Tag Archives: Sunday Service

The Sunday before Christmas

It was a Sunday morning – a couple of days before Christmas- and, as usual, I had a half hour Service to conduct in the Infirmary (part of my role as Healthcare Chaplain).

These (poorly attended) times of Worship for patients were held in the day room in Ward 18; a ward for elderly patients, but open to all who were hospitalised throughout the building.

It wasn’t a cheerful time that year. Helen had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, had undergone a double mastectomy, and was being treated with sessions of chemotherapy.

I was feeling less than festive, and when I opened the door to the day room, it hadn’t been prepared for the Service. Chairs were randomly placed in the room, an empty coffee cup lay on the table where the Bible was usually placed.

Being just before Christmas, as many as possible able patients had been discharged; fewer nursing staff were on duty, and were struggling to cope. And our pianist had phoned in sick with flu.

Depressing and disheartening – yep.

After ten minutes of waiting, not a single patient had turned up.

I was just about to leave, when there was a knock on the door, and this wee ordinary looking wummin came in.

“I hope I’m not too late – I was told that it was a 10.30 Service, but it’s 10.00 isn’t it? I’m so sorry. Do you want me to go back to my ward?”

“No, no! Please stay. It’s only going to be thee and me, I’m afraid. And the pianist can’t make it today. We’ll have a bash at a couple of carols, but it’ll have to be unaccompanied- oh, and I can’t hold a tune. But, listen, let me read the Christmas Scripture first, then we’ll have a wee prayer”

“OK – that sounds good.”

So we did that. Then I asked her to tell me about herself, and we had a cosy chat.

“Thank you so much”, she said, getting up to leave.

“Do you want to try ‘Away in a Manger’ before you go?”

“Oh, please”, she replied. Then added “I can play the piano a wee bit”

“Oh, that’s great; there’s a music edition of CH3 (third edition of the C of S hymn book) in this cupboard”

So she started to play this old out of tune joanna – magnificently, delicately, sensitively, with the touch of a professional……. which, it turned out, she had been, having studied music at Drama and Music College many years before.

Hymn followed hymn. Music drifted down the ward; nurses joined us – some for a few minutes only because of busyness.

We stayed for an hour! All the traditional favourites. Played beautifully.

And that old untidy Day Room was transformed into what our Celtic forebears call “a thin place”

It was a magical, mystical, merry time of joy and celebration.

Oh, although I can’t recall the lady’s name………….

……….I found out later that she was Jewish!!!!!!!!!!!

“God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform”

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The “Show” must go on

My beloved Father died 39 years ago yesterday (on 21 February 1976) in Glasgow  – at the Western Infirmary. Yesterday, he was very much on my mind. What a decent and honourable man he was, and a loving and beloved Dad, whose counsel was wise, realistic, and positive.  I wish that I was even half the man that he was.

It was a Saturday – early evening – when he passed away.  After the usual formalities, I took my mother home (widowed at the age of 55), and stayed with her until almost midnight.

I then drove home to my Manse – some 40 miles away  – where my beloved wife (and one year old son – fast asleep) was waiting.

After talking things through for an hour or so, I went into my study and stayed up all night, writing a sermon from scratch; my organist was a wonderful, delightful, talented musician – who often was given the praise list half an hour before the service – so no problems there, with what hymns would be sung.  Davie – you were wonderful, as a musician, and as a friend.

This was my first Charge and had only been there for a couple of years – so no “Golden Oldies” to rehash.  I think that I finished typing my notes about 6.30 that morning.

And, in the pulpit on time on the Sunday morning. Haven’t a clue what I preached about (it’s somewhere in my files).

Then, after a snatched lunch, back down the road to Glasgow.

Foolhardy? Professional? Let the congregation down with sub-standard material?  What do YOU think?P

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Mysteries (some thoughts for Trinity Sunday)

I vividly remember the days when I was younger and discovered  Sherlock Holmes and then Agatha Christie, to these days with an Inspector Morse or a Rebus whodunit or a Taggart or (best of all) “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch

 It’s pure enjoyable escapism to lose myself in the clues and the back-tracking and the twists and turns until the mystery is finally solved.

Besides the “whodunit” mystery stories we read or watch on television, there are many other mysteries that I know I can’t explain—like how a TV works. How is an image captured and transferred to a signal that travels invisibly through the air, only to be displayed in thousands of living rooms across the world?

Or how does an aeroplane that weighs several tons fly off into the wild blue yonder? Or how does a doctor diagnose and treat a cancer growing deep within someone’s body, giving them hope for a full life, when only a few years ago that cancer was a certain death sentence?

Even our relationships with each other can be quite a mystery—there is always the potential for miscommunication, offence, inequality, and misunderstanding—it only takes two people and a minute of time, and the relationship is off in a brand new direction.

There are many mysteries in life. Some of them can be explained by science. Some of them can’t— there are mysteries that simply cannot be explained.

Shortly before Jesus died, he prayed for his disciples and told them many things that would help them through the next troubling days. But there were some things, Jesus said, that they could simply not understand—nor bear to hear—right then.

The Holy Spirit would guide them, Jesus promised, and give them a power beyond their imagination—the power of Jesus’ love and grace.

This kind of talk was a mystery to the disciples—and it remains a mystery to us today.

The very nature of faith challenges us to see the mystery, to grapple with it, to dig deep within the Scriptures to find clues, to back-track to our basic belief that Jesus loves us, and to trust the Spirit to guide us through life—with all its twists and turns.

In the Great Commission,   Jesus ends this Charge to his apostles – to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that he had commanded them – he ends this with these words:

And, behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age

And, you know, it is the Holy Spirit that  brings Christ to us throughout the ages

How? It’s a mystery! But Christ’s Spirit of love, mercy and redemption is in our lives.

To have the Spirit is to have God in us, in our hearts, minds and persons.

So we need to be committed to have the Spirit, to have God within us, to have the Spirit within us. Then we can fulfil that Great Commission to tell others about the Spirit who is within us.

The kind of relationship God wants from us can be demonstrated in this story:

During a Sunday service in a little church near Falkirk years ago, as the elders were returning to the table with the offering plates, a little boy sitting next to the aisle tugged at the sleeve of one of the men and whispered, “Please put the plate down on the floor.”

Bewildered, the elder obeyed.

Then the boy proceeded to step into the plate. This was his way of saying to Jesus “I  give my whole self to you, not only the money in my pocket, but my time, my strength, my whole life.”

This boy was Robert Moffat, the great missionary to Africa and the father-in-law of David Livingstone.”

Are we willing to step into the offering plate so to speak? To give ourselves so that the Spirit of God can rest in us and then we can proclaim that Spirit to the world? 

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