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It's been quiet in the Old Town these last few months.

Fri., Sept. 30

  • 8:50 a.m. A vehicle got stuck on the beach near Gas House Lane.

  • 11:43 a.m. Police seized two grinders and a container full of marijuana on Humphrey Street. The grinders were for the munchies, I guess.

  • 4:36 p.m. A man on Orchard Street called police, saying someone shot an arrow into his yard. "...It fell to earth I know not where. Oops, there it is!

  • 6:51 p.m. Fireworks reported on Central Street.

Sun., Oct. 2

  • 2:32 p.m. A woman driving on Humphrey Street said a group of youths holding a fundraiser tossed a sign at her windshield.

  • 3:16 p.m. A man on West Shore Drive said he was fired after writing "Hillary Clinton sucks" on a football square, taking a picture of the square, and posting it on social media. The man told police it was his "First Amendment" right to do so. Football squares are used in betting. I wonder how much he put on Trump winning?

  • 4:57 p.m. A used needle was found Sewall Street.

  • 7:48 p.m. A woman on Green Street said she was "confronted" by her neighbor after a claim of a car crash.

  • 10 p.m. A man on Commercial Street said people in two vehicles — a Toyota Prius and a Ford Explorer — were playing "hide and seek" in the vehicles and driving at unsafe speeds.

  • 10:47 p.m. A man on Brook Road complained about a large group of youths at a playground listening to loud music.
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…and may God bring you peace, contentment and joy on your birthday, dear friend. I realise that things are difficult right now, but I hope you experience better things in the years to come.
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…and many happy returns of the day!
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Around the late 1960s my brother was given a multi-band transistor radio. He wanted to listen to the police band (he still does, although today he has a modern scanner). I discovered, however, that it also had several shortwave bands on it, and I got quite curious. So I occasionally stole the radio to tune to shortwave.



Now, kiddies, some of you younger folk (and maybe some older folk too) may not know what shortwave broadcasting is. Here's the short explanation. In the early part of the last century experimental broadcasters discovered that certain broadcasts were heard many thousands of miles away from their sites. These broadcasts generally had frequency ranges from around 2500 kHz to around 25000 kHz. kHz, or kiloHertz, means "1000 cycles per second", and refers to the number of oscillations the signal undergoes. Another way of expressing this is the length of the wave produced at that frequency. 2500-25000 kHz equates to 120 meters to 12 meters. As these wavelengths are relatively short compared to the normal US AM band frequencies of 545 meters (550 kHz) and up, and long wave from around 198 kHz, or around 1500 meters.

Experimenters found that frequencies in the shortwave band bounced off the ionospheric layer in Earth's atmosphere, thus giving them at certain times of day and year a longer range than a local medium wave or FM station. So before the Second World War countries began to broadcast programs on those frequencies, adjusting them as the year progressed so that their target audiences could have the best reception.



Pre-Internet, there was no streaming radio over your computer. In fact, if you had a computer you would need a separate building just to hold it. To someone who was interested in listening to programs from overseas, shortwave radio was the only way to go. And the listeners had to put up with fading in and out (as the conditions of the ionosphere changed), natural noise (like that produced by a thunderstorm), human-produced noise (like Aunt Agatha's light dimmer in her next-door flat), interference (usually from another radio station broadcasting too close to the frequency to which you were trying to listen), and power (some countries couldn't afford the huge cost of electricity that was required to broadcast a reliable signal). So the BBC broadcast regular programs all over the world, and chances are you could hear the World Service reliably wherever and whenever you pleased. Other countries, such as, say, Japan, were more difficult to hear in Eastern North America. Australia could only be reliably heard in Eastern North America early in the Eastern Time Zone of NA.

When I first listened to shortwave, the bands were full. BBC World Service (Lilliburlero heralded the news on the hour), Radio Moscow (Midnight in Moscow), Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, Radio Canada International (As It Happens, the national radio program), Voice of America (not aimed at Americans, but we could hear it anyway), Deutsche Welle from West Germany as was, Radio Beijing, and Radio Australia.

What a delight! I had never thought that I could hear programs from all over the world in my own bedroom. Sometimes the reception was poor, but that really didn't matter. Shortwave listeners were out to listen to countries, the more the merrier. I regularly listened to the BBC, Radio Nederland, RCI, and Australia.

Most of these countries now broadcast over the Internet, with streaming media. Some, like the BBC and VOA as well as Moscow, still broadcast on shortwave. In many parts of the world internet service is slow to non-existent. To reach those areas, shortwave is still the next best option to renting time on the country's radio stations. That's not always possible for political reasons.

So, I discovered shortwave listener clubs at about the same time. There were actually people (mostly men) who got together via magazines to share what they'd heard. In 1970 there were quite a few of these clubs, and I joined the one that I heard about first, the American Short Wave Listener Club. It was HQed in Huntington Beach, California, and headed by a man named Stewart MacKenzie. We had an interesting postal relationship, and I eventually contributed part of the newsletter. I think he's still on this side of the sod.



I also joined several other clubs, SPEEDX (which had broken away from ASWLC for various reasons) and NASWA (North American Shortwave Association), as well as some clubs devoted to listening to medium-wave band stations from far away. I eventually contributed to all three club magazines, and for many years I kept the magazines, binding them into yearly volumes. I trashed them all when I moved to Chicago in 1991, sadly. I won't go into the fissiparous nature of the SW clubs. People were always getting insulted in some way or another and leaving a club or starting another because they didn't like their previous one. Somewhat like Twitter, in a way.

I heard lots of fairly far-away stations, some in Asia (All-India Radio, Radio Sri Lanka), some in Europe (Radio Luxembourg, Radio Berlin International, Shannon Airadio [aviation weather forecasts from Ireland]), some in South America, and a few in Africa. It was really interesting stuff.

The shortwave clubs have mostly faded away now: I believe that one of the medium-wave clubs is still in active existence, but the North American shortwave clubs seem to all be gone. I did continue my shortwave listening until around the mid-1980's. After that, while I dragged my radios around to Chicago and San Francisco, I didn't bring any to London except for a small Sony radio, which has now conked out. Now, when I want to listen to international radio I listen to it over the Internet. The reception's much better.

Next installment: New York City radio stations.
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A post on my Facebook page about listening to Classic FM rather than continue to listen to sad, awful news on BBC Radio 4 seems to have captured a bit of attention from my friends. Can I muse for a moment about my radio listening history?



When I was a wee babe in the late 1950's, the first radio station I listened to in Marblehead was WEEI. At that time it was one of the 6 or so radio stations that the CBS Radio Network was allowed to own, and it was on 590 kc on the AM band. Kiddies, you might want to ask your grandpa about the AM band.

I listened to it in the evenings after I got home from school, and heard the World News Tonight with Lowell Thomas, as well as short little remnants of the humour programs of network radio from a few years before: Burns and Allen, and even, sadly, Amos and Andy. Other than that, there was CBS radio news on the hour with people like Richard Hottelet, Robert Trout, Winston Burdett in Rome. Edward R. Murrow was on the way out at the time, but we heard him too, before he went to the Voice of America in the Kennedy Administration.

Between the news there were talk shows. The less said about them the better. However, there were broadcast battles about the Massachusetts sales tax (not yet levied on the citizens of the Commonwealth) and no-fault auto insurance. There was even a souvenir map of every hot news spot in the world—I wish I had it now. I recall that Algeria's rebellion against France and the wars in Southeast Asia, especially Laos were particularly prominent at the time.

One other CBS daytime offering comes to mind: Arthur Godfrey Time. Every morning Arthur's variety show rode the kilocycles. When I was home from school because of illness (I often got bronchitis) I would listen to Arthur in between coughing jags and applications of Vicks Vapo Rub.

And in the night hours, when I found it difficult to sleep, I would turn on WEEI and listen to "Music Through the Night", sponsored by American Airlines. I listened on an old 5-tuber radio that gave off heat and light, both of which were comforting in the cold dark Massachusetts winters. The music was long stretches of classical music—a lot of US modern classical composers like Howard Hanson.

In Marblehead it was difficult to get some of the other Boston stations—I expect that they broadcast toward the west of Boston, as toward the East there was only Boston Harbour. There was WEZE, which was The Wonderful World on Music like Mantovani. There was also WNAC, which was the NBC Radio Network station in Boston. It was woefully inadequate toward the Northeast, and was quite difficult to receive reliably at home. I did listen to their "Monitor Radio". And WCRB broadcast commercial classical music until 2009. We also found it difficult to hear in Marblehead.



As for FM, it was in its infancy then. I started listening to WBCN-FM when it was a classical station, part of the Concert Network. Then it shifted to rock and roll on 104.1. Looking at Wikipedia, it's been shifted to an all-digital station.

I shall continue tomorrow. with stations in New York City.
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...and many happy returns of the day! 21 again, yes? Hope you're well and thriving.
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...and many happy returns of the day!
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The Gospel that we hear tomorrow will be (for many) the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Recent events have made it difficult to hear the question "Who is my neighbour?" but it's a question we must hear and answer.

10th July 2016 Seventh after Trinity
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:00AM.
Reading 1, Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 68 or 18
Reading 2, Colossians 1:15-20
Gospel, Luke 10:25-37

“…And who is my neighbour?


Last week, a march that was taking place in Toronto, Canada was halted for half an hour by activists staging a sit-in to publicise “Black Lives Matter”. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the US police shooting people of colour for little or no reason, and one reaction of the Black community has been “Black Lives Matter”.

Other communities have sometimes found it difficult to understand this saying. Well-meaning people say, “Well, Jesus tells us to love our neighbour, so All Lives Matter.

Yes, they do. All lives, in fact, all life matters. So why do people still feel obliged to chant “Black Lives Matter”?

A Facebook friend posted the following parable: “A large group of people was having dinner at a long table. One of them was named Bob. The waiters emerged with the starter and put a plate in front of every diner. Except for Bob. He got nothing.

“Then the main course came out, and again, the waiters put a plate of food in front of every diner. Except Bob.

“By this time Bob was very upset, as he was hungry. So suddenly Bob stood up and shouted ‘Bob needs food!’

“The rest of the diners looked up, taken aback, and shouted back at him ‘Everyone needs food!’ But Bob shouted all the louder, ‘Bob needs food!’ as the shouts of the rest of the group were doing nothing to actually get him any food.

“After a long struggle, Bob finally got his food.”

We have a parable in today’s Gospel that we are all familiar with. The person who was robbed obviously needed assistance. A priest who may have preached the duty of care for everyone in need walked by, but did nothing. He may have said to himself, “Everyone needs help” but done nothing for this man. If the priest had helped the victim, and the man died in the priest’s arms, the priest would not have been able to perform his duties as touching a dead body was forbidden to a priest.

Then a Levite came by. Levites were like deacons in the Catholic tradition. They swept up after the crowds had gone, performed various lesser religious duties in the Temple, and played music to accompany the Psalms.

This Levite didn’t help either, even though I’m sure he was familiar with the verses we heard from Deuteronomy about loving God and loving neighbour. But he passed by.

Then a Samaritan man discovered this crime victim. Samaritans were outcasts in Jesus’s time. They had separated from Judaism centuries before and worshiped at Mount Gerazim, rather than at Jerusalem. He knew who his neighbour was, and he knew that he had to help him. And so he did.

So who was his neighbour?

As Christians we know what the answer was, since Jesus told us. The challenge is how we put it into practice.

Who is our neighbour?

Our neighbour is every person we meet.

Do we say “Hello” to someone who greets us, or pass by as though we haven’t seen her? Noticing people is recognising them as our neighbours.

Do we help people that we don’t know, just because they ask for help or seem in trouble? Helping people is recognising them as our neighbours.

I was on a Bakerloo Line train once, and in the next carriage a couple of women were being menaced by lager louts. As it happens, the women moved into my carriage and then one got off at the same station as I did.

She came up to me and said, “Could you walk with me out of the station?” She was still very frightened and I walked and talked with her until we left the station and went our separate ways.

Did I mention that she was Iranian? She was also my neighbour.

Who is my neighbour?

We are under a baptismal obligation to not only see every person as our neighbour, but to pay special attention to those who are oppressed, marginalised, injured, or killed for irrational, racist, or religious reasons.

Why are they my neighbours?

They are formed in the image and likeness of God, that’s why. That is all we need to know.

Finally, are there special categories of neighbour?

All are neighbours, but some do not need our help in particular. I cannot believe that if I were to walk by Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch on the street I would be under any obligation to help them. They don’t need my help and, in a way, they are beyond any opportunity to receive my help.

People who are oppressed, marginalised, injured, killed need our help. They are our neighbours, but more than that, they can benefit from our help. Jesus tells us that we will enter the kingdom of heaven when we assist those most in need.

So that is why “Black Lives Matter”. Yes, every life matters. But until black lives matter as much as other lives matter, we all matter much less in the scheme of things in this life. For society is not “Them” and “Us”. It’s just “Us”.

And so, may we realise that all are our neighbours, especially those who need our help most, and may we be guided by the comfortable words of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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...and many happy returns of the day!
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The Marblehead Constabulary has been busy with fireworks over the holiday weekend. However, on July 1 they had a case that was a bit more involved:

"9:05 p.m. A woman called and said it appeared someone boarded her boat on Hunsley Lane and rearranged several items on the boat. Nothing was stolen. The woman's husband then got on the phone and said he read something about a suspect called "The Arranger" who goes into people's homes and moves things around."

I presume that the perpetrator was working on his own. Thus he would be...

The Lone Arranger.
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...and many happy returns of the day!
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...and many happy returns of the day!
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...and many happy returns of the day!
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It's heating up in Marblehead, and the heat seems to have gone to people's heads.

Monday, June 6

  • 8:35 a.m. A woman on Evans Road called police after she said she saw a teenage boy with no shirt carrying a gun with an orange tip. Police responded and determined it was BB gun. Shirtless boy with BB gun...save this thought.

  • 8:49 a.m. A woman was cited in the Devereux Street area for illegally parking then "flipping off" a witness.

  • 6:09 p.m. A bicyclist was struck by a sport utility vehicle on Lafayette Street. The bicyclist appeared to suffer a leg injury but refused hospitalization.

  • 7:32 p.m. A caller on Blueberry Road reported he had a dispute with someone and that person threatened to come to his house and shoot him. Police responded to the scene and discovered it was two young boys arguing over a video game. Being shot in a video game is not quite as bad as being shot with a BB gun.

Tuesday, June 7

  • 11:33 a.m. An IRS scam was reported on Orne Street.

  • 12:18 p.m. An IRS scam was reported on Abbot View.

  • 5:12 p.m. A woman on Evans Road called police, saying teenagers were shooting each other with BB guns. At least this time she was a bit more specific about the type of gun.
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Thursday, May 12

9:37 a.m. A caller complained a crosswalk guard in the Pleasant Street area wasn't doing her job correctly. Think of the children!
10:09 a.m. A woman on Auburndale Road said her neighbor threatened to poison her children after she planted some trees near the property line. Get that crosswalk guard! Lives are at stake!
11:57 a.m. A Marblehead High School administrator called police and said there's a scam going around where someone is asking residents for money that would purportedly go to high school athletic teams.
12:45 p.m. A bicyclist on Ocean Avenue was hospitalized after falling and injuring his head.
1:49 p.m. A woman said she saw "two men with black hats and black tactical vests with long, black guns" in a conservation area on Old Salem Road. An officer checked out the area and found nothing. Looking for the crosswalk guard, no doubt.
5:39 p.m. A man said someone struck his parked vehicle on Gerald Road then took off.
6:08 p.m. An IRS scam was reported on High Street.
6:50 p.m. A Village School student said someone stole her phone.
11:21 p.m. A man on Washington Street said his ex-girlfriend broke into his apartment and stole his cat. Officers contacted the woman and told her to return the cat. Well, that's one crime solved.
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One of the Brexit campaign's objections to President Obama's encouragement of the United Kingdom to remain in the EU has been that the United States would never surrender sovereignty to another organisation. The fact is, the US doesn't need to do that in most instances. Economically it needs to be in the WTO, and has surrendered some sovereignty to that organisation. Politically, it's a member of several multinational organisations, NATO, the UN, the OAS, for example, and has surrendered sovereignty to those organisation. But those are tiddling. The UK punched above its weight internationally for centuries. Now, it cannot do that without assistance.

And as for the Brexiteers saying that the President is wrong when he says that it might take 10 years to negotiate a free-trade agreement with a UK out of the EU, when it only took two years to negotiate one with Canada or Australia, or even some small African countries, there were existing agreements with them, and the treaties were only formalising the trade. An agreement with the UK will take backstage to the TTIP and various other trade agreements currently on the menu.

So I'm voting to remain in the EU. I have decided not to post this on the Book of Face as I don't want a sh*tstorm of harassing comments.
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24th April 2016 Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:00AM.
Reading 1, Acts 14:21-27
Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Reading 2, Revelation 21:1-5
Gospel, John 13:31-33, 34-35
"…I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…"
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN


I was reading the Guardian a few days ago and saw, yet again, an item about choosing a national anthem for England. God Save the Queen is thought to be too dull and boring, and it represents the entire United Kingdom rather than this largest part of it.

As you have all guessed now, the piece of music chosen by the writer, hands down, was Jerusalem, by Blake, set to music by Parry.

We hear Jerusalem each year at the end of the BBC Proms. Sometimes at great civic events we are asked to sing it (although many, including me, get a bit fuzzy on the words of the second verse). And when we do, we must suspend our judgment.

Someone, I don't know who, said that the first verse asked four questions, the answers to which were "No, No, We hope so, and No." Blake meant it as a call to an English Revolution to complement that which had recently taken place in France.

But when we hear it, we think of the Woman's Institute, Chariots of Fire, the Last Night of the Proms, and possibly some vague scenes of England's green and pleasant land that we've seen from the railway carriage on our way to Brighton to take the salt air.

In the second reading this morning, we have heard the author of Revelation seeing a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. It is a gift from God, and will erase human sorrow and pain.

The word "Jerusalem" in Hebrew means "City of Peace". I'd like to reflect on those words as they apply to the city in which we live.

Last week a young man was stabbed to death just south of here. He was an up-and-coming musician and performer, and his friends, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers were shocked at the manner of his death and how easy it was to get a knife to use as a weapon.

Many other men and women, girls and boys, have been assaulted in a similar way, often with the same result, in the past. My friends from North London sometimes hesitate to cross the river in fear of a similar end. It is not a likely fate, but it terrifies nonetheless.

In the housing market, there is turmoil. A place where young families were able to live in relative peace with affordable rents, has been taken over by developers who spied it as an area with older buildings, close to the City and academic institutions, and ripe for replacement with high-rise buildings aimed at students, buy-to-let owners, and high-fliers from the City looking for a place to lay their heads during the week.

In the wider world, peace is a commodity that rarely exists anywhere. The Middle East, which has been an area of contention for millenia, is contentious still. The United States suffers mass shootings and deaths on an almost daily basis, as it thinks about the next President, and whether walls will be built on its southern border to keep out those who only wish to breathe free and provide for their families. Famine is rife in Africa, and families struggle to feed themselves, much less sell some of the food they raise to those who do not farm.

So where is the City of Peace, the new Jerusalem? It's not to be found anywhere on this planet. It comes from God.

God lived and died among us, in the person of Jesus Christ. His life and death points toward that new Jerusalem that we all crave. Who among us does not want to live a life of peace, looking out on a green and pleasant land, and enjoying the tranquillity of living free from want and fear, free to speak whatever we feel we need to speak, and free to worship as our hearts and souls impel us so to do.

Our secular society will never provide such a world or such a city of peace. I have an iPhone-I'm sure that many of you do as well. I have a computer (you may have one too). I have a TV, radios, and newspapers. The world's woes impinge on my life as much as they do yours. And it's easy to forget the Divine in search of the Worldly.

Surveys have consistently shown that the extent of religious belief and the number of believers of any faith at all has grown smaller in England in the years since the Second World War. The number of people who attend a Church of England service weekly has dipped below one million. This is a tiny bit more than five percent of our population. While the number of people who have a belief in a Supreme Being is quite high, the number who do something about that belief is quite low.

"Behold, I make all things new!" says the one who sits on the throne. The answer to the creation of a new City of Peace is to start that renewal in our own hearts. We can't wait for it to be done by others. The strife around us will not cease all by itself.

My question to us all is this: "How can I begin to make all things new in my own life?" We will have to account to the one sitting on the throne for our answer to that question.

And so, may we start the creation of a City of Peace, the New Jerusalem, in our own hearts and minds, by the grace of the life and death of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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The text that I am preaching on tomorrow is the one set by the Roman Catholics rather than the one set for the Revised Common Lectionary. No matter. The story of the woman caught in adultery is one that all of us can imagine being part of.

13th March 2016 Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10:00AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
2nd Reading: Philippians 3:8-14
Gospel: John 8:1-11
“…Has no one condemned you?…”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN


In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says,
If anyone thinks that Christians regard…sexual sin as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course it is better to be neither!

The story we have just heard in the Gospel is probably, along with those of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, one of the best known and best loved of all the stories Jesus is said to have told.

Whose heart can remain stony hearing the tale of a woman, caught in adultery, being brought before Jesus to be condemned to death? Not mine.

We usually imagine ourselves in the persona of the woman, someone who has sinned, who knows she has sinned, and knows the penalty for her sin. We then live to enjoy the forgiveness of God and God’s grace in our lives, turning us from sin to eternal life.

This is a feel-good, warming place to be in, isn’t it? As the hymn says, “I come with joy, a child of God,/forgiven, loved, and free…”

I daresay that we never imagine ourselves in the places of those who brought the woman to Jesus. Oh no. We are definitely not part of that mob. We didn’t catch the woman in the act, we didn’t see her as the way we could entrap Jesus into condoning sin or condemning her to death, we weren’t filled with unholy glee at the thought of watching the woman be buried in the ground up to her neck and then killing her by throwing rocks at her.

No, that’s not us. Not at all.

Just wait a minute.

One of the attributes I’ve found almost universally in the places I’ve worked or in which I’ve lived is a gossipy, gleeful pleasure at the misfortune of others. We say to ourselves or to our neighbours, “He is getting what he deserves.” about someone else who is caught out in some transgression, or perhaps “She’s no better than she deserves” about an acquaintance who keeps bad company and reaps the consequences.

I accuse myself of these sins, and leave it to you to decide whether to accuse yourselves of them too.

In this story we are not the woman, about to die. We are not Jesus or the disciples, forgiving the woman and saying those immortal words, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”

No. We are the mob. Full stop.

We are the ones who snooped around the woman until we caught her with her lover.

We are the ones who dragged her away to Jesus.

We are the ones who filled our pockets and satchels with stones on the way.

We are the ones who massed before Jesus, demanding that Jesus agree to kill the woman.

Yes, we are.

Don’t try to deny it.

We don’t know what Jesus was writing on the ground when the question was put to him. Some speculate that he was writing the names of those he recognised in the crowd. Others think that he was writing the words from the Book of Daniel said to have appeared on the walls of King Belshazzar’s banquet hall: Mene, mene, tekel upharsin, or “You are weighed in the scales and found wanting.”

Jesus then looked up and addressed each one of the crowd: “Let you who is sinless cast the first stone.”

You’re a member of the mob, and Jesus tells you, personally, “If you are sinless, throw the first stone.” You are taken aback. You look around, waiting for a scribe or a priest to take a stone out of his pocket and throw it at the defenseless woman. Then you’ll be free to do likewise.

No one throws anything.

One by one, your fellow members of the crowd drop the stones they were planning to throw and silently return the way they came.

No one in the crowd can confess to being sinless, least of all you. You take the stones from your pocket, let them slip to the ground, and follow the crowd as it slinks back to town.

So you don’t hear what Jesus says to the woman when the crowd has disappeared, but we do.

“Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go away and don’t sin any more”

Can anyone, hearing that, doubt that their sins are forgiven? Can you?

Can you do what Jesus asks, and go and sin no more?

And so, may we forego all condemnation of others, and realise our own sinfulness, forgiven by our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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I sat next to the Vicar at Deanery Synod last week. As my own parish didn't have an Ash Wednesday service, I asked him when his was. "7:30. Do you want to preach?" Well, I wasn't expecting that, but I also recalled that my sermon number 1 was given at St. Matthew's on Ash Wednesday in 1995. So, I got the text, edited it a bit, and voila! I got quite a few compliments and I am hoping people will remember it.

10th February 2016 Ash Wednesday
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 7:30PM.
First Reading: Joel 2:12-18
2nd Reading: II Cor 5:20-6:2
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
“…your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN


When I was a young kid, I was always extremely upset at the prospect of Lent. My mother and the nuns in Sunday School would begin on me a few weeks before Lent began, on those Sundays with the exotic Latin names: Septuagesima, Quinquagesima, Quadragesima. “What are you giving up for Lent?” they’d ask, looking down at my ample stomach. I was ample-stomached even then, I’m afraid. The implication was clear: Kid, you’d better give up sweets.

My mother, I’m sure, wanted me to give them up for the best of motives, as she saw it. I could get holy during Lent by doing a penance, and lose a few pounds at the same time. I’d get two benefits for just one price: good value for penance, she would have said.

The nuns, too, in their way, thought that by giving up something which every young child loved, those children would somehow draw closer to the passion of Christ on the cross. Self-denial would be good for their souls, the nuns believed.

You know, I’m sure, how each Lent turned out. We Roman Catholic children would begin very well, and piously keep away from the sweet shop down by the railway station. The owner had sweets which cost one US penny, or even half a penny. For those who were really big spenders, there were chocolate bars for the princely sum of 5 cents. (they’ve now gone up by much more than the rate of inflation since the 1950’s). A real den of iniquity for holy kids trying to do their penances in Lent.

The lady who owned the shop disliked Lent—her business always suffered those first few weeks. She was a patient soul, however, and she just waited behind her counter. After the first few weeks kids began to slink back into the store by ones and twos to furtively buy their forbidden sweets. As we succumbed, one by one, to the temptations within this Paradise of Sweets, most of us forgot our vows to give up sweets for Lent. We could hardly look our mothers in the eye (not to mention the nuns).

After my college years, I worked for a while and then entered a Roman Catholic seminary. The moral theology professor was the closest thing to a nicotine fiend I had ever met (and I grew up in a household headed by two very avid smokers indeed). He smoked three or more packs of cigarettes a day.

In my first year, when Ash Wednesday rolled around, the professor gave up smoking for Lent. In my smug innocence I proclaimed this to be a good thing. But the students a year ahead of me said, “Just you wait until the Easter Vigil.” Sure enough, after the procession left the chapel on Easter morning, the professor stepped out to the cloister and lit up a cigarette gratefully. I was astonished that anyone who had given up such a nasty habit for 40 days and 40 (even more difficult) nights would voluntarily take it up again.

Oddly enough, the moral theology professor was much closer to the penitential spirit of Lent than the nuns, or my mother was.

Rumer Godden wrote a book called In This House of Brede about cloistered nuns. In it, the Abbess says to one of her nuns who asked permission to take even harsher penances than the Rule required, “Penance isn’t designed to gain a victory. It’s to force a surrender.”

If you’ve decided to give up smoking for Lent only because smoking is bad for your health and the comfort of those around you: keep smoking! If you need to lose a few pounds, and you’ve decided to keep away from sweets, or alcohol, or red meat during Lent: pig out! Eat those chocolates, and have a glass of red wine with your steak.

The plain truth is this: any penance which brings us even a tiny personal benefit isn’t what God wants! God doesn’t want you to celebrate a personal victory on Easter Day. If you successfully give up sweets for Lent, and lose a stone, that’s all well and good. But, what penance is that? You should be losing weight not for God, but for your own health and for proper stewardship of the body God’s given you.

If you successfully give up smoking for Lent, because you know it’s a nasty habit and one which might kill you, that’s not giving up smoking for God, it’s giving up smoking for you. I encourage you to give up now, but don’t consider that your Lenten penance.

God wants us to surrender to the divine will as our Lenten discipline. God’s will for all of us is that we should share the gifts given to us with out neighbours.

Doing something for other people is the best penance we can do, because it doesn’t gain us a victory—it forces us to surrender—surrender our wills to the will of God. You can’t beat sin out of yourself—goodness knows, enough people have tried that. You can’t starve sin out of yourself—that’s been tried too.

If you offer your sinfulness to God, and resolve to do better, as Jesus says in the Gospel: “Your Father, who sees what no man sees, will repay you.”

And so, may we keep a holy Lent, not fasting to benefit ourselves, but doing good works and praying with our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom must be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore. AMEN.
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...and many happy returns of the day!

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