Monday, December 04, 2017

Memorial Service at Carmountside Crematorium, Stoke-on-Trent on 3rd December 2017

Its a Wonderful Life

Memorial Service at Carmountside Crematorium, Stoke-on-Trent on 3rd December 2017


Reading: Gospel according to St Luke (2:8-14) 

 

 

When I was a child, one of the things I looked forward to so much at this time of year was the appearance of the Radio and TV Times. In those days you had to get both of course. I’d then open them up and lie them down, side by side, to pick out what was on over Christmas. Morecambe and Wise, of course … and Disney Time … and Christmas Day would begin with Leslie Crowther going round the children’s wards, and a sleepy afternoon would have a recording of Billy Smart’s Circus …

 

… And then there were the films … 

When our children were small it was Home Alone and the Snowman 

From my childhood I recall Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines … and The Sound of Music and the Great Escape seemed to be on every Christmas. 

 

But the best films of all, were of course, the black and white ones. And these are still on every Christmas …

Scrooge (the version with Alastair Sim, of course)

Miracle on 34th Street (remade more recently)

And the best Christmas film of all, which in my view exceeds them all … It’s a Wonderful Life. 

 

If you don’t know this film … make sure you watch it some time this Christmas. 

 

It is about a man and one Christmas in the mid 1940s in a small ordinary town somewhere  in America. 

 

It's a Wonderful LIfe

The town is called Bedford Falls, and the man is George Bailey … an ordinary sort of chap who lived a fairly ordinary life in a very ordinary American town from the 1930s into the 1940s. He has a loving wife and a large family and a fairly comfortable life - but he had been a young man with dreams! He had damaged lungs, after rescuing his younger brother from a freezing pool as a child, but has great ambitions - to travel the world, to see Europe - but he doesn’t even get to serve in the war, as his brother does with great distinction, because of his disability.  The problems of the Great Depression mean he has to stay in the small town to maintain the family business, a small mutual bank, a Savings and Loans company, which helps provide affordable homes for the folk of the town. 

 

And then a crisis comes, for which he can’t see a way out, and he believes that his entire life has been a failure, a disaster. None of his dreams have come to pass. He has not seen the world, or served his country, or done any of the wonderful things he had dreamt of as a young man. 

 

He comes to a point of desperation … and goes to the edge of the town to stand on the bridge, not wanting to continue with what he thinks is a wasted life. 

 

And then the angels appears. An eccentric Angel called “Clarence”. 

 

The Film then traces how George Bailey is shown, by this very unconventional angel, what the lives of other people would have been without him: how many people would have been without homes if he had never lived, how his brother would have died, so never have become a war hero, how his Mother would have become a bitter broken woman, his wife a lonely spinster, and the wonderful house which they renovated together for their family of many children would have stood as a ruin. 

 

He sees also how small acts he had done during his life ensured how numerous individuals avoided falling into misery, shame and poverty.

He realises that his very ordinary life has in fact made an extraordinary difference. 

 

Just as, in the Christmas Story, the angels sing above the stable to proclaim that what appears to be very ordinary is in fact extraordinary, so this eccentric Angel called Clarence helps all of us to see that far from being ordinary, or even a failure, George Bailey has changed lives. 

 

And in a few moments now, we will hear and read a long list of names. I don’t know if there is a George Bailey amongst them, yet all of these, in their own way are George Baileys. You will be waiting for one, two or more particular names to appear, and the others may pass you by without much notice: people who in the main are not famous, who did not - we might at first think - leave a mark in history, who appeared quite unexceptional to the world,  and yet, who have touched the lives of ourselves and others in innumerable ways, ways which made an extraordinary difference. These are the mothers who loved us and cuddled us when we scuffed our knees, the Dads who helped us learn to ride our bikes, the partners who loved us and - most of the time - put up with us; the sisters who kept our secrets, the brothers who sorted out the bullies; the children who brought sunshine into our lives. And, to be sure, there were times when they irritated us and annoyed us, worried us and frustrated us, times when we fell out, times when they hurt us … and times when we hurt them. None of them were perfect, few of them were saints, but we call them all to mind, because their lives touched ours and so many others in ways that we might hardly know. They made us who we are, and we are here to cherish them.

 

These are our George Baileys. When you hear those names today of those you do not know, remember that. Like the little homeless child born in a cow shed, like George Bailey in the film who never fulfilled his dreams, each one of them is extraordinary, special, precious, and loved. 

—-

Note: 260 names were read out at this service.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Well done, good and faithful servant (Mt 19:22)


Sometimes we may doubt whether this parable is really for us. Do I have a talent? 

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And of course, on one level it is a fair point. Not many of us are international swimmers, X factor singers, or skilled sculptors. Oh yes, we are good at some things more than others, but is that a talent? 


Take care over the details in the story. It is money which the man gives to his servant to invest, and the currency is called ‘talents’. It might just as well have been pounds, or euros or dollars (in their thousands of course). The connection with great skill is an interesting one, but it isn’t exactly there is the original story. 

You see the story is for us. We all do have gifts, gifts from God. We have all been given something by him, a vocation, an aptitude, an ability. It may not be prizewinning, but it is no less valuable for all that. 

 

You may include being a mother, or grandmother. You could be a teacher. Or a listener. You may be good at odd jobs, DIY, and can use that gift to help family, friends and neighbours. You may have a good singing or reading voice. Or a good sense of humour. You may be good at writing letters, or understanding complex documents or ideas. Or perhaps you just know how to get the DVD recorder to work. Any or all of these may be gifts, talents, granted by God. 

 

Thank him for them. And don’t bury them. Put them to good use, and they will double, they will grow, and they will be to your credit and to the praise of God. 

This is the warning here. Do not hide your light under a bushel, but rejoice in your blessings and put them to proper and frequent use. Glorify him in using the things with which he has blessed you, for to do so is not to take pride in yourself, but is to rejoice in making repayment to the Master, from whom come such blessings.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. 

(Isaiah 5:7, and the response to the Psalm)

 

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For the third week we are in the vineyard. Two weeks ago we heard about the labourers in the vineyard. Last week we heard about the sons of the vineyard owner, and this week it is the tenants, and the servants, who come to the forefront of our attention.

Yet in each parable there is a constant figure in the background. We don't learn much about him, but he is vital to all three stories. He, of course, is the Vineyard owner.

The parallels are fairly obvious. The owner of the vineyard is the Father, God himself. He hires, pays, orders and owns. The vineyard is his.

And the characters in the stories are us. The workers, the sons, the servants, the rebellious tenants. At times good, at times bad, but at all times responsible to the Owner.

But what about the vineyard? It is not simply the Jewish people, or the world, or human society, or even 'the kingdom of heaven'. The Vineyard is God's Creation, his purpose, the workings of his love, his entire plan for humanity. This is truly what it meant when we say the Vineyard is the House of Israel.

And we are imperfect stewards. Sometimes rebellious. Sometimes obstinate. Yet often rewarded beyond what we deserve.

This weekend our second collection supports the work of Cafod. In supporting the work of this agency we do not only give money to rescue those in crisis, but we also support many many projects that enable people in the developing world to help themselves: to dig wells, to provide clean water, to sow crops, to build schools. In supporting Cafod we try to be good stewards of God's vineyard to enable others to be God's stewards too.

And the final reward is not material comfort, nor even the contentment from the well being of others, but the satisfaction of an invitation to the Vineyard of the Father, the Kingdom of God, the House of Israel.