Bible Reading: Chronicles 29: 6 – 14
It is good to be here tonight at this special service. Almost every Vicar I know either gets excited about a building or fundraising project or absolutely dreads it! And so it is great to have had a project which has involved a number of people and to meet tonight to mark the culmination of such hard work. Well done!
Very often such projects start off as quite daunting tasks, but once completed culminate in a time of joy and unity. The same was true of the building of the temple which we heard about in our first reading tonight. But before we think a bit about the reading, I want us to think about the bell.
I gave a short history recently to the Diocesan Guild of Ringers when they met for their annual service, a few years ago. There is no record of when the bell was invented. There are pictures from early Chinese dynasties which clearly show bells, Indeed they have been used by different civilisations in religious rites even before the development of a written language. Bells are mentioned in the book of Exodus as part of Hebrew worship and they are shown decorating the robes of priests.
The early founders of the Celtic church in Britain, Saints Aiden, Cedd and Patrick, brought with them four sided bells similar to Austrian cow bells. St. Patrick’s bell is still in his shrine in Dublin. In fact the first bells to have appeared in England were handbells, the Romans using them to summon their servants.
When the Christian church was recognised by Constantine in Rome, and came out of hiding, founders began to increase the size of bells and priests hung them on the outside of their churches. Paulinus at Nola in Campania is supposedly the first to have done this, and from his act derives the words campanile and campanology.
One of the rules of the church from this time read “Let all priests at the appointed hours day and night toll the bells in their churches then celebrate divine worship”. And this regular tolling became very important to people in early days as it was the only way they had of telling the time and beckoned them from wherever they were to worship.
In medieval times bells were steeped in superstition. This was probably because of their long association with religion. They were actually baptised, and once baptised had the power to ward off evil spells and spirits. Bells were hung in doorways to protect visitors and the visited from the evil spirits which always wait around the door awaiting the chance to slip inside. A visitor would ring the bell to drive the spirits away then pass inside – which is the likely origin of the present day doorbell!
After Bells had moved outside the church in Paulinus’ time, handbells continued their development within the church. A cappella chanting (voices only) was replaced in popularity by more elaborate modes of liturgical accompaniment which included bells, stringed and wind instruments and small organs.
Change ringing as we know it today emerged in England in the 17th century. To that era we can trace the origins of the earliest ringing societies, such as the Lincoln Cathedral Guild, which claims to date to 1612[ or to a Society in Bristol which was founded in 1620 and lasted as a ringing society until the late 19th century. The recreation began to flourish in earnest in the Restoration era and in 1668 a book was written which set down easy rules for ringing
Throughout the years since, the underpinnings of change ringing have been pursued by mathematicians. Bells have been installed in towers around the world and many rings in the British Isles have been augmented to ten, twelve, fourteen, or even sixteen bells. And so we come to today where change ringing is, particularly in England, a commonplace sound, often issuing from a church tower before or after a service or wedding.
I am aware, on these everyday occasions, that you ringers usually contend yourself with shorter “touches,” each lasting a few minutes, but know that there is many an opportunity to attempt a quarter-peal or peal, lasting approximately 45 minutes or three hours respectively. The first true peal being made at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich in 1715: 5040 changes of Plain Bob Triples.
Today over 4000 peals are rung each year. I grew up in a church which had no bells, worked at a church in Hull for two years which had 1 bell and it therefore was not until my ordination when I went to All Saints, Northallerton which had 14 bells that I finally discovered the joys of hearing church bells as I arrived on a Sunday morning, and saw the pleasure in a wedding party’s face as they left the church to the sound of bells.
There is something in the sound of bells which is beckoning, and joyful. I am sure as much for the hearer as for the people pulling the ropes. As I have already said bells are intrinsincly linked with prayer and the worship of God. That is why they have been historically so important in the life of the English church. The psalms call us to Praise the Lord, using, not only our voices, but musical instruments as well, and the summoning of bells to worship across the English countryside is part of our commitment to the praise of God.
In our reading from Chronicles we have the dedication to the building of the Temple. The purpose of this project, as with all church projects was for the glory of God. The task was great because it was not being built for the people, but for God Himself.
The temple was not a person-centered project but a God-centered one. The primary purpose was to bring glory to God. It was to be a place where people could come and be reminded of His awesomeness and majesty. In short, it was a place where they could worship Him in the splendour of His holiness.
That to me is the point of bells. Yes, they sing out joyful praises themselves to God, but they are also calling people to come to where people will be reminded of the majesty of God.
The temple building project had a hefty price tag. Scholars have figured out that the cost of the Temple in today’s economy was somewhere in the region of 10 billion pounds! That’s a lot of shekels. But David’s building campaign was simple and extremely effective. He first declared his own commitment and sacrifice. Then the leaders communicated their decision. Finally, the people followed joyfully and willingly. The people give back to God, what is God’s, in dedicating themselves to the task. We use the words in a prayer in our Service of Holy Communion: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.” They are words of consecration and dedication, and we will use similar words today in this service of dedication. That the bells will be for the glory of God.
God is faithful, He has a history of faithfulness and He will be faithful to us today.
God is great . He is expansive and larger than anything in the universe.
God is powerful
God is glorious
God is majestic
God is filled with splendour
God owns all things, We are trustees of God’s possessions.
God is the ruler of everything.
God is the source of riches, honour, and strength, everything we have and everything we are has its source in God.
And so David continues with an important message: The people are to be generous and when we are generous we are doing nothing more than opening our hands and allowing God to use and multiply what belongs to Him. They are to have integrity. God sees our heart when we give.
Someone once said there are three kinds of giving: Grudge giving is when I say, “I hate to”
Duty giving is when I feel “I have to”.
Thanksgiving means that “I want to”.
And God wants our thanksgiving.
And the people are to be loyal. Well you can say that about bell ringers. You always turn up on time and work together. God calls us to be completely committed and totally devoted to Him. It’s not just about what we do, but about who we are. And the people are called by David to be committed to a vision and to worship. When he was done praying, he called the people to praise and worship. The final step is celebration. Later on in the chapter we learn that the people ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord that day.”
It’s a great pattern set out in the Bible for both a successful project – the vision is given, people are called to commitment and generosity and then they celebrate with thankfulness and a successful life – God’s beckoning call comes to us, we respond with the commitment of our lives and then all of heaven celebrates.
That’s just what we do tonight. We dedicate all we have done to the service of God, we celebrate with God, what has been completed and we rededicate ourselves to His service, reminded that all we do, said, sung and rung, is for His glory.