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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When my masterpiece floats in a puddle

Yesterday, it was just like one of those everything-going-wrong dreams. I looked – and my script wasn’t there, at least the first and most important page. And everyone is waiting for me to start.

I had a similar experience years ago while taking a big wedding in Heswall. The happy couple, like many before them, had specifically requested the introduction from the 1928 Prayer Book – even though the church did not employ the 1928 Prayer Book for any other service.

This meant that the single copy the church owned had been heavily used over the years for weddings – with the result that the key pages were loose, something I hadn’t noticed.

So having taken the congregation through the welcome and the opening hymn from the couple’s own service leaflet I looked down to discover that those precious pages were missing. Gone, nowhere to be seen.

Panic. What do I do? I could hardly ask the congregation to engage in a hunt-the-missing-pages activity as a form of ice-breaker.

Now I knew that those pages were there at the beginning of the service but they weren’t there now. And so, courageously and somewhat foolhardy I decided to do the impossible – and deliver the introduction from memory:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.

Meanwhile my brain was racing – what could I have done with the missing pages? And then I realised: I must have lifted them up with the service leaflet and put them underneath the prayer book in my hand.

And wonderfully, the pages were there, hiding in plain sight.

And even more wonderfully, no one had noticed as I continued, now reading from the text: which is an honourable estate, instituted of God himself, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.

Naturally I had a migraine that evening.

And similarly yesterday, in taking a funeral. The family had invested a huge amount in the service, emailing me a fairly lengthy and informative bio. I was able to use this material through extensive copying and pasting to construct a detailed sermon with the theme of Jesus’s promise to prepare a place in the Father’s house for those who had entrusted their life to him.

As it happens when preaching I don’t often use a script but there was no way I could commit all the bio details to memory. I didn’t need to: I had the script. I checked, of course, as we arrived at the crematorium. And a lot of people. It was going to be a big service.

Except when it came to my talk, I looked down and the key page was not there! I looked around on the lectern, to my feet, either side. No sign of it anywhere, disappeared, AWOL!!

The usual panic.

Thankfully I did have some rough notes in my notebook– and I did my best with the material at hand. And I could remember some key facts. I just hope no one noticed.

(For the record as I returned to my car, there was the missing page in a puddle just under the passenger door)

But that’s life, things go wrong when we are upfront, in full public gaze.

The basic rule is simple, as featured on the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe: DON’T PANIC. However, as we all know from Lance Corporal Jones, easier said than done.

Isaiah of all people gives us the key. It is a time of widespread panic in the face of an advancing enemy. “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.”” (Isaiah 28:16)

Or as the Message translation concludes, using the upper case: “And this is the meaning of the stone: “A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.”

Fundamentally, as disciples of Jesus serving him, God is fully engaged in our situation. More than that, he is rooting for us, even if what happens is our fault. We need to hold onto that truth with both hands. And more, whatever does happen he is able to use, however embarrassed we may be at the time.

What I have noticed over the years is when I am in an impossible situation (once again) I find myself thinking: “I wonder how God is going to get me out of this mess this time?” His is a tested stone, a sure foundation.

All this follows when we decide to commit ourselves to him. As Jesus urged in yesterday’s Bible reading: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

For if we resolve to trust in God, we have that assurance from Isaiah: a trusting life won’t topple.

And don’t say it too loud but my sermon yesterday delivered, to quote the apostle Paul, “with much fear and trembling” may have had more impact than any polished masterpiece floating in a puddle outside in the car park.

I wouldn’t put it past the Holy Spirit.

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