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Sermons - November 2019

Sermon 3rd November 2019

SUN 03 NOV 2019,11am

Then Jesus said to Zacchaeus,
Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:9-10

A baptismal day (today, Maggie’s) is surely a day,
to be joyful and to be prayerful.
Most special of course for immediate family –
but a reminder too of our own baptisms,
whether recent or many decades ago.
Sign of welcome and promise,
renewed each time we play out the little drama
of water and naming, presenting and blessing.

Many baptismal days are also a moment to draw family and friends together
and my guess is that it is a day
both to reflect a little on family trees – where we come from
and to wonder what this new life will become.

Edwina Gateley, is a contemporary poet.
Born in Lancaster, trained as a teacher, but then moving to America.
where she studied theology and trained as an HIV counsellor.
In the early 1980’s, Gateley first lived for nine months in a hermitage in Illinois,
then spent a year on the streets of Chicago;
walking with the homeless and women involved in prostitution.
From these two experiences -solitude and the streets –
she founded a house of hospitality for women involved in prostitution.

In a poem entitled: Called to Become
[There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996, 2013)] 

It does not matter
How short or tall
Or thick-set or slow
You may be.

It does not matter
Whether you feel loved and admired
Or unloved and alone

For the Lord delights in you.
Unique and loved you stand.
Beautiful or stunted in your growth
But never without hope and life.

The Lord delights in you – echo of what we declared to Maggie:
The Lord delights in you – echo of what Jesus declared to Zacchaeus:
You too, are a son of Abraham.”
Zacchaeus – short of stature; short of friends.
The tax gatherer - extorting revenue for Rome’s occupying oppressors –
a Quisling, ritually unclean,
despised – economically, politically and religiously. 

As Jesus passes through Jericho,
famously, the crowd cold shoulders Zacchaeus.
So, he does something utterly undignified for a man of his station.
He runs ahead of the crowd, and climbs up into a tree,
then waits for Jesus to pass by.

Jesus draws near. Looks up.
And in the seeing and the being seen – something happens.
Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community
which cares for those severely disabled said:
The way you look at someone can change their life.” 

Ludicrous and despised -
Jesus sees beneath and beyond the outer shell,
however shabby it may be.
Rejected or reviled,
Jesus still sees the face of a child of God. 

For Zacchaeus, in the seeing and the being seen,
he discovers/rediscovers his own dignity;
the moment reawakens him to the meaning of his name:
Zacchaeus – which means, “pure.”
While the crowd may snort with incredulity,
the little man laughs with a dawning joy:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The rest happens in a hurry.
Jesus calls him by his name and he quickly comes down.
There is no sermon on repentance;
but by choosing to keep company with him,
and accept the consequences of doing so –
Jesus gives Zacchaeus the experience God’s love – first hand.
Zacchaeus responds exuberantly.
Tragically, predictably, not everyone sees this as cause for celebration.
Like the Pharisee praying in the Temple,
like the elder brother refusing to join the prodigal’s return party
the crowd grumbles.
He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
Heading for a showdown referendum in Jerusalem,
this is no way to run an election campaign.
What kind of Messiah does social media, with someone like that?

It is of course, utterly characteristic;
how often Jesus picks out, celebrates, unlikely companions;
the faith of a Roman soldier, a "good" Samaritan;
warnings of woe to the religious self-righteous
or those who disregard the poor.
Jesus consistently, calling out the apparently good
and calling in the apparently bad.
Bystanders demonise Zacchaeus;
Jesus declares him, a son of Abraham.

Today salvation has come to this house:
For the Lord delights in you.
Unique and loved you stand.
Beautiful or stunted in your growth
But never without hope and life.

Ask Zacchaeus;
show Maggie;
remember - all of us.

Sermon 17th November 2019

SUN 17 NOV 2019

“By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Luke 21:17-19

Walking away from St Columba’s this week to attend a meeting elsewhere,
I was half way down Pont Street, when I met a fellow, school-gate Dad,
walking towards church.
“It really is my favourite London Church.”
In the face of such enthusiasm, it seemed appropriate to turn around and look,
pausing to take in one of the views that best shows the architect’s vision.
Sometimes it takes the unexpected,
to remind us of the beauty/gift of a thing.
Sometimes, a little distance - real or metaphorical - is required,
to refresh our sight.

This week too, from a funeral tribute: “She loved Canterbury Cathedral.”
Perhaps in your mind’s eye you can think of buildings –
ecclesiastical or other - that have captured or entranced you.
With architect’s vision, artisan’s skill - buildings have the ability –
to create space, light, form and contrast –
that deeply connect us to certain places.
(For me: Durham Cathedral, a Franciscan chapel in a converted house in Northumberland,
a cave-chapel in a hillside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.)
We all have loyalties to certain bricks and mortar.

To which, Jesus the prophet, speaks uncomfortable words:
“The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another;
all will be thrown down.”
Words addressed to disciples who have been gawping
at the magnificence of the Jerusalem Temple –
truly a construction of shock and awe.
The length of several city blocks; reputedly so covered in gold
that the unsuspecting pilgrim would be blinded by its reflection.
Magnificent symbol of religious permanence and confidence;
the very dwelling place of God.

Yet, despite standing alongside, looking at the same temple,
Jesus and his disciples do not see the same thing.
“It won’t last.”
Ruination may be painful, that is OK,
because bricks and mortar are not the point.
Look beyond the grandeur.
God will not be incarcerated or domesticated
by any construction, however fine.

[“God exceeds every edifice, every institution,
every mission statement, every strategic plan,
and every symbol human beings create in his name.”
(Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus, Nov 19)]
Then Jesus teaches what to do and how to live,
when the walls come tumbling down.
“Do not be terrified, when the earth shakes, and nations make war,
when imposters preach gospels of fear, resentment, and hatred.   
Don’t give in to despair.  Don’t capitalize on chaos.  
Don’t neglect to bear witness. 

Expect things to get hard.  
Endure even when they do.  
Know that God is near, no matter what the world looks or feels like.  
Speak the truth, trusting that God’s Spirit is alive and present
in our acts of bearing witness.  
Be faithful until the end, because God is still - always and everywhere –
a God of love.

In this troubling context, it’s easy to despair.  
And yet:

Last Sunday our Night Shelter restarted, serving guests a meal
and a roof over the head for the night.
Listening to one of the GlassDoor staff:
“The need is undiminished, but there are so many good stories –
most people find a way to a better situation.
Most of them just need a little hand up.”

Or an Eastern European gentleman who returned to St Columba’s on Friday.
Over the last three years his visits have met some very low ebbs.
Living out of a broken-down car –
a move to Holland to search for work – London again.
But this week, returning to show certificates passed for train track laying.
Now, the prospect of work; the prospect of wife and child
being able to join him after years of separation.

Or the gentleman who welcomed me at the door,
here for his AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting:
a member of another congregation, but so proud to tell me –
“I have two communities – this one (AA) and my church.
My vicar tells me – if you have been saved – don’t be quiet about it!”

Later today, we will hear an update from the Young Lewisham Project (YLP) –
Which you supported very generously, via the Lent Appeal –
giving people skills, a sense of hope and self-worth. (Dave Newman)

All of these are ongoing stories; small, mostly unseen;
none of them quick fixes.
They comprise despair and hope, success and set back;
They are about enduring; the courage to say: Tomorrow I go again.
Critically, and often, the tale tells of companions –
those who understand a little of what seems overwhelming,
and who choose to abide, walking awhile, alongside.

This week I was introduced to the words and work of Fr Greg Boyle –
an American Roman Catholic priest who has worked with gang members in Los Angeles
for the past thirty years.

Via the organisation he founded, Homeboy Industries,
Fr Boyle sets about freeing people from the clutches of the gangs
by offering job training, counselling and other services;
tattoo removal, legal advice, mental health support and education programmes.
It runs a bakery and cafe, and trains people to become qualified solar panel installers.

Boyle recognises Homeboy Industries is not vastly different
from other gang intervention and rehabilitation programmes found elsewhere.
Concrete help, employment and education all play important parts:
But: “Our secret sauce is the fostering of a community of tenderness and kinship.
The only delivery system of hope that I know of is a human being –
a loving, caring adult who shows up and pays attention.”

Our long haul may be far removed from helping gang members go straight.
But in turbulent times, we are called to be steady, faithful, and loving;
never wearying, in doing what is right.
For by our endurance, souls are gained.

Sermon 24th November 2019

SUN 24 NOV 2019

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:36, 42, 43

How often does it take a visitor to refresh our seeing,
awaken us to things that have become so familiar,
wonders that we have grown so accustomed to,
that they are all but invisible?
In a city, a home or a church?

On Friday afternoon, each bearing heavy rucksacks, our friends from the GKExperience, were for a while sandwiched like sardines on the London Underground.
Excited, but also perhaps a little bit bewildered – certainly for those here for the first time.
As the Victoria line (named after a Queen) approached Green Park – the tannoy announced – “Alight here for Buckingham Palace.”
Regular commuters didn’t blink.
Visitors’ eyes lit up.

Another famous London landmark – nearby, Harrods:
There is a funny story from the early C20th:
A famous, but scatter-brained composer, was shopping in the Harrods food hall.
By chance, he bumped into a lady who he vaguely remembered,
but could not quite place.
In one of those awkward conversations, the composer struggled
with a conversational gambit that would unlock the lady’s identity;
she seemed in no hurry to help.
Eventually in desperation the composer asked: “And how is your husband?”
“Still King” she replied.

Palaces and sovereigns - why this brush with royalty – topical as they sometimes are?
Today is the last Sunday of the Church year – our calendar comes full circle:
Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity and beyond;
annual signposts along the pilgrim way.
Next week we set sail again – the first Sunday of Advent.
But first, today, reaching harbour,
we report our findings about our year-long voyage;
the verdict, once all the evidence has been gathered.
And on this “last Sunday” we bestow the title – Christ the King.

Kingship runs through the New Testament.
Later believers would worship Jesus not only as king of the Jews,
but also, as “the king of kings” (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 19:16),
the “king of the ages” (Revelation 19:3),
and “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5).
To quote Elvis Presley:
“There’s only one king, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, on this triumphant sounding Sunday,
we might expect the power and the glory,
Isaiah’s words: “A son will be given to us,
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.”
Or a big reveal, gospel special –
Jesus emerging from the waters of baptism or transfigured on a mountain top.

What we get, is crucifixion:
A stripped and suffocating man;
a crowd spitting venom at his tortured body;
friends, watching on helplessly from a distance.

And in the heart of this horror, amid the vile words,
amid the fear that drives the violence, and destroys humanity;
It is there, at the very moment when everything seems smashed,
light snuffed out;
it is there our ancestors in the faith – first disciples, later gospel writers –
there at the place of the skull –
they cam eto believe this was truly the place of coronation.

Perhaps the key is in the threefold taunt of today’s gospel:
From the (religious) leaders of the day, then the soldiers,
finally one of the thieves hanging next to him:
“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”
“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
“Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Behind all the particular mockeries devised for Jesus –
a crown of thorns, the elegant robes of rulership,
the false bowings and scrapings, followed by blows and laughter –
behind or beneath, the taunting challenge:
If…if you are God’s chosen one, let us see your power; save yourself.”

Echo of another wilderness, another temptation:
“If you are the Son of God – turn stones to bread, cast yourself from the Temple tower,
for the kingdoms of the world, worship me…”
He said no then, he says no now.
What kind of king does that?

It is a King who makes a choice.
Having set his face towards Jerusalem the message at the core of his being –
the love of God for a broken world.
He will not abandon those he came to seek – even if he must pay with his life.

In the Netflix series, The Crown, a current episode centres around a domestic disaster in 1964 – when a coal heap, perched above the Welsh mining town of Aberfan, slipped;
the resultant landslide killing 145 villagers, 116 of them children.
The narrative of the episode, is about how the Establishment reacts.
In the face of unimaginable tragedy – what is there to do?
The TV version, is that initially protocol demands that the Queen does not go.
Only later, does she visit the disaster scene.
The footnote to the episode, is that to this day,
it is apparently the Queen’s greatest regret, that she did not go sooner.

A group of clergy were once advised by an RUC policeman,
talking about visiting bereaved families. from the Troubles of Northern Ireland:
“People don’t care how much you know,
until they know how much you care.”
Archbishop Eames: “Long after families have remembered what you said,
or forgotten what you said – they will remember that you came.”

Remember: Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
“I will. I do.” Jesus replies.
“Do this in remembrance of me” the words will hear at communion.
Great reminder, of the King who chose so strange a way of kingship.
The King who chose to come,
once for all;
and comes again, a thousand times
in disguises, sometimes recognised, sometimes not.

As our communion prayer will conclude:
“In giving all,
you have not withheld from us your own dear Son,
your very self;
how can we withhold anything from you
our Lord and our God?”

In the name of Christ – still King – Amen.

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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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