difference
and to exploit what’s going on in the world for their own ends.
These voices must not prevail –
which will require all people of goodwill to do more than be idle bystanders.”
A contemporary writer: “A wise person once told me if you don’t challenge lies and obfuscation, call out prejudice and racism,
you’re not a journalist, you’re a microphone stand.”
Reaching out, speaking out; big picture, or small detail;
To be involved with the world again;
We are called to let the yoke rest upon us,
that together we meet the task.
to learn from the one who is gentle, humble in heart,
in whom we find our rest.
As another enclosed, woman of prayer, medieval, Julian of Norwich declared:
“Jesus did not say: “Thou shalt not be tempested,
thou shalt not be travailed,
thou shalt not be dis-eased”;
but he said, “Thou shalt not be overcome.”
Sermon 12th July 2020
ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 12 JULY 2020
And Jesus told them many things in parables. Matthew 13:3
This week’s E-Newsletter carries the link to a recent newspaper article;
about former St Columba’s minister, the Very Reverend Fraser McLuskey.
So many times, I have heard people remember him fondly –
Part of childhood church, conducting a wedding or baptism; comforting in time of sorrow.
The article pays tribute to his relatively short, but undeniably intense period
as a wartime, British Army chaplain/padre –
specifically, time serving with the fledgling Special Air Service/SAS Regiment.
In 1944 jumping in, behind enemy lines, to accompany his soldiers –
The Parachute Padre.
At times, during those operations in France, the chaplain, unarmed,
would wait with the medical officer at the Aid Post, as the fighting unfolded.
At times he helped out, including when Sergeant-Major Reg Seekings was hit in the head. McLuskey said: “I cannot forget the first and last surgical operation at which I assisted, however inexpertly. The bullet lodged deeply at the base of his skull and could not be removed,
but Reg, as one would expect, took it in his powerful stride
and in no time at all resumed normal operations.”
Our church newsletter, with the link to this article, went out on Friday.
The same day we received a message from a St Columban, residing in Muscat, in the Oman:
“I’ve just read the article about Fraser McLuskey
and thought I would tell you the following story, related to the article.
I was getting married on 19th November, 1983 at St Columba’s.
I was at the church, and there was a bit of a delay
as my fiancé was held up by traffic for the England-Scotland rugby match at Twickenham.
(Three of us): My best man, the minister (Fraser), and I were sitting in the vestry
when there was a knock on the door.
Three men came in and the first said, “Do you remember me, Padre?”
“I’m afraid I don’t” replied Fraser.
The three introduced themselves and chatted about the war.
(It was the SAS reunion that weekend).
After they left, Fraser said: “The last time I saw one of those men
was when I helped operate to remove a piece of shrapnel in his head”.
Our correspondent closed: I assume this must have been the same man
mentioned in The Daily Mail story.”
(Footnote: The bride did finally arrive at the Church)
The fascination of stories – connecting past, present and future (?)
Certain places – accumulate and honouring life stories,
like slow building coral reefs.
At the same time, recognition that no two people hear/respond to
the same story in identical fashion.
Parachute Padres and wedding day encounters will trigger alternatives:
Some will think about a much-admired padre and minister;
others, about their own military service:
Some may recall awaiting their own wedding day:
And others, simply will not connect with that particular tale at all.
I think it is fair to say, humans are a story-telling species;
Bedtime fairy tales, playground gossip, sporting anecdote,
Journalist enquiry, national histories, therapist’s chair, funeral tribute.
It is no surprise that faith comes and is conveyed in the passing of stories.
Scripture’s overarching epic: “The Good Book.”
A sixty-six-book blockbuster, of a God who creates, loves
and stays faithful to the world, and all that is in it.
For would-be disciples, its most important chapters, entitled Christ.
Weaving together the story of the life Jesus lived, and the stories Jesus told.
Parables – engaging/sparking imagination, cajoling conscience,
expanding horizons, issuing warning, and summoning to serve.
A man went out to sow….
The contemporary Irish poet Liam Ó Comáin, in his poem, The Sower,
Meditates on the sight of an early morning hand sower
broadcasting the seeds in pre-industrial fashion.
A solitary figure silhouetted by the rising
Sun while grasping from a slung sack,
Dispersing back and forth in the
Manner of previous sowers.
But you are also an icon
Or an image of he or she
As I observed I imagined the giver
Of life scattering seeds of love into
Our hearts to grow and flourish
In order to share the means of
Reaping a harvest beyond
Our mortal time.
Seeds of love – for a harvest beyond our mortal time.
This parable – prodigal sower and different soils
commissions us to be disciple-sowers
and reminds us that we will not always meet grand success.
There will be the reality of failures and their reasons –
stony ground, shallow ground, choking ground.
The shortcomings are well rehearsed –
Easy to identify in ourselves, and others.
But the tale does not end with inhospitable ground;
bushels of abundance are where this parable leads.
The tale ends with a miracle, a riotous pay-off, a hundredfold harvest.
(Sevenfold, the scholars say, would have been a good outcome.)
That is some seed. The parable awakens us to the precious dynamite in our hands;
These seeds may look tiny, dead;
they may fall in places where they come to nothing.
In the attempt to emulate/to follow/to share Christ/to sow for love,
there will always be setbacks.
Jesus predicts, “Some of your work will be in vain, no visible harvest. But sow anyway.”
“The wisdom of letting go of the end result.” (David Donald Scott)
[Archbishop Oscar Romero:
“We plant the seeds that will one day grow.
We may never see the end results.
We are ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”]
Ultimately, the harvest belongs to God. (Isaiah 55)
“My word shall not return to me empty.
But it shall accomplish that which I purpose
and succeed in the things for which I sent it.”
Let me conclude with one more woven tale; a story about a story-teller.
I offer it, not because it scores a neat, theological bullseye,
but because it incorporates both the sorrow and the beauty of the world,
so feels worth the telling.
Some weeks ago, the office received the request for a Church of Scotland minister
to conduct the burial of a Scotsman, with no recorded next of kin.
I was told to expect just the undertakers to be present.
It transpired that the man was a member of St Columba’s.
On further enquiry, a little emerged about him –
Ex-RAF, a civil servant, an attendant at the British Museum,
a member of a St Columba’s lunch team, and Crown Court ramblers.
Not much; but I was glad that I could stand at a graveside, with at least those fragments.
On Friday morning the sun shone.
On arrival, I found undertakers, plus three others.
A Greek couple who had lived in the same block of flats
and a member of a local food bank, formed in response to the current pandemic.
In the few minutes before the burial, they told me what they knew,
and perhaps more importantly,
how much this almost anonymous man had meant to them.
He was full of stories. He loved his cigarettes.
He had apparently had a great influence on a teenage helper at the food bank –
a young Etonian pupil.
They also told me of the terrible squalor of his living conditions.
There was anger at how someone who had served his country
could have fallen so far off his country’s Rada.
As one of the mourners remarked:
“David was not the only case that the Food Bank has found.
With no next of kin, it is a deep reminder of the closeness we all have to loneliness.”
On a day that both stands as accusation
and as a reminder of what can be so very good in people,
we prayed our thanks:
For the little that is known;
and the all that is known unto God alone.
In the ancient ritual we cast earth onto the coffin – dust to dust;
David’s friend of his last weeks, threw in two packs of his preferred brand of cigarettes;
his neighbours, white roses.
It was very small, but not without dignity.
Beyond the trees traffic carried on.
This is our life; these are some of its stories.
But, as the poet observed, and imagined:
“…the giver of life scattering seeds of love
to reap a harvest beyond our mortal time.” Liam O Comain