Sermon - Sunday, 29 April 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 29 April 2018.

Scripture: 1 John 4: 7-12 / John 15: 1-8.

Text: Jesus said, This is my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples                                                                 (John 15: 8)


Yesterday morning the Convenery of the Trades of Edinburgh held their annual service at Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Kirk.

I have been appointed as their chaplain and during the service Ian Robertson was appointed as the new Deacon Convener in succession to Michael How, husband of Susan How, one of Cramond Kirk’s elders.

Skinners, Furriers, Hammermen, Goldsmiths, Tailors, Baxters, Fleshers, Wrights, Masons, Cordiners, Weavers, Waulkers, Bonnetmakers and Dyers, Candlemakers, Surgeons and Barbers: the various trades that make up the Incorporation can trace their respective histories back several hundred years.

In 1425 the first Parliament of King James 1 of Scotland passed an Act giving permission for each town to choose someone to be a deacon.

Chosen from among the tradesmen in a particular trade, the deacon’s responsibility was described as follows;

to test and govern all work that is made by the workmen of his craft so that the king’s lieges will not be defrauded or harmed in time to come, as they have been in the past, by untrue craftsmen.

From about 1450 in Edinburgh these craftsmen began to group together and petition the town council to grant Charters of Incorporation or Seals of Cause, that is, official recognition and authorisation as bodies responsible for maintaining the standards of their particular trade.

In 1477 the Town Council issued instructions regulating the different places in the city where the various trades might set up their booths on market days.

And by the turn of the 16th century, with Edinburgh’s population numbering about 8,000, these incorporations had become an indispensable part of the social fabric of the community, taking part in processions and pageants as well as providing funds for their own poor and for those who had no-one else to look after them.

Each trade also had their own altar at St Giles Cathedral dedicated to their particular saint.

Today, as well as holding an annual service and being engaged in charitable work, the Incorporation’s headquarters, Ashfield, no 61 Melville Street, hosts a fascinating collection of artefacts and documents including the Blue Blanket, the Edinburgh Trades Banner, said to have been carried at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

Trade Guilds are more than just history, however, and one of the many ways in which their influence continues to be felt is through the practice of hallmarking.

Dating from the year 1300 when King Edward of England passed a law saying that no precious metal could be sold without a guarantee of its purity being marked on it, and so named as ‘hallmarks’ after the hall in which the guild members worked, these markings etched or engraved onto a piece of silver told you two things.

The hallmark told you the hall where the item came from, and in many cases, the name of the craftsman who made it.

The hallmark also served as a guarantee of quality; that the item was indeed made of a certain quantity of silver and not fake.

As well as letters and numbers, larger pieces of silver will often have a crest incorporated into the hallmark – and if it is a leopard’s head the piece comes from London, a crown from Sheffield, an anchor from Birmingham, and if there is a castle then the silver comes from Edinburgh.

Hallmarks; an indication of where the piece came from and the person who made it, and a guarantee of quality - and what was it Jesus said to his disciples?

This is my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples

It is evident from the gospel records that in the immediate aftermath of the first Easter, the disciples were thrown into a state of confusion.

Despite Jesus’ best efforts to prepare them for what was to happen in Jerusalem, events overwhelmed them.

In kindness to these first disciples, perhaps nothing could have prepared them for the crucifying trauma of his arrest, trial and execution or the astonishing events which followed, the discovery of an empty tomb and various appearances of the risen Christ in Jerusalem, on the road to Emmaus, or back north at the Sea of Galilee.

What also emerges from the gospel narrative post-Easter is that as Jesus brought the group of fishermen, tax collectors and housewives back together again, he made no attempt to explain the resurrection – again what explanation would they have understood – instead he told them to be its witnesses.

And then or now one of the questions bearing witness to resurrection poses is this; what does the Christian way of life look like?

What are its hallmarks?

With vines and vineyards growing all over ancient Israel, Jesus describing himself as the vine and his disciples as its branches would have had an immediate resonance with his audience.

Here is a clue into what the Christian way of life looks like.

As his ministry developed through the towns and villages of Galilee, the wandering preacher, teacher and healer, Jesus gathered around himself a group of men and women.

The group included Andrew and his brother Peter, James and his brother John, Mary Magdalene and the sisters Martha and Mary, the familiar names of those men and women whose lives and characters were shaped by Jesus’ teaching and example, pruned and cleaned you may say, as they left their nets and their homes to follow him.

Dwell in me, Jesus told them, and I will dwell in you - and at the heart of that in-dwelling is a commitment to a particular way of life, a commitment to the qualities of generosity, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, sacrifice and love, the very qualities and characteristics so evident in the life of Jesus.

This is what the Christian way of life looks like and Professor George Newlands put it well when he wrote;

Christian community is actually not just standing out there in the rain.

It is participation, participation in the life of God [1]

As once Jesus heard the cry of a blind beggar, we participate in the life of God when we listen out for the voices of those in need.  

As once Jesus felt a woman tug his cloak, we participate in the life of God by responding to people who reach out in their despair.

As once Jesus restored health and community to a group of lepers living on the outskirts of their village, we participate in the life of God when we find ways of bringing people who are homeless or refugees back from the margins and into the heart of society.

As once Jesus spoke about the dangers of storing up treasure on earth and not in heaven, and  how much easier it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, we participate in the life of God when we seek economic justice within our own work places, our country and among the nations of the world.

As once Jesus said peacemakers would be blessed, we participate in the life of God when in our family life, our community and church life, as well as in our national life, we set aside that life-denying thirst for retaliation and revenge and aspire to the life-giving yearning for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

As once Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and took a bucket of water to wash his disciples’ dirty feet, we participate in the life of God when we seek the humility of service before the honour of self.

In other words, although it includes scriptures, doctrines, customs, traditions, dogma and sets of belief, at its best the Christian faith embraces a distinctive way of life.

It is a way of life shaped and informed by God’s love, care and concern for you and for all creation.

It is a way of life given face and voice in the life and teaching of Jesus, crucified and risen.

It is a way of life expressed in the saints of history and the everyday saints of the church who walk the second mile and turn the other cheek and who show us what it means to live by faith and not by sight.

Hallmarks – a source of information and a guarantee of quality – in the changed and changing international world of commerce and trade, the challenge to maintain the highest possible standards is as urgent today as it was when the Trade Guilds were first incorporated.

And for those of us who would seek to follow the Master Carpenter, the urgent question is the extent to which people see in us, and in Cramond Kirk, the authentic hallmarks of Christian faith, hope and love.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


[1] George Newlands, Expository Times, Sage Publications, London, Volume 120, no 7, April 2009,  p340