Monday, March 18, 2019

I first visited this cathedral as a small child – one of the many who came in the 60s to see the wonder that was quite unlike anything else .
We DID engage with the ruins first. I remember touching warm stone and thinking “These aren’t ruins – not like my local castle in Hastings at least”...and I’m told that my first reaction on entering the Spence Cathedral was to plonk myself firmly on the floor with my back to the West Screens and announce, with some indignation, “You never told me God was THIS big”.

I don’t remember very much about the rest of the visit. I was distinctly alarmed by the tapestry and I obviously liked the Tablets of the word enough to demand a postcard – which found its way into my school Bible...but the moments that I would now expect to be highlights of any tour – the texture of the font, the glimmer of the mosaic in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, and the moment of amazment as the hidden glory of the windows is revealed when you turn at the High Altar...All that passed me by.

I was still intrigued by the place, though – and took care to revisist whenever practical through the years. But the human journey which we hope to offer to our visitors just wasn’t part of my experience...not as a child and not, indeed, as a periodic visitor. Certainly my early visits were unmediated by anything except, perhaps, a Pitkin guide. It didn’t worry me. Something was still going on, an inner journey enabled by the space, and it was only when I became an insider , joining the staff, that I realised that there might be a “right” and a “wrong” way to experience the Cathedral. 

Of course, now I take care to lead them the “right” way – but I’m beginning to think that perhaps I could just trust the building to do its work. If each visit is a conversation between the visitor and the building, perhaps we should sit light to what they want to talk about…understanding that there will be as many different motivations for a visit, as many different needs to be met as there are feet crossing the threshold.

Of course this doesn’t mean that an absence of interpretation is acceptable. This building has many stories to tell – of 20th century art and architecture, of the Coventry Blitz and post war co-operation, of enmity and reconciliation, death and reresurrecti – all held within the over-arching Christian story without which there would be no Cathedral at all. We long for visitors to grasp something of each of those – for everyone who comes to have some sort of transformative experience and to realise that there is room for their own story to find a place too.

“This is our truth – tell us yours” might be a theme to consider as we present the different layers of meaning, inviting visitors to explore on their own terms, to arrive at places we might not have envisaged, either spatially or theologically, but trusting that the over-riding story of reconciliation hope will speak to them through the very stone, no matter how that 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Evensong on Lent 2 (St Patrick’s Day) 17th March 2019 Luke 14:27-33

Its very tempting to read this afternoons New Testament lesson, weighing in as it does to those who start building or go into battle without proper preparation, as a direct and timely comment on our current political situation! Back in 2016, there had been so little expectation of a Brexit decision, there was absolutely no plan for how we would reach that end point, what it might cost in financial, human or reputational terms. There wasn’t even a rough map, so getting lost was almost inevitable and however we voted, I think its fair to say that the widespread confusion of the national landscape has not reflected well on the country nor inspired anyone with hope in recent days. So, today's Scripture might indeed speak into such a time as this, - a word to the wise to be prepared but the advice to rulers from Jeremiah holds good for all time, all places
3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place
in contrast to our Deal or No Deal scenario, that's the kind of country I want to live in, the sort of manifesto I would get behind no matter what, - and tragically, it’s one which has been pushed yet further from our present reality by the events in Christchurch on Friday. There’s not much doubt about what we must NOT do. God’s words are no open to interpretation here “DO NO WRONG OR VIOLENCE TO THE FOREIGNER. DO NOT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD”
Later God makes it even more clear..."Is not this - obedience to these commands - Is not THIS to know me?" 
That anyone, anywhere, could imagine that in turning on a community at prayer they were doing right is as baffling as it is chilling, but thankfully in this as in all else the ultimate judgement rests not with you and me but with a God who is truly our compassionate and merciful Father.
So, for now, if we want to know God, let’s just do all that we can to carry on obeying God’s commands: to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly – and we will probably be OK.
Meanwhile, I think there's even more by way of challenge going on in our New Testament reading as Jesus invites us to carry the cross and to give up all our possessions.
It’s not a great sales pitch, is it?
We’d rather have the kind of Saviour who invites us to follow his triumphant procession, caught up in the slipstream of his glory, cheered on by adoring crowds.
I can’t imagine that carrying crosses was on anyone’s wish list for a happy outing, not then and not now. – certainly not mine.
But we can’t say that Jesus didn’t warn us. He didn’t promise an easy ride in any way.
We’re going to have to change, you see.
Because broken sinful humanity is as it is, we won't find ourselves truly living in a country that operates in accordance with God's love and God's justice, until we've made a long hard journey…
I think perhaps the subtitle for the New Testament reading might be “Know your Ts & Cs”, terms and conditions.
Or as a far better theologian than I put it “The cost of discipleship”
You see there is a cost. Not a charge, but a cost nonetheless.
Yes, it's easy to get carried away, to build castles in the air about changing the world for God but there are important things to remember. This journey of grace costs us nothing in some respects...God's love is truly an unconditional free gift, his amazing welcome open to us all, no matter who we are or where we come from.
But....it's a journey that will change us. You can't fall in love and expect to have every other area of your life left untouched.
You can't opt to follow Jesus and be unchanged by your decision, not because he demands it but simply because that's the way things are.
To follow Jesus means longing to be more like him,and that transformation will involve many choices that feel distinctly uncomfortable as our egos are manoeuvred into second place.
I don’t know what your cross might look like – what your struggles might entail – but I’m sure they’ll be real and hard. We are asked to pick up something we DONT imagine we want – that personally tailored, individually crafted cross – and to let go of things that we have valued so much that there’s a real risk that those possessions have come to possess us. That’s not the easiest of exchanges, I’m afraid. On the whole, when it comes to possessions, I don’t think material things are likely to be the big issue. It’s more about those ideas that form our world view, opinions that have become facts to us, sweeping generalisations that we take on trust, or maybe even that unconscious privilege which means we no longer notice the lens through which we view reality.
The point is that serious discipleship does involve submitting to discipline. 
The clue is in the word. God loves us far too much to leave us as we are. We are invited to risk a radical transformation, to give up whatever might impede us– to honestly work at following Jesus, and allowing his way to become ours.
Can I invite you to consider your own inner landscape afresh. Ask God to help you to identify those habits of heart and mind, those ways of being that we hold so tightly they dominate and distort everything. Then ask for the grace to let go - to leave your hands free to bear the weight of whatever your cross might be.

Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy ride, - that's all too true. But the rewards are out of this world and this is, truly, the journey of a lifetime.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

"I believe in angels...."


Today the Knife Angel arrived in Coventry.

 

Standing so close to our two cathedrals, it occupies a good place to plant seeds of hope, inviting us all to reflect on the choices we make in life. Of course, we’re no strangers to loss, pain and destruction here, nor to making positive choices when another route might seem so much easier. I can’t imagine that Provost Howard was universally popular when, in 1940, he responded to the Coventry Blitz not with hatred or anger but with the two words which are still present in the apse of the ruined cathedral, “Father forgive”.

The power of the missing word is, I believe, Coventry’s greatest gift to the world, for where there is no “them” you are prevented from “othering” anyone, forced to recognise that we all have potential for both good and evil, that the choice is ours.

 

The Knife Angel, looking down at his own empty hands, is not a figure of power but of helplessness. He seems to be asking “Why? Why?” and, like us, has no answer.

While our own patron Michael, the Archangel, is confidently beating down Satan under his feet, - an angel sure of ultimate victory - Alfie Bradley’s Angel finds himself unarmed and uncertain, still in the midst of the struggle. Under his questioning gaze we can perhaps gather our thoughts, our longings for peace in the city, and make our own choice, to opt for a better tomorrow in which violence and hatred have no place.

In making something beautiful from the ugliness and violence of the knives Alfie follows a pattern that is part of the Cathedral’s own DNA – using the pain of the past to build something brighter and stronger – a peaceful future.

Of course  we must not imagine for a moment that, having welcomed the Knife Angel, we have done our bit to stand against knife crime. The causes are many and complex, but the over-riding absence of hope in some parts of the community must surely be a significant part of the picture. I was particularly sad to hear how often victims are knived with their own weapons…in other words, whatever the popular narrative, carrying knives does not make anyone safer…Those who have been hurt are too often the very ones who brought weapons to the scene.

 

This year we’re exploring the mess and muddle of 21st century Britain in our Cathedral Lent course, based on the BBC series, Broken. Ethics look different when viewed from a perspective of grinding poverty and I’m so conscious of the sheltered viewpoint I still have. My hope and my prayer is that while he is with us, the Knife Angel will help us to review not only our own choices but the provision for those who may feel they have no choices at all.

I’m certain they do.

Please, put down your knives…

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Just a Priest - some thoughts on 25 years of women priests in the Church of England


25 years ago, my youngest child was a cold-ridden toddler having an uncharacteristically fractious and clingy afternoon.

I was up to my ears in something that demanded that I couldn’t just stop everything and attend to him, so I turned on the small black and white television that balanced on the ledge between kitchen and playroom and sat him in his highchair, so he was at least at eye level as I got on with my tasks. I didn’t expect there to be anything worth watching – but tv was a special treat in our house, so just being allowed to watch was something in itself, regardless of the programme. To my surprise, we seemed to be in the middle of a cathedral service. Then I remembered. Today was the day. While our own diocese was not due to ordain its first women to the priesthood til May, Bristol, by virtue of alphabetical order, was launching the church into its new era TODAY. I thought to myself “How wonderful. J will grow up never having known a church in which women cannot flourish in ministry as equals…”. In retrospect, that was distressingly naïve…

I don’t remember much of the service itself. Already, newly licensed as a Reader, I was getting weary of the comments round the village “It will be your turn soon, Kathryn.” “Nothing to stop you now”.    I wasn’t ready to be called, was still sticking my fingers in my ears and singing as loudly as possible to drown the inner voice which became non-negotiable as I received Communion at the Gloucester ordinations from Viv Faull (fast forward to today, and she is, of course Bishop of Bristol). Even so, it took me a further 11 years before I actually knelt in that beloved Cathedral.                                        Send down the Holy Spirit upon your servant Kathryn for the office and work of a priest.

Talking to FabBishop (newly consecrated and arrived in our diocese just weeks before my ordination as Deacon) he was full of joy at the celebration of those first 10 years, but said “I hope we can just forget it now…that you’ll be able to simply exercise your ministry without gender being an issue at all. Let’s aim not to NEED to celebrate 20 years because women’s ministry has become so normal, such a fundamental part of the life of the Church”.

He worked and fought and encouraged and blessed so many as he tried to help the Church move to that place, and in the days that followed the vote against women bishops in November 2012 I’m not sure that some of us would have remained fully functional without his love and care. It is a huge joy that when he retired, Bishop Rachel took his place in the See of Gloucester, and that it continues to be a place where the ministry of women is fully affirmed, absolutely and non-negotiably part of the fabric of the place.

Coming here, I was greeted with an enthusiasm that suggested there was still something a little unusual about a woman in a senior role. That’s changed over the past 5 years, one important landmark the appointment of Archdeacon Sue last year, but still I’m conscious of places where I and my sisters aren’t welcome to preside, where we may hear mutterings about “priestesses”, - and of others where we are patronised or over-celebrated, as remarkable beings, symbols of more than any woman could possibly aspire to. I think it was C.S.Lewis, many years ago, who nailed the syndrome as either  “The women – God help us! Or “The ladies, God bless them!” Neither is helpful!

Of course there are many many amazing women in the priesthood. Lots of them are my friends.

There are many many amazing men in the priesthood. Lot of them are my friends too!

I dream of a Church where we are all alike enabled to flourish in this God-given ministry as priests without any additional labels. We are not in competition. Following a vocation should never be a matter of gender politics but of obedience to God’s call.

Today I am thankful for those who made this possible for me, for those who battered down doors so that I could walk through them, for those who encouraged and pushed and nagged me to answer the call, and who continue to walk beside me in this ministry that I love.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Intimations of Mortality

We've been doing a spot of digging just outside the Cathedral.
The Knife Angel is due to arrive in town on Thursday and needs a good firm foundation for the 100,000 blunted knives that make up the 27 foot high sculpture...so a mini digger has been at work.
Of course, because the Spence Cathedral was built on land that included the churchyard of the medieval St Michael's, digging in these parts often means that some bones come to light...and last week was no exception. 
Tools were downed and the police summoned, to confirm that these were definitely ancient bones - no possibility of a suspicious death so all we needed to do was to gather them carefully and restore them to the ground reverently. 
Old bones seeing the light unexpectedly...A dirt encrusted iron handle, perhaps from a coffin, made me decide these were not medieval remains - so when we reburied them, I used the Prayer Book, rather than a Latin Requiem. I held those fragile remnants - a broken adult skull, a much smaller one, - a child, perhaps, - and some assorted other bones. I wondered about their stories...when had they lived, and died...I thought about the premature deaths, the culture of knife crime into which the Knife Angel speaks...and reflected that the same words would be used in a Christian committal, regardless of the circumstance, words that have spanned the centuries because they are true.

"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."

On Ash Wednesday, at the lunchtime Eucharist, I ashed a toddler.
She might have been as old as 3, but certainly no more. 
Full of joyous energy, she had squiggled and wriggled and explored through much of the service - but in a way that I found quietly enthralling, rather than distracting.
When her mum came up for ashing, she carried her in her arms.
I wasn't sure how she might feel about a strange woman drawing on her face - even without my speaking of our shared mortality - but she turned out to be very keen, brushing her fringe out the way so that I had a clear run at it.

When it came to it, though, my nerve failed me. 

I told her that she was made to reflect God's light and love and asked to follow Jesus all her days.
Always, when I ash, I'm remembering those whose foreheads I marked a year ago, for whom the truth of my words has hit home...those gone from us, sometimes full of years, sometimes suddenly, unexpectedly...
Humankind cannot bear too much reality - and I couldn't cope with bringing the reality of death and the warmth and life of that little one together.

But "golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust" - and beyond the dust is the sure and certain hope of resurrection - so I'm rather cross with myself for ducking the issue. Made in God's image, she deserved to hear the truth - and the hope that lies behind it.

Rejoice, O dust and ashes, the Lord shall be your part.
His only, his forever, thou shallt be and thou art.

"To learn to be God's people once again" Lent 1C at Coventry Cathedral

The Jordan is a most disappointing river…."more history than water", said our guide – and certainly there wasn’t much to impress, not worth the detour for the casual tourist. Muddy, reed-lined, and now, rather terrifyingly, approached through a minefield it was, for us, a significant but not an encouraging stop on our Holy Land pilgrimage.
I certainly found it very hard to imagine it as a place of affirmation, for all the wonder of the opportunity we were given to renew our own baptismal vows and hear God’s voice reminding us “You are my beloved child in whom I am well-pleased”

We had made the journey in reverse – travelling from Jerusalem to Tiberias, via the barren majesty of Wadi Quelt , the wilderness valley that forms part of the Jerusalem/Jericho road– and oddly, for all the inhospitality of that landscape, it was a place that drew me, somewhere I long to return to walk and think and negotiate with myself, and with God.
Perhaps it’s one of those “thin places” we heard about last week...somewhere that the Spirit is still active – still leading people in the Wilderness as they attempt an inner journey.

But 40 days?? That sounds rather beyond me - though I guess that 40 days of thinking/praying and negotiating is exactly what Lent is about.
Today’s Collect emphasises that it was here that Jesus was tempted, as we are...and of course that matters hugely. We are following his pattern, and this is a time for each of us to consider where our own temptations are….as individuals and as a community...and to form our own responses, for good or ill.

Right now may well feel like a wilderness moment in our common life...the political landscape is every bit as rocky and dangerous as the stony tracks through the Judean wilderness. The beautiful dream of international co-operation from which our Cathedral was built seems to be crumbling around us...and this city that we love is a place whose young people are afraid to come into the centre for fear of knives after dark.
A desolate landscape indeed...so, what temptations face us here?
Might our experiences find their counterpart in those that Jesus faced?

And can we draw strength and direction from his responses?

For Jesus, each temptation invited him to be LESS than his true self ...To have yielded to even one of them would have been to change the entire shape of his ministry.
That inner voice of temptation is very crafty....These are not questions of chocolate or single malt or even that expensive sports car guaranteed to make you feel younger and more exciting - but  instead something far more important...how Jesus will inspire people to follow, and engage with building the Kingdom.
Will he go for the quick fix and the easy win, take a short-cut through the desert?

Surely that would just be common sense...

IF you are the Son of God – command this stone to become a loaf”
Well, why not indeed?
What harm could it do.
He was famished, after all. 40 days is a long time to fast.
After all, God once provided manna for his people in the wilderness...and Jesus could surely do the same – but to do so now would be to cheat...to step outside the limitations of his humanity, just for his own benefit.
This isn’t a case of “If you are...” but of “Because I am”...
And so he will have none of it.
NO aspect of Jesus’s ministry is for HIS benefit. It’s all, - ALL – for us...

To value oneself above anything else is the root and ground of all genuine temptation...for any individual
It can be a temptation for communities too.
We might, perhaps, fall into the trap of thinking ourselves a bit special here – and of beginning to imagine that we exist to safeguard our own existence...for the greater glory of Coventry Cathedral, if you like.
But remember “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet members” . We cannot relax, well fed with beautiful liturgy that speaks to our souls, if we’re not prepared to use the beauty of this place that we love to reach out and feed those who can’t imagine that they’ll find anything to draw them through our doors.
I suspect that churches that hold on to the idea of worship feeding their own needs – whose congregations come together more for what they receive than what they can give – will find that the soul food they crave has turned to stones in their hand…
Let's not go there.

Jesus, of course, stays true to himself but next comes the temptation of power, an easy route to victory – all gain with no pain. To yield would mean Jesus ruling the world – but enthralled to the will of another and thus so much less than himself. Later Jesus would show all times and all people that God's power is made perfect in weakness, - for the greatest moment of his glory was when he was lifted on the cross, in powerless vulnerability. That's counter-cultural, counter- intuitive - and something it's hard to imagine opting for.
Ironically, of course, though Jesus has emptied himself of all his heavenly power – it belongs to him as of right. It is never Satan’s to give...this is an empty, delusory offer.
It might seem appealing – the idea that we are monarch of all we survey – but the strength of our cathedral is actually rooted in brokenness.
It is in the ruins of something that once looked strong and beautiful that we find the impetus for a work that we would never otherwise have attempted.
We wouldn’t have chosen to be broken. If we had interviewed Provost Howard in 1939, I'm sure his prayers for the cathedral would not have included one asking for its destruction– but it was then that Coventry Cathedral was given the vocation that still draws people here. We had to be broken to find ourselves.
God’s power was made perfect in our weakness, our brokenness.                                   That’s never comfortable – but it IS certain.
So, if we find ourselves struggling with disappointment that our dreams for a cathedral to change the world seem to be on hold...that’s OK
If we find ourselves frustrated that we can’t simply fix things – that’s OK too.
The power is not ours...and we delude ourselves if we believe or behave otherwise.

For now Jesus simply asserts that all worship belongs to God...worship offered elsewhere is meaningless and empty – the point of this wilderness journey is to learn to put things back in their proper order...God first.

Finally Jesus is encouraged to make God PROVE that he cares.
Go on.....jump....He'll save you if you're THAT special”
Does that conversation strike a chord for you? I've certainly had moments when I've asked God to show me unmistakeably that I matter...often with rather silly suggestions as to how that might best be managed. I'm really not great at remembering in my heart as well as my head that I matter to him. Jesus, however, is the proof of God's love – not a needy recipient of it....and in this 3rd exchange we hear him coming into his own identiy. He is secure in the knowledge and love of God.
Full of the Holy Spirit, he has no doubt that he is both Lover,Beloved and Love itself….

It is, though, through these temptations that Jesus discovers his true identity and the course he is to take.
He reveals something of the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit, which is founded on unconditional, unwaveriing love. The Spirit leads Jesus in the wilderness, because the Spirit leads him everywhere.

And against the odds, against even our lived experience, the same holds good for us too.
We are never alone....and those wilderness experiences, those times of desolation, are also the times when we have room to grow, and to discover both the truth of who we are and the wonder of who GOD is as well.

That’s our invitation, as individuals and as a cathedral family. To discover the truth of ourselves and the truth of God.
To go into our own wilderness to seek God in the silence of a less cluttered landscape.
It’s all there in the liturgy….In the Eucharistic prayer you’ll hear, shortly
For in these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance, that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your people once again”

To learn to be God's people.

That's our core purpose...the reason we are here...not just here in the Wilderness, not even here at the Cathedral but here on this earth at all…
Life is for love”, said Augustine, “Time is only that we might find God”. and so the wilderness experience is something to be welcomed and cherished.
It’s an opportunity to listen more attentively, and in the sparser landscape that we have created by our Lenten abstinence, to gain a new perspective and discover what really matters. Even in those apparently unfriendly surroundings the Spirit is present, leading us, helping us to strip away the small deceits and distortions that we've come to rely on, enabling us to increase our conscious dependence on God.

Can I, then, invite you, as you travel through Lent this year, to hold those words “To learn to be God’s people once again” in your hearts and in your prayers?
Ask God how best we can be God’s people together, here at the Cathedral Church of St Michael – how best we can collectively show our love for God with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength – how best we can love our neighbours – the skate boarders in the square, the rough sleepers who leave needles and mess behind them on our campus every morning, the many many people who walk past seemingly oblivious to this building and whatever may happen within it.

I don’t think that God has given up on Coventry Cathedral yet – so let’s take a deep breath and ask what God means when God invites us to learn to be God’s people once again…
We may not like the answer – but to attempt anything less is to walk away from our calling, as surely as if we’d chosen to turn stones into bread, dropped to our knees before the father of lies or leapt hand in hand off the Cathedral tower.

As I was preparing these thoughts, a 1960s song by the band "America" was going round and round in my head. "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name...In the desert you can remember your name"...
As we travel through this desert together, may we remember our collective name, our shared idenity in Christ – and then may we live it in all its transforming hope and joy.









Sermon for Evensong, the Sunday before Lent 2019 at Coventry Cathedral

Our Exodus reading tonight is the second chapter in the story of Moses...and might have been entitled "Moses, the wilderness years," if there weren't 40 literal wilderness years still to come.
After the amazing escape of the baby in the basket, after the cosseted upbringing of the young Priceling in Egypt, things have taken a turn for the worse for our hero. He has committed manslaughter in a misguided attempt to defend a fellow countryman, and fled from Israelites and Egyptians alike, to live as an alien in exile in a foreign land.
He has a less than glamorous job, looking after his father in laws sheep...and thats what hes doing on this day when everything changes. Amid the rocks and boulders, the familiar if unfriendly landscape of every day, suddenly an extraordinary sight catches his eye.
There's a fire amid the scrubland, a sudden flash of colour, amid the dust
Is that the miracle? God offering one of the most powerful conversation starters in history? Wouldn't it be great if he would do that for us, offer us unmissable evidence of his interest in us, of his longing to communicate!? Lauren Winner, in her book Girl Meets God, writes of a friend who liked to say, 
“I wish God would send a burning bush, but I’d settle for a smoldering houseplant!” 
Where are those spectacular signs we read about in scripture. Why don't they come our way? They sound so exciting. ..changing everything in an instant.
Wouldn't you just love that?
Dahoud, the endlessly enthusiastic guide on my Holy Land pilgrimage, came up with all sorts of horticultural explanations for what was actually happening when Moses caught sight of the bush flaming merrily...Perhaps, then, the bush itself wasn't a miracle after all, but some kind of natural phenomenon.
Really it doesn't matter. Whatever the cause, we're in the realm of miracle because, you see, tired, disheartened Moses found a spark of interest lighting up his inner landscape too. A spark bright enough to stop him in his tracks, compelling enough to persuade him to take a closer look..
He might have rationalised the wonder, as I find myself too prone to do.
He might have walked away. The bush was just there, doing nothing beyond being.               It wouldn't have pursued him down the track, demanding his attention.                               That's never how God works.
He might have felt it was time to head home. He might not even have noticed.
“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" said Elizabeth Barrett Browning
So perhaps the miracle was Moses' diversion, which took him so close he could see a greater wonder. This burning bush, for all its dancing flames, was not burning up.
We all know the principle of fire which needs fuel to feed it. In my last vicarage we had a wood burning stove, which I really loved, except for the rate at which it consumed logs...two baskets in an afternoon.
And when they're gone, they're gone. You can't take them off the pyre and restore them to the woodpile..But this fire in Exodus burns and is not consumed.
Intrigued, Moses draws near and so hears the voice of God
He discovers that this unpromising spot half way up a mountain is actually utterly amazing.
It is holy ground.

We have God's word for it.
He says it to Moses, and if you listen, you'll find that he says it to you too.
This, THIS is holy ground.
The place where God is ready to meet with us, and to change our world as he once changed the world
for Moses
THAT'S the miracle
God has always been present in that landscape, and every landscape....always waiting for us to turn towards our moment of encounter.
Only those who see take off their shoes...

On Wednesday Lent begins, with its annual invitation to stop in our every day lives, to turn aside and discover God waiting for us, making our landscape holy, calling us to new work, new ways of being. The God of Moses, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is our God too....present and active in this time of anxiety and confusion as he was present and active for disheartened Moses, and for captive Israel.
We are each invited to stop, take off our shoes and discover afresh the holy ground in our lives where he waits
As Lent begins may he give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and the grace to go wherever he calls us on our journey of hopeful discipleship

Friday, March 01, 2019

We had the experience, and found the meaning #pilgrimage9

So, it's been five weeks now since I returned from the Holy Land, weeks in which cathedral life has been particularly demanding, so that it has been hard not to lose track of the pilgrim experience and it's lasting impact.
Perhaps I'll never really be able to measure impact, actually,  because I'll never know how the "me" who didn't go on pilgrimage might have developed. 

But I do want to think about how it has left me, to try and notice changes of emphasis, perhaps, or new understandings.

One route in to this might be the Godly Play "wondering" questions.

So....I wonder which part of the pilgrimage I liked best?

Hmmmn. I think that might have been the moment soon after our arrival, when our tour guide said, quite simply, "Welcome Home" and I realised that the whole point of my coming was to find myself in the continuing story of God and God's people. I felt, and feel, so deeply happy that there's a place for me in this story. Of course I didn't need to travel to Israel Palestine to make this true, but those words,  setting the tone of the whole journey for me, cast a fresh light on an ongoing story.  While Jerusalem is no more, nor less, "God's house" than any humble parish church, while, to borrow from Godly Play again "all of God is in every place", still and all being in the places where the stories happened and are still happening, for good or ill,  changed my sense of their tangible reality. Incarnation is all about the material, after all, and for me to see, touch, hold made a difference.

I wonder which part of the pilgrimage was the most important?
I'm clear about that. It was the moment on Sunday morning in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when I realised that, though the air was full of the sounds of such different kinds of worship, they were not ultimately competing but weaving their own distinct patterns each to the glory of God...that the sincere longings of so many generations to reach out to the Love at the heart of all things was an act of worship that was deeply pleasing.

I wonder which part of the pilgrimage I could miss out and still have all the pilgrimage I need.
Hmmmn. Tricky, that....but in comparison with the intensity of experience at the Holy Sepulchre, it was hard to feel that I really needed to visit any other holy sites.  Oddly, the heavy cloud on the Mount of the Transfiguration was really helpful...that sense of peering through a fog to try and glimpse Jesus is disquietingly familiar - so that day, which was by some measures a bit of a wash out, was actually personally too handy to discard. Though just maybe the enthusiastic guide at Nazareth Village, like her counterpart at the Garden Tomb, could have stayed silent. It takes a lot to talk a bunch of clergy out of their lives' work, but those two almost achieved it.
So, yes, that's what we could have missed out. All those individuals and groups so certain of their own infallibility that they resort to verbal bludgeoning or its extreme corollary, of course, faith based violence to shut down the conversation.  After all, you can't have much of a discussion from behind a wall.

I wonder where I am in the story, where I might choose to linger in the pilgrimage 
Ahhh.....that's so easy. 
Back in my first Holy Week after uni,  the priest who heard my Holy Week confession gave me John 21 and the commissioning of Peter to reflect on as my penance. It turned up again at my selection conference 2 decades later, and has been an insistent motif through all my life and ministry. 
Kathryn, do you love me?
To read those words aloud on the shore beside the church of Christ's Table, Mensa Christi, was to commit myself wholly once again to the response of a lifetime.
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Never enough, never steadily (more rocky than rock-like, me) ...but that is my choice, distracted pastor that I am
"Feed my sheep".

His story.
My story.
A journey there and back again, that changed how I view the everyday landscape of my faith.
On my better days "Something understood".

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stormy Weather - a sermon for the 2nd Sunday before Lent


I grew up with on the Sussex coast, with a father whose happiest time had been during his service in the Royal Navy.

It follows, then, that the sea figures largely in most of my favourite childhood memories, be they of long summer days hunting fragments of the sea-polished glass that we called "mermaids' tears", or of dodging the waves as they crashed on the promenade during the winter storms.

My daddy had a great line in bedtime stories - and my special heroine was Grace Darling, who, with her father, dared to launch a small rowing boat amid towering waves to rescue the shipwrecked passengers and crew of the Forfarshire.

I loved that story, specially when I was snuggled beneath the bedclothes while the wind howled outside, and even now I continue to love storms and to miss the thrill of watching the grey winter sea roil...and to ask God why I'm persistently called to such land-locked counties.

 

All of which makes it hard for me to grasp just how frightening the sea was to the landlocked peoples of Israel...At the beginning of the creation story of Genesis, it is the sea that represents chaos and disorder. In the final vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation, there is no more sea....


And in the middle – well, in the middle, Jesus calms the storm.

 

When I was in the Holy Land last month, our time in Galilee featured one day of heavy fog and low cloud, só that the lake disappeared completely – and another of halcyon beauty with blue skies and birdsong. We didn’t see a storm, but having crossed the Lake in a traditional fishing boat, I no longer find it hard to beleive that the right conditions can produce a truly terrifying situation in a matter of minutes.

Easy, then, to sympathise with the disciples, seasoned fishermen who knew the lake well enough to be fully aware of the danger...

Easy too to dismiss the story as deeply irrelevant to this landlocked city of Coventry, where weather of any kind has to be pretty dramatic to have any impact at all.

So please, for a moment, imagine yourself in that small boat beside the disciples....Watch Jesus sleeping peacefully.

Isn't that amazing?

Mountainous waves. Strong men crying out in terror and there is Jesus, fast asleep! totally oblivious to what's going on. Though he may be physically present in the boat, there beside his friends, in every way that counts it seems that he's actually far far away.

 

Does that make you angry – or afraid? Quite probably both!

"Don't you care that we are perishing?"


Within the space of a few hours,  the disciples' world had turned upside-down. They'd been caught up in the adventure of following Jesus, excited by the teaching and healings they had witnessed, looking forward to signs and wonders aplenty, to golden days, green pastures, still waters........

and then, suddenly everything changed... They felt literally swamped,all at sea, absolutely terrified

And so, they woke Jesus up...

Jesus whose deep sleep  in the midst of the turmoil made the disciples feel even more afraid,abandoned,alone.
They woke him up, and you can almost hear them yelling at him in their fear:
'Teacher, don't you care? Don't you care that we're about to die?!'

They'd done everything within their power to weather the storm. They were at the end of the resources; at the end of their tether. They'd learned, as they had walked with Jesus, that he had extraordinary powers and abilities. They'd seen love and  compassion. And here, on what felt like the worst night of their lives, they looked to the person they expected to help them...
and he was fast asleep.
'Don't you care that we're about to die?'

Now, you may never find yourself in a storm at sea – but you will be living a charmed life indeed if you never find yourself asking that question.

It may be an experience of illness or unemployment

It may be the death of someone special

It may be a natural disaster far away, or a train crash in the next town...

But one day, something will happen to shake your sense of security, something that makes you realise just how fragile this life can be, just how precarious the defences we build around ourselves.

 

At that point, as you are buffetted by the wind, drenched by the waves, you may look round and wonder where God has gone.

Was he ever really there?

Is he actually powerless?

Or does he, in fact, not give a tinker's cuss about what you are going through.

 "Don't you care?...”
So many unexpected things come into our lives like storms creating chaos, and confusion... and like the disciples we  feel scared, abandoned, and alone... as if Jesus is asleep at the back of the boat, while we're in turmoil.
And in the same way that the disciples did, we find ourselves almost yelling:
'don't you care Lord?'
and we might add:'are you so indifferent to all this mess, this stress, this pain, that you can sleep right through it?'

And yet, while the disciples felt - and while we might feel abandoned by God's seeming indifference...
we ... are... not.

Not for one moment.
And... it's absolutely in order  to cry out to God - and even to shake a fist at him.  In fact, God invites us to cry out: we're told to ask, to seek, to knock... to pound on the door of heaven.
Though Jesus rebukes the disciples for lack of faith, the very act of crying out demonstrates that somewhere, buried deep, there remains enough faith to know that they - that we - will be heard.

After all, there's no point in attempting a conversation if you don't believe that there is anyone around to listen.
So perhaps the underlying rebuke is more
`Why didn't you ask me first?'..........Why do you turn to me only when all else fails,  when you're certain your own efforts are hopeless?
`Why did you try to do everything you could under your own strength?

Did you really believe you could manage alone?’

 

Because we do that, don't we?

We fool ourselves into believing that the even tenor of our lives reflects our own power...

We don't expect to need God.

Remember the Titanic – the unsinkable ship.

In so many ways our lives today resemble that masterpiece of marine engineering for we are insulated from many of the life and death immediacies of earlier times.

This makes it so easy for us to believe that we too are unsinkable...

WE don't need God...Faith is absolutely fine for those who like that sort of thing, for the simple, the inadequate...the disadvantaged....but we seem to be managing quite nicely thank you, - until the moment when we dont


Then we cry out...
And as we do, we find out that the God who we thought was absent, or asleep, has actually been there with us all along,
right in the midst of the storm,
right there in our boat
right there hearing our cries,
right there feeling our pain...
and even though he knows we're sometimes so very slow to understand just who he is, his love is both abundant and ever-present...

 

It won't always still the storm...but it will give us the security that we long for, the sure knowledge that come what may everything is held in love.

Mother Julian of Norwich had her own experiences of storm and terror.

She was close to death when she experienced her famous “Revelations on Divine Love” - and it that first hand knowledge of human frailty, of the precarious foundations of our worldly security, that gives authority to her words

He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome.'