Friday, October 10, 2008

Graham Kendrick makes the list!

Though it's the list today in the Daily Mail of the 50 people who ruined Britain.

Hymns such as "Shine Jesus Shine" can be variously described as either 'tepid bilge' or 'really worshipping Jesus'. They've certainly run afoul of Quentin Letts who includes the author of many such hymns on a list of people he holds responsible for Britain's downfall. Mr Kendrick occupies space #39 - between the present head of MI6 and Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister.

Mr Letts' taste in hymnody clearly runs in a different direction

The sturdy hymns of England, musical embodiment of the stoicism, resolve and undemonstrative solidarity of our nation....
In other words 'Jerusalem' or some other old chestnut - the sort of hymns a schoolboy could belt out in full voice while being flogged with a cane at school - back in the days when Britain was great.


Although, in fairness (and with thanks to AsboJesus for mentioning the bloody obvious) Graham Kendrick has not done nearly the damage to Britain over the years that the bloody Daily Mail has done.

A Sermon for Sunday
October 12th, 2008

Proper 23

Exodus 32:1-14
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

What do the mice do when the cat’s away? “When the cat’s away the mice will play”. In the French version of the same saying it seems that the mice “dance”. You get the drift. They move the tables and chairs off the floor, put up streamers and turn the stereo on nice and loud. They can’t be trusted.

Any substitute teacher knows what will happen when he leaves a class and wanders down to the office with some paperwork. He can hear the voices begin to mount in the classroom as he takes the first steps away from the door and knows that he’s got only seconds before his class erupts in chaos. If he’s clever, he’ll time the day so that there are no gaps – one activity will follow the other like clicks on a metronome. Keep the children busy and you’ll keep the children happy.

Delay and you’ll only create a vacuum which nature itself or human nature abhors. William Golding’s novel ‘The Lord of the Flies’ shows how in the absence of order and structure new hierarchies will develop among children left to their own devices. We’ll always fill in the gaps. We’ll always make accommodations. We hate to wait.

In our story from the Book of Exodus, which we read this morning, Moses was off on a mountain speaking to God and the people of Israel were left alone. Moses was away. God seemed remote - an idea - a memory. There was absolutely nothing to hand. An agreed common history – brutal though it may have been – had slowly begun to redeem itself in the memory. Where were we, in Egypt? Slavery, yes – but was it so awful, after all? There was food, there was a place to sleep. And the future - what can we say about that? We’re told there’s a land somewhere out there. It’s where we’re going. It’s filled with milk and honey, don’t you know. Milk and honey? Here we are - barely able to find our way and we’re living in the shadow of a promise, an idea, a possibility – something which an invisible God said to a man who isn’t here today. He’s gone and we’re alone. Now there’s a gap which wants filled.

There’s a lot to be said for filling gaps. There’s a lot to be said for accommodating one’s self to reality. We do it all the time. Accepting something less than we once wanted might just be a sign of maturity. Taking stock of where you’re standing and squinting slightly until it begins to look better is one of the things that we find ourselves forced to do. Adapting. Accepting something less with a shrug. As my grandfather used to say: It may be an ugly dog but it’s my dog.

Accommodation. If you can’t accommodate you won’t stay married for long. If you can’t accommodate you’ll never find a church you’re happy to settle in. I know plenty of people who’ve don’t join a church as much as they camp in a series of churches for six months or a year. They’re looking for something grand and they end up with real people with real foibles and a pastor who’s merely human and a roof that leaks. They can’t do it - they refuse to accommodate and so they move on.

You wake up one morning next to the snoring tousled person you married and you reflect how this was not part of the daydream you had. Living with the reality of your marriage, your church, your work – living for that matter with the reality of who you are and have become – requires a degree of accommodation. You jostle your expectations a bit. You make do. You go to work anyway. This is your job. This is your husband – your wife. This is life. It may be an ugly dog but it’s my dog.

But are there limits? Yes I think there are. I think there are dreams, which we need to rediscover when we’ve accommodated too much. When we’ve accommodated ourselves endlessly to a life grown small and stunted. It’s possible to accommodate too much.

The people of Israel out there in the desert go about building their own god. They melt down their jewellery. They make a veal calf out of it and bow down to it. We might not understand that. It doesn’t have a lot of analogues in our own experience. It’s just a thing. It’s the same gold you could fill teeth with or make wedding rings. Like Isaiah says: a man takes a piece of wood and cuts it in two. With one half he builds a fire and warms himself. With the other half he makes for himself a god. Isaiah repeats the same thing three times in case we don’t understand. It’s just a thing. It’s no god.

We have appetites. We cling to groups of like-minded people. We scream at the other team. We are Scots, we are Canadians: we have political or national affiliations. We have preferences in music and art. We’re members of families. We live for our children, we live for our art. We buy lottery tickets. We worry about our health and try to keep ourselves fit. It may not be God but it’ll do in his absence.
There are a lot of things which feel like Grace and which feel like God.

Sometimes we know we’re following the wrong track – sometimes we don't. We may have wrapped ourselves up with the lives of our congregations – with their intrigues and the particular web of relationships and institutions. Churches have a life of their own. "We’re doing our part for the Kingdom of God", we say. There are only a few of us on the Vestry or the Session. Somebody needs to do this. But maybe we forget that our church points to something beyond itself. Beyond the actions and the hymns, beyond the execution of good liturgy, beyond the sermon and the young people’s group, there is the presence of God within and around us. Kneeling there at the altar rail, vulnerable and face to face with the reality of a God who loves us and nourishes us we might need to be reminded that none of these tasks and responsibilities is an end in itself but simply a means. That’s what it’s about. So take your place in the life of the church, fill your shoes as part of the property committee or the altar guild but don’t forget what stands above and beyond all that – remember the invisible reality which underpins all of that and don’t ever let the contingent things of life replace the Eternal things. We’ve accommodated too much – our boredom is showing - and it’s time we raised our sights. We need to look beyond the things that are to hand.

Anxiety and impatience: that’s what drove them to it out there in the desert with their Golden Calf. We live in an anxious and impatient age as well. The smouldering sense of dread is seeps out of our newscasts every evening. We’re meant to believe that this is an age where humans have outlived a personal God and have evolved beyond the revealed religion of earlier ages but what we see is tremendous hunger. We will go to great lengths to fill the gap with something – anything. Genuinely hunger for a relationship with a living God deserves to be satisfied. The tragedy out there in the desert occurred because the people would not wait and allowed something less than God to take his place.

Lift your eyes higher. Be hungry a little longer. Be satisfied with nothing less than the real thing which alone will satisfy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Taking the lead from a master.....

I got a few words muddled up in yesterdays "Thought for the Day". They were the same words I muddled up while I was practising it so have made a note-to-self to replace anything hard to say before I get in front of a microphone. Clearly I need to take more of a lead from the master himself.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Good advice from Asbo Jesus.