St Modoc's is currently seeking a new Rector.
Canon Alison Peden, MA, D.Phil, M.Th, was a Curate at St John the Baptist, Perth before becoming Rector of Holy Trinity, Stirling from 2003-2015, when she was appointed Rector of St Modoc’s. Doune.
All Saints 1 November 2021
Sun through gold in the windows
If I tell you that going to church
was good for you, you probably are feeling you are back in Sunday School and that an old-fashioned rant was on the way.
I came across a scientific report about that said they discovered that there are tiny particles of gold in the coloured glass of stained glass windows (well, medieval stained glass windows anyway). When sunlight pours through the gold particles, the sunbeams vibrate, and it makes a magnetic field that is 100 times stronger than the magnetism around ordinary glass. This magnetic field breaks apart polluting chemicals that are in the air. In scientific speak: stained glass windows are photocatalytic air purifiers with nanostructured gold catalysts.
So the air in church is a lot purer than elsewhere – at least on a sunny day when light streams in through the windows.
We are very lucky to have lots of gorgeous stained glass at St Modoc’s. One of the delights is to watch the play of coloured light on the stone walls when the sun shines through.
Several of them - especially the great East window show the saints who surround and encourage us. It’s good to think that as the sunlight streams through the saints, they are purifying the air around us, making it a better place to be, getting rid of the bad air. They are a purifying force field – a saint-zone of clear air.
So let’s think about the picture we have drawn: as Jesus said: I am the light of the world
there’s the saint: a person who lets the light of God stream through them; a colourful character, like no-one else; but someone who is lit up by God, not their own ego – someone who shines with the light and joy of God.
there’s the air: the air may be damp, musty and a bit stale, or there may even be a stench like in Lazarus’ tomb. But sweet air is clear and sharp, like a mountain breeze or the garden after rainfall.
We talk about ‘clearing the air’ of a bad atmosphere; and in a way, this is what the saints do. When a situation just smells bad – when it is a place of despair, or hate, or cruelty – then a saint lets in the sunlight of God to purify it. God can work through human beings to make a situation better, clearer, less toxic. The saints are those who God uses to clear the air, to help us to breathe again more easily, to live and work to God’s glory. And it is the gold that they contain that lets them do it.
Just as stained glass has little bits of gold that help the sunlight to purify the air around them, so saints have qualities of gold within them, that help God to purify and change the world around them. So what if gold like?
Gold does not change One of the reasons it was chosen for coins and jewellery is that is does no tarnish or corrode, and it's quite hard to dissolve - even in nitric acid. You know that it’s going to be the same over the years, and that it will not rust or flake apart or disintegrate. And a saint has that kind of integrity. They do not give up or wear out, but keep on going. They are not one thing today and another thing tomorrow – you can trust them. They are filled with God’s eternity, and so they just ‘are’. A lot of sainthood is about keeping on going, not going rusty or flaky or tarnished.
Gold is malleable Integrity - not changing - is not the same as being rigid. Gold keeps its qualities, but you can shape it into all sorts of things – it will not snap or shatter. Think of intricate jewellery, or the designs on coins, or golden statues. Likewise, saints are not rigid and stiff – God can shape them into what is needed at the time, for saints are creative, and responsive and free, able to breathe the new life that Lazarus breathed when he emerged from the tomb. To the saints who delight in God’s endless action in the world, a new situation calls for new ways, new attitudes; the gold in them stays as bright as ever, but it is shaped into new and beautiful patterns for good.
Gold is very dense Gold is stable and pure, and it can be made into all sorts of things, and it is also very concentrated - a lot denser than lead. If you put together all of the gold that has ever been extracted from the earth, it would make a cube only 66 feet square. That’s not all that much, really, if you think of the gold of empires and treasures and coinage and industry. It means that you can beat it very thin - as in gold leaf – and it still has all the properties of gold, and does not disintegrate. Saints too have a concentrated quality – you might say, a little of them goes a long way … but you can beat them thin and even batter them, but the golden spark of God’s love and light survives in them. And even a little gold particle – in a window – clears the air around it.
As we’ve been thinking about what a saint is like we may have been thinking of individuals we know who have great integrity and steadfastness, who are creative and flexible, who have an intensity and focus that can’t be beaten out of them.
As the Cop 26 climate conference begins, it seems right to think about what Scots have done to bring a steadfast, creative, impassioned voice to the purifying of our environment, just as the gold is dispersed from the saints through the stained glass windows.
We can go back a long way to the
Celtic saints, who spoke of the ‘Book of nature’
that was as important to them as the Bible as a way to encounter God. They reverenced the world around them, for they viewed it as the way God spoke to them; the world was lit up by God as its source of life.
George McLeod, the founder of the Iona community, was profoundly influenced by this Celtic tradition: that ‘matter matters’; that how we treat the cosmos reflects how we treat God and that we should reverence God’s creation. He wrote about the immediacy of the divine presence in the world around us:
“The grass is vibrant,
the rocks pulsate,
all is in flux; turn but a stone and an angel moves.”
Another Scottish voice which had a big impact internationally was John Muir, born in Dunbar in 1838. He escaped is stern Calvinist home by exploring the East Lothian coast and countryside, and continued his fascination with nature when the family emigrated to America. Muir became an accomplished botanist and geologist and more or less founded the National Parks movement - creating Yosemite, for example. The natural world for him was God’s temple, here he could pray and encounter God. He shared this experience one night with President Theodore Roosevelt: they set off wild camping in Yosemite, slept in the brisk open air of Glacier Point, and were dusted by a fresh snowfall in the morning.
It was a night Roosevelt never forgot. He later told a crowd, "Lying out at night under those giant Sequoia trees was like lying in a temple built by no hand of man, a temple grander than any human architect could by any possibility build."
God’s light shone through these pioneers and their work made our air better to breathe: not just physically – though that is important, and to be fought for – but also spiritually. They are people who enlarge our vision and help us to see why we should care about Creation; they give us the push to persist as they did – with all the integrity and creativity and dedication that pure gold has, the gold that God sheds on us, shining divine light through the saints.
Remembrance Sunday 1 November 2018
Members of the congregation contributed family memories of the First World War which the Rector reflected on in this sermon. (More details and documents can be found on the First World War page on this website.)
As down the breeze the hot horse scent came in a wave to me.
And oh my heart was longing for the gunner life again,
The poplar-shaded horse lines in the poppy-sprinkled plain.
He crawled back via flooded shell-holes to the front line.
“Mrs Bryant and I were out for a walk, when suddenly the church bells for miles around started to ring, and when we got back to the house the flags were flying. We hardly knew how to take the news.
who gave bread and wine to Abraham after a battle, and blessed him.
This sermon was preached on Sunday 12th August 2018, on 1 Kings 19:4-8 and John 6:35, 41-51: Woodbine Willie
Come Thou to us, O Lord
Come Thou and find us.
Shepherd of the sheep
We cannot come to Thee.
life should be lived;
It is not that I crave,
not Rest, but strength to save
the wounded, and console their pain.
To strive with evil and then strive again
until the far-off victory is won …
To seek, to help, to save
the wandering and restore the lost,
Bring back to shore the tempest-tossed
and set their hungry bodies down to feast.
These are the reflections which the Rector offered on Good Friday 2018:
When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. ...The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The congregation responds, May God forgive you, Christ renew you, and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.
Then the congregation confesses and the minister releases and forgives them in turn.
This sermon was preached by the Rector on Passion Sunday 18/3/18, on the New Testament reading - Hebrews 5:5-10, and the gospel reading - John 12:20-33.
nothing in his appearance that we would desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others
a man of suffering and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
This sermon was preached by the Rector on the Sunday of the Baptism of Christ 7/1/17 on the gospel reading - Mark 1:4-11.
This sermon was preached by the Rector on the Feast of Christ the King, 26/11/17, on on the gospel reading - Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats.
That sounds quite close to what our gospel is saying today: When the Son of Man gathered the nations, he called to his right hand in glory those who had given food to him when he was hungry and drink when he was thirsty and clothed him and took care of him when he was sick. they were caring for him. That is – when they cared for others in need in those ways, they were caring for him. Jesus is calling us to see his face, God’s image, in the needy, the stranger, the prisoner, the sick. That’s all well and good, and it helps us to reach out in a caring way to those to those who are maybe less easy to love and look after. Mother Teresa used to scoop up the dying down-and-outs off the streets of Calcutta and tend them with infinite tenderness, saying that they were ‘Jesus in his most distressing disguise’.
But I feel just a bit uneasy about caring for others simply because we are looking for Christ’s face in them, trying to serve and look after Christ and not noticing the real, actual person in front of us, who has their own face, their own name. They are not ‘dear’, or ‘pal’, they are Betty or Billy or Angus or Shona or whoever, and they are aching for us to be with them just as they are and for who they are. If we are too self-conscious about our ‘service to another’ then we risk turning our caring into a project, into ‘good works’ that we think will earn us rewards.
If we turn to the gospel story again, we find that the sheep – those who have cared for Christ in others - did it totally unawares, and they were surprised that their deeds ‘counted’ as acts of caring for Christ. They simply did what their loving hearts moved them to do, naturally responding to those in need. The image in the stained glass windows that I like the best is at the top of the window nearest the pulpit.
accepting each other’s frailties and dependence with matter-of-fact generosity and care, showing me how just to take people as they are and be alongside them.
We needed the Victorians’ vigorous, organised philanthropy,even if it became top-down and self-conscious and pious. We need the Welfare State’s care today even if it is inefficient and faceless and shrinking by the day. But let us never lose sight of the caring we can give out of the depths of our hearts, one to another, reaching out to those who silently call to us, being alongside them, doing what we can but almost unaware than we are ‘doing’ anything.
Let us just be those who care because it’s who we are, filled with the joy of knowing Christ as our friend and our brother and filled with the joy of knowing those he cares about too, in all their individuality and quirkiness, their particular selves and their particular lives, saying their names and making sure that they know that we love them and God loves them and that we will help them out of that love, and for joy, never for duty and never for reward.