Friday, 30 September 2016

A New Harvest Hymn

It's already been a privilege to work with another student colleague, Nick Jones, who started here in the North Staffordshire Group in September. With a number of Harvest Festivals on the preaching plan, we decided to collaborate on some new words to explore the concept of Jesus as the Bread of Life. The hymn fits to the tune Wir pflügen, so you can maintain a harvest tradition at the same time as exploring this theme. Here are the results. Please feel free to use the hymn on a non-commercial basis, but let us know when you do in the comments.Thanks.

Christ fed five thousand people
and yet they wanted more;
the loaves and fish were passed around
a miracle they saw.
It would take six months’ wages
to feed the multitude;
Jesus broke loaves and fishes
a mighty feast ensued!
Food will always perish”
Jesus our Saviour said;
your spirit needs to feed on me -
the Living Bread!”
The people followed Jesus
in boats across the lake.
He told them they’d believed him
for bread, not for his sake.
“We need a sign” the crowd said
despite all that they saw.
The bread of life from heaven
that lasts for evermore.

Nick Jones and David Miller © 2016 The-Millery
tune: Wir pflügen

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Hymn for Passion / Palm Sunday

It is increasingly familiar to observe the Sunday before Easter as Passion / Palm Sunday, noting that many people do not attend pubic worship during Holy Week. If we pre-empt something of the passion of Christ at the beginning of the week, we encourage folk to pause to reflect at the foot of the cross and don't allow them to skip straight from "Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" to "Alleluia, He is risen!" without confronting "My God, why have you forsaken me".

I wrote this hymn a few years ago to draw people from the Triumphal Entry towards Gethsemane and Golgotha. It is set to "Finlandia", a tune missing from our current hymn book, "Rejoice and Sing". Please feel free to reproduce it for use it in worship on a non commercial basis, but do comment to let me know if you do.

Not on a war horse, but a humble donkey,
the Son of Man came to Jerusalem;
great city full of faithful Hebrew pilgrims
received one more as she had often done.
And yet this time, Christ journeyed into danger;
to be betrayed, to suffer and to die.

They paved his way with scattered cloaks and branches
- a prelude to the coming victory.
Crowds of disciples shouting out their praises;
"Glory to God! Hosanna to the King!
Bless'd is the one, Jesus has come to save us."
The very stones would cry out if they could.

His friends knew not the horrors that awaited,
imagining an end to Roman rule.
Instead God's plan was moving to fruition;
his Son would gain a greater vict'ry still.
Not by the might of gathered rebel armies,
but strength of purpose and submissive will.

So let us pause, as we this day remember
our humble King who gathers up the lost;
how great his trial, how strong the love he shows us;
how weak a faith that does not count the cost.
We walk with him, come through into the city;
one final meal, a symbol for God's grace.

Out into darkness, Jesus' time is coming;
a kiss to greet, a sign - "this is the one"
The soldiers mock, yet still our Lord is silent;
the sentence passed and all our crimes his own.
Christ hoisted high, humanity is ransomed;
through Jesus' death, we all are given life!

tune "Finlandia"
David M. Miller © 2010 The Millery

(Image by Corinne Vonaesch from from a series entitled "Gospel of John")

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Emmanuel - "God with us" Advent 4A

Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-16
Matthew 1: 18-25

Joseph's Story:

I've had the most amazing and disturbing dream
and it seems that I'm not the only one
As if it wasn't enough that Mary is pregnant
Now I'm having night time revelations about her
and the baby she's carrying.

But that's skipping too far on in the story
As you may already know we were engaged to be married
Everything seemed to be going well
between the two of us and our families.
As is the custom, our marriage had been agreed
between our parents
Mine are getting on a bit,
so I know that they were pleased
that I had finally found the love of my life
Because that's who Mary is ...
... or at least she was a few short weeks ago ...
... then I wasn't sure what to think
I know that her parents were also pleased
that she had found someone with a thriving business
someone who would be able to provide for their daughter
someone who would care for their grandchildren
They didn't seem to mind the age difference
and I was just so overjoyed
that Mary seemed to have eyes for me at all
After beginning to think that I'd left it too late to get married
here was this wonderful creature
who seems to like spending time with me
I thought she'd end up with one of the village lads
a husband nearer to her age
but no ...
Strange how things work out isn't it?

Now there was Mary,
scarcely a woman herself,
promised in marriage to me
the village carpenter and jobbing builder
What she saw in me God alone knows,
but I was head over heels in love
I don't mind admitting
What had I done to deserve Mary?
someone who would give me the children
I wondered if I  would ever have ...
... or at least that's what I thought
until just recently.

Things were progressing just fine.
I was working hard,
taking on extra work to grow the business
I had to take seriously my future responsibilities
as a family man
We hadn't set a date for the wedding
but that didn't seem to matter
Mary was still young, there was plenty of time.

I wasn't overly concerned
when she told me that she had decided
to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth
It was a snap decision I think,
but I expected that she wanted to talk to her
about the prospect of married life
maybe make plans for the wedding
I would miss our chats
when she called by the workshop to see me
The times when we would talk excitedly
of the house I was building for us
Truth be told, it would give me a chance
to get on with it - put all of my spare time to good use.
If I could get the roof on before she came back,
that would be a nice surprise for her
and then maybe we would be able
to make plans for the wedding itself.

Looking back now
I noticed she seemed a little distant before she left
Not quite as talkative
But I put it down to nerves about the journey
I even convinced myself
that she was having second thoughts
about going to see Elizabeth
and would miss me too much!
Little did I know the real reason for her uneasiness ...
She would have to stay for a month or two
to make the trip worthwhile
so I told her not to worry and to take as long as she liked
after all, I trusted her, my fiancée
I reassured her I had plenty to be getting on with
and that she was just to enjoy some family time
I would miss her of course
and count the days until she returned
But I wouldn't have dreamt of stopping her
The girl was the love of my life - remember?

Well, true to my word, I did get on with my work while Mary was away.
The business prospered and I filled all my spare time
round at the site of our new house.
The roof was finished and I was working on some furniture
when word came that Mary had returned.
You can imagine my excitement
as I hurried to finish work for the day
and went round to call at her home
But you can also perhaps guess at my puzzlement
when I encountered sombre faces in the house
the worried looks; the way her family hardly spoke
nor even met my gaze as they ushered me though
to where Mary was resting after her journey.

As I went to greet her she said nothing
and I stopped
sensing that something was wrong
puzzled for an instant
until she stood up as I crossed the room
and I realised ...
... the truth of her condition
plain for all to see now

I stopped,
the shock on my face must have been so obvious
I cringe now at the thought of it
She just looked at me
tears trickling down her face
watching for my reaction.
In those few moments
words were unnecessary
I just felt stunned and simply stared at her
My whole world fell apart in that instant
and I couldn't find the words too express
the hurt, the betrayal, the unimaginable welter of emotions
that suddenly assailed me.

With the advantage of hindsight,
I can see why she couldn't say anything to me
about the baby before she left
She probably scarcely believed it herself
She was terrified poor child
Deeply frightened
of what her family would say
of what the village gossips would think
of what I might do.
We hadn't discussed this particular version of our future
The law allows a drastic course of action
for a man who finds himself in my situation
If a bride is found by her husband
to be already pregnant before the wedding
he can call for her to be stoned to death.

No wonder Mary was watching me
waiting, paralysed by fear for my reaction
probably wondering whether I would reach out
to strike her in disgust rather than embrace her in love

In the event I did neither, but just slumped into a chair
wordlessly battling to come to terms
with this shocking turn of events.
I sat there bemused for what must have seemed an age
until her father, himself overwrought with emotion
begged me to stay and listen to what she had to say.

My first reaction had been to run, to get out and away
to be on my own,
but I was suddenly overwhelmed by tiredness
and so I stayed.
The story began to come out, haltingly at first
as Mary related all that had happened to her
in those recent months.

And I sat there unable to take in everything to begin with
as Mary described her dream-like encounter with an angel
a messenger from Almighty God
who delivered this unbelievable news
about the child she was to bear
Now I think I've got the sequence of events clear,
but at the time it took some explaining, I can tell you!
The reason for Mary's sudden decision to visit Elizabeth
was not to get help planning our wedding
but rather to seek confirmation
of part of the angel's message
For against all the odds
it seemed that Elizabeth and Zechariah
were to expect the birth of a son themselves
The angel told Mary that Elizabeth,
who was thought to be unable to have children
was carrying a son and so it was hardly surprising
that Mary simply had to go and seek confirmation of this
as a means to come to terms
with the earth shattering nature
of Gabriel's prediction for her.

Once Mary was able to tell her story,
her actions and reactions
became perfectly clear and understandable.
I was able to leave her in the care of her parents
and then I took that time out that I needed
I walked and walked all evening
wrestling with my conscience.

What to do?

I had every sympathy for my fiancée - believe me
But I didn't know what I should do
I did so want to continue to trust her, to believe her
but still things looked bad for us both
This was hardly the start to married life I had envisaged
In the end after much wrestling and debating
I returned home.
I had more or less decided that the best thing
would be to avoid scandal
and quietly break off the engagement.
I didn't want to disgrace Mary
she had her whole life ahead of her
Maybe if she went to stay with Elizabeth again,
at least for a while.

Perhaps there was a way forward?
I eventually arrived home and collapsed into bed
I had resolved to visit Mary and her family again
in the morning
to sound out her father and see if we could agree a plan
The details of this whole maelstrom of events
whirled round in my head
until finally I fell into an exhausted sleep.

But my sleep was far from restful
to start with I can tell you
As I eventually drifted from wakefulness,
I slipped into what I can only describe
as one of the most lifelike dreams I have ever had
It was the most vivid experience.

I felt as if I could have reached out
and touched the man I saw
He looked fairly ordinary
and yet he claimed to be a messenger from God
And as he delivered his words
I felt the most extra ordinary calm come over me
it was unlike any other restful feeling I have ever experienced
and his message just answered all of my questions
calmed all of my fears
He confirmed exactly what Mary had been told
about her baby's father
and then went on to tell me what we were to call our child
Yes you heard right - our child
for I suddenly understood, as the angel spoke
that we were to be married after all
All my doubts evaporated
I knew I could trust Mary again
I knew we were destined to be together
and that all would be well.

This was the confirmation I had been searching for
This was the way forward
This baby boy, due in six months or so
is to be called Jesus
He will save people from their sins
God will do this I know
I don't know how or when,
but God will do this.

How am I so confident?
The angel went on to explain to me
more clearly than any teacher
I had ever heard in the synagogue;
He quoted from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah
and explained that
he will also be known as Emmanuel
Mary's son,
our son Jesus
will be known as "God with us".

In one sense still I can't believe it
and yet I know with more certainty
than I have ever known anything
that this is true
In some mysterious way that I do not understand
he will be known as "God with us"

I must go and tell Mary the good news -
poor soul will have had a sleepless night
but I know that this will reassure her
this news that God is with us
I hope that she will still consent to be my wife
after the doubts and agonies of yesterday
but now I feel curiously at ease
and I feel sure that she will too.

I don't know what the future holds for either of us
or for that matter for our son, still unborn
but I feel that his life will have unique significance
and I pray that generations yet to come
will also remember this
and derive from that simple phrase
at least as much reassurance and peace
as I am feeling right now
"God is with us".

© David Miller 2013
Feel free to use any or all of this for non commercial purposes.
If you find it useful, do let me know. Thanks

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Epiphany 1B Sermon

8th January 2012

Genesis 1: 1-5
Mark 1: 4-11

Sermon - "Called into being"

We've got this notion of call all wrong
A calling is for special people we think
those "holy ones" who give their life to God
those who give up their work
and devote themselves to God's work

Those who study the bible diligently
who always know what to say
in any given situation
those who are ready with a suitable verse
for any occasion
and can pontificate for hours ...
about the epistemological significance
of the parousia in the pseudo-Pauline corpus
or the post exillic aspects
and themes of hope in trito-Isaiah

Those who are good at praying
never lost for a suitable phrase
those whose prayers jump the queue as it were
and are thus heard more quickly and clearly
by the Almighty
and as a result, are always answered
People who are not like you or me we say -
special people ...
... those who have heard God's call -
and responded

Maybe those who travel to far flung lands
who learn new languages
who bring the Good News
to those who have never been to church
Those who long and hard
to bring schools
and hospitals
and clean water
and the gospel
to those whose needs are greater than ours

Or maybe people who work with the marginalised
within our society
who serve soup and sandwiches
to those living under cardboard in shop doorways
who found hostels and run day centres
help the unemployed to find jobs
or run safe houses for abused mothers and children

Or maybe just those odd folk
who often wear their shirt collars back to front
and who encourage bring and buy sales
coffee mornings and beetle drives
to raise money for good causes
to support charitable initiatives
Those who visit us in hospital when we are sick
splash water on the faces of newborns
those who comfort us after the death of a loved one
and who have the temerity
to stand up at the front of churches week by week
and try to help us see what God wants us to do ...
and to be

Those are the people with a calling we say ...
They're God's special people
we could never be like them
And so we put them on a pedestal ...
Once familiarity has bred
at least a measure of contempt
we remain fond of them
We usually think they're ... ok
sometimes we think they're inspired
but not all that often!
We could do better we muse
but we could do a lot worse ...
Most of the time
what they say on a Sunday
doesn't completely connect ...
and we feel terribly let down
if they upset us
or somehow fail to live up to our expectations
(however unrealistic they might sometimes be)

We are eventually surprised to find
that they have feet of clay after all
the euphoria of a new appointment has long since worn off
and it is just a matter of the same old same old ...

And it is here that we find the crux of the matter
We've got this notion of call all wrong

God calls ordinary people
those whom he calls are not especially qualified
they are ordinary, far from special
Sure they go back to college for a while
and they do their best to learn the rudiments of a trade
which covers a wide range of skills
that only the very exceptional possess in full measure
If truth be told they can only ever aspire to be
the kind of people we imagine them to be
and as the pedestal is built higher
so their position becomes more precarious
God willing they never fall off suddenly
but we really need to stop building them up
and leave God ...
to be the focus of our expectations

For here is the reality -
Calling is not restricted to those called reverend
neither is it the preserve
of those engaged in any other so called vocations
teachers and doctors
fire-fighters and nurses and the like
We've got this notion of call all wrong

No, God does not call only the few
but the many
all of us in fact
Yes really!
Older or younger
black or white
rich or poor
privileged or down trodden
gay or straight
educated or neglected
cherished or forgotten ...

- we are all called -

It is as simple and yet as profound as that
The author of that poetic description
that we understand
as the "why" of creation
the source of those magisterial words
on the first page of our bibles
reminds us that God called
the very cosmos itself into being
the very lightness and darkness of existence
owe their being to God

The word of God spoke and it was
all of it
a big bang of divine utterance
and God called them forth from chaos
and named them ...
... day and night
dark and light
sun and moon
God named them and called them
as we are called and named
As the prophecy of Isaiah reminds us: (43:1)

"But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine."

I have called you by name, you are mine.
We all belong to God
we are named by God
we are all called by God
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you

In the beginning ...
... God spoke and it came into being
In the beginning
words which inspired another ancient writer
whose words echo down the centuries:

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people. ...
... And the Word became flesh
and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son,
full of grace and truth."
(John 1: 1-4 & 14)

The one whose birth we celebrated a few short weeks ago
John tells us was there in the beginning
the Logos of God, the eternal Word
the one who spoke creation into being
was birthed himself in a lowly cattle-shed
a helpless mewling infant
the Son of God
the Word became flesh
and lived among us
Yet it is not to John, but to Mark we now turn
and his account of the recognition
of Jesus as the Christ
the Son of God acknowledged by the Father

"You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you."
(Mark 1: 11)

At baptism Jesus too was named
identified with the very nature of God
the dove of the Spirit hovered over the waters of baptism
as the breath of that same Spirit
hovered over the waters of chaos
the eternal word of God
was recognised as Jesus
the carpenter's son from Nazareth
and God spoke ...
"You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you."
So Jesus too
as he began his earthly ministry
was called by God
as we all are called
and so in baptism
we are called
Katie, George, or Sharon
Trinity, Joshua or Ethan
whatever our name
we too are called:
called into being by God
called to be before ever we are called to do
For being and doing are both required

As Socrates once wrote:
"To be is to do"
And yet the two are so intimately linked
that we can also say with Jean-Paul Sartre:
"To do is to be"

God calls us into being
to be
and then to do
and what ever we do
we are called
we all have a vocation
as children of God
sisters and brothers of Christ
our Doing is rooted in our Being
and that doing is Holy Work

So whether we rear children and clean the home
whether we design nuclear reactors or deliver the milk
whether we teach arithmetic
or whether we sweep the streets
what we do is holy, a vocation
because we are all called
we are all called by name
by the God who spoke creation into being
and we are called into communion round this table
with Jesus the Christ
our Saviour, our brother, our friend

And if all this philosophy
is difficult to remember
we need only call to mind one phrase
to remind us of our calling into being
and the balance between that being
and our vocation of doing
Someone very helpfully set it to music:
"Do be do be do" - Frank Sinatra.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

BBC - "The Nativity"

Good grief! Is it really that long since I committed anything to this blogging enterprise? Suppose it must be ... I have certainly read quite a few bits of quite a few other blogs over the months, but obviously last year I wasn't feeling so creative myself.

Was inspired to add things here while researching what others have written about the BBC mini series "The Nativity" which I hugely appreciated. Broadcast on BBC2 at 7pm, four nights running in the week leading up to the festivities, this was a fascinating and fresh re-telling of the gospel narratives. The familiar characters were fleshed out considerably in a way which does little damage to the NT accounts and instead provides us with a well rounded and at times stunning and moving adaptation. Drawing on both scripture and tradition, the writer (Tony Jordan - East Enders, Life on Mars) and all the cast do a fine job.

Highlights for me were the ordinariness of Gabriel's visit to Mary, the gradual journey to faith of Joseph and the addition of a believable back story for Thomas, imagined as one of the shepherds. No co-incidence with his name - I could imagine him thirty years later as an ageing disciple, still struggling with his faith.

There was much more of interest in each episode, but I was also intrigued by the addition of a midwife character recruited by Joseph after a desperate struggle with the indifferent crowds. Was there a reference to Jesus’ future associations with the marginalised of his society? Was the character intended to resemble a older prostitute or “madame”? Her costume, jewellery and world weary manner all appeared to contribute to this possibility. It seems to me that the rejection of the “adulterous” Mary by Joseph’s Bethlehem family, itself a helpful plot addition, could plausibly result in such a person being the only passer by willing to help out at the birth - other bloggers agree.

I look forward to the DVD in order to be able to look again at the wealth of detail which did so much more than just pad out the story.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


This came into my inbox during the week and will doubtless form part of my Christmas Eve Sermon - some connection between Joe McEldry (a fine singer) failing to get Simon Cowell's X-factor Christmas no. 1 and the real meaning behind all this festive nonsense. About 24 hours left to finish crafting something based on John 1: 1-14, one of my favourite pieces of scripture.
A very happy and peaceful Christmas to all.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Facebook Prayers

Alongside the terrible weather in Cumbria, South East Scotland hasn't escaped this last week or so - This was taken on Friday 20th November, the day after the collapse of the bridge which leads to neighbours' properties who live across the river from my sister in Selkirkshire.
They are now marooned without access to their homes except by 4x4 over the fields, but I think they avoided being flooded on account of being a few feet higher above the river. My sister's family were not so lucky; the waters rose and despite valiant sandbagging, flooded the ground floor of their house "over their wellies". The water table rose until it seeped in through the floors. Thankfully, after much furniture shifting, they managed to save as much as was reasonable, and things are starting to be dried out with good support from the insurers.
Thanks to many local friends with offers of practical help, my mum for taking care of the kids and a lot of hard work, hopefully it won't be too long before they're back to normal. Facebook ensured that members of the congregation here in Peterborough and many local friends of ours were also thinking of them; saying prayers and/or sending positive vibes their way.
Several people had crossed the Yarrow River on Thursday in the hours and minutes before this bridge was lost. It could so easily have been a tragic story. Our thoughts are also with the family of Pc Bill Barker, who died in Cumbria last week, saving people from venturing out onto Northside Bridge in Workington which was subsequently swept away.