Sunday Sermon – 27 January 2019

Living on Credit

I think I have told this story before, but no apologies, for it helps me introduce the topic on which I would like to dwell for a few minutes this morning.

A friend came to see me some time ago in a little distress. She had gone to a shop to make a large purchase. After selecting the equipment and the model which suited her purposes, it was suggested by the shop assistant that she might spread the payment over three or four months. She thought it a convenient idea, but the assistant, after taking the necessary details and making a telephone call, returned to say that they were unable to grant the necessary credit. A further enquiry revealed that the credit rating company, to whom the telephone call had been made, had labelled her as “not credit-worthy”. She was in turn puzzled, horrified and angry, as she and her husband had never had any bad debts and always, as they said, paid their way.

To cut the story short, further enquiries revealed that at their address, to which they had recently moved, a previous occupier had been a debtor made bankrupt. Automatically the address and all who lived there had been placed on a blacklist. The information held applied to the address rather than to my friend personally. I helped her to write to the credit reference company concerned, the matter was put right and my friend’s good name and credit-worthiness, as the jargon has it, restored.

I tell the story because it set off the train of thought, which I now share with you.

I don’t know if my parents ever made purchases by credit – on Hire Purchase, or HP as it was more usually called. Certainly if they did they kept quiet about it. Not paying cash but buying on the “never-never” was regarded as, if not actually sinful, then somewhat dubious. When I grew up and got married, like most other couples, we bought furniture on what was then described as “easy terms”, but not without a rather apologetic and slightly guilty feeling. The need for chairs and a table overcame scruples from my childhood.

The world has now changed, particularly in the last couple of decades. Hire purchase and even “easy terms” is now called credit. We are encouraged by every post to have credit cards, to increase our credit limits and take out extended loans. Very few of us can claim always to have obeyed the old injunction, “Never a lender or borrower be”. Credit has become universal and respectable.

I’m uncertain when the word ‘credit’, as an euphemism for borrowed money, came into vogue. No doubt it was the product of a fertile mind in some advertising agency. It is a softer word than hiring, or putting it on the slate; it has not the connotation of money lending. To have credit is to achieve, to be above the ordinary, and to be altogether well-regarded. In modern jargon, it is positive rather than negative.

Whether the emphasis on credit, used in the financial sense, is a good or a bad thing is not a matter that I want to pursue this morning. Rather would I talk of credit in a wider sense.

It is interesting to look up that word ‘credit’ in the dictionary. Among many words listed under it are , “believable, trustworthy, reliable, honest, good opinion”. No wonder my friend was upset to be referred to as “not credit worthy”.

To gain credit, whether in the financial world or in social intercourse with friend and neighbour, one must demonstrate certain qualities. A reputation for straight-dealing, for honesty, for prudence and reliability, are qualities that engender trust in the minds of others. Just as a financial institution wants to be confident that those to whom it entrusts its funds will respect their obligations, so we give our friendship most readily to those we trust.

Building up one’s credit is like maturing – it takes place over time. It requires steadiness and constancy. It is not a single act, or even a handful of accomplishments, which establish our reliability, but consistency of behaviour. Financial institutions are unimpressed if we are in credit only once a week, whilst acting profligately at other times.

Similarly, however devout we may be on Sundays, if that is contrasted with a supreme disregard for the respect due to friends, colleagues and neighbours on weekdays, our credit is low. Something more than occasional probity and honesty is looked for.

But why should we care about our credit in the community? If we want to borrow money, the reason for being labelled ‘credit worthy’ is obvious. But in other situations of ordinary life is the opinion of others important? It is gratifying to be liked, and most of us enjoy the approval, and maybe the applause, of others. But does that really matter?

In one sense, it doesn’t. If we are merely seeking popularity at any expense, then the opinion of others is of little value. Popularity is easily gained, but respect has to be earned. The judgement of others is one yardstick by which we can measure ourselves. If we are marching and are out of step with the next person, we are alerted to the fact that one of us may be wrong. If our community stamp us as non credit worthy, then we are alerted to make enquiries. Is the opinion justified? How was this opinion arrived at? What steps should we take to change the situation?

So regard for a loss of credit in the community can be a warning system when we are failing to do unto others as we would that they do unto us. Remember among the dictionary definitions of credit are words like trustworthy, reliable, believable, honest, good opinion, reputation and merit.

For we gain credit, respect if you like, in the eyes of other people when we are perceived to be honest, straight-forward, faithful and true; when we are known to follow the precepts of that line in the hymn, “Be what thou seemest, live thy creed”.

It is held by some that to gain credit in this life is to ensure peace and comfort in the next. Conversely, to lose one’s credit rating on earth is to be damned in the hereto-after. That is not part of my philosophy, but for those who believe in a heaven and a hell, I suppose it is a justification for counting one’s credits.

But the core of the case for being concerned about our credibility lies in the fact that by seeking to earn the respect of others, we are bound to treat our fellow men and women with sincerity and understanding. Credit ratings are not raised and held by artificiality, but by honesty. What are deemed the Christian virtues are those which raise our esteem.

In the financial world to be in credit is to have a favourable balance – the pluses outweighing the minuses, which is a satisfactory state of affairs. But aiming to be out of the red should not be reserved for material dealings, for to be in credit in our relationships with others is to be on the right side of the line dividing selfishness from selflessness. It is one of the measures of our success at taking the theory of our faith into the practice of everyday living.

“How often should I forgive my brother?” Jesus was asked. “Seventy times seven,” came the reply. Keep a credit balance, in other words. When the Samaritan paid a deposit to the Inn-keeper to look after the victim of a mugging with a promise to make up any shortfall, the Samaritan’s credit was good in much more than merely financial terms. Abou Ben Adam’s name headed the list because his credit rating was high, measured by the thing that really mattered – measured by that which is called common humanity, even though it is rarer than one would wish.

Many of us need to draw from time to time on our goodwill with banks and building societies. So too we draw on the goodwill of others in time of need of physical help, for spiritual support, for practical advice, for companionship, for a sympathetic confessor. The services given to us, and which we should be ready to give in return, rest upon trust.

Trust is the most elusive and precious of assets. It cannot be bought or sold; it takes years to acquire and seconds to lose; it is the basis on which all friendships are built; without it there can be no peace between individuals or amongst nations.Trust is the rock upon which the Kingdom of Heaven is built. Trust is the cement which binds together the bricks of human relationships. Trust is the balm which banishes fear and wraps in the cloak of contentment. Trust is, the power which overwhelms the forces of aggression.

To be credit worthy is by definition to be trustworthy. Envy, greed and avarice destroy trust, planting hate and suspicion in its place. Our credit is good when we are worthy of trust. But much more to the point. As we earn the trust of others, so we demonstrate in the clearest way that the faith we confess is more than a theoretical concept, but a practical way of life. Indeed the only way of life that will lead to the peace for which we all yearn.

C.J. Rosling

Fulwood 14 March 1993
Mexborough 23 May 1993; 4 Oct 1998
Hucklow 18 July 1993; 4 Oct 1998; 8 June 2003
Chesterfield 2 June 1996

Sunday Sermon – 20 January 2019

Gifts And Giving

We come together this morning, some from near, some from further afield, bearing gifts. Unlike the Kings of the Orient, none of us came riding upon camels. No star was required to guide us, for we came in daylight and we knew the way. Though I suspect none of us would claim royal blood, and the gifts we bore were not specifically for a new born child, we trust that children will be among the beneficiaries. The gifts today are not paid in homage, but donated in humility. Humility because we acknowledge that though we are aware of our own needs, our offerings recognise that there are others whose needs are greater still.

This annual gift service illustrates one of my favourite biblical texts, from the book of James, “What does it profit if a man says he has faith, but not works?” It is an occasion which links a philosophy with practical application; a spiritual conviction with the needs of other members of the community.

Being asked to lead this service prompted thoughts, which I would like to share with you for a few minutes this morning. The thoughts were about gifts and giving.

When a speaker or preacher wishes to expand upon a subject, he or she will frequently turn to the dictionary as a starting point. So that is what I did. Not surprisingly, for a great many of the everyday words we use have different meanings in different contexts, there was variety of definitions and examples of usage given. I’ll turn to some of them in a minute.

I suspect that I am not the only one here who regularly receives offers to shower me with gifts. The offers normally come by post or delivered through leaflet. All that is required of me is to buy double glazing, an insurance policy, introduce a friend to the Automobile Association, and I can select my free gift, (FREE is always printed in bold type and underlined) from a range of commodities, most of which I either have already, or, if not, in which I have no interest. Holidays to exotic places in the sun, a new car, or free groceries for a year could be mine should I enter the FREE draw and hold the lucky number. A handsome pen in a presentation box will be my reward should I order a year’s supply of some monthly magazine.

No surprise then that near the top of the list of meanings in my dictionary, the word bribery appeared. The boundaries between bribery, inducement, reward and freewill-giving become indistinct. Is the offer to give one tin of beans free provided two are purchased first an act of generosity, or a cynical ploy, designed to deceive?

It is a moot point perhaps whether something given with the expectation that payment in cash, kind or service will be received in return, is truly a gift. The sacrifice of a sprat in the hope that a mackerel will be hooked questions the motive of the donor.
We like to think that it is ever out of altruism, with a sense of love that seeks no other recompense than joy expressed in the face of the receiver, that we give our gifts. Indeed, that is sometimes the case. But not always.

A few months ago, papers were full of the news of the visit by the Queen to the Pope. There was an account in the media of the gifts they had exchanged, accompanied by pictures and detailed descriptions. If I recall aright, there was a valuable mediaeval painting and a beautiful, and equally valuable, early print book exchanged. The thought struck me that the selection of gifts was carefully done, as much to reflect well on the donor and the realm represented, as it was to please the recipient.

If we are truthful with ourselves, many of us, from time to time, succumb to the temptation of what I might call “status enhancing giving”. How many Christmas, birthday, wedding presents are selected with at least half an eye on how the light reflects on the us, rather than to satisfy the desires of the receiver. The attics of the land groan under the weight of Great Aunt Maisie’s unappreciated wedding presents. The child plays with the cheap toy, the expensive present soon discarded, to the disappointment of the parent or doting uncle.

Gifts should be given in love, bringing joy to the beneficiary, treasured for what they represent. The giver wishing only to please, not necessarily to be thanked. Thanks are welcome most when spontaneous and genuine. Some gifts, like those this morning, are anonymous in the sense that those benefiting are not personally known to us. We give to help, to ease, lighten a burden, to share our own good fortune. St. Ignatius Loyala prayed “…to give and not count the cost ….to ask for no reward”, thus describing the essential elements surrounding a true gift.

At the end of the last war millions of refugees and displaced persons were to be found in camps across Europe. Appeals were launched to enable these homeless people to be re-integrated into families, housed in permanent homes. Some-one, whose name I have long forgotten, wrote a letter to what was then the Manchester Guardian newspaper. It may be he with-held his name, I cannot remember. The wording of the letter went something like this.

“In days gone by, from time to time as the affluent rider rode by on his horse, he was touched by the sight of a beggar by the roadside. Acting on sudden impulse, and moved by the beggar’s plight, he generously, recklessly, tossed the mendicant his purse of gold coins. I have no horse. I travel by bus. I’m not a rich man,” the letter went on, “but I am touched by the plight of these refugees. I put my small coins in the collecting box on flag days, but I feel something more is needed to help these desperate souls. Something akin to the reckless giving of the purse of gold coins. I shall give £10 which I can hardly afford, and ask that others show the same reckless generosity.”
When the letter was published in those early post-war years, £10 was more than an average weekly wage, worth maybe £200 or more in today’s money. A great many people were inspired by the letter, and became equally generous, or reckless, take your choice. By no means are gifts always given in a calculated self-serving manner.

Today, as in yester-year, the capacity of so many to freely give of their goods, cash and time to help others is both astonishing and heart-warming. Help the Children, Famine Relief, aid to flood victims, to medical charities, to organisations working with the sick and poor, or the elderly and the disabled both in this country and internationally, continue to benefit from the generosity of so many who want to help in cash and kind.

My concern is that the word gift has become devalued, as commercial interests have hi-jacked it. Perhaps we need a new word to identify with the spirit Jesus must have had in mind when he narrated the story of the Samaritan. Perhaps corporate advertisers will move on with new descriptions, and we can reclaim our word. Though a cliché, it remains the case that Christmas giving is each year driven by more and more by commercially led advertising, and less and less by the simple wish to share with others. The rich endow an institution so that their name shall hit the headlines, or be immortalised in the name of a building or foundation. A generous gift tainted by a selfish motive.

Another prominent meaning given to gift in my dictionary referred to having a particular skill or aptitude – to a facility in say art or music, literature or drama. It refers to an ability beyond the normal. A talent, biblical translators in past years described it. But then if one links a talent with the word “gift”, surely the implication is that in exercising that talent one should give pleasure, gratitude even, to others. Glorying in one’s own cleverness fits ill with the concept of a gift. Using what handiness or expertise one may possess to assist others, or to share one’s joy with fellow men and women, gives legitimacy to describing a talent as a gift.

A less common use of the expression “gift” is in the sense of having the power to make a decision which will affect another, or several others. If something is said to be in your gift, the decision is yours. The bestowing of an honour, a job, a position may be within the gift of a sovereign, a prime minister, a church dignitary or whoever. Though none of us here have such power – at least I don’t know that any one of us has – we all can and do give presents of one kind or another.

The essence of a gift is giving something of one’s own to enhance the life of another. This may be goods or possessions, some form of service, time even, or perhaps understanding and sympathy. It is given with love, it brings happiness to the receiver, nothing is asked, either explicitly or implicitly in return. It is a Christian act fulfilling the second great commandment of loving one’s neighbour. A gift offered conditionally, with the expectation of reward, ceases to become a gift.

One final thought. The refrain of a harvest hymn runs through my mind.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above
Then thank the lord, O thank the lord
For all his love

Many of us who believe in God accept that we are surrounded by the beneficence of a loving creator, not simply at harvest time, but throughout our lives. Not the least of those marvels resulting from that beneficence, is life itself. The gift is unconditional; not a bribe, not a payment in kind, not an inducement in the hope that some benefit will follow. The purse of gold was thrown without calculation.

I spoke at the beginning of James’ comment on the link between faith and works. Unless we uphold the purity of the definition of giving, not counting the cost or seeking reward, then the works fail to match the faith professed.

Our gift service should be an expression of faith in works, or it will be little better than another misnamed free offer, as we wonder what is in it for us.

C.J. Rosling 9 December 2000

Hucklow December 2000

Sunday Sermon – 13 January 2019

Another New Year already!

Surely not another year gone by already? It was only a couple of days ago when the last one started – or so it seems. Why is it that when I was young, days lasted for weeks, and every year contains thousands of days? Why, as we grow older, do days get shorter, and each year contains fewer of them? Another of the many mysteries of life as yet unfathomed. My wife insists that most changes for the worst in the this world are the fault of men, but that I deny. Perhaps it is to do with global warming, which gets blamed for everything these days.

As a child I wondered, as I expect many of you did, why, on my birthday, did I seem no from different than how I was the day before. A. A. Milne wrote a book titled, “Now we are Seven”, surely implying that the seventh birthday was a day on which momentous happenings came to pass. One expected, on waking up and hearing folk say, “Happy Birthday, seven year old,” that you had changed into someone who was very different from the six year old who fell asleep the night before. Yet, as far as I recall, that wasn’t so. And that puzzled feeling has persisted. The old music hall song reminded us that at twenty-one the key of the door is ours (in modern Britain rather sooner than that). Nevertheless, maturity doesn’t suddenly fall upon one, like a cloud descending from heaven

The day I became entitled to what I still persist in calling the Old Age Pension, in defiance of bureaucrats who want to call me a Senior Citizen, I still felt, thought and acted very much in the same fashion as I had on the previous day. No wiser, just as awkward.

Am I alone in feeling that anniversaries ought to herald a palpable change? A day when the moon shines blue, or geese lay golden eggs. I suspect I am not. And what is New Year but an Anniversary? What was so very different on 1st January 2004 when compared with 31st December 2003? Not very much as far as I could make out.

I thought of some lines from a poem by A.E. Housman. He is describing a reveller who had drunk freely at Ludlow Fair, rolling homeward, but not making it. He fell down and slept where he lay: “Happy till I woke again,” he recalls.

“Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.”

Even if the reveller had caught a taxi home; even if he had slept, sober as a judge as the saying has it, in his own bed, he might still have observed in the morning that “the world, it was the old world yet”. Yes, few are the occasions when, overnight, the world changes from being the old world into something startlingly new.

On the rare occasions when change is dramatic and sudden, it is invariably for the worse rather than the better. The twin towers burn and collapse; the earthquake shakes the ground, destroying buildings and lives of those inside; the car bomb explodes and the innocent die; the waters cover the land, drowning both beast and human being. The fairy god-mothers’ who produce, on the instant, golden coaches from pumpkins, live only in nursery books, or on the pantomime stage. The wise remind us that the magnificent city of Rome did not arise between one sunrise and the next. Instant transformations tend to the apocalyptic. Improvements, as anyone who has commissioned a builder to build a house extension will confirm, take place only over time.

However, tradition demands that New Year is not a time of gloom, but of hope. It is the time when New Year Resolutions are embraced, and very occasionally – kept. Resolutions are the very antithesis of accepting that “the world is the old world yet …. and nothing now remains to do”.

Resolutions are about either doing something towards improving things in our own lives, or for other people; or alternatively, about not continuing with those things which we ought not to do. The world might be the old world yet, but we say, as a new year dawns, maybe we can do something to change it.

Things might not be much different today than they were yesterday, but, over time, changes do come about. When I think about it, not much happened to make the world a better place as I slept through to the morning of my seventh birthday. But as that figure six, and then seven, and whisper it quietly, now eight, moved into the tens column, much has altered to make the world a better place.

Oh, I know some terrible things happen in the world, and much suffering exists: but in our land, in social terms, huge changes have happened and life for many is immensely better than it was for their parents in the depression years of the thirties. Some of these changes have occurred at an almost imperceptible rate, others more rapidly. But changes there have been.

True, one might fairly point out that these are matters which fall under the rather vague heading of political changes. But politicians, some might add cynically, even politicians, can be moved by noble motives.
But those of us who gather here, whilst by no means indifferent to changes which improve the living conditions of our neighbours, have perhaps a wider agenda. This would include those who dwell in lands where poverty and disease is rampant. Those whose lives are not significantly different from the hardships suffered by their fore-bearers. We are touched by what, rather vaguely, we refer to as our conscience, to think beyond our own demands. We believe we have a duty to do something about the plight of others in less fortunate circumstances.

It was fashionable to hear in Unitarian churches at one time, sermons about those great Unitarians of the past who had been committed social reformers. Victorians, and some from earlier generations, who had been in the vanguard of social reform. Others had been scientists, politicians, or philosophers whose enlightened views changed the society in which they worked; changes which continued after their death. I must confess that in some cases the links with Unitarianism seemed a little tenuous, but let us not be too critical. The major point was that, as for the New Testament James, faith and works went hand in hand. The resolutions they adopted were not merely to think good thoughts, but to do good deeds.

We live in impatient times. That was so in the old year just ended; it did not alter as the clocks chimed twelve midnight on New Year’s eve. We may like to think that we can turn everything around for the better on the instant. But we can’t. Change for the better comes slowly, moving day by day, almost imperceptibly, like the hour hand of a clock. It never seems to move as we watch, but look back later and surprising progress has been made.

That oft-quoted passage from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians speaks of changing from thinking as a child to adult understanding. We all go through that process, but not as an instant conversion overnight. The change is subtle and the edges blurred. And similarly when it comes to changing the world. We have our aspirations. We set our goals. The vision is essential, but, altering, scrambling rather, the metaphor, the journey to the city on the hill will be a slow march on foot, not in a sound-barrier breaking Concorde.

Our new year hymns are full of hope. A dream of a peaceful, happy, prosperous world. A belief that things can get better. Man-caused suffering is not inevitable; the figurative lion and lamb can co-exist. We sang at the beginning of our service “… let the new years shame the old”; we shall sing as the service ends of “…nobler modes of life/With sweeter manners, purer laws”.
There is no rationing of inspiring goals, neither are resolutions in short supply. We come here today with a desire for change; a passion to see a world which is better than anything which has gone before. We know that an anniversary is a marking post for reflection about changing ourselves and influencing as best we can alterations to the world around us. At the same time, we accept that individually our influence is small, but collectively great changes are possible. Instant transformation, commonplace in the climax of the traditional pantomime scene at Christmas and New Year, is make-believe, not experienced in the real lives of the audience. Things can and do grow better, if we so will it, albeit at a pace which seems infuriatingly slow.

But this year let us note the words concluding the short prayer used from time to time in our service:“be with us in our dreaming, then turn our hands to the plough.”

Let us resolve this New Year that though we awoke to find that “the world it was the old world yet” we shall not despair and wail that “nothing now remains to do, but begin the game anew”. That is, unless the game is to join those who, slowly as it may be, have enough faith to believe that transformation scenes are possible; given time, patience and determination.

Happy New Year, and may all your resolutions be intact this time next year.

C. J. Rosling 3rd January 2004

Hucklow 4 January 2004

Sunday Sermon – 6 January 2019

Communication Skills

I have spoken before about words that we now use as part of our workaday jargon – words which have long existed, for some time perhaps not in everyday use, but which have recently become enshrined in our everyday language. One of many such words is “Communication”.

Talk to teachers and they will tell you of the importance of teaching Communication Skills. Go to a college or university and a major series of courses will be built around communications. Businesses of all kinds stress the need to train their staff in the art of communication. Voluntary bodies, be they religious or secular, charitable or educational, with aims that are social or objects that are political, all underline the importance of communication.

Though the fashionable use of the word communication may be of recent times, the idea is as old as the hills. Schools and other education institutions have, down the ages, been concerned with teaching communication skills, though they were once called reading and writing, and the art of conversation. The other day some-one said to me that they would be in communication over the next few days. They meant they were going to write a letter to me. Teaching and preaching are about communicating. Buying and selling a washing machine or double glazing is an exercise in communication. Indeed much of life is about communicating in one form or another.

Communicating is expressing ones own ideas, feelings, fears, aspirations and knowledge to others in such a way that they can understand the signals that you are giving.

Speech is the usual medium, though not the only one. Long before the baby learns to speak it will communicate its feelings to its mother. The mother will recognise hunger, contentment, discomfort, pain, tiredness – a whole range of emotions – within the baby who has no verbal language in which to express them. And as adults, consciously or unconsciously, through what the technically minded call body language, give and receive signals without a word being spoken. We frown or smile, shudder or cringe, embrace or shake hands, and immediately communicate a message.

But normal, everyday life becomes more complex, and so the need for communicating effectively, and with clarity has increased. We talk on the telephone, we instruct our bank manager we go for interviews, we complain to the supervisor or the shop assistant, we write for samples, we book a holiday, we buy tickets for the theatre, we plead for charity – in all these ways and in a thousand and one different ways, we daily communicate with others. And the satisfaction we receive or give is related to the skill with which we make known our needs, and the manner in which they are responded to.

But communicating is not merely about making known wants. It is also about understanding the needs of others. As well as a broadcaster, a receiver is required. There are those who are skilled in the art of expressing their opinions whether in speech or writing, but whose ability to listen is impaired. Put in today’s jargon phrase, communication must be a two-way process. The mouth is not superior to the ear.

When I was active as secretary of an organisation, I used to receive regular telephone calls from one of our members, a Mr. Sellers. I would pick up the telephone to be greeted by “Ah, you are there.” Before I could confirm or deny this, Mr. Sellers would launch into a non-stop dialogue, and I would have no opportunity to speak for the next twenty minutes, even though Mr. Sellers was ringing up for advice, or so he said.

He used to ring others up in the same way, though I think I was the most frequent recipient. Perhaps he thought I was a good listener. In fact he continued to ring occasionally even after I had retired and he had moved out of the city.

The point I make is that though we may express our thoughts with perfect clarity, it is in vain if no-one listens. We have a Tower of Babel – what is sometimes referred to as the dialogue of the deaf. What is the point of asking for advice if we have already determined not to take it. Why complain if the one addressed is unprepared to listen. Cries for help are useless if all ears are firmly stopped.

Sunday by Sunday congregations gather in our churches. We come to communicate. We come to communicate with one another. Sometimes we are full of joy and we wish to express that joy. We sing with enthusiasm, we smile upon others, we greet our friends with delight, we are glad to be alive.

Other times we come in different mood. Perhaps we grieve, possibly we are perplexed, we are anxious, we are weary, conceivably we are angry, maybe we are sad. We communicate our mood, whether by word, expression or action, and we hope others are listening and responding.

But we come to church not only to communicate with our fellow worshippers, important as this is, but to communicate with our maker and creator. Others have spoken and written with far more scholarship and wisdom on prayer than I could hope to do, so I confine myself to pointing out that one of our means of communication with God is through prayer. But it is not the only way. Our demeanour, our unspoken thoughts, our actions are all communications with God, as is our silent meditation.
I don’t know if my Mr. Sellers was a religious man or not. I have no idea what church, if any, he belonged to. But if he did pray day by day, or Sunday by Sunday, or even only occasionally, God must have experienced some difficulty getting a word in edgeways.

If communication in everyday life is about listening as well as talking, receiving as well as giving, responding as well as reacting, then how much more is that true of effective worship.
In patience, and with invariable politeness, the congregation listen to the words I, or whoever else occupies the pulpit, speak. As preacher I try to find the ear of the congregation, on some occasions, I fear, less effectively than I would like. But my words are the least important part of the worship. In a place hallowed by generations of worshippers, in a peaceful setting on a quieter day of the week, we come together to communicate. We are in communion with one another and with God.

It is right that we should express our perceived needs, our fears and worries, our joys and our disappointments. But if we are in true communion, our inner ears are alert, our internal hearing aids are switched on, we are listening to what the old cliché calls, “the still small voice”.

Just as in life in the everyday world, what we hear is maybe not to our taste. As the businessman or woman may not want to hear a complaint, or the preacher receive a criticism, so may we prefer to drown out the message of God, or the pleas of those in need.

The world of business and commerce, the world of everyday living, has accepted that communications are all important. Wars are fomented, businesses go bankrupt, neighbours fall out, so hatred thrives, where communication is faulty. We have to learn to better express our thoughts; we must stop and listen to what others are saying to us. The world of politics and business, of diplomacy and international relations is learning that lesson. So must we not only in our worship, but in the practice of our faith in everyday social life.

But the most important communications are those between the individual and God, followed closely by exchanges between ourselves and those referred to in that omnibus word as, neighbours. It is the way in which we conduct our lives individually which will determine if and when what Jesus called the Kingdom of God will arrive. Too often we learn half the lesson; the part that is about asking and expressing our needs and thoughts. But we need to brush up on the complementary skill of listening and observing, and then reacting to what we hear.

As I have said often before, one of the most used books on my bookshelf is the dictionary. That is partly because I am not a very good speller, partly because of an addiction to crosswords, but also through curiosity about what words actually mean as opposed to what I think they mean. My dictionary defines communication as giving and receiving information. It also mentions a door or passage through which goods and information can pass.

We live in a world given to express needs, views and opinions loudly, in large black headlines and through powerful loud-speakers. The communication passage is in danger of becoming a one-way street leading outward, rather than a dual carriage way with free access in both directions.

Too often the message most often portrayed goes:- My needs are greater than yours. My views and opinions are more important than yours. My status is superior to yours. My mouth has priority over my ears.

There is an old nursery rhyme which reads;-

The Wise Old Owl sat on an oak
The more he heard the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard
Try to copy that Wise Old Bird

I suspect that it was first penned to reinforce that Victorian injunction, children should be seen and not heard. But whether that is so or not, it contains more than a grain of truth. Telephones sensibly have both a mouthpiece and an ear-piece. Communication may be the fashionable word in a modern world, but in its true meaning it is an old-fashioned word. It forms a blue-print for a full, complete life.

Can I conclude with a verse from one of our hymns which goes,

“For eyes to see, and ears to hear,
For hands to serve, and arms to lift
For shoulders broad and strong to bear
For feet to run on errands swift”

Surely that is what we all request and give thanks for, or ought to, eyes and ears. But to make use of them eyes must be opened, and ears unstopped. Constant shouting of our own needs renders impotent our sense of hearing. One way traffic is not communication, nor is it being in communion.

There is a road sign which shows a small arrow pointing in the direction we are travelling, next to a large arrow pointing towards up. Give priority to on-coming traffic is the message conveyed. I reckon if Jesus was preaching today he would build a parable round that.

C.J. Rosling

Mexborough 16 Sept. 1990;  15 Oct 1995
Fulwood 23 September 1990
Fulwood 22 August 1993
Hucklow 24 October 1993 26 May 2002
Chesterfield 5 November 1995