Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A time to remember - a post for Baby Loss Awareness Week

It was a long time ago now, that first experience of baby loss. I’d hardly known I was pregnant when my sleep was disturbed by fearful dreams – and in the morning, blood – so much more blood than I had imagined.

Not long married, I’d been uncertain that I even WANTED to be pregnant until that possibility was taken away, before I had really come to terms with it’s reality.

And I wept, and wept again – wondering if, like my own mother, I would now spend a decade failing to conceive, wondering if the arms that suddenly longed to hold a child might be left empty for good.

I was blessed that time. A visit to my GP to lament the fact that I felt sick and tired even though the miscarriage was now some time behind me revealed that the reason for those symptoms was a new pregnancy – not a replacement for the lost baby but a whole new focus for hopes, dreams and imaginings. And in time my daughter was born, and it was very good.

Only then it happened again. And again. And again. Each time later in the pregnancy, culminating in my little Matthew, born at 19 weeks on Bonfire Night But because of one successful pregnancy, I was told there was no need to investigate. It was, apparently, “Just one of those things”…and it was inappropriate to mourn the losses when I had a beautiful healthy daughter to enjoy.

Somehow what was appropriate didn’t matter. Mourning did.

For a while it wrecked my burgeoning relationship with God. The day I sat in a wretched heap in the car outside Brompton Oratory while my husband was at Mass, yelling at the Almighty “You needn’t think I’m going in there to worship YOU you  ****ing ****” – and heard a voice saying, quite calmly “That’s fine, Kathryn. I’ll just stay out here with you then” was a turning point – but it took a long time before I was able to LIKE God again.  

Some good things, many indeed, came from the experience.

Friendships that have lasted many years.                                                                                                       An NCT conference on baby loss which drew women together from across London and beyond, even in a snow storm (I’ll never forget the sight of Prof Winstone sitting on the platform in his snow boots, because he’d walked across London to be with us – nor his promise to us that he, at least, saw our losses as bereavements and not just as medical events).                                                                                                                                                                    A sense that that perhaps I have a better understanding of some kinds of grief now, and that that understanding is a precious gift in ministry.

But – I might have had 7 children (maybe 9 – but perhaps we just count those positive tests that came to nothing). SEVEN! And still, 25 years since the last loss, I’m uncertain how to answer when I’m asked how many children I have.

So, in this Baby Loss Awareness Week, I’m counting them all.

Each one loved and precious to God – and to me.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

What about sky-writing? A sermon for Evensong at Coventry Cathedral, 19th August 2018

I wonder if I’m alone in finding it a bit frustrating, the way God seems to speak to God’s people in unmissable, unmistakeable ways right through Scripture – yet I can really struggle to hear God for myself, even when I’m trying particularly hard to pay attention.
Oh for sky-writing!” is quite a familiar cry, as I imagine how lovely it would be if God spoke to me the way God spoke to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – and Moses!

Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult for God to oblige.

After all, the Moses whom we encounter in tonight’s reading hasn’t exactly got top credentials as a super-spiritual man of God when our story begins. 40 years on from that promising start as the baby in the bullrushes,he has fled from Egypt, after losing his head entirely and lashing out in a rage that leaves an Egyptian dead. Brought up as a prince, Moses is now quietly shepherding his father in law’s flock. Absolutely nothing distinguished about this in any way at all…
He’s just getting on with life.
He’s not looking for a new job, not contemplating his own destiny, or that of his people.
Indeed, if you look at the start of the passage from Exodus, it seems God hadn’t been too concerned about them either.
Though we read Exodus with a perspective shaped by our grasp of the over-arching sweep of salvation history, there’s not much sense of that about the place if you read this passage in isolation.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

God remembered!!!

The God we meet in the Hebrew Scriptures is often very human.
He can be talked round (remember Abram bargaining with him over Sodom and Gomorrah).
He gets angry (there’s quite a lot of smiting about).
And, at this point as tradition has it, he has allowed his thoughts to stray (presumably the only way in which the Exodus story-tellers could account for the sufferings of Israel in Egypt).
Very very human.

Then suddenly, God is recalled to Godself by the cries of God’s people and determines to do something about it.

This may, of course, inspire questions for you.
If God heard and intervened then – why not at all the other countless times in history when people have begged God to act, and been apparently disappointed?
What about the Holocaust?
Or my dear friend’s cancer?
Or the flooding in Kerala?
Did we just not cry loud enough?

That’s one of the great problems of faith – and you’ll not be surprised to learn that I haven’t found a wholly satisfactory answer.
PART of it, though, might be hinted at a bit later in our Exodus reading.
We don’t tend to remember obscure ancestors who got everything wrong, and it seems to me that even in these early chapters of Moses’ adventure there's a constant impetus to redemption and hope so that we’d probably infer, even if we were hearing the Moses story for the very first time, that this story had a happy ending.
But I wonder if you have ever noticed how precarious his story really is.

Preparing this sermon I was brought up short by a phrase I’d never noticed before
When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him..

Despite what we’d imagine to be an unmistakeable sign that God was up to something – Moses might have ignored that piece of flaming shrubbery.
I’m told that there is at least one desert plant that can spontaneously burst into flames – so that perhaps the burning bush wasn’t as absolutely extraordinary as we might expect.
He could have walked on by...

When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see...”
God had been waiting for Moses to CHOOSE to come close.
God wasn’t sure of God’s man.
Perhaps other potential leaders had already walked past, turning away from a starring role in history, and yet God still waited in hope for a response.
Moses had a choice...and he might all too easily have missed the moment.
Even sky-writing can be overlooked, after all.
Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Aurora Leigh.

Only he who sees takes off his shoes…

Keep your eyes open.

God speaks to us in so very many and varied don’t close your mind to the possibility that something apparently ordinary, absolutely rooted in the rational, might still be a message for you.
Let me tell you a story.
It was, after all, something that we might manage to rationalise away to nothing.
Surely I’m not the only person to do that?
May I tell you a story – of God speaking in a way that was about as far removed from burning bushes and sky-writing as it’s possible to imagine?

Once upon a time, on a weekend course, I was sent out on a Franciscan walk without watch, phone or any agenda except attending to what God wanted to show me. Anxious but obedient, I set off down the drive, taking time to look and listen as I very rarely do. Having suffered all my days from a fair degree of short-sightedness, I tend not to be a very visual person, and it was good for me to learn to gaze without hurrying on to the next thing.
Normally, of course, I would never have met the spider.
As it was, I nearly missed him, as he span his line around an ivied tree.
He had one of those mottled grey-brown bodies that was very much at home amid the layers of autumnal leaf-mould. I watched him scurrying along the bridge he was building from his own body, hardly breathing for fear that I might damage the fragile work of engineering that was before me. But then the rain started…large, heavy drops, which shook the dying leaves around his workplace. The spider froze, midway between one twig and the next, stopped dead in the very midst, the very moment of creation. Perfectly camouflaged amid the dead twigs and bark, suspended on his own silken way, stretched, elongated, he looked nothing like a spider at all.. I waited.
And waited.
As time passed, I became desperate for him to move.
I began to doubt my own memory. Had there ever really been a spider at all, or had my eyes been playing tricks?
I longed to shake the branch again, to prompt him to move, to reveal himself.
I knew deep down that I had seen him, that what I now gazed at, willing him to move, to prove the truth of my experience, had only paused upon its delicate and dedicated course.
I knew, but still I longed for confirmation, for fresh evidence of a reality that should need no proof.
Then I heard God laughing.
“Kathryn” he said “You’re doing it again. Don’t you realise that you do this with me, again and again and again? We spend time together. I fill you with a sense of joy and awe at my presence, and you focus completely on me. Then the time comes for you to leave the mountain, and even as you head homewards the doubts crowd in. “Was it really God?” you ask. “Perhaps I just felt happy because it was a beautiful place and a special day. Perhaps I was bouyed up by the presence of loving friends.”
You will the moment to repeat itself, to confirm its truth.
That spider is a spider, even though its intricate work appears to halt, even though it seems to vanish, and merge into its own small world.
And I am God.
You may lose sight of me too, may wonder if you ever really glimpsed me here…but I have the whole created world in which to hide or show myself. You need not doubt the evidence of your eyes”

Only he who sees takes off his shoes...

God’s message that day didn’t involve a life-changing new direction, or some amazing act of spiritual heroism….but it did encourage me to pay attention – a revisiting the story encourages me again and again because God is still speaking – to you and to me.

We know what happened next in the Moses story, because he was attentive and obedient to God, albeit after a bit of negotiation.
We can’t know what might have happened otherwise – but we do know that Moses had a choice.
When God saw that he had turned aside – THEN God knew that Moses would work with God in leading God’s people to freedom.
And, then as now, history is lived forward, understood backwards – and you have a part to play in God’s work in the world.
So, believe me, - this is holy ground, right here and right now.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – and Moses too – waits for us to choose to turn towards him, to willingly involve ourselves in God’s mission in the world.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Not our ways - a sermon for Evensong at Coventry Cathedral 29th July 2018

There are some people out there who believe that if you’re friends with God, you’ll lead a charmed existence.
They are those who’ve listened to preachers of a prosperity gospel and managed to forget that the subject of the Gospels themselves, Jesus Christ, was subjected to a terrible death, which he had done nothing to deserve.
Those who want to feel that the otherwise disturbing muddle of life circumstances is contained within an absolutely ordered universe, where good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour punished.
If they want to hold on to that world view, they would do well to avoid reading the book of Job, source of tonight’s first reading.
Job, you see, is an upright man, revered by many, approved by God, and his life circumstances when the book begins affirm the belief that was prevalent in Old Testament times, that worldly success was a sign of a good life, and a testimony to God’s favour.
God looks at Job and smiles with loving pride.

Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’

However, - and it is an BIG “However” , things don’t stay that way for long.
Convinced that Job’s righteousness is only possible because all is going well for him, Satan persuades God to allow him to test Job’s faith. Disaster strikes, Job loses children, cattle, and later health and strength – all part of a process that seems to us at best capricious. What is God really up to, when such things happen?
How can we continue to have faith in one who deals so unfairly with humanity?

Enter Job’s friends, rallying round as best they can – though it turns out that they are not actually much help to him at all.
Like so many others before and since, they want answers to the problem of suffering – and in the absence of answers, they’re prepared to furnish some of their own. It’s perfectly understandable. We all want to make sense of the pain and evil we see around us. We want to find safety in an explanation, in some kind of reason.
If we can explain things, then we can tame them.
If we understand why bad things have happened, then we can make sure that they won’t happen to us….
Except, somehow, we can’t.
I’m sure that Job’s comforters set out with good intentions, but their attempts to help him make sense of his ordeal, their wild misreadings of the situation, and, their refusal to shut up and just be with him in his pain consistently made things worse….and in our reading this evening, Job reaches the end of his tether.
His friend Bildad has been eloquent about the ways in which the wicked can expect to come to a bad end and now, though popular myth presents Job as the embodiment of patience in the face of adversity, that’s definitely not the image he’s presenting to the world.

How long will you torment me and crush me with words?”
he cries, taking over the initiative after being on the receiving end of torrents of misguided advice. Now it is Job’s turn to ennumerate all the ways in which he has been hurt, excluded,crushed at every turn….
It seems to him his friends are co-conspirators with God, intent on making things unbearable for him – and Job makes no attempt to conceal how badly he is suffering.
Have pity on me, have pity on me, you my friends;for the hand of God has touched me. Why do you persecute me as God...”
With friends like these, who needs enemies? Job has repeatedly protested his innocence, maintained that there is nothing, NOTHING in his life that would justify the suffering he is experiencing – but his words seem to be falling on deaf ears as they continue to try to apply the law of cause and effect to his situation.
Will he die before he is vindicated?
Will he never achieve justice?
Lest the worst happens, Job longs to create a lasting record of his truth.
23“Oh that my words were now written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24That with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
Speech is lost in the moment, the written word more permanent, books treasured for longer still but for real immortality, words engraved on rock may endure for centuries. Job is buying time for his truth to out, his reputation restored.
But into this tumult of injured innocence drops suddenly a music of absolute, unshakeable tranquility
I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand on the latter day upon the earth”
As happens elsewhere in the Old Testament, the glorious music of Handel’s Messiah threatens to completely seduce us, so that we lose sight of the original intention here, the words subverted by a very different musical code. Though we cannot help but think “Jesus” when we hear the word “Redeemer”, Job’s appeal is to a different source of help. The Hebrew word he uses, “ga-al” means to redeem or to act as a kinsman-redeemer – a figure familiar in Jewish law and practice. Redemption here has to do with “release from legal obligation or deliverance from desperate circumstances, closely connected with a payment necessary to effect that release” It was this principle that was at work in the story of Boaz and Ruth, as Jewish law made provision to redeem family members in dire straits. Recognising himself at the end of all his resources, Job looks longingly for such a one to come to his aid.
In the history of his people, God had repeatedly taken on that role, saying to Moses, “I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians…. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6) or later, during the Babylonian Exile, speaking through Isaiah, “Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine”
Job seems to have perfect confidence that his redeemer IS at hand...though as he anticipates the destruction of his earthly body we’re left to wonder quite what he is looking towards. So to whom is he appealing? We honestly cannot know – but this is certainly not the calm declaration of unshakeable faith that Handel’s music suggests. Job has recognised God as his accuser – so it makes little sense if he turns to him for vindication. That seems to be nonsense, no matter how beautifully we set the words to music….though Job is expert at bridging the gap between reason and experience, saying earlier in his trials
Though God slay me, I will trust him”
And perhaps that’s the answer.
The problem of suffering is real and intractible for those of us who claim God’s essential goodness….but it’s something we cannot ignore.
So what, if anything, does all of this have to say to you and me today? What does it say in a world where wild fires claim the lives of children on holiday with their parents, where a compassionate and able oncologist falls a victim to cancer himself, a much loved man active the service of others receives a terminal diagnosis out of a clear blue sky,where some families seem to be buffetted by disaster while others sail blithely on?
Don’t look in the book of Job for answers...but, if you look hard enough, you might just get a glimpse of how to live with the questions.
You see, I think Job teaches us that there is nothing whatever wrong with asking God “why”, or telling God exactly what we’re feeling when God offers no satisfactory answer. Wrestling for a blessing, as Jacob once did by the ford of Jabbock, forces us into God’s arms, even as we struggle. As the book of Job continues, God speaks to him out of the whirlwind, reminding him once again that his ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts ours.
We are limited, fallible, mortals...and in verse after verse we are reminded of this. God is always greater, always beyond our comprehension...We can and do protest, but a God who is small enough to fall in with our expectations would be no God at all…
Yes, dreadful things happen – and we rightly protest and lament but in the end, we come face to face with the reality of God and can either fall silent in prayer or turn away forever.
The Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel writes of the day when the rabbis put God on trial. Gathered in Auschwitz they debated through long hours as day turned to night, coming finally to the conclusion that God WAS guilty – that he had a debt to pay to humanity. Profound silence followed this verdict until one of the rabbis observed
It’s time to worship God” - and they all went to pray.

To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sermon for Proper 10 B, Sunday 15th July 2018 BCP Eucharist at Coventry Cathedral –

In the beginning was the Word.

What is true in Scripture is sometimes true for us as individuals too.

It certainly was for me. I grew up, amid the bells and smells of South Coast Anglo Catholicism, hooked on beautiful words and beautiful worship….but it wasn’t until my first term at university that I began to really fall in love with God, when a far-sighted supervisor set me an essay on Lancelot Andrewes, as a good route into the joys of 17th century literature. Not only did that period become my literary heart-land – and remains so to this day – but my pleasure in Andrewes writing launched me into a deeper exploration of his world, and his influences. Where would his words take me? It transpired that in addition to having a rather wonderful name, and inspiring T.S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi” , Bishop Lancelot was part of the committee that translated the King James Authorized Version of the Bible. His gift with words shone through there too...words that carry a magnetism all their own….that can draw readers and hearers deeper into the heart of the mystery of God.

And the same is true of the language of the Book of Common Prayer, which we are using for our liturgy today. There is a beauty and a poetry that can enchant the heart, even as it lifts the soul.

Words matter right enough. It would be madness to deny it – and if you grew up with the Book of Common Prayer, and have been missing its music in the depths of your soul, then I do hope and pray that this morning gives you the chance to drink deeply from its familiar springs and be refreshed. Sometimes it does us good to revisit familiar places, and to touch base with what is precious there...but we need to remember, too, that we worship a living God, who is always “going ahead of us into Galilee” who cannot be enshrined and contained by even the most beautiful verbal reliquaries. The beauty of the Prayer Book (modern language for its day) and of the Authorised Version too is not intended to seduce us, or distract us from the inexpressible beauty of the living God...Sometimes it seems we struggle to remember that, for ourselves and for others.

You see, poetry and clarity do not always sit well together. And the things of faith seem impossibly obscure and abstruse to the many who are living their lives quite happily without ever crossing our threshold to pray or, although I continue to enjoy immersing myself in beautiful language, and celebrate its power in signposting me heavenwards, I’m relieved that our usual diet here is slightly more accessible to newcomers. Only slightly, I’m afraid – because most of what we do in the cathedral or in most other churches is a such a long long way from the normal experience of the majority that there’s still a colossal work of translation to be done.
By us.
Thou and I.
Adopted as God’s children through Jesus Christ we are part of his plan to love the world whole once again…
Part of the plan”?
That smacks alarmingly of a theology that assumes we have no freedom as individuals...but it’s not where I stand.
While I am utterly confident that God did indeed search and know us from the beginning of our lives and the beginning of time, and while I am even more confident that in the end, no matter what, we will be caught up in the wonder of his love, the route that takes us there is of our own choosing. We may be chosen to be holy and blameless – but this doesn’t preclude us making our own choices that take us on a very different route for a while. Actually, there’s huge variation in our patterns of choices and direction every single day...and those choices do make a difference for better or we allow more or less of Christ’s light to shine in our lives.
You may be deeply uneasy at the thoughts of divine selection too- “Chosen before the foundations of the world” .
Why me? Why us? Does this cut across the whole theology of inclusion on which our reconciliation ministry, and our common life rests? Are we supposed, after all, to think of “us” and “them”, the chosen and the rejected, insiders and outsiders?
For me this would be a deal-breaker. I could not love and worship a God who allowed anyone – anyone – to be lost... ...- but take heart. Even St Paul, who, let’s face it, came from a long line of Chosen People, seems to have grasped that God has a bigger vision
To gather up ALL THINGS IN HIM”
All things.
Nothing lost, nothing wasted…
The best news possible

Jane Williams, wife of the former ABC, puts it beautifully.
In Christ, God has always chosen to be our God. Even before we existed and certainly before we consciously turned towards God, God chooses that we are to be “in Christ” and share that relationship between Son and Father.
...This is what we are made for. We are designed to be part of the ceaseless flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

That’s where we belong...that’s what we are for.
In the here and now we are to so live that we make that heritage evident…to live for the praise of his glory, says Paul...In other words, everything we do and everything we should points to the God who has adopted us as his heirs.
Our lives, our way of being, is the best language we have to inspire others to join in the praise that is the inevitable outpouring of hearts and souls awake to God’s presence.

Paul, with his grounding in law, often uses legal metaphors as he reflects on our relationship with God…
The language of legacy is something he turns to again and again, - so we might be forgiven if familiarity blunts its impact. – but it’s pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.
We are heirs.
Inheritors, not just grateful petitioners and recipients of the riches of grace lavished upon us….but INHERITORS, part of the family, adopted children having equal rights with our brother, Jesus Christ himself, who is also the route by which we can come into that inheritance.
We turn to Christ
We receive the Holy Spirit
We become part of that ceaseless flow of love that is the eternal communication between Father, Son and Spirit – and in which we are forever included.

Whatever the language you prefer, whether ancient or moder….and regardless of the way in which you interpret Paul’s theology – this is the best possible news...and its ours to share.

You see, words can sometimes hurt and exclude….and we’re not above using them to do just that.
And religious practices may make no sense, and may even drive people away
But a community whose dominant characteristic is love will draw others in, because there is something unmistakeably attractive about that way of being.
Love is the irrestistable force which will, in God’s good time, gather up all things in heaven and on earth.

Let’s work with God to hasten that day, for his love’s sake.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reflections on reconciliation for the Stratford Poetry Mass, June 20th 2018

Peace and Reconciliation.

Working as I do at Coventry Cathedral those words inevitably roll off the tongue together, as if inextricably linked from birth, but that’s really not so. 100 years ago, when the guns fell silent  at last, there was peace for a time,  – but very little reconciliation.

Paradoxically, that came to the fore a little over two decades later, when a seed was sown in wartime, amid the smouldering debris of the Coventry blitz. The morning after that night of destruction, a Church of England priest, walking in the ruins of his beloved Cathedral chose just two words to mark what had taken place. Those words, “Father forgive” were important in themselves – but even more important was the word that isn’t there….. In the apse of the ruined Cathedral, and in our Coventry litany of reconciliation that we pray day by day the verb has no object.
We do not say “Father forgive them”.                                                                                                                  There is no sense that some need more forgiveness than others, that the world can be divided into “us” and “them” , goodies and baddies. Instead we face a simple truth that we all have within us the capacity for good or for evil, and that we all alike stand in need of forgiveness.

It’s that admission that is essential. Where any party is convinced that they are innocent, reconciliation is almost impossible, for it almost always involves letting go of something – be it a grievance, or something material that prevents us from turning to the one-time enemy, with open hands and heart.

That letting go, and that turning towards is a challenge. The whole reconciliation journey, from fractured past to shared future, is fraught with challenges, as we acknowledge and then seek to mend what is broken, in our relationship with ourselves, with one another, with God. In the beginning “God looked at all that was made and saw that it was good” – but since then we’ve changed the landscape, so that we travel through the hostile terrain of our wounds and misdoings, our divisions and estrangements.                                                                                                                  
 Rumi, the Sufi mystic wrote “Out there beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – and that’s our destination too – a place where peace and justice, mercy and truth can to find a balance point,  to truly  rest with one another.

But oh, the way is tortuous and wearying at times.                                                                                     
  “If thou can get but thither” says Vaughan, as if this life-time journey could be accomplished just like that “ there grows the flower of peace”, while Jesus offers: “My own peace I give to you”. His is a strange peace indeed, framed as it is by a crown of thorns – but ultimately, that is the only route to reconciliation. It is the power of unbounded, unconditional love, poured out with reckless generosity  that can enable to believe in and practice love once again – to build what Provost Howard of Coventry called a “kinder, more Christ-child-like world”  –so that little by little we no longer need to think in terms of “them” and “us”, for God’s reconciling love holds all secure.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Trinity 2, Proper 5 : a new kind of family

Among the many different Bible translations that you’ll find in a good Christian bookshhop, there are also some extra special editions for particular groups...Youth Bibles, Devotional Bibles for Mothers, and Fathers,  Revolution Bibles for Teen Guys (I kid you not), and probably Bibles for dog-lovers and cat-lovers too. Of course, there are red-letter Bibles too, with Jesus’s words in stand-out ink, but as far as I can see, there’s one special edition missing.

Nobody has yet published a Bible with the words we wish Jesus hadn’t said picked out in florescent green. I’m sure it would be a best-seller – because there are so MANY of them.
You know the ones.
Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor” “Love your enemy, bless those who persecute you”…
You will probably have your own list of texts that make you wince...Mine include those above, but I really wouldn’t mind if he’d kept quiet instead of giving us this morning’s words too Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”
It sounds so easy, but it feels so hard.
Honestly, couldn’t he be a little less challenging? He’ll lose all his friends.
Picture the scene.
Here’s Jesus surrounded by a crowd so huge that nobody is even THINKING about feeding them...and he's not telling them gentle stories about lost sheep or prodigal sons.
Instead he is, not to put too fine a point on it, having a bit of a rant.
How can Satan cast out Satan? …..Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven...”
It's not comfortable listening, even at the beginning.
Nobody much is enjoying themselves...I’m willing to bet that there’s not a lot of eye contact between Jesus and his hearers. They’re all wishing themselves far far away.
Small wonder that the Scribes, present perhaps to ensure that orthodoxy is attended to, set out to discredit Jesus – to divert his hearers in mid flow...
Don't listen to HIM. He's not well...He's raving...Might even be possessed...Ignore him”.
And, in their task of persuading Jesus to shut up, to stop his incendiary diatribe, they recruit some rather unlikely allies...Mary and her sons and daughters.
Jesus's Mum and his siblings

That’s when I start to get a bit anxious.
I remember reading this passage while my children were small and thinking
“ Oh Jesus! Why? If my children are ever that rude to me in public I'll...maybe cry...maybe hit them...”
Nobody likes to hear family tensions being aired in a public space....and certainly the way in which Jesus seems to reject his own flesh and blood is an affront to those “family values” which were as powerful a force in 1st century Palestine as they are, in a rather different way, in 21st century Britain.
So, what's going on as Jesus asks his outrageous, offensive question, one that must have stung mother Mary like a slap on the cheek?
Who are my mother and my brothers?”
Is it possible that Jesus looks at them without really seeing?
That in the flood tide of his preaching he has actually lost sight of reality, forgotten who he is and where he comes from?
I don't think so for a moment.

As they appear, intent on leading him away, calming him down, winning his silence, Mary and her sons are allied with the voice of law and order, concerned to keep up appearances, anxious that Jesus should stop making waves – lest they should all be washed away and perish.
Jesus must be feeling under time to grab a sandwich, people surrounding him on every side – and nothing like enough friendly faces in the crowd...and now his nearest and dearest are missing the point too.
And yet...and yet, he will not be silenced, not even by his mother’s pleas.
He rejects both his family and their agenda of status quo, peace and stability, and casts about instead for a new family, a core community more truly able to offer support and encouragement, to share his vision and the task he has embraced as his own calling.
Searching, he lights on those sitting listening – hungry for his teaching, despite its tendency to baffle and to challenge.
A disparate group, brought together solely because they are drawn there by Jesus.
The kind of group you might assemble if the “Coventry welcome” on our front page was made real in our congregation today.
Nothing in common, except the single calling -to do the will of God.
Here are my mother and brothers...”
And so the Church is born – as surely as it is at the foot of the cross when Jesus gives Mary and John to one another, as surprisingly as when the Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost.

The Church – the family of Jesus in truth and in deed...drawn by him and existing to do God's will.
It's as simple – and as difficult – as that! Our core purpose in a sentence – which will take us a lifetime to unpack

Bur through the centuries it has proved so very hard for us to keep our grip on that calling.
It's so much easier to be God's family in name than in truth.
But to live do God's will...that hasn't got any easier.
Sometimes, it’s not quite obvious where God’s will lies – and all kinds of family squabbles can break out then, resulting in unimaginable hurt that clouds the gospel for generations... More often, though, God’s will is all too obvious, but a bit too costly as well.
You see, to do God's will is never a recipe for social success.
It forces us to speak out against injustice – even the sort of injustice that is such an habitual part of life that we are barely aware of it.
It means standing on the edge with the excluded, the neglected, the outsiders
It means that instead of being the voice of stability and tranquility, we find ourselves needing to make waves again and again and again.
It involves us in letting go of much that we treasure and long to cling to.
We are here, purely and simply, to do God's live as signs of God's kingdom of love and justice and joy.
That won't often win us friends or allies...for the kingdom is founded on challenge not complacency.
It won't give us an easy ride, at home or abroad – indeed, an easy ride is almost in itself a guarantee that we've lost the plot.
It has been truly said that if we really preached the gospel, we would empty the churches – for the cost of obedience to God is higher than most of us are willing or able to pay.

But – and of this I'm certain – though doing God's will will not guarantee peace and prosperity it will fill us with the kind of joy that stems from knowing that all our security, all our identity, is found in God as we seek to do God's will.

We will stumble, fall and fail a thousand times – our human nature pretty much guarantees that.
But still and all, we ARE God's family – drawn by Jesus, called to do God's will.
So let us pause for a moment, reflect, and confess in our hearts our failure as individuals and as community to BE the Church, the family of Christ...our tendency to settle for an easy compromise, our longing for approval from our family and friends...
and having paused, let us turn our faces to the Son and begin our journey again.

If we do so, I know that God's grace will meet us, raise us from death to life and bring us, through Christ our brother, to an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.