Pew Sermon for Sunday 19th December

Be careful what you wish for…

My friend Tim died from prostate cancer a few years ago, and I still miss him very much. We were great friends, and no matter how badly life, or church, or family was going – he would always cheer me up, always be on my side with a friendly bonhomie. 

When I entered the room, he would say ‘AH! Rutton!’ as if my very presence had just put his whole world to rights. And of course, I tried to do the same for him.

He is buried in a very unusual family grave plot in Putney next to – Roy Plumley, of Desert Island discs fame.

And what, I wonder, makes that show so popular – and so long-running? Well, people are deeply interesting in themselves, of course, especially when they bare their souls in this public way. But more than that, I wonder if it is not those delicious questions at the end that tantalise us all – which luxury would you take, or which would I choose? And only one disc out of all the music in the whole world – which is the most important to you and me? And I wonder if, secretly, we all long for someone to be kind enough, and patient enough, to ask us those tantalising questions – so interesting and deeply personal to consider, so much a reflection of the real ‘us’, and yet so impossible to answer.

“Too much choice” as my wife always says to me, when I can’t choose the perfect car park bay out of dozens of empty spaces.

Well, imagine my utter joy when I discovered that at my home church, there is a whole army of seamstresses, happy to make me my very own stoles! They are really expensive to buy, and must of the bought ones are pretty poor, so to be asked to design my own – well, it’s a desert island discs moment indeed.

So what is the most important thing I need to say on my green stole to be? Words, pictures or both? (Both in my case).

And like the desert island contestants, I have had the painful task of slimming down from a dozen or more deeply meaningful choices to just one or two. Several were in Latin or Greek, one was in Old German – but I dismissed all these, as I wanted to make the message clear for everyone to see.

I think I am going to go for just four words from that deeply beautiful old hymn ‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’. And if anyone can guess the exact four words – very close will do – I will make a donation to the charity of your choice! So forget ‘guess the weight of the cake’ and all that – this is far more important! (Unless you like cake, I guess.) Get out those hymnbooks, and see of you can guess the mystery words! Your charity will bless you for it, if you are right – just let me know!

Give up? I am hoping the stole will be ready in a few months – so here’s hoping I have not talked it up too much.

What is your heart’s desire? Is it something no one else would choose? Probably. To enter into someone else’s top choices is to leave ourselves to one side, and listen instead to the cry of their hearts.

The results may surprise you. Next week, we consider Mary’s Magnificat in exactly this way, and catch a glimpse into the very soul one of the most intelligent, spiritual and courageous people in the Advent story.

Travel well this Advent, everyone, and safely.