Starting out

This blog will open by publishing a sermon on Sunday 18 March 2018.

A new sermon will be published each Sunday thereafter for at least a year up until Easter 2019. God willing.

You are welcome to reproduce the material, except for financial gain but an acknowledgement of the source – Chris Rosling, with a link to http://www.sermons.blog would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks

Martin Rosling

Sunday sermon – 8 December 2019

Signs and Symbols, signifying What?

It is now some years since I saw a chemist shop with the three great vials of coloured liquid in the window. Were they green, red and blue? Possibly they are still to be found, but if they are around I haven’t noticed them. There was a time in my youth when this familiar sign was displayed in every pharmacy window, and when every barber’s shop displayed the red and white striped pole outside. Come to think of it, where are the barbers’ shops? Now replaced by the uni-sex hair stylist. But that is another story.

Long before my time, keepers of taverns hung a bush outside their inns, denoting to the passer-by that alcoholic drink could be found within. Hence the old saying, good wine needs no bush, for the tavern which sold such produce advertised itself through satisfied customers. Yes, shop-keepers and traders, for the major part, no longer use the old traditional signs to advertise their wares. Even the once universal sign of the pawn-broker with the three brass balls is now rarely hung in the high street or the back alley.

The signs date, of course, to the days when few could read, so an easily identified symbol was used to inform the customer of the nature of the business to be found within.

Not that the use of signs has ceased. Indeed they have proliferated in the form of logograms, usually shortened to the word logo. Much time, thought and money is expended upon designing and choosing an appropriate sign, logo or trade-mark by which a company may be recognised. No letterhead, visiting card or advertising poster is complete without the firm’s logo impressed upon it.

New ones are being constantly designed. A year or two ago the crossed fingers of the National Lottery was devised and began to to appear outside shops and super-markets.

A decade ago, British Telecom decided to drop their then current logo, which had a capital “T” made of dashes and dots, in favour of a figure of the pagan god Pan. Millions of pounds were spent on the exercise. Some-one must have considered it worth the cost. But British Telecom are only one of hundreds of commercial, manufacturing, charitable and voluntary institutions adopting new, or adapting old, logos.

The eye-catching sign, be it a Black Horse or Captain Birds-Eye, the umbrella of the Legal and General, the initials or short word – BA, ICI, Oxfam, C of E or RC, is deemed of great importance in the public relations world, or as it prefers to be known, the PR industry.

Logos, or names, are considered as to whether or not they, to use the advertising executives’ jargon, “create the right image”. Do they sound caring, or soft, or honest, or business-like. This one will be rejected as being old-fashioned, another is ambiguous, this one, it is alleged, gives the wrong message. An organisation with which I was connected for many years changed from a hand holding a torch to a stylised hand held out in greeting because, it was said, this was a more caring representation of what we stood for.

We may doubt whether all this effort and expense is worth-while, but so much time, effort, and most of all, money, is expended, perhaps, there must be something in it.

Image is the great “in” word of today. Maybe people do decide, for instance, which political party to vote for according to the logo in current use. Perhaps folk are more likely to vote Labour because it symbolised by a red rose, or support the Conservative candidate whose election literature is headed with flaming torch. No doubt folk did put their savings in that well advertised building society because they like the bee that buzzed about the television screen advertisement.

But common sense, and practical experience tells us that no matter how carefully chosen the logo, no matter how well presented the image, no commercial firm will succeed, no charity will continue to attract support, no bank will fill its branches with customers, unless it effectively fulfils that which it promises. The sign, the logo, shows what the institution is. What the institution does, and how it behaves in doing it, has to be measured and tested by other means.

For instance, are its customers welcomed, and do they leave satisfied? Does the organisation achieve that which it has set itself to do? Is the institution more concerned with its own internal organisation than it is with satisfying the needs of the clientele it serves? Do customers think once bitten, twice shy, or do they come back again and again?

Any organisation which fails to answer satisfactorily these questions, no matter how well-chosen its logo, and whatever the slogans it uses, is doomed to eventual bankruptcy and closure.

One of the oldest logos, one of the simplest to design, and one universally recognised, hasn’t been re-vamped or replaced in nigh on two thousand years. Nor should it be. It consists of but two straight lines, one a little longer than the other and which intersect. We call it a cross. Copies of it abound, some hundreds of years old, some very recent.

It is a marketing man or woman’s dream, for it is recognised all over the world, regardless of language, culture or geographical location. Words are unnecessary, for outside a building it proclaims a place of Christian worship; on a piece of ground it marks a Christian grave; on a book cover it reveals that the contents contain a Christian message; hung round the neck it is a statement of belief.

It stands for a set of values universally recognised, even if not universally accepted. But just as with a commercial company, a charitable organisation, a corporation or a shop, the sign or logo by itself is an empty thing.

If a church shall call itself a Christian place of worship it will surely be judged by those who ask the questions I referred to a moment ago. Let me repeat them.

Are its customers welcomed, and do they leave satisfied? Does the organisation achieve that which it has set itself to do? Is the institution more concerned with its own internal organisation than it is with satisfying the needs of the clientele it serves? Do customers think once bitten, twice shy, or do they come back again and again?

If a man or woman shall proclaim himself or herself a Christian, marked actually or figuratively with a cross, the true test of membership is not the sign but the life the person lives. “..if I am without love” says Paul, “I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal”. Or James “… what is the use for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it?”

The temple Solomon built, following the preparations by his father David, was an outward sign of the inner religious convictions of the people of Israel. It was not an end in itself. It was a place where the experiences of the past might be handed on to the generations which followed. Its glory was not solely in the splendour of its construction, but in the devotion of its worshippers.

In spite of my rather sceptical words, signs and logos are important and do have a value. They are a visible demonstration in a sort of shorthand of something for which we stand. They show, as we display them, that we have joined and been accepted into a corporate body larger than ourselves. If I go around displaying a swastika, that says something about me. Wear a football scarf and my allegiance is known to all.

Equally if my emblem is a simple cross, that ought to say something about me. If I am a Unitarian and my logo is the flaming chalice, again that should be not merely a piece of ornamentation, but a proclamation.

And just as say, the British Telecom engineer whose work is shoddy, or the operator whose manner is offensive, will damage the organisation whatever its logo be. So the proclaimed Christian, will be judged by individual action rather than by professed belief, be he or she Unitarian or from some other denomination.

Unitarians have not universally adorned themselves, or their places of worship with a cross. For some, that symbol may be associated with more orthodox creeds, a greater rigidity in belief than is acceptable to an individual Unitarian. So they have adopted a torch, a chalice, as a symbol of light, of seeking after truth.

But we have been diffident about what is known in the commercial world as marketing. Our symbol is too little known, what is offered is too little displayed. We should set ourselves the task of proclaiming what we stand for; we should prepare ourselves by demonstrating by the lives we lead that our symbol, whether it is a cross, a torch, a chalice, or whatever it be, stands for something precious and desirable; that it affects the lives we lead, and the service we give to others.

There is an old saying about shining like a good deed in a naughty world. Our individual logo may be an illuminated sign, a neon display that all may see if we choose. It is James’ “faith with works”, Paul’s charity, Jesus’ love of neighbour which both design our logos, formulate our slogans.

Let us wear our signs, be they actual or implied, proudly and prominently. Let them be signs of quality, trade-marks on which others may rely, knowing that the service which is offered and the care bestowed is steadfast and sure. And as good wine needs no bush, so the true Christian need display no cross.

Christian, rise and act thy creed,
Let thy prayer be in thy deed;
Seek the right, perform the true,
Raise thy work and life anew.

So we sing the words of our well-known hymn. Let it be our signature tune to complement our logos. And may they be symbols of excellence, and recognised as such.

C.J. Rosling 14 April 1991

Fulwood 14 April 1991; 23 June 1995
Mexborough 9 June 1991; 9 July 1995
Hucklow 8 December 1996; 24 June 2001

Sunday Sermon – 1 December 2019

Snappy Slogans

“If you want to get ahead, get a hat.” So announced the hatters of Luton and elsewhere some years ago. I put my failure to gain a place among the country’s leading figures down to foolishly ignoring that advice. As a schoolboy I wore a cap. Briefly in my teens I owned a trilby until it blew off into a river. As a reluctant army conscript I was obliged to partially cover my cranium with a forage cap. But for the majority of my life my locks have been exposed to the elements; either blowing in the breeze or channelling rivulets of rainwater down my face, dependent upon the prevailing weather conditions. Consequently, so manufacturers of head-gear would have me believe, I am doomed to follow at the rear, rather than proudly marching in the vanguard.

However, my subject this morning is not head-covering, but slogans, catch-phrases, sound-bites and advertising jingles. To gain power and influence in a chosen field you not only need a hat, you need a snappy, memorable phrase. Politicians understand that and so expend much time, effort, and consultancy fees, devising them. “You never had it so good”, Harold Macmillan informed us. “Labour isn’t working,” Margaret Thatcher bemoaned. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,” Mr. Blair promised. It was a politician who inserted “double-whammy” into everyday language. So it goes on. The short, sharp phrase which sticks in the mind is an essential precursor to gaining success in an election.

But the search for a pithy phrase is not confined to politicians. Unsure what else to say, the school-teacher writes ambiguously on the school report, John, or Jane as the case might be, continues to try (the final word ‘everybody’ is omitted). Peter has made some progress, Phillipa is showing some promise, (the exact extent of the progress or promise is not specified). I am sure Joanne’s new teacher will find much to challenge her. Meantime Gregory has made an impression on his class-mates throughout the past year (with his fists and boots, no doubt)..

Comedians have long recognised that the road to fame is best trodden accompanied by a recognised catch-phrase. Older members will recall that Stainless Stephen always enquired of his mother if she could hear him, Tommy Handley’s Mrs. Mopp announced her entrance by asking, “Can I do you now, sir?”. More recently Captain Mainwearing referred to Private Pike as “Stupid boy”, and the department store assistant solicitously asks if you are being served.

The history of marketing branded goods abounds with slogans and one-liners. Every time I see a bottle of bovril I think of the posters on the hoardings of my boyhood showing a man in his pyjamas (today it would be a nubile young lady in a bikini) sitting astride a large bottle of bovril in the middle of the ocean, announcing that “Bovril prevents that sinking feeling.” “Drinka pinta milka day”, was the prescription from the old Milk Marketing Board. Not only the Irish have been assured that Guinness is good for you. I refrain from repeating any of the current marketing slogans lest members of the congregation accuse me of being in the pay of one of the multi-nationals.

A particular rich source of eminently memorable phrases, slogans you might call them, is to be found on the pages of the gospels. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s” is the concentrated essence of a philosophy which could occupy a tome hundreds of pages thick. There is a recognition that many of us, probably most of us, have no intention of withdrawing into monastic seclusion, but prefer to live a social life, working alongside others. Mostly we choose our curtains, paint our houses, buy our tooth-paste, select our groceries, hopefully with some regard to any ethical implications as we make our decisions, but, to be honest, largely with convenience and price in mind. The Caesars who devise those clever TV advertisements ensure we render unto them that they may earn their fat salaries.

But true living requires more than homage at a materialist altar. There are values, ethics, obligations which are not purely materialistic. Worship, compassion, service to others, awe, humility and the rest are not Caesar’s values. So in a pithy statement Jesus summed up a whole philosophy of how life should be lived. Whilst living an everyday existence and paying our dues and taxes, there are other duties required of us. They are to be found in a spiritual kingdom.

There is a whole raft of aphorisms in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke about inconsistency of standards according to whether they apply to one’s own behaviour, or that of others. Separating wheat from tares, or sheep from goats, comes to mind, or the arresting sentence, “Judge not that you be not judged”. Eyes whose vision is impaired by mote or beam encapsulates in a few words wisdom of the ages, and Jesus gave in a ringing sentence a judgement that a High Court Judge might have taken hours to pronounce, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

And what of that seven word phrase which for many of us expresses what a Christian life should be about. “Love God, love your neighbour as yourself.” Does not that say it all?

The modern marketing director or advertising executive talks of packaging the product. Part of that is about giving what he or she regards as essential information succinctly in easily memorised words. Jingles and slogans are a tool used in this technique. But hundreds of years ago in a simple agrarian land an itinerant preacher with his followers instinctively understood the value of this technique. To mention simply the good Samaritan is to portray a message of caring and compassion. A doctrine of forgiveness lies within the words, the Prodigal Son.

I forget where the passage in the Old Testament is to be found, but somewhere is a reference to the small leather box fastened to the forehead of a devout Jew and to a cylindrical container fixed to the door-posts of the house. They contained just a few words taken from the commandments. They reminded the owner of his obligation to love God and honour his elders and ancestors. Though the ancient Jewish code covered every aspect of life and laid down in considerable detail how the believer’s life should be conducted the core of the message was reduced to the central message, honour both your God and your family.

So the slogan should not be despised because it reduces a message to a few words. It is a quick and convenient way of enabling recognition or of reminding us of a wider message. The comedian’s catch-phrase is his signature tune which he hopes we will welcome. The successful commodity jingle will bring the item to mind, and convince us of its excellence. The religious adage will guide us in life’s important decisions.

But the catch-phrase in itself is but a start, an aide memoire. The advertisement may tell me that this particular washing powder washes whiter than white, but if experience shows that soiled items remain grey, then that particular slogan is discredited. The comedian whose entertainment value is poor will not suddenly achieve success through a catch-phrase. Printing “Love God, love your neighbour” on my T-shirt won’t mean anything unless those values become part of the tapestry of my life.

As I have pointed out, the sound-bite, easily remembered, is not a new phenomena. It goes back generations, over decades and centuries, What is new, or if not new certainly more common, is the tendency to think a sound-bite, a memorable phrase, call it what you will, can stand alone. To recall another phrase from the gospels, Jesus spoke of a house built upon a rock. A clever pun on words, an easily recalled jingle, will be meaningless unless it chrysalises a truth. Should there be no rock on which its foundations rests, the saying preaches of dross, not wisdom.. The catchy phrase should be a summary of, not a substitute for a product, a policy, a philosophy.

It was an American politician, I forget who, speaking of an opponent for office, and drawing attention to what he regarded as windy words belying substance, used the words, “Yes, but where’s the beef.”

All of us know how easy it is to repeat sincerely the tenets of faith, and then to fudge them, or forget them in the course of daily life. It is one thing to say we must forgive those who trespass against us, it is quite another to put that noble aim into practice. Love of neighbour is a central plank of Christian belief, but applying it in real situations can be, to put it mildly, at times sorely trying. And so it goes for many of the other articles of faith.

We use a descriptive expression about speeches which are not backed by behaviour. We call it “paying lip service”. Politicians have in recent years gained a reputation among many of the electorate for insincerity, and even hypocrisy. My observation is not concerned with whether or not that is deserved. But one reason given for this widespread belief is the use of catchy sound-bites which too often have provoked the question, “But where is the beef?”

I have pointed out that Jesus frequently used the arresting short phrase, but it is worth reflecting that they would not have lasted 2,000 years if there was no substance behind them. The phrase was about the reality, not a glib statement hiding indifference.

The catch-word has been long around, and is here to stay. Nothing to be regretted about that, as long as it summarises accurately a reality, and does not hide a vacuum.
I don’t think it right to call it a catch-phrase, but I end my ramblings with that familiar summary word familiar to all church-goers, which means “So be it”. Amen

C.J. Rosling 23 August 2002
Hucklow 25 August 2002
Upper Chapel 27 October 2002

Sunday Sermon – 24 November 2019

Freedom to Worship

There is an established tradition of having special days, weeks, or even years, devoted to a subject of concern. There is No-Smoking day, Sheffield and other cities have had bus-only days. Recently there was a “No Car Day”. I heard of a “Take your Dog to Work Day”. Annual weeks such as National Heart Week are promoted, A year or two ago there was the Year of the Disabled and one could find many, many more similar examples. The purpose of such occasions is to draw our attention to an issue, often social or environmental, about which we are urged to show concern, and address in more practical ways. In our denomination a Sunday is set apart, usually in February, to think of the International Association for Religious Freedom, the IARF.

As well as the multitude of such special occasions devoted to worthy causes affecting us in our own country, are those, like Christian Aid Week, or One World Week, which remind us, that though we live on an island, in what is often said to be a class-ridden society, we cannot be isolated from the needs of other citizens, or indeed from residents of the world as a whole. As the cliche expresses it, we are all part of one another, we are one family in God. A recognition of the needs of others, as well as our own desires, is an essential component of freedom.

One facet of freedom which has been emphasised in recent years, is that which surrounds environmental issues. The squandering of resources, the pollution of land, sea and air, disregard for the lands and of the life it supports, are not matters which rebound solely on the individual culprit. They affect the human family at large, and will burden human families yet unborn. Selfishness today denies freedom to others tomorrow.

After decades of indifference to, and ignorance of, the threat, at last “green issues” as they have been nick-named, have become matters which more and more of us are taking seriously. If the next generation of children, we are rapidly realising, are to sing

“All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small..”

as a peon of praise and not as a component of a remembrance service for days gone by, we have to all take the threat seriously, and start paring away our selfish instincts.

But, important as these considerations are, I would like to direct my few words this morning to another aspect of freedom implicit in the belief that we are all part of one large, human family.

We are all part of one body, which consists of several members, says Paul in one of those illuminating metaphors which encapsulate an eternal truth. The whole body is the sum of the parts. The parts are inter-dependant, each separate, each unique, but functioning incompletely without the complementary contribution from the other constituents.

Of course the analogy is imperfect, as are most analogies. People can and do live full, productive lives even though one sense be absent or failing, but the comparison is sufficiently accurate to illustrate the point more than adequately. People are not self-sufficient. A community, be it large or small, is dependent upon the contribution of all its members if it is to flourish, to flower, and not to disintegrate.

But Paul’s analogy was not merely about the component parts of the body, and the way one depends upon the other. It went further than that. The equal value of all the parts was stressed. The eye is not of greater value than the ear, nor is the tongue held in greater esteem than either of them. All the parts are vital; all are esteemed.

When I was a boy, as when many of you were boys and girls, we were directed to look with pride at the map of the world, large parts of which were coloured red. We had described to us the glory of a British Empire on which the sun never set. The peoples in those lands coloured crimson in our atlases, all owned allegiance to the King. The pictures in our geography books, the stories in our history books, underlined the philosophy of dependency within this Empire. Our spices came from India, our tea from Ceylon, lamb from New Zealand, sugar from the West Indies, and so on. In return, it was said, Britain defended their peoples and gave them good government.

But what was not apparent, for it could not be said with truthfulness, was that neither dependency nor inter-dependency was accompanied by an equality of value accorded to each citizen. To be described as being from the colonies was to be placed in category which Orwell’s pigs would have identified. “All are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Now the British Empire has gone, replaced in part by the Commonwealth. Some former colonies chose independence outside the Commonwealth. The residual dependencies are to be named more sympathetically as Overseas Territories. Other Empires have crumbled or are crumbling. For all nations, states, empires, commonwealths, communities or whatsoever, contain the seeds of their own destruction, unless inter-dependence is accompanied by equality of value for their citizens. Neither authoritarianism nor paternalism is a substitute for equity of treatment, of the dignity of being on equal terms with one’s fellows.

We are all of equal value in the eyes of God, glibly we proclaim. A religious faith, be it Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, that does not have that precept at its core is, to my mind, flawed. But men and women when proclaiming the equality of all in the sight of God must go beyond mouthing glib words; they must match behaviour to pronouncement. International Associations proclaiming Religious Freedom will remind us that equality of regard is the close companion of freedom of expression.

Religious freedom has its roots in this tenet of equality. One world presumes an acceptance that the rights of one are no more or no less than the rights of a neighbour. That is a massive stride to take. Think for example, of a Jew and Palestinian, a Boer and a black African, a Sikh and a Hindu, a North Korean and a South Korean, a Serb and a Croat, and many, many more examples of where the one despises and denigrates the other. A loathing that is generously reciprocated. Not infrequently oppression of one group by another is linked, incredibly and ludicrously, with religion.

But all these are examples from distant places. The problems in the world are enormous, and our influence is small. Aren’t there examples nearer home? Could we not make a start in a small way? Could we look around and see if making a modest step towards equally valuing is possible on our own doorstep?

The easy step is, say, valuing equally the peasant on the Indian sub-continent, the cocoa picker in West Africa, the Chilean harvesting grapes or the Malaysian worker in the rice-field. We never see them personally and they live a long way away. Of course it is no great effort to say, with sincerity even, that God values them equally along with us.

But on our doorstep, in our own country, in our own town, it is more difficult. Are valued as equally the accountant and his cleaner, even though the former is a white male, and the latter a black female? If we are serious about one world, why in our own country do the school-leavers whose parents were born in Somalia, Bangladesh, Jamaica or Nigeria find many employers value them less than contemporaries who have white skins? Why are children whose roots are Asian, African or Caribbean so frequently taunted on their way to and from school? And why do their parents suffer from thoughtless racist jokes? Why have families been hounded from homes in what are regarded as white only areas?

Perhaps overt racism is the work of a minority within our nation. But that it exists, overt or covert, is a blot upon what is still described as a christian society. Our advocacy of the ideals of One World will ring the truer when the canker is excised. Freedom will sound more credible when religious freedom means not only freedom to worship in one’s own way, but freedom to live without overt or covert oppression.

And the divisions which we see are not only those related to colour and race. There are divisions of class, divisions by sex, divisions by residence and so it goes on.

One Christian sect attacks another, one Moslem mosque will bitterly oppose a rival faction, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated. Sikh, Hindu or Buddhist may find justification for conflict in their religion.

Our predecessors suffered privation and even death to establish the right to worship as they saw fit. Non-conformists as they are tagged should above all people cherish religious freedom. And in cherishing it, should strive for the rights of all people to have the same freedom they enjoy.

Yes, all people. That inclusive term, is not confined to the various strands of Christianity. Where religious intolerance exists, in whatever religious context, it is reprehensible. Moslem must not discriminate against Christian, any more than Christian should denigrate Jew.

We do have a One World Week, where the theme is of great issues. It is about saving the environment from destruction. It is about sharing out the resources equitably, so starvation, preventable disease, inadequate or non-existent housing, degrading poverty, violent conflict, obscene warfare, all become things of the past. These laudable aims must always be part of our prayers. That these evils continue to exist in a world which boasts mind-blowing technical skill is a disgrace.

We stand accused of hypocrisy if we demand, rightly, that the Somalian is fed, and the Calcutta beggar housed, but look with indifference at the homeless beggar in our own towns. To laugh at the offensive saloon bar joke that seeks to denigrate fellow citizens in our midst, or express our superiority to the citizen who lacks our education or so valued social status, is to shame ourselves.

Perhaps some think that these issues are separate from religious freedom. But to disparage another is to curtail the freedom of another. Freedom to worship, freedom of thought and expression, equality of regard and opportunity, are not discrete and entities, but part of one whole.

There is an old joke about the husband who boasted that his wife and he shared all decisions between them. “Yes”, said the wife, “he makes the important decisions about where the government is going wrong, about whether we should join the common market or not, and our views on monetary union in Europe, and I just decide the unimportant things, like when to pay the gas bill, what we need from the supermarket, what colour to paint the bathroom, and where to find a plumber to mend the leaking pipe”.

We need to make the important decisions about supporting efforts to end poverty and disease in large areas of the world; about doing our part to stop the desecration or destruction of the world in which we live. But there are other decisions, equally important, that should not be overlooked; like loving the neighbour who literally lives within our neighbourhood; or speaking up for the persecuted within our own communities.

A Buddhist temple is bombed, a Jewish synagogue, is daubed with swastikas, a Mosque is burnt down, a shrine is looted, a Sikh temple is closed. How shocking that people are denied the freedom to worship as they chose in peace.

In recent times, in a part of the United Kingdom police had to escort Catholics through a Protestant mob into their church to celebrate Mass. That Christian should seek to deny the right of Christian to worship in peace, is a mark of how far we have to go in order to become a society that values freedom in deed as well as in protestation.

Our brothers’ eyes are chock-a-bloc with beams. Let us attend to our motes so we can see what we are doing as we seek to remove them. Or have I got it the wrong way round? Is our mote really a beam? Religious freedom is not an idle concept. It is essential for civilised living.

C.J. Rosling 7 February 1998

Fulwood 13 September 1992; 8 February 1998
Mexborough 13 September 1992; 19 November 1995
Hucklow 14 January 2001

Sunday Sermon – 17 November 2019

Memorial Service for Mrs. Eleanor Rhodes

Mrs. Rhodes, a farmer’s daughter and one of three children, was born in Abney, not far from where we now assemble. The 20th century had not long opened when she entered this world. She left it just a year or two before its end. The century is one of great change. During it, on the roads the petrol engine largely displaced the horse; Mrs. Rhodes was born as the first flying machine was invented; she died as millions of people every day fly across the world. As a child she saw the Man in the Moon as a figment of the imagination. She died having seen television images of men actually walking over the moon’s surface.

To her family and those she grew up with she was known as Nellie – Nellie Redfern – though more recent acquaintances called her Eleanor. I met her only in the last of her life, but was struck by her warmth and friendship – an impression confirmed by the opinion of others. As Eleanor has a much colder sound than Nellie, it is as the familiar sounding, cosier Nellie that maybe we should think of her.

Because my acquaintance with her was slight, I have turned to others for help in building up a picture of her. I am indebted to Eva Brightmore’s reminiscences in this respect. Eva and Billy Bagshaw (now I understand to live in Scotland) are perhaps the only two survivors of an Infant class taught (as a pupil teacher) by Nellie Redfern back in the first World War. Nellie was only a girl herself at the time, but it was the start of a teaching career which was to end with her as head-mistress.

Nellie Redfern went to Sheffield to train, almost certainly to the Pupil Teacher Centre in Holly Street, situated in what is now a part of the Education Offices. When I came to Sheffield after the second World War where I taught for nearly forty years, I met many fine teachers who got their grounding in that institution. Miss Redfern, as perhaps we ought now to call her, taught for some time in Sheffield in either Firs Hill School or Pye Bank School (I forget which, though she did once tell me). This was in the days of Elementary Schools, teaching pupils from Infant age to leaving age at 14 years, as they progressed from standard to standard.

Miss Redfern lodged in Sheffield throughout the week, returning home at week-ends, travelling on the bus. The bus passed the bottom of the lane at Abney, a mile or more from the farm. I am told that more often than not, Nellie and her sister Dorothy covered the distance at a run. I picture them climbing breathless on to the bus, to be met with banter from the regular passengers and the driver, warning them that one of these days they would cut it too fine and be left behind!

But many in the village and around recall Eleanor (or Nellie) as head-mistress of the local school. Oliver Goldsmith in his oft-quoted poem of village life, wrote of villagers regarding the village school-master with awe.

” …….. and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

Was the local head-mistress so regarded? Perhaps not. But that she rightly earned respect and affection is not in doubt.

Among the pleasures of village life in days gone by, were the dances here in Hucklow at Barleycrofts or in the village halls. Christmas and Easter were special occasions with dances at Ensor or the Maynard Arms. Buses of young men and woman, and some not quite so young, men in their best suits, ladies in long dresses, converged on the venue. The band played. No over-amplified groups thumping out raucous beats in those days, but piano and violin, drums and double bass, possibly a saxophone, provided tuneful melodies to which couples swayed in fox-trot and quickstep, Valletta and St. Bernard waltz, barn-dance and, for the fast and daring, the Tango.

Young men, sometimes shyly, occasionally brazenly, but always politely, requested of a lady the “pleasure of the next dance”. A ladies invitation dance evened up the score. The evening ended with the last waltz, where matches were made and cemented, or maybe hopes dashed, or suspicions confirmed as hearts were broken (but surely not beyond repair).

This was a part of Nellie’s social life. She loved music, not only for dancing but in singing. I am told she was a one-time member of the Teachers’ Choir in Sheffield. To make music in the company of others, or to dance to it, is to rest awhile in paradise.

During summer days, she played tennis, and taught others to play.

But what of her other love – that of gardening. Like all true gardeners, she gardened not only for herself, but to share her joy with others. Plants and cuttings were exchanged, tips given and received, friends invited to view her garden as she was pleased to visit others. True gardeners are a sympathetic community, as quick to rejoice in the success of others, as they are to commiserate when pests or weather do their worst. Bounty is shared and the pleasure of one is the contentment of all.

I ought not to forget the Women’s League. It was through the Women’s League that Mrs. Rhodes was introduced to this ancient Chapel in Hucklow. Prior to that she had attended Bradwell Parish Church, then she became a worshipper here.

But we return to her contribution to that most frustrating, difficult, responsible yet gloriously satisfying of all professions – that of teaching. Living in the village in her lovely cottage with its beautiful garden, she saw her pupils grow up, and produce the next generation of scholars in their turn.

Did she occasionally chide a girl pupil by saying, “Your mother always sewed a straighter seam than that”? I expect so.
Did she praise a boy pupil by saying, “At least your writing’s neater than your father’s ever was”? Possibly so.

Did she feel pride in the way her boys and girls grew into manhood and womanhood? Undoubtedly.

Did she shed a tear when misfortune hit one of her ex-pupils? I believe that must be true.

Little Nellie Redfern – Derbyshire born, Derbyshire bred, Derbyshire dweller and Derbyshire lover, lived a full and rounded life. Friends and pupils, neighbours and family, acquaintances both casual and close, were beneficiaries of that full life.

There are memories galore, some public and shared, some secret and treasured, in this community. We come here to give thanks together for a rich life, which is the genesis of those memories.

Nellie Redfern, Eleanor Rhodes, was blest with many years. Perhaps her longevity was inherited in her genes, for her mother lived to be over 90 years of age.

Perhaps it was good farm food in her youth, coupled with healthy Derbyshire air throughout her life, which gave her so many years.

Perhaps it was the contentment which comes from living among friends and seeing young things, whether plants or people, grow to maturity which prolonged her life span.

Whatever the secret, the days were not merely long, but full. I am reminded of those lines from one of our hymns which go,

“She liveth longest who can tell
Of true things truly done each day.”

Many were the days, and true things done were bountiful. In the words of the New Testament, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

C.J. Rosling
Hucklow 14 April 1996

Sunday Sermon – 10 November 2019

We Shall Remember

Today is Remembrance Sunday. Today, acts of worship are taking place throughout the land, in churches and chapels, round Cenotaph and war memorial, in city and in village. Parades are being held, the silence for recollection and prayer descends. Formal, almost stylistic acts of grief and sorrow are enacted. The two so-called Great Wars – though in truth there is nothing great about war – are history rather than episodes in the lives of an increasing number of the population. We who grow old will remember them, but for many it is a handed down memory of deeds, valour, suffering and tragedy, rather than one of personal reminiscence.

The origin of Remembrance Sunday is with what was Armistice Day; the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that saw the conclusion of the First World War. That war was optimistically, and as it proved, mistakenly, referred to as the war to end all wars.

There are now a minority of the population who recall the two wars from personal memory; even fewer from participation in those horrendous battles of 1914 to 1918. No one under seventy eight years of age was even born before the first world war ended. Any surviving combatants must be well over ninety. There are more of us who have memories and experiences of the conflict of 1939 to 1945. But the Second World War did not, no more than the first one, prove to be a war to end all wars.

Troops from our own country have since then been involved in Malaya, Korea, Belise, the Falklands and several other places, not to mention the so called “troubles” in Northern Ireland. Five years ago a short but bloody battle was fought in Iraq.

Soldiers and civilians from many lands continue to be victims of war. Merciless carnage, even as I speak, takes place in many parts of the world. During the last few days many of us have been shocked by terrible pictures on our television screens of slaughter in central Africa, unbelievable cruelty inflicted upon even the children. Peace has a hollow ring to many people throughout the world. Armistices and cease-fires are signed from time to time. But an armistice is but a step on the road to peace. True peace is as yet an elusive goal for the many who suffer.

I remember well the start of the Second World War. I sat in Church that September Sunday morning in 1939, my father taking the service which started at 10.30. Following the invasion of Poland, an ultimatum had been given to Germany which expired at 11.00. Soon after eleven, a member of the congregation who had slipped out to listen to the wireless, came back and signalled to my father that war had been declared, and he announced this from the pulpit.

It was a bitter blow to him, for he was a life-long pacifist, and had suffered as such in the First World War. Years were to pass, and many casualties among civilians as well as troops were to be sustained from that Sunday onwards, before peace was to reign again. Young men and women, as well as some not so young, in that congregation left over the months and years that followed to don uniforms. Some did not return.

Remembrance Sunday is an occasion when collective memory is built up from numerous personal memories. Mine are of young men, colleagues and play friends, who went to war after September 1939, and lost their lives. The young pilot who was shot down before the war had hardly begun dropping leaflets over Germany; the local solicitor’s only son who was lost, presumed drowned, from an aircraft carrier; the young rear-gunner with whom I shared air warden duties, who survived only two trips on raids over Europe before being killed; my mother’s cousin dying in a tank at Dunkirk; the school friend struck down in Normandy following D-Day; another friend who survived Arctic convoys to Russia but whose health was so damaged that he died soon after peace was declared.

Our memories naturally are personal, but grief and pain are universal. My memories, and your memories are replicated not only nation-wide, but world-wide. As a member of the forces I worked mostly in army hospitals. Not only British troops came into hospital beds. Young Germans and Italians came, sometimes to die. The grief of their families, our enemies as we had to regard them, was without doubt as acute as the grief experienced by allied families.

Once during an air-raid I saw a fiery ball falling from the sky. It was a German aircraft which had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. I thought of the crew probably trapped in the blazing plane falling to their death. Families in Germany would mourn, just as families I knew mourned our dead. It all seemed so desperately sad and futile. Young lives from many countries prematurely ended.

Remembrance Sunday, though it has special meaning for those whose memory includes their own experiences, is more comprehensive than that. Known relatives or friends who paid the price of war with their lives or their health, or through personal suffering may be in the thoughts of some of us. But it is also an opportunity for every-one, young and old, to reflect on the obscenity of war itself.

Some speak lightly of war, using terms like war games. Surely they can have no imagination, or no understanding of what war means. For war is no game. True, there is a comradeship in adversity which is remembered and cherished. Individuals show courage, and make sacrifices for others. But war itself breeds that which is in direct contradiction to what we call Christian values.

The values are not unique to Christianity; they are shared by other great religions. But these qualities are denied or suppressed in armed conflict. Instead of love, war preaches hatred; in place of the sanctity of life, war revels in the ability to kill; lies and deceit are justified; building and reclamation is overtaken by wanton destruction; accord becomes coercion; fear takes the place of tranquillity; what would be rightly labelled as a crime at any other time becomes lauded as a deed of valour. The good soldier is he who kills or maims the greatest number. And increasingly the largest casualties are not among the uniformed men and women, but of innocent civilians of all ages and both sexes.

I do not know whether war is avoidable in any circumstance, or is simply inevitable. If I have not been able to embrace pacifism it is because of other evils which exists in the world. Evils of oppression, massacres of minorities, and cruelty run rife as in the camps of Belsen. Those unspeakable acts since matched in other camps in other countries. But war is so horrific, that it must be a final, desperate last resort.

One consoling thought is that even bitter enmities nourished by war do not last for ever. A good friend of mine was able to entertain for two weeks a party of Japanese in her home for a fortnight a few years ago, and to pay a reciprocal visit to an ordinary Japanese home, living with the family and enjoying generous and kindly hospitality. Immediately after the end of 1945 such visits would have been unimaginable. Similarly, friendship and interchange between European citizens once sworn enemies are commonplace today. Bitter memories can be and are being put aside.

Scarring as are the experiences of war, one message becomes clear as time passes. It is that is hatred and destruction are transitory. As Paul reminds us, it is faith, hope and love which abide.

What stops most of us committing such crimes as murder, burglary, theft, rape, child molesting and the like is not fear of the law as such, but a sense of right and wrong, a respect for others. Laws in themselves are insufficient to protect and control, it is the goodness, contrasted with the wickedness, of individuals, which ultimately determines how peaceable is our existence.

Similarly war may deal with an immediate crisis. It may free a subject people, it may deter a tyrant: but true peace comes not because of deterrents or through imposition by armed force. It comes because nation wishes to live at peace with neighbour.

The bulk of people are, in spite of our sometime pessimistic anxieties, law-abiding, peace-loving folk, who would be so whether or not the laws were harsh or lenient. They have no wish to covet from neighbour, to steal or to murder. When the nations of the world and the men and women who rule them are similarly so minded, then perhaps war will cease.

But the goodness that lies within individuals and nations needs to be nurtured and fed. It is nurtured by worship, and it is fed by prayer. Nations will not be righteous unless people are righteous. Nations are made up of individuals like us. Unless we are ourselves peace-loving, neighbour-loving, God-loving, then we cannot expect the world to be so. The easy thing to say is that we are but one, and therefore give up. But that was not the answer the early Christians gave, and many more who followed them.

It is not the answer that many we remember today, from many lands and in many generations, would want us to give. Too many lives have ended prematurely through strife and war. Many more I fear will be lost in the future. But if this carnage is ever to end it can only be because goodness has finally triumphed through the constancy of men and women of, to use the old phrase, good faith.

A favourite hymn of mine is by Horatius Bonar, a Free Scottish minister in the last century – “They live the longest who live well..”. Two couplets from that hymn come to mind.

“Sow truth, if thou the true wouldst reap;
Who sows the false shall reap the vain;”

and

“Sow love, and taste its fruitage pure;
Sow peace and reap its harvest bright;”

Our thought for today and every day is in the two commandments of love. The sustaining of these is our best hope of peace.

It is the debt we ought to pay to those of all ages, from every land, whose lives have been curtailed by war. We repeat, “We Shall Remember Them”.

C.J. Rosling 12 November 1994

Hucklow 13 November 1994
Mexborough 13 November 1994
Mexborough 10 November 1996
Mexborough 9 November 1997

Sunday Sermon – 3 November 2019

Striving to Achieve

“Man’s reach should exceed his grasp
Or what’s a heaven for.”

Robert Browning was protesting impatience with easily attained targets, and urging that one should strive to achieve that which appears not to be immediately obtainable. As in the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola – “fight and not to heed the wounds” – human dignity is enhanced when one is not content with the easily obtained, but endeavour to struggle towards more difficult targets.

Uniquely in the animal kingdom, the human race is able to consider, to plan, to learn from the experience of others, to recall over time and to reflect upon past achievements. But unless these skills are used, then this unique power wastes, and men and women become less distinguishable from the rest of the animal state.

It is this reaching for that which is beyond the grasp which is an essential component of much joy and much sorrow, of the comedy of life as well as its tragedy, the source of satisfaction and the bitterness of disappointment.

Recently two short stories came to mind which, on the face of it, are stories of failure. I cannot recollect the author of the first, except he was a Russian whose tale I read a long time ago in a book of short stories. Nor do I recall the exact details of the narrative, but the theme has stayed with me over the passage of years.

The story is of a poor Russian peasant who had the opportunity to gain wealth by acquiring land of his own. The task set was to plough a furrow between sunrise and sunset so as to enclose a piece of land on the wide steppes of the Russian plains. The furrow had to start and finish at the same spot, and then all the land within the ribbon of gouged earth would be his.

The story describes the day of the assignment. At sunrise the peasant sets off with his oxen dragging the plough. The sun rises to its zenith and beats down on the man as he presses on, determined to encompass the maximum amount of ground – just a little further and then further. The circumference grew. As the day passes, he realises that he must complete the circle before nightfall or his journey will have failed. He whips on his tiring oxen and drags his weary legs behind the plough, and, just as the sun is sinking behind the horizon, he reaches his starting point and completes the circle.

But the triumph is short-lived, for the task has exhausted him. His body has been pushed beyond its limit of endurance, and, in the moment of triumph, his heart fails and he dies. The land he has gained is thus limited to the plot in which he is buried.

One can interpret the story in a number of ways. Perhaps it is a story of greed for which a price is paid. Or is it a comedy, for comedy is so often dependent upon the fall, whether caused by the banana skin, or when the misfortunes of life snatch the carrot from the clutching hand. Or it could be an illustration that material gains are transitory and illusory. But I like to regard the story as an account of the triumph of human endeavour. The reach was beyond the grasp, but so it should be. True failure is not lack of success; it is lack of the will to strive towards success.

I am told that there is an Olympic oath which athletes are offered, and which reads:-

Let me win,
But if I cannot win
Let me be
Brave in the attempt.

Amen to that.

The other story which came to my mind was one which hovers between the long short story, and the short novel. It is Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Old Man and the Sea”. Many of you perhaps know the story, which is of an old fisherman, again, like the Russian peasant, living in poverty, in this case somewhere on the shores fringing the Caribbean Sea. For many days he has fished unsuccessfully, but decides to go out to sea once more. With the help of a boy the boat is launched, and once at sea he sets his line to catch the large fish, marlin I think they were, which inhabit the warm, tropical seas, and upon which his livelihood depends.

A fish takes the bait and the old man realises that he has hooked the largest fish of his life. So strong is it that it drags the boat far from the land. After long hours of struggle, which drains the strength of the old man, though he will not abandon the chase, the fish is brought alongside and killed with the gaff. So large is the fish that the old man is unable to bring it into the boat. He lashes it to the side, and starts the long, slow journey back to the land, by now two or three days sailing away.

During the journey, sharks attack the fish, in spite of the efforts of the fisherman to drive them off. By the time the boat reaches the shore his catch is destroyed, and the triumph is no more. The Old Man returns, exhausted, to his destitution.

Again, at one level this is a story of failure. But not a failure to reach, merely an inability to grasp, in spite of an herculean effort. But at another level, it is a story of success, in the words of the Olympic oath, a story of accepting the challenge and “being brave in the attempt”.

True living is a complex, complicated art. It is a drawing together of many things. It is about a relationship with an unseen force, the spiritual dimension which we call variously the life force, the creative power or simply God. It is about a relationship with others, of practising tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and exercising judgement as how and when these are appropriate. What to tolerate and what to denounce, for instance; when to be condemnatory, and when to forgive.

Life is variously given to quiet reflection or frantic activity. As we mature, hopefully we become better at judging the appropriate moment for each. All these aspects of living, and more, make us greater than mere advanced members of an animal kingdom. They give us the unique status of membership of the human race. If we live as we should, we are constantly challenged, often uncertain, frequently wrong, but gloriously alive. But not the least importance component of a full life is the effort to achieve that which extends us to the limit, or even beyond the limit.

In the stories I have mentioned, those limits were physical, the goals referred to gaining material reward. And physical goals are not to be idly dismissed – they are real challenges. In exerting ourselves fully in a physical sense, we can and do develop a spiritual stature. But physical targets are not the only marks whose reach may be beyond the grasp, but for which we should strive. Targets there are, surely the most important targets, which are less tangible but real.

There are targets for the whole nation or large communities, like world peace, abolition of poverty, social justice, racial harmony, equality before the law, and so one can go on. There are lesser targets, though lesser only in the sense that they involve smaller groups, like tolerance in our own neighbourhood, or understanding in our immediate communities.

There are individual targets which deal with our relationship in a family, in the work-place, or with the next door neighbour. We should not despise a target simply because it is readily attainable. If reaching it improves the lot of fellow beings, then it is worth doing. We should seek always to do those things.

But if we, either as individuals or as a community, fail to try, for example, to bring about peace simply because we see no way of early success, then we demean ourselves. Dignified failure, bravery in the attempt, is infinitely to be preferred to defeatist effort.

There is a rather derogatory expression that is used about those who attempt and fail. It is “to bite off more than one can chew”. Of course there are occasions when this can legitimately be used, as when personal greed or avarice is the motivation for our behaviour. But if one is over-ambitious because the need is great and the cause is good, then the expression is surely at best ungenerous, and at worst malicious.

Many of the great social reforms ultimately came about because of the willingness of individuals and groups to bite off more than contemporaries thought was reasonable or wise. Slavery would be still a pattern of life, women wouldn’t vote, child labour would be tolerated, and a host of other injustices would remain, if brave men and women had not grasped beyond their reach. And if this is thought not to be a particularly religious matter, one need only to recall a myriad of people whose social conscience grew out of deeply held religious conviction.

There is a truism that states that education should be aimed at developing the whole person. Developing into a whole person, through education, through living, and through self-development, involves developing the spiritual side of life also. This will be stunted unless the growth of ambition to achieve beyond the immediately attainable is a part of that development.

I recently preached about wishing on stars. Wishing on stars, reaching beyond the grasp, striving to win, but being at least brave in the attempt, are all aspects of the same coin.

Like John Bunyan’s pilgrim, there must be

“……….no discouragement
That shall make us once relent
Our first avow’d intent…”

C.J. Rosling 23 April 1994

Fulwood 24 April 1994
Upper 24 July 1994
Mexborough 11 December 1994

Sunday Sermon – 27 October 2019

I’m Starving

Three-quarters of a century ago, in my primary school, as I suspect in every other primary school in the land, the day’s lessons began with scripture. Later the time-table named the scripture period, religious instruction, later still religious education; but at that time it was scripture. Psalms and the Beatitudes to be learnt by heart, stories read and studied from both Old and New Testament, starting with the wanderings of Abraham through to the journeys of Paul.

Not the least gripping of the stories we read was one from the Book of Genesis, the story of Joseph and his brothers. The narrative has a variety of themes which may be found in many a novel – jealousy, attempted murder, sex, revenge, violence, compassion, forgiveness, a rags to riches tale with a happy ending.

Like many others, in later years I enjoyed the rock musical based on the story, “Joseph and his Multi-coloured Dreamcoat”. But it is the original story which, to coin a phrase, holds the stage.

The story came to mind the other day after watching a news item on the television. During it, there had been displayed horrifying pictures from the African continent of men, women and, most distressingly of all, children, dying of starvation as famine swept their lands.

Joseph, as you will recall, possessed, among other talents, the ability to foretell the future by interpreting dreams. As he slept, Pharaoh had seen seven fat kine (I prefer to use the old word, sounds more regal than mere cows) devoured by seven lean and hungry animals. Joseph warned that this was a signal of famine to come. Preparations for the coming catastrophe were then put in hand.

The word “famine” entered my vocabulary a life-time ago, but it is, I confess, only in recent years that I have come anywhere near understanding its truly awful meaning. Until these and similar television pictures came into the home over the last decade or so, famine was a rather old-fashioned biblical term for something that happened in stories of long ago. “I’m starving” we say when an hour or two has elapsed since the last meal. Starving used as a synonym for feeling hungry. The literal meaning is far starker.

In the lands smitten by famine, we see far more than mild hunger pangs felt an hour or two after a wholesome meal. Famine induced starvation is unimaginable misery, suffering, sickness leading to a lingering, painful death. Babies too weak to cry, fall apathetically into the sleep from which there is no awakening.

The Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the sub-Sahara region have for centuries suffered periodic famine. The story of Joseph, though no doubt part fable, part synthesis of the experiences of many people, is surely not complete fantasy. The peoples of Old and New Testament times alike knew only too well of the ravages of famine. The biblical phrase “to hunger and thirst” grew out of painful experience.

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, and included in the prayer the phrase “…give us this day our daily bread” it was not an empty set of words. The disciples knew full well how life depended precariously upon the vagaries of weather, on an absence of pests, as well as relying on a successful harvest.

To solicit for bread was a commonplace in lands where begging was endemic. For how else did the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the homeless exist where no welfare state provided for their sustenance? Charity from others was their means of survival.

Food for the next meal was, and still is, a first priority for a great number of the populace throughout the world. To secure another meal is life; fail, and death becomes a stark reality. No wonder that food and drink provide so many religious metaphors. Food succours and strengthens. It is the means of sustaining life. It gives the body strength. Its absence removes both the will and the ability to live.

Parallels with the importance of nourishing the spirit are obvious. Moving from the reality of real hunger to recognising that spiritual life, as well as physical existence, is sustained by feeding, is not a large step. So a prayer for daily bread is about more than bodily need. To adapt a well-known advertising slogan, there is a need to reach those parts ordinary foods cannot reach.

“Bread of Heaven”, we sing, “feed me ‘til I want no more”. Not a peon in praise of gluttony, but a prayer for spiritual sustenance. Recognition that there are needs over and beyond mere physical survival.

The human body needs continual feeding at regular intervals. Food is provided by other living organisms be they plant or animal. Our life depends upon the lives of others. Adequate and appropriate food and drink is prerequisite for a healthy physical life.

However we have needs additional to that if we are to truly live. Spiritual needs have got to be satisfied. And, as with physical needs, the occasional top-up at irregular and long intervals is not the answer. The infrequent special service, the christening, the funeral, grief at time of crisis and little else, does not sustain the spirit in a healthy state. “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Without faith, hope and love, life is but a stunted existence. To become a whole person, we have to go beyond satisfying physical need.

The unique spirit of humankind, the soul, the essential humanity, call it what you will, withers and distorts, sickens and malfunctions when it is starved of sustenance, just as does the body when denied its regular intake of food.

Famines past and present are, unhappily, facts of life. Sometimes they are described in that most unfortunate phrase, as being Acts of God. I find it difficult to accept that God from time to time, as it were, loses his temper, and sends plagues of pests, torrential rains, droughts or other disasters upon the land which this phrase implies. That surely cannot be so. However, that apart, the role of the wise person is, like Joseph of old, to make preparations beforehand, giving relief to the distressed, and sharing bounty with those who starve.

Many famines are of man’s making. War, pillage, greed, exploitation, theft, ignorant arrogance, all play their part in bringing misery to others. That sometimes this occurs under the cloak of religious wars is uniquely revolting. Religious war is itself a contradiction in terms. Religious ethics are surely about mutual respect, sharing and supporting the weak. To destroy or abstract from our neighbour the bread he needs to live, is a negation of religion.

Similarly, there may be famines curtailing the nourishment needed to satisfy spiritual hunger, and thus enable growth and development. Sometimes, as bracken grows on the uplands choking all other growth and producing inedible forage in its place, so materialism, stifles the production of spiritual victuals. Great effort is needed to root out the enveloping weed to enable life-supporting shoots to flourish.

But more frequently, the food is available; it is self-imposed fasting or unwise choice of repast which is starving spiritual growth. Enjoying that which is outside material wealth, selfish greed and love of personal possessions, and exercising love and charity towards one’s fellow beings, enables healthy spiritual growth to take place.

The story of Joseph is not simply about relieving the effects of famine. It was right to build barns in time of plenty to store supplies against harsh times to come. It was proper to feed the hungry that they should not starve. But beyond that there was a spiritual famine which had hardened hearts enabling hatred and jealousy to grow like a cancer. In the climax of the story Joseph forgave his brothers, showing generosity to them and to his family. That spiritual feed enabled love to expand as unworthy passions atrophied.

There is much that humans share with the rest of the animal kingdom. This is the physical part of them. The physical body of all in the animal kingdom has to be maintained with food and drink, exercise and repose. We are born, we reproduce, we die. All this and more we share with the rest of animal life. But it does not end there. For we who are privileged to be part of the human race have skills which others animals do not share. The ability to think, to plan, to prepare for example. A sense of the past, and a vision of the future is ours. But most importantly, we have something which is somewhat vaguely referred to as a soul.

We can feel compassion. We can exercise tolerance. We can make self-sacrifices in order others might benefit. We can feel moved by thoughts and experiences outside of ourselves. We may feel awe and wonder. We have a perception of good and evil. We can aspire to be saints; or we can degenerate into devils.

But this aspect of our lives needs sustaining with wholesome fare, not left to perish, or, even worse, become grossly mutated through the poison produced by, what Joseph might have called, false gods.

Some of the vilest crimes of humanity, for example the burning of heretics, genocide against those of (in inverted commas) “inferior race or intelligence”, or the so named ethnic cleansing, have been committed by those whose spiritual and moral values have been distorted thus.

We in our time and land are strangers to the famines ravishing many parts of Africa and Asia. We are better fed then ever in our history. By and large, with a few exceptions, we are healthier then the generations which went before us.

Our expectation of life has expanded enormously throughout this century, particularly in the latter half of it. We worry about over-weight rather than under-nourishment. We are the privileged. We are more anxious about calorie intake than concerned about the state of the harvest. As the hymnist puts it

“We have enough, yet not too much
To long for more”

But are there not some signs of a famine in spiritual succour? Does our spiritual being grow large on over-eating as does our physical waist-line? To enable us to live a complete life, physical well-being is important. A healthy body requires sustaining with a healthy diet. Spiritual well-being is crucial to a full, complete life. Manna from heaven is important.

We as individuals, and society as a whole depends, not merely on physical strength and well-being, but on a sense, first of being not just a receptacle of physical needs into which fuel has to be pumped, but body capable of prayer as well as understanding. Secondly, we most always have in our minds that we are a part of a society which respects and cherishes all other members. Their needs are our needs; our requirements apply equally to them.
“….give us this day our daily bread” – but from the fount of all wisdom as well as from the bakery.

“Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven
Feed me ‘til I want no more”

May your appetite be insatiable.

C.J.Rosling 16 January 1999

Hucklow 17 January 1999; 23 October 2005
Fulwood 21 February 1999

Sunday Sermon – 20 October 2019

Worldly Religion

If you listen to people talking about religion and life, possibly sooner rather than later, you will hear the phrase “other-worldly” used. There is a perception, strongly held by some, that true religion is somehow set apart from the everyday affairs of life. Perhaps this view is most starkly displayed by those who permanently cut themselves off from the ordinary everyday affairs of the world and retreat into a monastic life devoted to religious observances and thoughts of so-called “higher things”. They may pray for the world, but they are not of the world.

This attitude is also revealed in less absolute terms. Going to church is regarded as special, in the sense that it is different from everyday life – divorced from it and placed, as it were, in a separate compartment of activity. Once the service is over and one has left the building, ordinary life can proceed once more.

This special, other-worldly existence is contrasted with a life steeped in worldly affairs. The latter is described as being practical and down-to-earth, not living in an airy, fairy atmosphere of spiritual dreamland, but getting on with real life. “Life is real, life is earnest” goes the line of the hymn.

Certainly I would not wish to appear to judge sincerely held beliefs of others, but for my part I would find a life shut away from daily toil, even with all its pressures and disappointments, profoundly unsatisfactory. Similarly, a life exclusively devoted to so-called worldly cares, and which was devoid of spiritual values, would be equally barren. For my part, religious convictions are a guide, a framework within which everyday life can be enjoyed.

For example, a belief is held by some, that religion and politics should be kept apart. It is not a view I hold. Let me qualify that by recalling a BBC programme of yesteryear called the Brains Trust, which older members will remember. One of the regular panellists, the late Professor Joad, was wont to say when asked a question, “It all depends on what you mean by the words you use.”

If you look for the definition of politics in the dictionary you will find that it deals with government and the making of laws. In other words, it is about community and shaping the society in which we live. To my way of thinking, it is entirely right to judge the society in which we live by comparing it against the religious standards we profess to encompass.

Of course, that is not to say that any favoured political party’s principles are holier than another party’s beliefs. However, I maintain it to be entirely right to say from the pulpit whether or not, in the preacher’s opinion, we live in a just, forgiving society, and whether the government of the day is acting in a tolerant and humane way to its citizens. Observations about whether or not the needs of the community are fairly balanced against the rights of the individual, whether or not the strong oppress the weak, and whether or not young and old, men and women, black and white, enjoy equal rights, is to my mind an entirely proper function of the church. Certainly this is so for any church which professes to accept the Christian standards of love of neighbour.

Not infrequently one faction or group, be it a political party, religious community or social gathering, believes it has a monopoly of right on its side. During the first World War, a poet noted that all participants in the conflict prayed that God would bring them victory, for their cause was self-evidently a right and just one. The poet wrote of God listening to these pleas coming from Germany, France, Britain, and elsewhere to grant their side victory over the enemy. Defeat should be inflicted upon the other side whose cause was self-evidently unjust. Our poet concluded his poem with the lines. “My God, said God, I’ve got my work cut out.” To bring religion and ethical standards into everyday life is not to contend that God supports one’s own side and is therefore antagonistic to those holding different views. It is to establish the importance of considering one’s actions and comparing them with one’s professed beliefs.

And it is not only into the field of politics that we should carry our religious principles. It applies to business and commence, to the factory and office, to the smaller and larger communities in which we move, into our public actions and even our private thoughts.

A novel I read many years ago, whose title I now forget, dealt, in part, with the setting up of a manufacturing process in an imaginary Middle Eastern country manned by an untrained and unsophisticated work-force. The venture was successful, primarily because the workers were a deeply religious people, who, when trained, performed their tasks conscientiously and thoroughly. To them, to do less was a betrayal of their faith and an insult to their god. Failure to properly tighten a bolt, to carelessly assemble a part, or to weld badly a joint, was an abomination. They took their faith from the church, temple or mosque (or whatever their place of worship might be) into the work-place and the market-place, and made everyday tasks a homage to their deity.

To return to the definition of words. “Other-worldly” is shown in my dictionary as having two meanings. One is to do with spiritual things, with an alternative, meaning given as advocating impractical ideas. It is far from uncommon for words to have more than one meaning. But what appears to be the case with “other-worldly” is that the two meanings have become entangled, if not amalgamated. To many, that which is described as spiritual is assumed to be also impractical. And being impractical, separated from day to day living.

True religion is overwhelmingly practical. There are countless individuals who have shown in their own lives that this is so. In every land from north to south, from east to west, from times long forgotten up to the present day, men and women, some famous throughout the world, others anonymous, have served and continue to serve their neighbours. As managers or menial workers, in hospital, in Town Hall, in small shop, in multinational company, in paid employment, in voluntary service, in high profile jobs or in humble ways, you find those whose service to their fellow men and women is powered by the engine within that embracing, comprehensive term, spiritual values.

These people give the lie, by their life and service, to the suggestion that spiritual and impractical are interchangeable terms. Their practical contribution grows from their spirituality. Their religious belief is tried, tested and honed by public duty every single day of their life, as well as in private worship.

The complaint heard too often, that the church gets involved in areas that should not be within its province, describes a situation which is far from the truth. It is in the absence of standards set by religious teaching from everyday life that injustice lives, misery is harboured, and intolerance breeds. The establishing of these standards, ensuring that they are maintained and monitored in their application, is done by men and women. I believe that in undertaking this duty, men and women are best guided by and sustained in the task through a sincerely held religious faith.

Worldly is said to be about the secular life, the life of every day. It is described as the life of work and of leisure, earning our daily bread, enjoying sport and pastimes, meeting others in pub or club, in theatre, on golf-course or bowling green. It is shopping in the supermarket, driving on the road, walking along the street, or playing in the park. Worldly is contrasted with the other-worldly spiritual life of worship, prayer and contemplation.

But my whole argument is that to separate the worldly and the other-worldly as distinct, and even contradictory, is to devalue both. Life without a spiritual dimension is bland, tasteless and unsatisfying, like fish without tartar sauce, or steak without mustard, or salt which has lost its savour. Conversely, a spirituality not tested in the everyday world is empty, if not meaningless. What James called faith without works is to proclaim with the mouth but not to reflect in the deed.

Both the epithets “worldly” and “other-worldly” are in their turn variously used derisively, as missiles to harm and to hurt. But both are honourable terms if used as two aspects of a partner-ship, a marriage, not of convenience, but, if you will, of necessity; of necessity because neither partner can flourish in the absence of the other.

One might ask how can religious values be brought into all aspects of life when there is a multiplicity of faiths, and, in the Christian religion alone, a wide variety of sects. But though beliefs may differ, modes of worship vary and practices contrast, all true religions have, or should have, common values. It is of the importance of bringing those values into the daily round, the common task, of which I speak. I suggest those values include compassion and mercy, tolerance and understanding, love and charity, sympathy and consideration, patience and peace of mind.

Which of us would deny the inclusion of any one of these in a litany of our belief, alongside other manifestations of a love and respect for fellow beings? These “other-worldly” spiritual values savour the worldly life, making it at the lowest estimate, tolerable, but more frequently positively enjoyable. Far from being impracticable, they are the essentials in our diet – the vitamins on which healthy life depends.

It used to be customary to start a sermon with a biblical text, but I will reverse the process and conclude with one from the epistle of James.
“You see then that a person is justified by deeds, and not by faith in itself.”

C.J. Rosling 25 June 1994
Fulwood 26 June 1994
Mexborough 19 February 1995
Hucklow 2 July 2000

Sunday Sermon – 13 October 2019

Equal Rights

It is possible to argue interminably about what have been the most significant changes during the 20th century, and indeed there is no simple answer, or even just a single answer.

Some will press the claims of a particular scientific invention or discovery, others look to advances in technology. Is the invention of the atom bomb and the associated work on nuclear fission and fusion the most notable achievement? Or is it the growth in knowledge about the origins of the universe in which we dwell? Others will look to the invention of the internal combustion engine, or the motor car, to be followed by the aeroplane. Again, what of communications, with telephone, radio and television bringing information to us all, even as events unfold on the far side of the world.

Another will turn to medical science, with the discovery of penicillin, followed by a plethora of miracle drugs; the surgeon who transplants organs almost routinely, or to the pathologist who, with his vaccines, has all but eliminated a number of life threatening diseases.

One will turn to the arts, another to philosophy. Explorers, innovators and sages will all have their supporters.

So one can go on and on detailing the differences that have occurred within the world since the birth of a friend of mine who was 97 years of age this summer. When she was born, in 1901, humans had not yet invented flying machines. The journey to America took at least a week, instead of today’s five or six hours, with a return journey possible within the day. A journey of several days faced the rich few who ventured on holiday in Spain or Italy. Ultimately men were to build rockets to carry them to the moon, a mere fantasy in a science fiction world throughout my friend’s working life, but to become a reality after only some years after her retirement.

My friend was born in a world where there were no radio sets carrying speech and music. She was a young woman before crystal sets received the human voice, and wireless sets and the BBC came into every home. Television broadcasts were hardly known until she reached her early fifties. Many common illnesses now treated by doctor’s prescription were killers throughout most of her working life. Horse drawn vehicles, steam trains and ships were virtually the sole means of transport during her childhood, though the electric tram operated in some urban areas.

But one can make a strong case that one of the greatest changes in our country during this woman’s life is not scientific, but social and political. It is the emancipation of women, an evolution not yet complete but one that has made remarkable progress.

At the beginning of this century, the role of women, the position of women in our society, was little different from what it had been for centuries. No woman sat in parliament, no woman had a vote, few professions allowed women entry. Those who advocated greater equality for women were derided, persecuted and sometimes imprisoned, there to be forcible fed.

Women voted for the first time less than five years before I was born. I was at school before women under thirty years of age were given the vote, and so achieved equality in this respect with men.

In my own profession of teaching, a woman’s salary has been the same as her equivalent man colleague for merely the last thirty-five years or so. Only in recent years has it become illegal to discriminate unfairly against women in employment recruitment, though sadly in practice much discrimination still persists.The quiet revolution in the position of women in British society, a revolution which is still proceeding, can surely rank among the most momentous events of the century.

But why do I refer to this today, in a church service?

I believe that there are two aspects to our worship. One is personal, perhaps inward looking and reflective. The other is communal, outwardly directed and practical.

The first part is important. We meditate and pray, we rest in tranquillity for a while, then, as the prophet wrote, “we renew our strength” that we may “mount up as eagles….”. But vital as that purpose of worship is, it is not, or it ought not to be, our sole purpose in gathering here.

The second part is to put that renewed strength to some purpose in our daily lives. To see how that which we profess to believe is turned to common purpose. And to do that we must recognise the world around us as it is, and as it is developing.

Some do regret change, and will continue to do so. Things aren’t quite how they were when we were young. If only the clock could go back, or the pendulum would swing, they complain. The ranks of those who regret the emancipation of women are not filled with men alone. Some women cry, “Would that the tide ebb.” But tides don’t even obey the commands of kings and queens, let alone the pleas of the commoner.

At the core of christian faith lies the obligation to others, succinctly expressed in the phrase, “… love your neighbour as yourself”. Over and over again in the gospels the criticism of what is implied by a master and servant relationship can be found: “Why call me master?”: “He who would be the master of all, shall be the servant of all”: “Except ye become as little children…” and so on. The story of the washing of the disciples feet also comes to mind.

If, as I believe, those who profess the ethics of Christianity – the master is also servant, the servant is also master – must accept that all members of the human race are valued equally. Categorising into males and females and valuing the groups as of different worth, is wrong. If you prefer the term, it is sinful. The movement for equality of opportunity for both men and women may be social and political in form, but it is surely powered by a religious engine and spiritual fuel.

Unitarianism is often referred to as having a liberal christian tradition. That refers not only to forms of worship, theological arguments and freedom from creeds and dogmas, but to the tradition of commitment of members to social reform. (Many examples are to be found of Unitarian reformers.)

Women have long been received in our pulpits on equal terms with men, a possibility which some other christians debate with anxiety and apprehension. It is for the members of those churches who consider the issues, to reach their own conclusions, but we should continue to value the contribution, and not pre-judge it by the sex of the contributor.

There are those who argue that it is inappropriate in a society moving to greater equality to have women’s groups and men’s groups, for this, they say, reinforces inequalities and differences. This is a viewpoint I do not accept. Equality does not imply sameness. Loving one’s neighbour is an acceptance of difference and variety.

The predominantly male view of society has lead until recent times to that very belief in exclusiveness and male superiority, a certitude which now is rightly crumbling. A view that one sex has a God-given position of superiority over the other is incompatible with a faith that puts love of neighbour at its heart. Largely due to a comparatively few courageous, tenacious women the century will close with a very much improved position for women in society than was the case when it opened.

What then for the future? What message should there be, what lessons have been learnt than can be applied elsewhere?

Within the world, and within our own country, much inequality still is prevalent. Many groups, because of their religion, their colour, their beliefs, their ethnic background, or for other reasons, are at best denied equal treatment, or are at worst persecuted. Love of neighbour has a limited acceptance or is applied selectively.

Women have personal experience of discrimination which should make them particularly sensitive to the needs of others. Because it is a woman who carries the new life and gives birth to it, she has a sympathy to the weak, the helpless and the oppressed. They will surely be in the van of their fight for a fairer world.

Men more frequently are the oppressors, or are those who are insensitive to the aspirations of others. They are the ones who have to be educated, cajoled, compelled to help change the world. Emancipation of women, even when complete, is not the end. It is a start on a long road to the removal of injustice, intolerance – an attitude which is fundamentally irreligious.

I started by speaking of a woman born at the beginning of the century into a world which, had it been able to see forward would have gazed with unbelief. That a new born babe would live to see men in space was incredible. That women too would go into space was ludicrous.

That a woman would become Prime Minister was cloud cuckoo land. That this baby should live to watch a report from a battlefield halfway across the world of events as they happened, was barely understandable; that the reporter would be a woman was taking things too far.

We have come a long way in a short time, and much is due to the determination of women. We have a long way still to go, and recent, past history shows the inconceivable is achievable. With the partnership of both men and women we can tramp the road ahead to the goal of a society truly based on christian ethics, where the contributions from all are sought, and respect to all is given.

A hundred years ago it was taken for granted that men alone would draw the plans of the new world we were seeking. Surely we now know better. May the child born today grow to see a world where equality is not a matter for comment, but represents the accepted norm.

C.J. Rosling 13 October 1991

Chesterfield 13 Oct. 1991
Fulwood 10 May 1992 (adapted as MAYQUEEN)
Hucklow 9 August 1992
Mexborough 9 August 1992

Sunday Sermon – 6 October 2019

Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom

Long ago, in the first half of the seventeenth century, a minor writer named Owen Felltham wrote his short essay on the value of acquiring knowledge in order to, and I paraphrase his words, give one something to think about in old age. I expect most of us would suggest that though that might be one reason for education, there are certainly many more compelling arguments to support a thirst for learning. But for whatever reason, like it or not, we all from a very early age fill our heads with facts. Then as we grow old we regurgitate them, thus boring younger people as we repeat experiences from our youth, over and over again.

Some facts might be regarded as more useful than others. I once knew a man whose boast it was that if you gave him any year in the last sixty or so he would name the winner in that year of the Grand National, the Derby and many other horse races as well. Quite a feat of memory without doubt; but to my mind, as one whose knowledge of horse-racing would rest comfortably on the head of a pin, of rather less practical use than say multiplication tables, or, since we went metric, and I shall come to recipes in a few moments, knowing how many millilitres in ¾ of a pint.

All of us, I admit, carry round a huge amount of what might be dubbed junk facts, of little value and even less interest. But it isn’t always easy to distinguish the rubbish from the gems. In any event, we frequently have little control over what sticks in the mind and what disappears without trace. I remember clearly the name of my first infant school teacher, who taught me to read seventy five years ago, but that couple’s name to whom I was introduced the other day already completely escapes me.

Mr. Gradgrind, in Charles Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’ had no doubt about it. Education was about memorising facts. “Now you know what a horse is”, he said to the poor girl who had failed to answer his question. It had been subsequently described by a fellow pupil, the know-all Blitzer, as being a quadruped, a grazing animal, which shed its coat as the seasons changed, whose hooves required to be shod with iron, had forty teeth, an examination of which would enable the age of the animal to be determined. Gradgrind, Charles Dickens grotesque business man, knew the importance of knowledge. Knowledge gained through the assimilation of facts. Any facts, all facts, the drier the better.

Of course, Gradgrind had a point. From an early age, even before we learn to speak, we humans are acquiring facts, some of more significance than others. Trivial facts, important facts, some retained, many forgotten.

Do you remember the school-master in Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village”?

The village all declared how much he knew;
‘Twas certain he could write, and cipher too;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides
presage,
And even the story ran that he could gauge:
In arguing, too, the parson owned his skill,
For even though vanquished he could argue still;

While words of learned length, and thundering
sound,
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew,

It is amazing how much can be crammed into one small head. Mind you, it does eventually get full. How else can it be explained that as we grow older things we were told only a few minutes ago are completely forgotten? Obviously, it is because our heads are full to busting. We have been stuffing them since infancy and there is no room for any more facts to be crammed into the skull.

But getting hold of facts is only the beginning. It is like the first stage in baking a cake, where you assemble the ingredients. Then comes the harder, if more interesting, bit. The printed recipe reveals, underneath the list of ingredients needed, the heading, ‘Method’. So the eggs, flour, fat and the rest have to go into the bowl to be stirred, mixed and blended; so the mind must relate facts to one another, and bring experience to bear. The facts are the ingredients of knowledge. Intelligence is the spoon which stirs the selected elements.

Gradgrind’s horse is truly a grazing quadruped, but more besides. No romance permitted, he failed to notice it also has beauty, motion, strength. It leaps fences, it drags carts, it carries burdens, it roams freely, it gallops with streaming mane. It once enabled man to till the land and gather the harvest. It pulled chariots into battle; black plumed, it drew the hearse to the cemetery. It competed in the sport of kings. It was the hero in Dick Turpin’s epic ride to York. The horse helped shape the history of mankind. To understand the horse needs the facts to be gathered, assessed, mixed with the spices and herbs garnered from gardens and fields where beauty dwells, and love blossoms.

Facts are cold, inert objects which, when assembled, ordered and weighed, enable us to become knowledgeable. A necessary stage on the road to understanding. Oh dear, I am now mixing metaphors as well as ingredients, but I hope you can follow my thinking.

A couple of examples, from my own experience, of how facts might lead, through knowledge, to greater understanding.

The boy, the senior teacher told the governors, had undoubtedly behaved in a violent, anti-social manner. The facts were not disputed. His rudeness was inexcusable; his out-burst threatened the safety of others. Why should any-one want to act in such an anti-social manner to others. He ought to be banished. Perhaps you should know, said the head-teacher, that the boy’s father died a couple of Christmas’s ago of a heroin overdose, and his mother’s new partner is suspected of abusing the lad. A couple more facts to stir into the mixture.

All I know about Hazel is that she wrote a poem which I found in a small anthology of verse written by children, and published by a teacher of English. I suspect that the adults who encountered her, saw Hazel as quiet, patient, maybe lacking in ambition. But she wrote what I take to be a cry from the heart.

I’m sitting in the classroom waiting.
I’m standing at the bus stop waiting.
The teacher says I’ll be with you in a minute,
but then I’m still waiting.
I’m standing outside the football ground waiting
to go into the kop.
I’m sitting in the Doctor’s surgery waiting in agony.
Waiting is my life, it’s all I ever do.
I would like to be the first one too.

As the facts are assembled, we sympathise and understand a little more.

Last Sunday, Roy Wain quoted from the Book of Job, and I too have a quotation from that story. Job railed against fate, which had brought great troubles upon him. His bitter words brought a reprimand God; “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Job ruefully and remorsefully, confessed.

Who is he that hides counsel without understanding?
Yea, I, Job, uttered what I understood not,
Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.

One moves from facts, through knowledge, to understanding. Our understanding is built upon the knowledge we have. But for the few there is a further stage. That of wisdom. And what is wisdom?

When I am stuck for a definition I turn to my dictionary. Wisdom, it says, is making use of knowledge to judge rightly, to be skilful in applying learning.

The owl is said to be wise. Remember the nursery rhyme.

A wise old owl sat in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke.
The less he spoke the more he heard
Try to copy that wise old bird.

Whether owls deserve the reputation for wisdom or not I don’t know. I suspect not. However, the message that listening, thought, contemplation are essential steps to take before making judgement is valid. Wisdom is part of the postscript, not to be found in the introduction, or the preface.

But as well as facts to be learnt, knowledge followed by understanding, there is something in addition to be added to the pot before wisdom is achieved.

A story is told of a simple working lad, maybe he was a shepherd boy, could have been a carpenter, or perhaps he swept the streets. I cannot be sure, and it is not central to the tale. The young man gained a reputation for wisdom, giving advice to colleagues, who respected his judgement. The story goes on, because he was acknowledged to be wise he was elevated in the land and asked to sit in judgement in the higher courts of the country.

But there were those who envied his good fortune. “Have you noticed”, they whispered, “that box which goes everywhere with him as he travels about? Do you know, when folk ask what it contains, he always simply replies, ‘it’s my treasure’”.

“Ah yes, treasure. I believe it contains the bribes he dishonestly takes from those who seek a favourable judgement,” asserted another.

The rumours grew so persistent, that eventually the poor man was forced to open the box and reveal its contents. The box contained the working clothes he had kept from his original, menial employment. “They are with me to remind me that I am not a grand academic, but a humble workman. It wouldn’t do to think I am on a higher level than those I try to serve.”

I start with facts, go on to knowledge, hopefully to understand the better. But if I aspire to be wise, then I must learn to be humble, and that is the hardest part of all.

When Solomon became king, we are told, he said, “….I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or to come in”. Then went on to pray, “Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad”.

Centuries later didn’t Jesus charge his followers to become as little children?

C.J. Rosling April 2004

Hucklow 18th April 2004