I know that we have people here who enjoy quizzes – whether on the TV or radio or the quizzes we have from time to time at one of our social events here at St. John’s.
And for quizzers Monday evening on BBC2 at the moment is brilliant. It’s quiz night on the telly, because you get Mastermind, Only Connect and University Challenge one after the other – at least you do when they’re not displaced by rugby!
Only Connect – as those of you who watch it will know – is particularly difficult because you have to find connections between seemingly unconnected things in order to come up with the answer.
Well, here’s an Only Connect kind of question for you this morning. I’ve used this with the children at school, though they got the benefit of pictures to go with the question. What is the link between these.
I realise many of you will find this hard to believe, but I was a very well-behaved child. Despite that, there were inevitably times when my mother felt that I wasn’t behaving as she would wish. And so, there would come the questions – questions that I knew, however much I felt they deserved an answer, were best answered with silence.
Questions like: Am I talking to a brick wall? Are you deaf or something? How many times do I have to tell you? What did your last servant die of? Do you think I’m made of money?
And then – well all else had failed – as a last resort she would come out with: Why don’t you just grow up! Bit difficult really, when you’re only ten years old, but I was old enough to know that telling her that was not going to get me anywhere or help the situation!
We all have to grow up in the end of course, but it’s not something you can do instantly just because someone tells you to!
Thank you letters were a part of my childhood, as they were for so many of us in days of old. You know, those far off days before we all had smartphones to send texts on. Those far off days even before email was invented.
As so, every Christmas and birthday, you knew what was coming after the event. You had to write thank youletters. And parents made it clear that saying ‘thank you’ was essential – even when you had to say it for things that you didn’t actually want. It was the polite thing to do, and it was expected. It was, as my parents used to say, the ‘done thing’.
What was not the ‘done thing’ in those days was to tell your parents exactly what you wanted for Christmas or birthday presents. These days everyone makes sure beforehand that you know exactly what presents they want, which to my mind rather takes the fun out of giving. When I was young you simply had to wait to find out what you were getting – which of course just increased the temptation to go looking beforehand while your parents weren’t around to see what they had bought.
Last Sunday, like many churches around the world, we kept at St John’s the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s actually on the 15th August, but it’s customary to keep it on the nearest Sunday. Here’s what I said.
Given the increasing shortage of priests you’d think that the Church of England would be falling over itself to welcome anyone who was foolhardy enough to offer themselves for training for the priestly ministry.
But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that that is not the case. I’ve known quite a few people over the years who have expressed interest. Some got put off by the pay and conditions of service. Some realized that it just wasn’t for them. Others made it as far as the selection process. Only a handful were actually chosen to go and train to be priests.
The problem is it’s not easy knowing whether someone is called to be a priest in the Church. For the Church is not like other careers. It doesn’t matter how highly qualified you are or how able you might be – the Church has to decide whether God actually wants you to be a priest regardless of what your other qualifications might be. So to help it the Church has produced a 24-page document entitled Criteria for Selection for the Ordained Ministry in the Church of England. I have a copy here.
I did, when preparing this sermon. Three years ago, when we last had this gospel reading, here’s how I began my sermon.
Well – there’s certainly no shortage of news at the moment is there! And plenty to leave us wondering – and worrying – about what the future might hold. Recent weeks have seen us gain a new Prime Minister and the inevitable questions from all sides about where we are heading over Brexit. And if that doesn’t worry you, then there is global-warming – a week last Thursday resulted in the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. What does the future hold? No wonder someone said to me, “I can’t cope with any more news!”
Well, that was three years ago. And here we are three years later, and it seems that what the future held was just more of the same. The news now isn’t much different to the news of three years ago. We are waiting to see who our new Prime Minister will be. We all know the issues with the Northern Island Protocol, and have seen the queues at the port of Dover of people trying to cross the channel, both reminding us that Brexit is still an issue. And two weeks ago, we saw the hottest day ever recorded in the UK.
Our gospel reading this morning always reminds me of a holiday we had when I was very small. We were travelling as a family on a coach for our summer holiday to Gorleston-on-sea, which is near Great Yarmouth. I must have been about five or six years old. Like most small children I wanted to know when we’d arrive. Unlike most small children I didn’t repeatedly ask, “Are we nearly there yet?” I was far too intelligent for that, since I knew that when we had only just set out on what felt a long journey, we couldn’t be “nearly there yet”!
Instead, since I knew from an early age that my Father knew everything I kept asking every few minutes, “How many miles are there still to go?” My Father, with infinite patience – he never once told me to be quiet – would tell me exactly how many miles there were still to travel – each time giving me a figure one or two miles less than the previous answer.
Who likes doing the housework when everyone else is just sitting around doing nothing and not helping?
It’s really annoying, isn’t it? After all, someone has to do the housework. Even more annoying when no-one else offers to help!
Today’s gospel is about two people – one who was busy getting things done and another who just sat around and did nothing – Martha and Mary!
Where would we be without the Marthas of this world – without those people who are always active, making sure the work gets done, so that life can go on? And yet – if today’s gospel reading is to be taken seriously – it appears that Jesus seems to prefer people to just sit, listen, and set the work aside.
I know that this gospel sometimes irritates busy people who feel that they have no time, that Jesus is being unreasonable, but before I try and deal with that question, let us consider the messages of today’s reading. For in fact, there are two.
Courtroom dramas on the TV have always been popular. And one of my all-time favourite characters is the lawyer Horace Rumpole – popularly known as Rumpole of the Bailey – and I’m sure some of you will remember the TV series in which Rumpole was portrayed so brilliantly by Leo McKern.
For those of you unfamiliar with Rumpole let me give a bit of background. Horace Rumpole is a character in a series of wonderful books by the writer and barrister John Mortimer. Rumpole is also a barrister, working from his chambers in Equity Court, and he likes nothing better than defending his clients in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. Indeed, his skill at defending his clients – and he only ever defends, never prosecutes, is legendary among the criminal classes. He is famed for his success in his greatest ever case, the Penge Bungalow murders, and for his forensic knowledge of typewriters.
No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Ploughing was done with a light plough and oxen. The ploughman guided the plough with his left hand while steering the oxen with his right hand. And you had to concentrate to keep the furrows straight. Look away, and you got crooked furrows – no use at all.
Once you’ve put your hand to the plough there’s no turning back
Today I’m going to tell you the story of two men who decided to follow Jesus, two men who put their hand to the plough. We will hear how far they were willing to go, and we will hear about the hymn that links them.
The hymn is an old hymn that we used to sing on Church Army beach missions. The first verse goes like this – and I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m going to say rather than sing it:
I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.
Last Sunday was the feast of The Holy Trinity. Many clergy worry about what to say on Trinity Sunday. How do you explain the Trinity? Well, here’s my attempt this year to deal with the great mystery of the Three-in-one God.
From time to time the BBC Songs of Praise programme holds a poll to find the nation’s favourite hymns. I had a look through the most recent list of the top 100 yesterday. Anyone know what the nation’s favourite hymn might be?
Yes – it’s Jerusalem.
I was disappointed to discover that two of my all time favourites do not appear. They never do. Mainly, I suspect, because congregations of today don’t have the stamina that people of the Victorian age had when it came to hymn singing.
The first is Lift high the cross. It’s a great hymn, coming in when sung all the way through at eleven verses and choruses, which was sung at my Church Army commissioning many years ago and which is a great Church Army anthem. And it was a delight to sing it as the processional hymn at our Diocesan Chrism Mass this year in Southwark Cathedral on Maundy Thursday. We sang it in its entirety and it went on long after all the choirs and clergy and bishops had processed in to their places.