Monthly Archives: August 2018



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August 31, 2018 · 12:43



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August 26, 2018 · 17:23



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August 26, 2018 · 17:17

Sermon – Upper Clyde Parish Church, Sunday 12 August 2018

If you remember, last Sunday we thought about words that don’t have loving actions being empty and meaningless.

We considered the damage that vicious, sarcastic, cruel words can have.

And we referenced what James wrote in his letter about the tongue being a deadly weapon, insofar as while it can be used to praise God and our neighbours, it can also ignite (as it were) a forest fire.

Remember his words, “the tongue is a small part of the body…..”. Then adds “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body”

But how many folk have we come across, who destroy others with their, slander, mockery, spite and malice?

It even extends to those who are supposedly Christians.

When I was the NHS healthcare chaplain for NHS Dumfries and Galloway, my first office at the Infirmary also had the patient print out list for ministers who were visiting their Parishioners.

One in particular was a right joker…. or so he thought.

Now, it’s probably not escaped your attention that I’m more like Zacchaeus in stature than Goliath!

The visiting clergyman would usually say, on coming into this shared office- “don’t get up (oh you are!).”

One conversation somehow got round to my not drinking milk (I was probably making a cup of coffee at the time)

“You don’t drink milk – what not even CONDENSED milk?”

Oh how we chuckled!

Especially when he added, “But, surely, you’re going to have some SHORTbread with your cuppa!”

This was a few years ago, of course – and I’m still 5 feet 5”…………..


………………And sadly…… he’s now 6 feet under!!!!

Oh, I mentioned Goliath…. and that brings me to David, the shepherd boy who became a King.

David was the youngest of Jesse’s sons. His brothers were obvious choices for kingship, in that they were big brawny lads.

But David was held in such low regard by his own family that he wasn’t even invited to the ceremony organised by Samuel.

In fact, he was out in the fields looking after the sheep – the work of a servant.

And look at this: David isn’t even mentioned by name. His father refers to him only as “the youngest” such was the low esteem in which he seems to have been held.

How did his brothers react. Who knows. But they were there, we’re told, when he was anointed.

My guess is that either they couldn’t care less, or worse, made fun of someone whom they considered a butt for their jokes and teasing.

In today’s society, it is so often the apparently weakest who are targets for mockery or abuse.
This spirit of mockery is spreading like wildfire at home, school, college, with youngsters especially suffering online or actual bullying.! Mocking, teasing, criticising and humiliating the victim are corrosive.
When my late wife, Helen, underwent not-too-wonderful reconstruction at a certain hospital in Livingston, she was drugged up to the eyeballs with morphine, other heavy duty analgesics as befits such radical surgery and the emotional trauma that is coterminous with it.

After a couple of nights – post operation – she got out of her bed, opened the door and, in a total daze, wandered down the corridor toward the exit.

The crackle of dimwit nurses at the station, looking up from comparing their “adventures” and showing off their latest phone photos, suddenly noticed this disorientated woman heading toward the door.

“What are you doing, Helen?” patronisingly

“I need to speak to my husband”

“Back to bed with you”

No suggestion that they would phone me in the morning to say that she was distressed.

The next morning, she apologised.

And the response: “Don’t worry – it gave us all a good laugh!”

A good laugh?

Probably the same kind of mentality that would have had them visiting “lunatic asylums”, as they were called in those days, to look at the patients shouting and dribbling and “doing tricks” (unintentionally).

Rich Londoners flocked to Bedlam to laugh at the antics of the inmates: a visit to the madhouse was a good day out, ranking with a public execution and featuring in all the popular tourist guides.

Why don’t we all have a laugh at those with emotional, mental or physical disabilities?

Do you remember that most moving film, “The Elephant Man”?

It tells the true story of Joseph Carey Merrick. He was an urbane and intelligent man with very severe deformities who was first exhibited at a freak show as the “Elephant Man”

Merrick was born in Leicester, and began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life: his skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed enlarged lips, and a bony lump grew on his forehead, one of his arms and both of his feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in permanent lameness.

This “freak” was exhibited as some kind of monstrosity for the amusement of the punters at a freak show, where he was mocked and laughed at.

However, he was rescued from this appalling cruelty by a doctor, Frederick Treves, and went on to become well known in society circles in London

The Elephant man…….in the name of entertainment.

How easy for many people to have a laugh at those who are not “normal” (aye, but there’s the rub: what is normality and just who is “normal” here?)

And it’s not something from the politically incorrect past.

The ancient comic tradition of mocking people’s impairments is still going strong today.

Should we be laughing at, for example, Jack Douglas’s comic turns in the Carry On films for resembling epileptic fits and Ronnie Barker’s character Arkwright in Open All Hours for using his stutter to get a cheap laugh.

There’s also a tradition in British comedy dating from Shakespeare to laugh at characters’ lack of intellect.

But that’s fiction……how about reality?

Dr Tom Shakespeare of the University of Newcastle explained that: “People have always found those who look different or behave differently to be figures of fun. It’s a way to bolster your own social norms by denigrating others.”
On one occasion, many moons ago, I was at a particular conference for mental health care chaplains and one of the “guest” speakers told a “joke” along similar lines to this:

“I was walking past the mental hospital the other day, and all the patients were shouting ,’13….13….13′

“The fence was too high to see over, but I saw a little gap in the planks and looked through to see what was going on.

“Somebody poked me in the eye with a stick.

“Then they all started shouting ’14….14….14”

One of my mental health care chaplaincy colleagues – a sensitive and caring man – looked at the lecturer, and very quietly and in measured tones, said, “Who is that ‘joke’ directed at?”

Laugh with; never laugh at

Remember – from our story about David being chosen:

Man judges by the outward looks, but God looks at the heart

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August 8, 2018 · 10:06

“Fire”. Sermon preached at Upper Clyde Parish Church on Sunday, 5 August 2018

My late Uncle Alex worked for the National Coal Board in their offices in Edinburgh at Lauriston Place.

At pavement level in one of the windows of the building there was a picture advertising the Coal Board’s principal product, and a slogan along the lines of: ‘There’s nothing like a real fire’

This was kind of ironic as the Fire Station was right next to them!

That Fire Station is no longer operational, but remains as a museum.

It always had an attraction to me when, as a youngster, I would visit Uncle Alex in his offices next door..

I enjoy watching youngsters, girls and boys, at the Dumfries & Galloway Fire Brigade’s Open Day at Brooms Road, as it always brings back a lot of happy memories.

I wonder how many of these kids posing in front of the fire engines for photographs, had, like me all these years ago a great aspiration to grow up and be a fire fighter?

The old fire station in Lauriston Place in Edinburgh contained just about everything there was to engage a young boy’s imagination There were the bright red gleaming fire engines into which we were able to climb. There were the lockers with all the fire-fighter’s coats and helmets There was all sorts of other equipment, each item having some fascinating use for a small and wonder filled boy.

But most of all, there were just the grandest thing – a gleaming fire pole down which the firemen would slide from their quarters above down to the ground floor where the fire engines were. Oh the excitement of it all!

Certainly, to be a fireman would have just about been the best thing ever!

Of course, there are the long hours of training, long shifts away from home, the long boring hours when nothing is happening Then there is the tough physical conditioning,, and oh yes, lest I not forget, the danger of fighting fires!

Well, as a kid, I thought that maybe, I could just pretend to be a fireman.

What if I went out and bought a red fire-helmet and boots and a heavy fireman’s jacket And maybe I could find a used fire truck

And in my house, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to install a brass pole from the first to the ground floor Then I could look like a fireman, act like a fireman, drive a fire-truck, ring the bell and blow the siren, install a brass fire pole, and slide down it each time I wanted to go to the ground floor. I could even tell fire stories But in the end, I might fool some people, and maybe even fool myself — The truth would be, that if I refused to put out fires, I would NEVER be a fireman.

You can have all the trappings and all the equipment, but if you do not put out fires, then you cannot be a real fire fighter.

What is true of the fire brigade is true of the Church and of religion.
We may sing our hymns with vigour, pray our prayers with fervour, hear the Scripture eagerly, but if we leave it at that and do not put into action what we profess, then it’s a shallow exercise.

We may have the finest of Church buildings and most beautiful of sanctuaries, the most ornate pulpits and altars, and the loveliest of stained glass windows, but if we do not live a godly life outside of these walls, loving God and our neighbour in the name of Jesus Christ, then we are not a Church.

In the Old Testament, in the book of the prophet Micah, there is a famous passage in which the people think that true religion lies in the type and quality of sacrifice they make before the altar.

Micah answers that the real demands of God on humankind are moral and spiritual, and the proper worship of God is a life obedient to them.

He says ‘With what shall I come before the Lord? ….. He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’

And then we hear Jesus repeat so much of this scripture in his ministry and indeed, add to it in an ever deeper call to love God through loving our neighbour when he speaks of the greatest commandment — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

In the Letter of James, the author likens the tongue to a weapon of destruction, to coin a phrase.

Remember his words, “the tongue is a small part of the body…..”. Then adds “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body”

We worship God with that tongue, and praise him with it. But how many folk have we come across, who do so on a Sunday; then destroy others with their sarcasm, rudeness, slander, mockery, spite and malice – outwith the four walls of the Kirk?

Most Christians would shrink back from sins like corruption, abuse, misogyny, homophobia, molesting children, or murder as being depraved or morally evil.

Yet we tolerate gossip, deceit, half-truths, put-downs, and other sins of the tongue as if they were no big deal.

James says that all such sins have their origin in (as in his words and world view) the pit of hell.

They destroy others. As a believer in Christ, we must confront these evils in ourself and be bold enough to confront them in others.

If we, who claim to be Christians, do not have that fire in our heart, that zeal in our heart, that burning desire in our heart to live for others, as Christ lived for us, then we are like the fire – fighter who has all the gear, all the equipment, all the resources, but refuses to fight fires.

The picture of a laughing little boy on a gleaming fire pole is a joyous memory which is deeply cherished, but it is nothing more than a faded picture when compared to the joyous realm of the kingdom. A kingdom which is revealed to us by a loving Redeemer, when we truly seek to love and honour God. May God give us the courage to seek to worship him in the very best way we can.

And – as a postscript that includes our putting out the metaphorical fires that engulf our world and society: injustice, bigotry, racism, homophobia, and so on.

It includes a burning desire to help end the smouldering disgrace of homelessness, child poverty, reliance on food banks for survival – and I’m sure that we can all add to that list.

We don’t just attend Church. We have to be Church. We have to do Church. With a burning desire.

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45 years ago – 4 August 1973 – Wedding of Sky Pilot to the beautiful Helen (RIP)

The Parish Church of SS Peter and Paul, Alpheton, Suffolk




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