Walking on water? A sermon for 10 August 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 10 August 2014: Year A, Proper 14

SERMON
Texts: Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Walking on water?

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

We live in a noisy, busy age. Especially for those of us who live in cities, we are so used to noise we often no longer notice it. We will switch on the radio when we get up. We might watch TV during breakfast. We will be assailed by recorded music in shops. Our phone constantly interrupt us with calls, emails, tweets and Facebook updates. Looking after children can be a non-stop whirlwind. Trying to make a date for something- for example a church meeting- can be a trying process, as each of us goes through our diaries, desperate to find a space.

A Christian ought to be someone who tries to live like Jesus. So why don’t we learn from Jesus? Continue reading

Reflection for the centenary of the outbreak of World War One

Reflection for World War One commemoration, 3 August 2014, Old High Church

Rev Peter W Nimmo, minister of Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness

from The Glimmering Landscape, Charles L Warr

Throughout that glorious summer of 1914 the Suffragettes became noisier and noisier, smashing windows, breaking up meetings, chaining themselves to railing and pouring acid down pillar boxes.

The crisis of Ulster darkened and deepened. Sir Edward Carson and Galloper Smith were still addressing impassioned crowds and the impassioned crowds were becoming more and more impassioned. “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right,” shouted Galloper Smith, quoting Lord Randolph Churchill, who had said it first some thirty-odd years before. The whole situation was becoming very alarming, for people were beginning to whisper that it looked like civil war.

So with all that going on, the murder of an Austrian archduke towards the end of June at some place called Sarajevo in the Balkans could hardly be expected to interest us much. Where was Sarajevo anyway, and what was an Austrian archduke but a figure of Ruritanian fun?

But a month later the country was thoroughly startled. On 28th July Sir Edward Grey made a statement of sensational gravity in the House of Commons. Austria, he said, had rejected the reply by Serbia to an ultimatum demanding satisfaction for the assassination at Sarajevo. So anyone could see that international trouble of the utmost seriousness was swiftly boiling up.

The next few days were days of utter bewilderment. Events moved with confusing rapidity. Sombre shadows were obviously falling over Europe.
It was shocking, stupefying and incredible that we, who had been nurtured on the optimistic visions of Lord Tennyson, should be on the brink of a general European War.

But by the fourth of August, though not one European ruler and hardly one European statesman wanted it to happen, the shocking, stupefying and incredible thing in fact had happened. The great Powers of Europe had stumbled and blundered into a fight to the death, and the long grey ships of the British Fleet, fortunately assembled at Spithead for the King’s Review, put silently out to sea.

The dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet sailed for Orkney. A few weeks ago I sailed across Scapa Flow, to the former naval headquarters on Hoy. I tried to picture what that lovely bay must have looked like filled with naval ships. And it turned out that our ferry had sailed over the graveyard of another fleet. For one of the causes of the war had been an armaments race- a naval race- as Germany built more and larger ships to try to catch up with Britain- and Britain built more and larger ships to try to stay ahead. And at the end of the war, the Kaiser’s High Seas fleet was disarmed, and, manned by skeleton crews, sailed across the North Sea to a point just off the Firth of Forth, where they were met by much of the British and French navies. The flotilla- the largest fleet ever assembled in the history of the world- sailed up the east coast of Scotland to Scapa Flow, where the German fleet was interned during the Armistice negotiations. But as the negotiations dragged on, the German Admiral decided it would be dishonourable to surrender his fleet, and his crews opened the water cocks and scuttle some 52 ships. Many have since been salvaged, but some lie still under the Orkney waters. Weapons like that were, people were told, to keep the peace. But as the historian AJP Taylor put it, at the end of his famous book on the outbreak of the war, War by Timetable, in this case, ‘The deterrent failed to deter’.

A few weeks later, I was in Fife, and visited the Secret Bunker- an underground command centre which would have served as the seat of government for Scotland had we ever faced a nuclear attack. From here a few government ministers and civil servants would have attempted to provide help to a population devastated by nuclear weapons. But the country would probably have been dead, blasted and irradiated by weapons much more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. There were those who hoped that the First World War would have been the war to end all wars, but until the 1990s we were still planning for a Third World War which would definitely have been a war to end all wars.

I have spent much of the summer reading about the origins of the First World War, and Charles Warr’s description of the great powers having ‘stumbled and blundered’ into war seems to me to just about sum up what happened. There is a theological word we use in Christianity to describe the causes of the stumbling and blundering which leads us into disaster- that word is sin. It is a strong term, but for Christians, war can be nothing more than sin, for its effects are so horrendous, and it has few redeeming qualities. Our Old Testament reading, in which the prophet Joel speaks of God’s judgement falling like a plague of locusts, like a marauding army, reflects the horror- complete, apparently unstoppable destruction.

A century later, and still it goes on- in Gaza, in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, and in so many other parts of the world, people try to impose their values on others through violence, death, terror. It is as if we cannot learn. The technologies of industrial death which so shocked people in the early part of the twentieth century are now refined to a pitch. A few years ago, I heard George Reid, former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, who used to be an official of the International Red Cross, tell a group of military chaplains what I suspect many of them had already realised- that war nowadays impacts civilians so much more. Whereas in the First World War, 90% of casualties were military, and 10% civilians, today the proportion is reversed: 90% of casualties are civilians, and only 10% are combatants. And that is why there much be other ways.

We heard Jesus give in the gospel his radical prescription for taking the violence out of human relationships- no more eye for an eye, no more hatred of enemies. One hundred years after 1914, why are the children of Gaza still suffering, why are the Christians of Syria being thrown out of their homes, why are civilian airliners being shot out of the sky above Ukraine? The moralists used to say that war should be the last option. But truly, it ought not to be an option at all. If we could make war never an option, that would the best way to remember the victims of the Great War.

Faith in public: sermon for 29 June 2014 communion at St Stephen’s

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 25 May 2014: Year A, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

SERMON
Texts: Acts 17:16-31
John 14:15-21

Faith in public

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the Church of Scotland, all our Sunday services are traditionally described as ‘public worship’. For the death and resurrection of Jesus were public events. But how do we proclaim this in the public arena, how do we take this message into the world? Today’s reading from the book of Acts gives us some clues about how we can do it. It tells a story about St Paul visiting Athens. Luke, the writer of Acts, says that ‘all the citizens of Athens and the foreigners who lived there liked to spend all their time telling and hearing the latest new thing’. It was a world city, a centre of civilisation and philosophy, at the crossroads of east and west, multicultural and multiethnic. Paul must have been fired up by the opportunities it presented to argue out the case for the Christian message with representatives of all the other competing philosophies of the day.

Continue reading

Religion in schools again

With the ‘Trojan Horse’ claims that schools in Birmingham were the targets of takeovers by Muslim extremists, the place of religion in schools is back in the news again.

Perhaps it’s worth recognising that the schools involved are in England, and that they are what in Scotland we call non-denominational schools, ie not formally linked to any church or other religious group.

Earlier this year, I spoke about the place of religion in schools in a sermon. I wrote as a parent, a school chaplain, and a member of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland.

You can read the sermon here. Comments welcome!

Peter

God of many names- a sermon for Trinity Sunday 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 15 June 2015: Year A, Trinity Sunday

SERMON
Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Matthew 6.24-34

God of many names!
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

There’s a joke about a man who was once asked what he had wanted to be when he grew up, who answered, ‘When I was growing up, I wanted to be an orphan’! Fortunately, for most of us and for most of the time, our parents provided security and love as we grew up. And so, on this Father’s Day, as on Mother’s Day, children say ‘thanks’ to their parents; and parents ponder what their children have meant to them. Family relationships are often deep and enduring. But they all have their ups and downs. Some are frankly disastrous, which is why not everyone feels they can celebrate Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day. For we humans are not perfect. Our relationships are not perfect. Not all children are perfect, and not all parents are perfect. Continue reading

Gifts for all: a sermon for Pentecost Sunday 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 8 June 2014: Year A, Pentecost
SERMON
Texts: Acts 2:1-21
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Gifts for all

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I’m having an ecumenical week this week. On Wednesday night, we hosted a service at the Old High church for the local Methodist community, at which the President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Ruth Gee, was the preacher. We were remembering first visit to Inverness of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Wesley was one of the most remarkable men of the eighteenth century. He sought to bring to ordinary people a much warmer, more personal, experience of Christianity than was commonly found in the 18th century Church of England. Continue reading

Presence in absence: sermon for Ascensions Sunday 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 1 June 2014: Year A, Ascension Sunday

SERMON
Texts: Acts 1: 1-11
Ephesians 1:15-23

Presence in absence

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saint Paul has the reputation for being a grumpy sort of guy. That’s because his letters were often written in reply to questions and controversies, and his replies are often passionate and critical. ‘You foolish Galatians! Who put a spell on you?’ he exclaims in exasperation to the Christians of Galatia (Galatians 3.1). But the tone of the letter to the Ephesians is rather different- so different that many scholars have suggested that it was not Saint Paul who actually wrote the letter. Maybe it was just that the occasion was different- Paul writes, for once, to praise a group of Christians. Just before the passage we heard read to us Paul has written of how the Ephesians came to faith when they believed in Jesus. And so he writes: ‘For this reason, ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I remember you in my prayers’. These are great words of encouragement. Continue reading

Life in its fullness- for everyone! A sermon for Christian Aid Week 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 11 May 2014: Year A, Christian Aid Sunday

SERMON
Texts: Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Life in its fullness- for everyone!
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Someone told me a tale recently of a young girl from Glasgow sent to stay on holiday on some Hebridean island. The island aunt and uncle were strict Sabbatarians, and after church in the morning there was not a lot to do, for she’d been told that she ought to stay in and quietly read an improving book. She certainly wasn’t go out and to play and disturb the island’s Sabbath calm. But she asked her aunt if she could be allowed to at least go out to take a quiet walk to the bottom of the garden. Continue reading

Sermon for Kohima anniversary service, 4 May 2014: A companion on the way

More information about the Camerons Memorial Area

Press release about this service

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 4 May 2014: Year A, The Third Sunday of Easter

SERMON
Text: Luke 24:13-35 (read in the KJV)

the quotations are from the NRSV

A companion on the way
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

As I said earlier, it’s a privilege once more to be welcoming members of the Cameron Highlanders Association here to their old regimental church, the Old High Church of Inverness. The congregation of Old High St Stephen’s values the connection we have with you. We are honoured to be custodians of the Cameron Memorial, which we dedicated last year, and to now be taking into our safekeeping further items, including the 1st Battalion colours which the congregation of Glasgow Cathedral have so generously passed into our care.

If you are visiting us today, you join us at a time of year when the Church is still concerning itself with the implications of Easter. The Gospels give various accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, and his appearances to his disciples. One of the most intriguing of these stories is the one we have heard today. It is a strange tale, this story of the walk to Emmaus. But if we listen to this story with imagination, it can perhaps teach us about such things as memories, hope, and the presence of God in difficult times- themes which are very pertinent to today’s service. Continue reading

Faithful Thomas! A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter 2014

Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness
Sunday 27 April 2014: Year A, The Second Sunday of Easter

SERMON
Texts: 1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Faithful Thomas!
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This week there was controversy as the Prime Minister suggested that we shouldn’t be chary of calling Britain a ‘Christian country’. Perhaps once that wouldn’t have been such a controversial idea- but it seemed to worry some people, who felt moved to write to the papers decrying the idea. Continue reading