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Hear the Call

First in an Advent series as St Andrew's Day approaches, live from St Salvator's Chapel, University of St Andrews, with the chaplain the Rev Donald MacEwan.

For the first Sunday in Advent as St Andrew's Day approaches, live from St Salvator's Chapel in the University of St Andrews.
With the University Chaplain, The Rev Donald MacEwan and St Salvator's Chapel Choir directed by Thomas Wilkinson.
Readings: Isaiah 49: 1-6
John 1: 35-42
Hymns: Of the Father's love begotten (Corde Natus)
I waited patiently for God (Bays of Harris)
I heard the voice of Jesus say (The Rowan Tree)
Jesus calls us! (St Andrew)
Anthems: O Nata Lux (Tallis)
O Radiant Dawn (MacMillan)
Producer: Mo McCullough.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 27 Nov 2016 08:10


·         Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events. 



Welcome to St Andrews.  Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time of year when we are indeed invited to hear God’s call.

There are always distractions.  There was never a time or space devoid of noise, of ideas, of earworms – music which plays unbidden in the mind.  The first students in St Andrews 600 years ago would surely have complained at the noise of gulls and geese, of the sea crashing on the shore, of the blacksmith’s hammer.  Today’s students live with their own 21st century interruptions, but this morning many of them are gathered with us to listen for a voice from beyond us which is also within us, the voice perhaps of God.  

This may be a small town on the east coast of Scotland but it has a long history of people crossing land and sea to come here – to study at the University, to play golf at the historic Old Course, or to come on pilgrimage to encounter the relics of St Andrew when they were here.  This service is from the medieval St Salvator’s Chapel, part of the University.  Wednesday, St Andrew’s Day, will be a day of graduations, the first with our new Principal Sally Mapstone.   She will be installed as Principal and Vice-Chancellor just the day before, and will take part in today’s service.  And so we now sing a hymn which celebrates the love of God found in creation, in prophecy and in the promise of Jesus’ birth. 

MUSIC:  HYMN - Of the Father’s love begotten

All Sing – Accompanied   (CH4 319, vv. 1-4   Tune: Corde Natus) 


As University Chaplain, I support students who serve in faith societies or who feel called to some form of ministry, and a number of them will share in the service, including Iona Kimmitt, a first year Divinity student, who recently spoke to the Church of Scotland General Assembly.


Leading us in prayers of thanksgiving and confession, and the Collect for St Andrew’s Day, will be Niccolò, Jenny and Victoria. 


O God, who has graciously called us to be your faithful servants:

By your great mercy accept the praise we give you.

We give thanks to you for your infinite goodness,

in promising to be in our world,

in calling people such as Andrew to serve you,

and in still inviting us to hear and follow.


Lord God,

Forgive us for those moments where we have failed to hear your voice,

when we have chosen to ignore your call to us,

responding instead to the trivial screeches of the world around us.

Forgive us for the times when we shy away from using our own voices to glorify your name.

We ask that your grace would be with us,

and that we recognise your voice in this noisy world.               


Almighty God,

You gave such grace

to your apostle St Andrew

that he readily obeyed

the calling of your Son Jesus Christ

and followed him without delay,

bringing his brother with him.

Give us the same spirit of cheerful obedience,

that we may give ourselves willingly

to share in the witness to the whole world,

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever,



We hear St Salvator’s Chapel Choir sing music for Advent Sunday, by Sir James MacMillan who will be inducted as a new Professor of the University on St Andrew’s Day. 

MUSIC:  ANTHEM - O Radiant Dawn  (James MacMillan)

St Salvator’s Chapel Choir – A cappella


Euan will now read from the prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament, of the calling of the prophet to witness to the ends of the earth.                       


Listen to me, O coastlands,

pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
    while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, ‘You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’
4 But I said, ‘I have laboured in vain,
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
    and my reward with my God.’

5 And now the Lord says,
    who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
    and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
6 he says,
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’


For much of St Andrews’ history, singing in church was largely confined to the Psalms, unaccompanied by musical instruments.  We echo that tradition in verses from Psalm 40 sung to a beautiful Scots tune, Bays of Harris:

MUSIC:  HYMN – I waited patiently for God

All sing unaccompanied    

(Psalm 40:1-4, CH4 31, Tune I Waited Patiently for God, aka Bays of Harris) 


Andrew appears in all four gospels.  We hear an account of his call according to John, read by our new University Principal, Sally Mapstone.


35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).


In a moment, the Reverend Donald MacEwan will explore further what it could mean to hear the call today.

But first the Chapel Choir sings O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis, a prayer to Jesus that we might become members of his blessed body.

MUSIC:  ANTHEM – O Nata Lux  (Thomas Tallis)

St Salvator’s Chapel Choir – A cappella        


There are always distractions.  It may be tempting to imagine that the past was a quieter, calmer time, when it was easier to concentrate.  And yet every age believes itself to be too noisy.  It was always hard to hear from among the sounds of life the voices which mattered.  But perhaps distractions are particularly insistent today.  Pings, beeps and buzzes from phones in pockets saying, Listen to me! Scroll through me.  Walkers, runners, skateboarders in a private world of music and podcasts, Listen to me, cut out the sounds of the street.  And a clamour of voices vying for attention, belief and allegiance.  In the skilful call of the persuader, Listen to me.

This book/film/boxset/product/policy will change your life.  

And so it is hard to hear another call, a different voice, one that comes from beyond ourselves and the usual jangle outside us and within.  A voice that seems, the more we listen, to be perhaps from God.  And while there have always been distractions, there have always been people who listened.  Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, heard a call from beyond him, so strongly that he believed God formed him in his mother’s womb to be his servant.  And this call was to be a light to the nations, to share God’s love, forgiveness and hope to the ends of the earth.

St Andrews can feel like the ends of the earth sometimes, in this north-eastern corner of Fife, bounded on two sides by the sea.  Certainly the coast of Scotland was unknown to Isaiah, and very probably to Andrew, a fisherman in Galilee, who also heard the call of God despite the distractions of his day, and his life.  Andrew was clearly a listener.  He had become a disciple of John the Baptist, that fiery and uncompromising prophet.  One day Andrew heard John the Baptist shout out, “Look, here is the lamb of God.”  And Andrew followed the man John meant – Jesus of Nazareth.  He heard and followed, and followed and heard through all the racket which ensued.  The ministry, arrest, trial and death of Jesus.  The troubled early days of the community of faith in the risen Jesus.  Years of courageous witness in times of persecution.  And Andrew’s own death as a martyr on an X-shaped cross, probably in Patras in Greece.

It is part of the privilege of being a University Chaplain to see how young people hear and follow the voice of God.  Some explore a vocation to ministry.  Many discern how to share their gifts during and beyond their time in the University.  Just last Sunday I took part in a moving ceremony on the beach in St Andrews.  As the sea beat on to the East Sands, and the afternoon darkened, a bonfire was lit, a beacon, part of A Light for Aleppo.  It was just one of a series of such beacons along the coast in which many people, unknown to us, were at the same time offering solidarity, witness and hope for people besieged in Aleppo and others elsewhere who face conflict and starvation.  Well-wrapped against the cold, small groups of students of many faiths and philosophies of life heard the call on a cold dark night to come.  They stood in silent witness to hope, as the fire burned brightly, a different voice from those in power. 

This town bears his name because some of Andrew’s bones found their way here.  One story says a monk at Patras, called Regulus, was called in a dream to take Andrew’s relics to the end of the earth.  Regulus sailed with them until he was shipwrecked on this coastline.  Like Isaiah, Regulus took God’s offer of grace to the ends of the earth.  And in this town of St Andrews, the University too has a calling.  It may no longer be formulated in the language of faith, but it is still a vocation: to expand what is known by humankind; to teach the fruits of centuries of research; and to help a new generation discern the truth amid a din of distracting voices.  For over 600 years, the University of St Andrews has heard that call and followed, and now the ends of the earth come here, our students and staff coming from over 120 countries. 

There is one further call to listen out for.  This is the first Sunday of Advent, and there are precisely four weeks of noisy distractions ahead of us, from Christmas hits in supermarket aisles to Ho Ho Ho’s from Santa Claus; from compulsory good cheer at office parties to sleighbells pretty much everywhere.  And most of these diversions are great fun, fostering friendship, generosity and laughter in a cold season of short days.  But there is another voice which can be heard, if we listen, throughout Advent.  And this voice does not distract us from the world, but asks us to listen to the world, and discern God’s presence here.  It is a voice of promise – that this world is accompanied; that love is at work, gently but unceasingly; that the harsh, discordant cacophony will be hushed.  And it comes in the call of another baby known in the womb, in Mary’s womb, many years after Isaiah, a child who cries from Bethlehem to Aleppo, a distance of only 330 miles but 2000 years.  And this cry still cuts through the babble, and invites us to listen.

There are always distractions, always voices which say Listen to me!  And discerning between different sounds doesn’t get any easier as we get older.  In fact it gets harder to hear.  But it is worth being a listener, not only to radio, but to a deeper call in our lives.  As Andrew heard and followed.  As the town and University of St Andrews heard and followed.  And as people still do hear and follow, trusting that the cry of a child matters unto the ends of the earth.

MUSIC:  HYMN – I heard the voice of Jesus say

All sing – Accompanied   (CH 540  Tune: The Rowan Tree)


Members of the Ministry Discernment Group – Edwin, Ruth and Tara – now lead us in prayer.


Eternal God,

We pray for the World, for our environment in its powerful yet fragile beauty,

and for the glorious diversity of our global society.

We pray for all places where your call is received and echoed,

and particularly for those places where your love is made manifest in situations of war and strife.

We remember the people of Aleppo and Mosul.

Help us to recognise your image in the face of strangers and neighbours, to open wide our doors to them, to care for them, and to answer your call to serve all your children

As we approach St Andrew’s Day, we pray that the people of Scotland and the whole United Kingdom would stand in solidarity with all who suffer from conflict and starvation at this time.

Lord hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.


God of love,

We come to you today with grateful hearts.

We thank you for the learning and teaching of this university

and for education which continues throughout our life outside its doors.

Father may we learn from all situations and all peoples.

May our learning reflect our desire to be your disciples.

Help us to understand the gift of education

and the responsibility this places upon us to serve. 

Lord hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.


God of light, hope, and revelation,

we ask for your healing freedom to flood the hearts, minds, and lives of those who feel trapped in darkness.

May your voice, the very call of freedom, drown out the noise which distracts us.

May those wandering and those overcome by their circumstances hear Your loving call and follow it to the healing freedom you offer.

Lord hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

IONA  (and the whole congregation)

Our Father,

who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,

for ever and ever,



Our final hymn, about St Andrew, encourages us to hear the call of Christ in life’s wild restless sea, from this corner of Fife to the ends of the earth.

MUSIC:  HYMN – Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult

All sing – Accompanied   (CH4 509   Tune: St Andrew) 


God give you grace to follow St Andrew

in faith, courage and hope.

And the blessing of God almighty,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

be with you this Advent,

and evermore 




Benjamin Britten, Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria  


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