The Sermon by Alan Bennett of “Beyond the Fringe”
First verse of the fourteenth chapter of the Second Book of Kings: ‘And he said, “But my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man.”’ Perhaps I might say the same thing in a different way by quoting you those words of that grand old English poet, W.E. Henley, who said:
To mark against your name,
It matters not who won or lost,
But how you played the game.”
‘But how you played the game.’ Words very meaningful and significant for us here, together, tonight. Words we might do very much worse than to consider. And I use this word ‘consider’ advisedly. Because I am using it, you see, in its original Greek sense of ‘con—sid-er’, of putting one’s self in the way of thinking about something.
I want us here, together, tonight to put ourselves in the way of thinking about … to put ourselves in the way of thinking about, umm … what we ought to be putting ourselves in the way of thinking about.
As I was on my way here tonight, I arrived at the station and by an oversight I happened to go out by the way one is supposed to come in. As I was going out, an employee of the railway company hailed me. ‘Hey Jack!’ he shouted, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’. That, at any rate, was the gist of what he said. But you know, I was grateful to him because, you see, he put me in mind of the kind of question I felt I ought to be asking you here tonight: ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
Very many years ago, when I was about as old as some of you are now, I went mountain climbing in Scotland with a friend of mine. And there was this mountain, you see, and we decided to climb it. So, very early one morning, we arose and began to climb. All day we climbed. Up and up and up — higher and higher and higher — until the valley lay very small below us, and the mists of the evening began to come down, and the sun to set. And when we reached the summit, we sat down to watch this magnificent sight of the sun going down behind the mountains. And as we watched, my friend, very suddenly, and violently, vomited.
Some of us think life’s a bit like that, don’t we? But it isn’t. Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key. And I wonder how many of you here tonight have wasted years of your lives looking behind the kitchen dressers of this life for that key. I know I have. Others think they’ve found the key, don’t they? They roll back the lid of the sardine tin of life. They reveal the sardines, the riches of life, therein, and they get them out, and they enjoy them. But, you know, there’s always a little bit in the corner you can’t get out. I wonder is there a little bit in the corner of your life? I know there is in mine!
And so now I draw to a close. I want you, when you go out into the world, in times of trouble and sorrow and hopelessness and despair, amid the hurley-burley of modern life. If ever you’re tempted to say: ‘Stuff this for a lark!’, I want you, at such times, to cast your minds back to the words of my first text to you tonight: ‘But my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man.’