Sermon for Sunday, 15 November 2020

By Revd David Moore

Psalm 123

A Prayer for Mercy

1 Lord, I look up to you,
up to heaven, where you rule.
2 As a servant depends on his master
a maid depends on her mistress,
so we will keep looking to you,
O Lord our God, until you have mercy upon us.
3 Be merciful to us, Lord; be merciful;
we have been treated with so much contempt.
4  We have been mocked too long by the rich
and scorned by proud oppressors.

‘Be on Your Guard’

‘Gender equality’ does not get much of a look-in in the Bible. So, we must make of it the best we can! For me, this requires a firm critical posture between the ‘common mind’ of scripture and the knowledge and values of the cultures we inhabit today.

In Biblical studies the word ‘critical’ is not about doubting, but about avoiding simplicity. For most of my working life I used a Filofax diary – this gave me room to make all sorts of notes about people and places, phone numbers and the like.

I have been retired for twenty years. So I claim the right to wander around in past memory; after all, we have just passed through the season of remembering!

In all my adult life my general administrative competence and dyslexia were managed well by Dorothy, my life partner. She was an NHS-trained secretary. More often than not she could second-guess my diary notes before I had even finished writing them.

But, going back a little further into my past, I grew up second in a line of five brothers, three of us experiencing the bombing of Bath. Five growing lads could be very competitive at times – especially on the rare occasions when we had cream cakes for tea and we had to eat all our crusts before the cakes could be eaten.

I have lived through a remarkable period of social history – my life was shaped by living through war, being inside of a house where all the windows and doors were blasted by bombing and then having to relocate the very same day, being taken to grandparents I hardly knew forty-plus miles away. There our family shared the home of an aunt with a severe mental illness. Her husband was in the Army and my father was far away building emergence air-strips all over East Anglia.

My aunt’s illness deteriorated so much that my elder brother and I ended up attending a boarding school from Monday to Friday. Boarding school at five!

Fast forward …

Some years later I was confirmed as a member of the Methodist Church, along with Dorothy and a dozen or so teenagers of a Methodist Church in Bath.

So, as we say … one thing leads to another …. I began training as a Local Preacher and Dorothy and I became an item and somehow a wider purpose began to emerge.

I then spent a year at Cliff College in Derbyshire – not my theological cup of tea but it certainly helped me to sort out who I was and added depth to my journey. However, at this time I did not have a bigger picture of my future plan, but I did follow this time with two years as a youth worker in Basildon, me an untrained youth worker arbitrating a youth club (five nights a week) populated by Old Towners and New Towners. Muscular Christianity was often required! Average attendance was 84 an evening! I also found myself playing football for Basildon Town in the then London League. If I scored a goal it was front page news in the Basildon Recorder!

My Superintendent Minister was Ron Gibbins. (Bless his memory.) He managed and tutored me with a very light but wise hand. I never managed to tell him just how important he was to me and that his presence still remains in my life.

My first appointment as a Minister was in South Wales for three years … and then I found myself as a Minister of a Church in Cable Street, Stepney (said to be a place of real danger and sordid morality). There was a small congregation PLUS a Soup Kitchen for fifty or more homeless men and one or two women. It was open five nights a week.

All of this was so full-on most of the time … but we were young! Our children knew quite a few homeless men before they started school. Bill Mackay, a recovering alcoholic, became one of our baby-sitters! And I also got to know many of the staff at the London Hospital Emergency Department.

‘Be on guard’ does not mean avoiding risk. Being on guard can mean being ‘wide-eyed’. Being a person of faith can mean a willingness to take risks for the good of others.

The Jesus I began following as a young man has at times led me into numerous difficult situations. My faith has had to adapt and change in the light of the circumstances of my life. Faith is to be flexible, not rigid.

Today a good bit of me is agnostic, but that has in no way caused me to jettison the Christianity I absorbed/accepted as a teenager. It has continued to develop over the years.

I do, however, mistrust some popular forms of Christianity. We must find better ways of relocating the bloodiness of the Cross. Remove the cosmetics that hide more than they reveal!

Christianity has a Cross at the centre of everything. And, however much we might wish to decorate or elaborate the Cross, we are talking about death. There cannot be resurrection without death.

Now that takes a bit of thinking about!