Sermon for Epiphany 5A – 5th February 2023

Isaiah 58:1-12; Ps 112:1-10; 1 Cor 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

Discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatlands. To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. A community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

Words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book “Discipleship”. He points out that any who want to be disciples, have the responsibility to witness to the world, for he says, as disciples:

now they have to be what they are, or they’re not following Jesus. The followers are the visible community of faith; their discipleship is a visible act which separates them from the world – or it’s not discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

For Bonhoeffer, the church must be visible, not for the sake of being the centre of attention, but for the sake of standing out. Christian communities must live by the standards to which Jesus is calling them, which are contrary to the norms of society, and in doing so they’ll stand out. For example, if they choose to forgive and don’t become violent, their actions will be noticed and perhaps not liked. 

By contrast,

a community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Cost of Discipleship”

As a result of their public actions, Jesus says that his disciples may be hated and thrown out, just as he was, but public action’s essential to live the life of a Disciple. When Jesus tells his disciples that they’re “the light of the world”, it’s not a statement about what the Church should be, but what it must be. The Church, Jesus tells us, is like a “city built on a hill”, drawing all people to its light. 

But individual disciples are also to be like “portable lamps” (the Greek word Lychnos), carried around by their owner, shining wherever they go. As Jesus tells his disciples

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

His followers are to be a community of faithful witnesses, with a righteousness that

exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”.

Matthew 5:20

But beware there’s a spiritual danger here. As St Teresa of Ávila warns, it’s easy to become focused on doing things because we want our goodness to be noticed, and not because we’re driven to reveal God’s Kingdom. We should do good for the other not for ourselves.

From the outside, it can be hard to distinguish between someone whose good deeds are done because of a love of praise for themselves, and someone whose unselfconscious goodness is offered solely to glorify the Father, no matter the cost. From the inside, however, the two are quite different: if we’re truly acting in ways that transmit the light of the Father, it’ll be a matter of indifference whether our part in it is evident to others, it’s the deed that matters and not the one doing it.

The “bushel” Jesus mentions isn’t a unit of measurement, Jesus is referring to a basket big enough to cover up the lamp and by so doing rendering it ineffective.

In Churches the world over there are at perhaps 3 bushels. The first might be an inferiority complex. Maybe a lack of confidence by comparing ourselves and what we do to what other churches might be doing or to the good old days when this church fuller on a Sunday with lots of children and younger folk. The inferiority bushel can block out God’s light.

The second bushel may be looking inwards concentrating only on internal matters. While necessary, if they become the main focus and an excuse for not getting on with God’s real work, then they’re a bushel that can prevent our light from shining.

The third bushel may be the “if only” church in our heads. This sort of bushel is seductive because it seems so positive and feels so good. Holy longing for an imagined future can provide inspiration, however, to become a reality it needs to be realistic and requires concrete congregational action in the present to become a reality and without that it’s just a another bushel.

Can you hear the incredulous tone in Jesus voice, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel”. Ridiculous! Jesus is clear: we’re not doomed to being distracted and drained by the bushels of inferiority or self-absorption or fantasy. Bushels can only block out the light if we put them there.

Our focus should always be on reflecting Jesus’ light in the world the

light of all people. The light that shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t overcome”.

John 1:4-5

We need to

let our light shine before others

Matthew 5:16

and then as Isaiah says:

Your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations.

Isaiah 58:8-12

So how do we focus on looking outwards and letting our light shine when there are many things in our world to lament at the moment: the climate crisis, the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, the energy and cost of living rises proving so hard for many, inequality among people, poverty, racism and much suffering?

A couple of years ago our Lent Study explored Lament in the Psalms and considered its importance. We know that at times Jesus wept and expressed sorrow, and as we focus on his time in the wilderness, up to his persecution and death, lament seems appropriate: lament as complaint, as resistance, for justice and innovation and as newness and hope. Lament can allow us to express the love of God in so many ways and keep us hopeful and outward looking; helping to let our light shine forth. 


Meditation on the Feast of the Presentation 2023

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Before you continue, why not get yourself a candle.

So as you think about Jesus the Light of the world, recognised by Anna and Simeon, and all the Christians in our community, reflect on all that He gives you, His Light in your life.

God is present everywhere. As the Psalmist says:

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12

We’re never beyond God’s reach, and that should always be a comfort.  We should also recognise Jesus’ presence in all those we meet. Christ the living Word, loves all people and indeed all of Creation. As with Anna and Simeon it’s our response that makes the difference – as the Holy Spirit enables us to recognise Jesus, and ignites that fire within us, so are we embraced by his Love.

Jesus calls us to shine as a lights in the world.  To allow His Light to shine within us. Sometimes keeping that light burning can be hard; there’s plenty to dim that flame in a world that doesn’t recognise or welcome His marvellous Light. And so we need to keep returning to Him to reacquaint ourselves with the warmth of His love.  Just as a flame needs oxygen so that it can burn brightly, to take time and make space to nourish our relationship with Him.

So light your candle and focus on its flame. Of course it’s just a candle flame, but today, it represents Christ’s living flame. The flame that burns continually and for everyone. Christ is Light for us as a Christian Community, and Light for each of us individually. Ultimately it’s our response to His Light that’ll make the difference. In the lighting of our candles we acknowledge where our true Light comes from, and we open ourselves up to His healing Light for ourselves and for the whole world and the many divisions in our society.

In a moment of quiet and stillness, focus on your lit candle, use it to draw your mind to Christ the Light of the world, the Light your soul long for, the light that lights your way; the light for our whole community and for the whole world.

As we light our individual candles, they represent Christ’s Light burning within each of us. A Light to dispel darkness and fear from our lives, a light to enlighten our minds, a light to brighten dull days and show each of us the path we must travel.

Christ’s Light is freely given, yet so precious. We’re indeed blessed by this Light, and as a result should bless others in return, and

 “let our lights so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Our lights unite us, coming from a single source symbolizing the one true Light of Christ. In this light we’re one with each other and one with Christ. Together we burn brightly to the glory of God.

As you hold your lit candle you may like to think of all those who’ve worshipped in our churches and community throughout their history and no doubt held their candles, as we do, for services in Advent, Christmas, Easter or Candlemas. Faithful souls who’re now with the Lord. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Let us all as one shine as a single light in the world to the glory of God our Saviour.  


Sermon for Epiphany 4A – 29th January 2023

Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12 

For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.
’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1 Corinthians 1:19-20

So what is the wisdom of the world that Paul is speaking of to the Corinthians? Perhaps something along the lines of:

Happy are the proud and self-sufficient who think the world revolves around them and haven’t ever felt the need to rely on anything or anyone beyond themselves, for nothing will hold them back, the world’s their oyster.

Happy are the content, who fail to notice the suffering of others and who haven’t had to come face-to-face with themselves through the loss of someone dear to them, for they’ll never know their ignorance.

Happy are the confident, proud or arrogant, for they’ll control the happiness or otherwise of those around them and not need to rely on being shown charity or love by others.

Happy are those who get everything they need for fulfilment through earthly pleasures and never feel that there’s anything missing in their lives, for they’ll be filled with feelings of superiority.

Happy are the bullies and the unforgiving, who regarding being merciful and compassionate as weaknesses, haven’t had to rely on the mercy or compassion of others, for they’re the strong ones who’re in control.

Happy are the selfish and those whose use of those around them has shielded them from the complications of seeing others as equals made in the image of God, for they’ll never have to succumb to the heartache of love and compassion or the crutch of religion.

Happy are those prepared to compete and fight for what they want rather than cooperate, for they’ll never need to discover who they really are or engage with the trail of destruction and pain they leave behind.

Happy are those who do wrong and don’t play by the rules and fail to get caught, for they’ll be considered heroes while those who do play by the rules will be seen as losers.

Happy are those who lie, gossip and make fun of others causing them harm or embarrassment and who don’t feel the need to speak out when they see injustice, for they’ll not need to face up to the fact that those they’ve put down, ostracised or persecuted have spoken a truth that’s too close for comfort.

Perhaps reflecting on these characteristics and those elements of them which make each of us squirm just a little, might be instructive in guiding us towards a life more in tune with God’s wisdom than hitherto. 

For Paul the wisdom of the world seems to arise out of Man’s rebellion against God, his refusal to bow the knee and his determination to shape God in his own image. There were many powerful orators in Corinth, not unlike politicians today, with catch-phrases such as: “the wise man is king” and “to the wise man all things belong”, but this was wisdom of the sort to which I have already alluded. Michael Caine could obviously see that there was something lacking in the wisdom of the world when he said:

For all my education, accomplishments, and so called ‘wisdom’… I can’t fathom my own heart.

Michael Caine playing Elliot in the 1986 Woody Allen film “Hannah and her Sisters”

And that’s what its about. Not to be confused with the wave of world leaders who are dismissive about experts, especially when they speak truth to power and when commentators suggest that we’re living in a post-truth world and do you remember a mainstream politician saying with a straight face:

Day after day, we’re fed scare stories about how eating too much will make you fat, and how smoking causes lung cancer. It’s pure scaremongering, and I think this type of negativity is turning patients off.

Michael Gove “Guide to Britain’s Greatest Enemy – the Experts” 2016

Though I do think that the Pandemic did stem the flow of that sort of thing for a while.

No God’s wisdom, the wisdom of the God’s Kingdom, is of a completely different sort:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29

And that’s what lies behind Jesus’ description of a true disciple. The description that he lays out in the Sermon on the Mount, of which the Beatitudes that we heard in our Gospel this morning is but the first part. He lays out the qualities that He looks for in those who aspire to become members of the Kingdom of God. They may seem paradoxical, they may seem to be as much signs of weakness as of strength, but that is to judge them by the wisdom of the world. 

These characteristics of a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven are far removed from the world’s wisdom in such matters, and consequently immensely profound. The citizens of God’s Kingdom are described as putting God first in their motives and actions, in their business and their language, in the way that they treat others and in their thoughts and priorities. The Beatitudes are a bit of a shock for anyone who might think that being a Christian is simply a crutch for the weak, the inadequate, the unsuccessful, the sick and the old. The characteristics described require strength, courage and fortitude.

When it comes to reflecting on the contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God, you can always rely on T. S. Eliot to get to the heart of the matter, so lets end with a few stanzas from “Choruses from The Rock”:

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust. 

T S Eliot “Choruses from the Rock”


Unity not Uniformity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ended on Wednesday. During the week, in many places, there were services where Christians from different denominations joined together to celebrate what they have in common, laying aside those things that divide them. Now, I’d be fairly certain that if any of us were to spell out the difference between our denomination and one of the others we’d make a reasonable job of describing the essential character of our own, but a less good job of the other. Such has been the case throughout Christian history. But these considerations don’t just apply to Christians or to religions, they apply whatever ‘groups’ or ‘tribes’ we belong to and the difference they have to other similar ‘groups’ or ‘tribes’.

Anna and I lived for 25 years in the West of Scotland, in Ayrshire, where sectarianism is still alive and well and where even today the chances of getting some jobs may depend on your denomination, which might be revealed simply by the name of the school you attended. But I’m not sure that sectarianism’s actually got anything to do with religion, with denomination or with belief. It’s more about prejudice and prejudice often arising from ignorance of the ‘others’.

What we seem to be missing in our increasingly polarised culture is a shared humanity. That person who you or I are yelling at (literally or metaphorically), who has a different political, social or religious opinion than us, they’re actually human too, and you or I are no better or worse than them.

When we can learn to admit that we’re not perfect, that we make mistakes all the time and that we constantly change and evolve our opinions and beliefs … then we can begin to have more compassion for ourselves and begin to see ourselves as someone that’s lovable and worthy of grace and compassion, even though we’re not perfect and not living up to our own ideals. At that point we begin to see others, with differing views or opinions, with that same grace and compassion, no matter how different they are or how many mistakes they’ve made. Why? Because we realise that they’re a person, just like us, with hopes and fears, struggling to do the best they can with the resources that they have, the situation that they find themselves in and what they believe to be true.

Irene Butter, who as a child survived not one, but two holocaust concentration camps, perfectly summarizes these ideas in a single sentence: “Enemies are people who’s story you haven’t heard, or who’s face you haven’t seen.” We need to remind ourselves of this whenever we come across another person who doesn’t see the world in exactly the same way that we do.

St Paul reminds us that human standards of judgment count for nothing in God’s eyes. The human standards that say for instance: that my way of being a Christian is better than your way, that my way of worship is better than yours. The scandal of the cross is that God chooses vulnerability, weakness, suffering, and death in order to bring new life. God places the greatest value on our service to others, even when service may mean suffering and rejection. In Christ we’re a new creation, even in (or perhaps because of) our weakness and vulnerability.

It great to hear people talking about unity, so long as they don’t mean simply that “we can all be united if you come over to my way of thinking”. That’s akin to my suggesting that the solution to Christian disunity is for them all to become Episcopalians – and you know what, I don’t think that would solve anything. We like most denominations can’t even agree amongst ourselves!

The key to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the word ‘Prayer’. Unity is something that we should fervently pray for, we might never achieve it, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, remembering that Unity isn’t Uniformity!!


The light that darkness could not overcome

The 21st December was the shortest day and the longest night. Nature seems to have gone to sleep. The leaves have fallen off all but the most resolute of oak trees and the garden lacks life.

As early as the 2nd century, the Romans believed that the ‘Unconquered Sun’ would rise again and warm the earth and bring things back to life. Darkness and Light. Death and New Life. And they prayed to their god ‘Sol Invictus’ or ‘Helios’ if you prefer, that light would come again. It’s no accident that the Christian Church celebrates the birth of the ‘true light’ at the darkest time of the year. He is the light that darkness could not overcome.

There’ll always be a struggle between darkness and light.

We feel that at both a personal level and in the public world around us as well. Nowhere is this more graphically seen than in the destruction and war being waged in Ukraine, in parts of the Middle East and in parts of Africa. Bombs and bullets, terror and violence seem to be the only language being used in these parts of the world, including the lands of the Bible and the places that we hear about in the story of the Incarnation.

And, of course it’s the innocents who suffer and it always has been. 

Who could fail but be shocked by the sheer terror on the faces of children and families as homes and schools, hospitals and clinics and essential parts of the infrastructure of towns and cities are destroyed in ways calculated to instil fear, misery and suffering into the largest number of innocents? Whether these images come from from Aleppo or Mosul, from Gaza or Nablus, from Kiev or Kherson and so many other places whose names we either don’t know or can’t remember, as we watch on our TV screens or read our newspapers, we are appalled.

The story of the birth of Jesus resonates with the story of humanity at it’s darkest hour.

These verses of Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘Refugee’ puts it so well:

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Malcolm Guite “Refugee”

At this time of year, as Christians we hear and proclaim the universal message of the need for peace on earth. Peace isn’t just the absence of conflict and war. Each of us has some responsibility to create at least some of that peace in our own life and community, not least by working for a more just society and world.

These are the ‘hopes and fears’ we focus on at Christmas and as we remember the Holy Innocents.


Christmas message from The Primus

Let the joy of our faith light us up as we rejoice’


Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace to all in whom God delights.

Those are the words sung by the angels as recorded in St Luke’s Gospel, as they proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem. Glory to God and peace to all. These words will be repeated at nativity plays, carol services and in many churches at the Midnight Eucharist. People will begin to feel the warmth generated by these familiar words as Christmas Day begins.

As a society we have created a remarkable product around Christmas Day. We have built expectations of happiness, good cheer and comfort, all set against a picturesque backdrop of gently falling snow. Unfortunately, those images are never real for a significant number of those we are called to serve. This year, for many it will be even harder than before to create any sense of warmth in either heart or body.

As I arrived at the Cathedral in Inverness for our carol service the other day, I passed the rolled-up sleeping bags in the porch, the large container for children’s gifts, and the pile of coats left for those who need something to keep the cold out. These have become the ever-present symbols of a society where an increasing number of people rely on kindness for basic support. I know some shake their heads at the “mess” but most accept that what we see is the reality of life for some people. They need our help.

We celebrate this Christmas at a time when war is taking place in Ukraine, there is famine in the Horn of Africa, and desperate people are crossing the sea in small boats to flee dire consequences in their own countries. We are also aware of the many people near us who will not have enough to pay for their heating or for their food. We think of those who will not be able to make Christmas the special time that it would normally be for their families, and will feel they have somehow failed their loved ones.

As we hear those pleas for support, help us to offer something of ourselves to look after others; teach us how to share and care for those who are struggling, and to allow our churches and congregations to be beacons of prayer, light and hope in this world. We have a wonderful message to proclaim, we have a glorious festival to celebrate, let the joy of our faith light us up as we rejoice in the wonder of the Christmas story.

Let the power of the incarnation lead to us to action, and the love of God cause us to sing with the angels.

Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace to all in whom God delights.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – we remember Mary

Donald Swan’s Tryptic of the Incarnation in he Lady Chapel of the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport

Perhaps we’ve a lot to learn from Joseph and Mary. Joseph, committing himself to listening humbly and attentively to God.
And Mary welcoming into her heart, soul and body, the mystery of Emmanuel ‘God with us’.

We might also reflect on the part that discretion played in Joseph’s and in Mary’s life. Joseph always discretely there.
And Mary, getting on with what needs to be done.

This is so beautifully captured in Donald Swan’s lovely tryptic in the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport, where I used to take services from time to time.
In that, Mary is depicted in the stable, feeding her child so discretely that you’d hardly notice.

On this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we should ask with them:

What happens when we allow God to intrude into our nicely laid plans and decisions?”

Waiting, and Hoping, and Wishing

Advent’s the season of waiting, and hoping, and wishing
for some sign that God really loves us …

and that after all that’s been happening in the world recently,
for some sign that God hasn’t abandoned us and is still there in our lives
now and will be in the future.

Advent asks us to make room in our hearts and our busy lives for the coming of Jesus our Saviour.

Advent’s a time for us to make it possible for His coming
by smoothing out some of the rough places that might be obstacles to His coming.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee”.

The Season of Not-Knowing?

Are you someone who when you’re reading a book, tends to skip to the end to see what happens rather than sticking with the hero through thick and thin. When Andrew and Daniel were young, on long journeys they’d start asking if we were nearly there yet, before we were a couple of miles from home.

Part of the problem is a failure to be content with now. How much of your time do you spend thinking about the past? How much time do you spend worrying about or anticipating the future? How much time does that leave for living in the present?

The spiritual writer Anthony de Mello suggested in his writings that most of us spend far too much time anywhere but in the present. In Advent it’s so easy to think about Christmases past or to have already arrived at Christmas to come. C. S. Lewis wrote a story called “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus” about a land in which there are two festivals that overlap by just one day.

The first festival is called Exmas and for fifty days the people prepare for it, buying and sending cards and gifts, decorating trees and preparing food

But when the day of the festival comes, most of the citizens being exhausted with the preparation, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper become intoxicated.”

The other festival, called Crissmas, starts on the day that Exmas finishes. But those who keep Crissmas, do the opposite, they

rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast.

and then celebrate for several weeks afterwards.

For me Advent is about waiting for the unexpected. It’s a shame to miss all that by skipping ahead to what we think we know happens at the end of the season, on 25th December. To fail to engage with the now part of the story day by day and week by week. To fail to really listen to and reflect on the now part of the story. To have already moved on to the next part, because we know what happens next and it’s more exciting, more interesting, or perhaps more comforting.

This Advent how about really living in the present? Resisting that strong temptation to skip ahead, Enjoy the anticipation. Enjoy the state of not-knowing, because, if you enter into it, almost anything could happen. Enjoy the possibility that something truly amazing might come to pass. That God might just do something in your life that you didn’t expect, and that His coming into the world – your world – might mean that things are never the same again.



We did Remember

In Flanders Fields


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.