MILTON LILBOURNE. 18.11.01.
Dedication of engraved glass panels.
I must first thank you so much for the privilege of preaching at this
dedication service. I regard it as a great honour to be invited to do so,
for this is an historic occasion. I wonder if, in the year four- thousand
and one, some historian will be looking at these windows, and what will be
his or her thoughts; wondering perhaps what those primitive people of the
year 2000 were really like - just as we do about the builders of Stonehenge.
Another reason for my pleasure is that I was brought up in Stourbridge
which has a world-wide reputation for its cut glass, and a member of my
family in a previous generation was a skilled craftsman glass-blower and
I recall being given a delightful little glass model of a deer which
Uncle Fred had made for me in about five minutes of his spare time. But
enough of this reminiscing!
You won't find much in the Bible about glass - there wasn't much of it
about in Biblical times. When St. Paul talks about seeing in a glass darkly,
he was talking about a polished copper mirror. So I was stuck for a text.
Then two things happened. First I noticed that the driving rain of a week
or two ago had left its mark on the glass of my front porch. My window
cleaner arrived the next day.
Then I thought of George Herbert.
Some of you will know that George Herbert, apart from being a brilliant
scholar of the early 17th. century was for a time Rector of Bemerton.
He was also one of a group of poets known as the "Metaphysical Poets"
because they were described by Dr. Johnson as 'addicted to far-fetched
George Herbert wrote some hymns, one of which starts "Teach me, my God
and King, in all things thee to see, that what I do in anything, may do it
What's this got to do with glass?
Well, verse two goes on:
"A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
Or, if he pleases, through it pass,
and then the heavens espy."
Rather unusual words for a hymn!
When I look on glass, I can see the marks left by driving rain. When I
look on Church windows I can see the effects of weathering and the build up
of algae over the years. In stained glass and engraved glass I can see
representations of figures, landscapes, geometric designs and pious
In the engraved glass we dedicate today I can see a representation of our
church here and its setting, nestling under the Downs; I can see a picture
of our Cathedral, its spire rising wonderfully over the confluence of the
rivers. I can see the symbols of Saint Peter in whose name this place is
We can stay our eye on these things.
Then we can turn away, say 'how interesting', and perhaps put a pound in
the box as we go out.
But if we please, we can "pass through" the glass. We can see not only
St. Peter's Church, but we can see the place where for hundreds of years the
people of this village have worshipped their God and where they have been
taught the ways of Christ. We can see our forbears coming to this place,
kneeling, praying, singing, listening, learning - and leaving with hearts
We can pass through the glass and see the spire which men of old raised
to what, for them, was a stupendous height - because by doing this they
honoured the Most High. Over the years, how many, I wonder, has that spire
encouraged to 'lift up their eyes unto the hills' and receive help from the
Lord who made heaven and earth.
We can pass through the glass and remember that it was Saint Peter who,
after his denial and subsequent forgiveness, followed his Lord to the Cross
and was promised the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us, like St.
Peter, is asked by our Lord, "Do you love me ?
We can, indeed, look through the glass and espy the things of heaven.
Yes, glass is what it is because of its transparency. For most of the
glass we see, that is a two-way thing.
I remember my father saying that there are two sorts of people. Ask
someone to tell you what first comes into their head when you ask them the
function of a window. One will say, "Seeing what is going on outside".
Another will say, "Letting in the light". We are well aware that both are
correct. (Perhaps that applies also to a 'Windows" Computer Operating
And the Church itself has a similar function. It stands between the
temporal world, the material world of every-day life, and that eternal world
which it's Lord, Jesus Christ, has revealed, and of which he has assured us,
we are a part.
But the Church does not stand between these two worlds like a wall,
keeping the secrets of one place from another. Rather is the Church a window
with two functions.
We can concentrate on our building, its architecture, its history, its
art and its music, its features, its imagery. We can become interested in
its organisation, we can accept various duties to carry out on its behalf.
We can make the Church our hobby, our social club. Our eyes can remain fixed
on the glass.
And all the time outside is the other world which it is the Church's true
function to enable us to see; not only a metaphysical world of Angels and
Archangels and all the company of of heaven, but a world which Jesus came to
save - and whose coming for that purpose we shall soon celebrate again. - a
world which it is the Church's mission to serve.
The Apostles John and Paul make much of what they call the Light of
Christ. "The light that lighteth every man was coming into the world." That
is a significant part of the Christmas Gospel.
A window lets in the light.
The Church's function is to focus that light of Christ ON the things of
the world. Jesus has enLIGHTENED us as to the nature and the ways of God the
Father. The Church's function also is to focus the light of Christ on
ourselves, on mankind, on the world in which we live, on our priorities and
on our expectations, for only in the true light can we see truth. "Holy is
the true light and passing wonderful" so begins an ancient hymn.
So as we give thanks for, and dedicate these windows, think on these
things. Let your eyes rest upon them, but after you have admired them pass
through them to the heavens, and be ready to receive the light of Christ.
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004