Tired of sirens

I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday probably!)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotwold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 


I admit it. I’m tired.

We’ve been back from the States for almost two weeks; not only is the holiday euphoria wearing off along with the tan, but the amount of exercise and the lack of sleep is beginning to show.

The first month of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, which I began in January, is a time to take plenty of sleep; and I started well - preparing for bed at 9.30pm most evenings, turning off the light well before midnight after a relaxing read in bed. And I always intend to continue the habit, as recommended in her Project.

But with a Vicar for a husband whose evening meetings mean he isn’t back in the house until well after 10pm and who then needs to unwind, early nights are not easily attainable in this household.

And the time difference of two weeks ago took a while of adjustment – in a deep sleep when the alarm goes off each morning but wide awake late at night.

Yesterday evening was no different. Husband out, due back late.

Except that, after another day of powerplates,  hurtling into London, running up and down the escalators (all right, climbing swiftly) meeting up with old friends, hearing the London sirens going day and night, I realized by 8pm that I was physically and emotionally drained.

So I was a couch potato for the entire evening and read the newpaper cover to cover (except for the sports pages) completed the crossword and swooned over the property pornography in Country Life.

My light was out well before 11; the Vicar came in late from a meeting and needed to unwind, watch the news, do the Su Doku.

Inevitably I woke when he came to bed.

There were sirens several times during the night. It was oppressively airless again.

Sleep came and went.

So this morning has been leisurely. Be kind to yourself, people have repeated to me over the past eighteen months. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, bereavement, depression – they each take time for recovery.

Sirens cause flashbacks; the number I heard yesterday while sitting in the British Library forecourt was extraordinary. Each one meant taking control of emotions, a mental readjustment, a not giving in.

Sirens are constantly heard up and down the Broadway; they penetrate our house, my mind.

I am learning to adjust, mentally to replace them with another image.  But it takes time.


So I am being kind to myself today. No pressure. And no pedometer.

We are under grace, not law.

A morning to go slowly.

Grace-filled, grace-full, grace allowed,.



My Thousand Gifts of Grace

Sermon preached at Church Of Our Saviour, Johns Island, South Carolina, on Sunday May 13th 2012  


It's over a year since I last preached. A time of being in a wilderness.

But now I have been given this huge privilege of sharing  - with YOU:  here at The Church of Our Saviour. 

COOS has been in a preaching series on giving, and I have been given the last of the series – and it’s based on 2 Cor 8:1-15.  Like most preachers, when asked to preach during one's vacation, I looked on my laptop to see if there was a previous sermon on this that I could just repeat!   And discovered that I last preached a sermon on these particular verses in October 2007 – standing right here in front of you all at COOS!   I was tempted just to give you a quiz to see what you could remember!  What a ways we have all come since then.

What I want to share with you is some of what I have been learning over the past 18 months, and in particular what I am learning about GRACE. So if you thought I was going to be talking about money you can relax, let go your grasp on your wallet and take in some thoughts about God’s grace. 

Apparently the number 1 reason people say they don’t come to church is because they feel they are always being asked to give money.. But this part of 2 Cor 8 is not really just about money. It’s about being rich because of grace.

So I want to look at 2 things about GRACE:

- Grace grows out of grace

- Grace leads to great riches


First  - Grace grows out of grace

Paul begins this section by mentioning that the Macedonian churches had received God’s grace. Verse 1:

“And now brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace God has given the Macedonian churches.”


When you think of someone who has received grace, what do you think of?

Someone who has been blessed in some way -  with  financial resources, or with great gifts and abilities.

But there's another  kind of grace that God had given the Macedonian churches. Verse 2

“In the midst of a very severe trial… extreme poverty’

They were impoverished and they were being persecuted.  I discovered that the phrase that describes their poverty literally means, “their deep poverty, right down deep -  to the death of it.” That is not just being uncomfortable, that is being poor and destitute. The Macedonian churches – the Philippian and the Thessalonian Christians – were suffering great economic hardships. The Romans had taken over most of their industries, including the gold and the silver mines; they had reserved for themselves the right to import basic necessities such as salt, and they had cut down all the forests to build their own ships. The Romans had pillaged  looted Macedonia. And the Christians were being persecuted on top of all that. 

Poverty and persecution are not things I expect or want -  yet God had given the Macedonian churches just that:

Severe trials and extreme poverty.

Paul calls this “grace”!

And what is the net result of that grace, according to Paul?    

Overflowing joy and rich generosity!  V2

I'm   most of us would like to be joyful and generous. But we think we need to have security and prosperity before we can be joyful and generous. It seems logical – if God gives me a lot, I will share a lot. At least that’s the way I think about it. “I can’t give a lot because I don’t have a lot. I’m waiting for God to bless me.”

And we pass the collection plate and don’t put anything in, saying that’s it for the rich to give, not us who are retired or who have lost lots in stocks and shares (not that I have any stocks and shares!) or who don’t have a job or who have huge bills to pay.

OR we don’t volunteer to help because that’s for those who have lots of spare time and we have enough to do already thank you.

I once heard about a pastor in China who begged Christians in the West to stop praying that the Chinese church would be freed from persecution. He felt that the reason why the believers in China are joyful and the church is thriving is precisely because they are being persecuted! Like the Macedonians - 

         They had received God’s grace.

Their severe trials and extreme poverty overflowed in   joy and generosity.

                  They were truly rich in grace!


Grace had led to grace.


And not only were they generous, v. 3 tells us that they even gave beyond their ability. What would that phrase look like to you and me – “beyond our ability?” If you’re anything like me, you calculate out what you are going to give based on your available resources. I have limited financial amounts and a finite number of hours. So I give what I think I can easily afford whether financially or time wise.

Earlier this week, I received an email, telling me about a dear couple, who are really going through it at the moment.  He is an Anglican priest - and  he has had terrible back problems for some years and is in constant pain; she has had Lyme’s disease which was undiagnosed for over a year and has led to severe fatigue and debility. They are in a bad place yet have not stopped their ministry and their work for the Lord.  So some friends said they wanted to form a little consortium of people who would give regularly to this couple so that they can have a sabbatical for a year, to try to regroup and heal and sort out problems with themselves and their kids.  The email came to me just earlier this week; and my first thought was: well, I can’t give them anything; I am not in paid employment - I have had to resign because of my own situation of ill health so I have no spare money. 

And then I realized that I was preparing this sermon even as I was thinking those things -  I wasn’t even considering giving beyond my ability, I wasn’t asking God for the privilege and honor of giving knowing that God has blessed me with His grace so I can bless others.

Often, you and I don’t even want to think about what giving above our ability might look like!

But the example of these Macedonian Christians gets even more radical. Not only were these churches joyful and generous, not only did they give beyond their ability, but look at verse 4.

“They urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing…”

They begged for the chance to help.

They were not asked, they were not prodded, not made to feel guilty, not shamed into it. Theyurgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing in service to the saints”.

Why did they beg to be allowed to help? It wasn’t because they were just very kind people, although they may have been; it certainly wasn’t because they were very wealthy – verse 2 tells us that that faced severe trials and extreme poverty.  They were scraping the barrel, and yet they urgently pleaded to be able to  gave very very generously.

What would motivate someone to do this? What would motivate US to do this? I think the answer is simple. It is an understanding and an acceptance of God’s grace.

Grace grows out of grace.

And if you and I are not gracious, it is only because we do not fully understand and accept God’s grace.

If you and I had any appreciation for the depth of God’s love for us and the depths from which He has saved us, we could not help but to be joyful and generous.

We would give of ourselves, not because God had need of our time, talent or treasure, but because we would want to be part of that incredible life-saving effort that saved you and me. Grace grows out of grace.

And grace is not just a concept. Grace is not just an idea or a thing that has a memorable definition – we’ve all been taught that G .R. A. C. E. stands for God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

No, grace is more than that idea. Grace is an amazing, Holy Spirit-filled, life changing power.


The Greek word for grace is charis; ‘Strong’s concordance of the New Testament’ defines charis as

Grace -  a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ, (b) favor, (c) gratitude, thanks, (d) kindness. The core idea is gift, or favor. Something given which is undeserved.

The word comes again in verse 9

 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”


The second thing I want to mention this morning is this:

Grace leads to riches


Notice this: Jesus did not give out of his riches. Jesus gave out of his poverty! Paul reminds us in Philippians ch 2 that Jesus emptied himself and took the nature of a slave. He became poor and he submitted to the most horrible and cruel death, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually too. And it was only because of this poverty that you and I are made rich.


He gives us SO much.  I don’t think I had realized that until recently.  As many of you know, 18 months ago I was involved in a terrible car accident in which I saw my dear 90 year young mother swept away and crushed to death by a passing car. The shock of what happened and what I saw of my mother at her end plunged me into the depths of depression and despair. I have been  mentally bruised and broken.

Then, last summer, I picked up a book called One Thousand Gifts.  You may have read it. In it, I read about learning

to give thanks -

 in spite of the brokenness.

 IN the brokenness. 


The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo. We get the word  we sometimes use for communion  from it – the Eucharist.  The thanksgiving. In the middle of that Greek word eucharisteo is charis: grace, favor, gift.  Giving thanks for the grace.

And each time Jesus broke something, he gave thanks, eucharisteo. 

He broke the bread for the 5000, gave thanks – and fed them a free lunch.  

He broke the bread, gave thanks, and gave the disciples the Last Supper to remember him by.

He broke the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the two disciples in their home in Emmaus - and they knew immediately that Jesus was alive and risen.


And He himself was broken; he emptied himself of his riches, became poor and was broken on the Cross. And we give thanks and remember the gift, the grace, that we receive through that action.

And each and every day, we are given the gift, the grace, the favor. 

In spite of our brokenness. 

IN our brokenness.

The book, One Thousand Gifts, makes a challenge: to keep a list each day of the gifts and grace we receive.  I decided to do it: starting on August 21st last year, I began to write down each moment of grace that I was grateful for, to notice each gift and to record it.

Some days there were lots, some days hardly any; but the more I looked the more I saw. 

Whether it was a shaft of sunlight or a grandchild’s kiss; a cup of coffee made by a friend or a good night’s sleep; the smell of fresh bread or the glimpse of stars; the satisfaction of clean laundry or the joy of the bubbles of champagne….. I noticed and I wrote it down.  I reached 1000 7 months later - on March 17th .... and I layed down my pen.  



But as my family will tell you, over the past couple of months I have not been doing so well.  Without that daily looking and recording, without being so mindful of GOd's grace-filled gifts, I have slipped back.

I need to begin again. 

For you, it might be a good golf shot, or even maybe a hole in one; or a home grown flower or vegetable; or your team scoring high in their match; a cold beer in your hands or a fabulous concert.

It doesn’t matter what – what matters is that you notice these gifts and give thanks for them.  Gifts which we do not deserve, which we receive because of what the Lord Jesus did for us. Gifts which make us rich in Him – verse 9

Grace does generate riches.

God does want you to be rich.

There are dozens of times in the Scriptures where we are promised God’s riches. Jesus said that God wants his children to have good gifts, just like you want yours to have good gifts. It may or not be security and financial wealth. If you are secure and financially wealthy, give thanks for it is a gift from God. But the Macedonians’ gift was nothing like that. Their gift was trials and poverty. And yet they were certainly richer than you and I are.

God has no need of our time. He created time. God has no need of our talents. He is talented enough to accomplish anything He chooses without your gifts. God has no need of our money. He created the cattle on a thousand hills, and he can sell the herd anytime He wants.

No, God wants us to be generous with our time, our talent and our treasure - not so the church can become rich and not so that God can become rich, but so that YOU, Me – WE can become rich!

My prayer for you and for me is that today and every day we might accept God’s grace and learn what it is to be rich.

And in doing so, give ourselves, all that we have, all that we are, to Him for Him to use as He wants. 


His grace, His love, is so amazing, so divine and it demands our lives, our souls, our all.


How much of you, yourself, all that you have and all that you are, have you given to Him?


In a moment we will come to the Eucharist, that celebration of Thanksgiving for His brokenness, His grace, His gift. 


Will you, as you kneel, as you receive, will you give yourself afresh to Him, give Him your everything? 


Whether we have much or little,

whether we are broken or rejoicing today

may we dedicate ourselves, all that we have and are, to His service,


remembering that the Lord Jesus, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor that through His poverty we might become rich.


We haven’t got to give. We get to give. It's part of the riches of God's grace.        







Share in his sufferings?


Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!












And we turn west.

Golden sunlight of evening streams in.

The choir, ranked under the West Window,  raise their palm leaves and lift their voices.

It's magical. Profound.


Hosanna to the Son of David.

Blessed be the King

That cometh in the name of the Lord.


Thou that sitteth in the highest heavens.

Hosanna in excelsis Deo.


And so we come, to remember Christ entering the city  - to suffer, to die

and to rise again.

We want to unite in His sufferings

and share His risen life.


Do I?

Do I want to unite in His sufferings?

The next bit, yes - to share His risen life.  Count me in.

But to share in His sufferings?


I listen to the collect for Palm Sunday:

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and everAmen.


I am not sure I can say the amen, the 'I agree' bit.


I stand and listen in awe as the procession moves to the sound of a small drum, mediaeval music:

Bless-ed Israel's King, they cry;

Bless-ed is He that cometh nigh

in name of God the Lord most high - Hosanna in the highest!


A Bible is carried to the lectern, to remind us of Christ the Teacher.

We give thanks for His Word, a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, a strength to our lives.

Take us and use us to love and serve

in the power of the Holy Spirit

and in the name of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord.


Yes, I can pray that. Amen.


Teach me O Lord the way of your statutes and I will observe it to the end.

Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

See, I have longed for your precepts;  in your righteousness give me life.

(from Psalm 119)


Amen and Amen.


The choir and the clergy  process to the East end and a loaf of bread and a flask of wine are placed on the Altar.

We follow, we the people, drawing near to remind ourselves that Christ is our Sustainer.


We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because with your precious blood you have redeemed the world. 

Have mercy on us.


Amen and Amen.


There is silence.  Thank you, Lord, for sustaining me, even me. Day after day.

Father of all, we give you thanks and praise

that when we were still far off

you met us in your Son and brought us home....

May we who share Christ's body live His risen life..


Amen and Amen.


The next procession is small.


The Crown of Thorns, carried to the crossing.  Christ the Victim.



Look on His face, come close to Him

see - you will find no beauty there:

despised, rejected, who can tell

the grief and sorrow He must bear?

For on His shoulders God has laid

 the weight of sin that we should bear;

                                                                                          so by His passion we have peace,

                                                                                         through His obedience and His prayer.




Bruckner's motet rises to the fan vaulting:

Christus factus est pro nobis obediens 

usque ad mortem, mortem autem cruces ...

(Philippians 2: 8-9) 


Amen and Amen.


And we pray a Litany - Lord, have mercy.

We stand with Christ in His sufferings.

For forgiveness for the many times we have denied Jesus, 

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord have mercy.


Amen and Amen.


The final procession.

The Rector, sombre now in black cassock alone, raises high the large simple cross. Walks slowly from the Altar down through the choir stalls. Stands at the crossing, swaying slightly under the weight of the tall wood.










We stand in silence. Reflection. Awe.



They rise and needs will have

my dear Lord made away;

a murderer they save,

the Prince of LIfe they slay.

Yet cheerful He

to suffering goes

that He His foes 

from thence might free.


It's sung quietly, reverently. This is My Friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.

Amen and Amen.


Standing still, still. The silence.

The evening sun has dimmed and now the Abbey lights are dimmed too. It's not yet dark, but the darkness is all around.


My harp is tuned for lamentation and my flute to the voice of those who weep. Spare me O Lord, for my days are as nothing.


The voices, the choir, the clergy, silently and slowly move away, out into the twilight. Palms have been shed, lying tight packed at the foot of the wooden cross. The Crown of Thorns hangs there.

As I too pass silently by, my mind ruminates on that phrase again.

To share in His sufferings.

I shrink from that.

And hear His voice - not spoken, not aloud.  But His voice none the less.

My Grace is sufficient.


Amen and Amen.


Jesus, by your wounded feet,

direct our path aright.

Jesus, by your nailed hands,

move ours to deeds of love.

Jesus, by your pierced side,

cleanse our desires.

Jesus, by your crown of thorns,

annihilate our pride.

Jesus, by your silence,

shame our complaints

Jesus, by your parched lips, 

curb our cruel speech.

Jesus, by your closing eyes,

look on our sin no more.

Jesus, by your broken heart,

knit ours to you.

And by this sweet and saving sign,

Lord draw us to our peace.