Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fish out of Water a sermon for Evensong at Coventry Cathedral, 1st October 2017

This week, I spent 3 days in the great city of Liverpool with 156 clergy colleagues, enjoying the first Coventry Clergy conference since 1967. I’m glad that I didn’t know that in advance. I was part of the organising group and the pressure to provide something that would be valuable to all, regardless of their theology or stage of ministry was quite sufficient as it was….I can’t bear to think how the group would have felt if we’d known that the last time the college of clergy got together like that was 50 years ago.
With that kind of lead time, how on earth could we have hoped to avoid disappointing almost everyone?

Fortunately, though, we were only told that it was 15 years since the last diocesan conference (which had included a wider group of people) and then left to prepare a programme that reflected the unlikely theme “Fish out of Water”.
Usually, of course, that phrase produces pictures of a gasping fish, close to death as it is taken from its natural element...and on a bad day, I guess clergy can sometimes feel a bit like that...After all, many of us were trained and equipped to serve a Church and a world that no longer seems to exist…we might have felt called to one style of ministry, only to find ourselves stepping up to do something quite different, without knowing for sure how that might fit into the over-arching call to serve God’s Church for the sake of the Kingdom.
Spending time away with others who share that same experience can be incredibly valuable – specially for those working on their own in a parish, where it can sometimes feel as if nobody understands what your priesthood is really all about.

That, though, was not the thinking behind the conference title. Instead it reflected a proverb, new to me when we began planning 2 years ago “If you want to understand water, don’t ask a fish”. In other words, don’t expect to really see things which are very close to’ll take them for granted, brush up against them so regularly that you make allowance for their presence unthinkingly, stop noticing them altogether. If you want to actually examine something carefully, you’ll probably need to step back to get a better perspective – and our conference aimed to provide that opportunity. Liverpool is not Coventry. It’s similar – a multicultural city which saw considerable war-time damage...A city with not one but two new cathedrals...A city that has seen great changes, with one industry vanishing and a new reality invented as the home of 2 universities. We saw all this, registered the similarities and spent time wondering what we could learn from them...whether the Liverpool approach gave us confidence in our own responses to the challenges and opportunities of our context. Taken out of the water of our daily lives we were able to learn more about them.

But the context of ministry, and that of faith, is always more than the external surroundings, or even the way that our inner lives are shaped by them. For each one of us, our core element is our life in Christ – the one “in whom we live and move and have our being”….That is the substance of our 2nd reading tonight, - the categorical assurance that Christ and the Father are one, that to have seen Jesus is to have seen God…

I wonder...I wonder what that means for you...Here in this Cathedral where our view of Jesus is so shaped and conditioned by the great tapestry behind me of Christ in glory...
Does that speak to you...? There are other images too...of the crucified one hanging on the cross, in the lower part of that same tapestry, which you can only see from the Lady Chapel...or the vulnerable baby clasped in his mother's arms in the Stalingrad Madonna found in the Millennium Chapel....or the head crowned with thorns, the "Car Crash Christ" on the way into the Chapel of Unity.
Which speaks to you?
You don't have to choose, actually. It's not either/or. All aspects are always and eternally part of who Christ is - and thus of who GOD is. Suffering and glorified....vulnerable, helpless but saving the world...
Jesus....showing us God.
everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also.
That’s it, pure and simple.
An antidote to dodgy theology and confusing interpretation.
A test of orthodoxy and a reassurance in the face of life’s storms.

In the latter years of the twentieth century, David Jenkins, then Bishop of Durham, attacted much controversy and condemnation for some honest exploration of the details of faith – but once the media hype had settled what was left was his own personal creed
God is. God is as God is in Jesus. Therefore there is hope”
He added, sometimes “You can’t keep a good God down. Even the CHURCH can’t keep a good God down”….and God – well, God is as he is in Jesus.
To me, that sounds like the ultimate in orthodox teaching. God shown to us in the life and teaching, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God both promising and demonstrating to us that nothing can stand in the way of self-giving love, that always, non-negotiably, love wins...that at the heart of everything, before everything and after everything has ceased to be, we can depend on God’s love

If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.

Abide in him….for HE is our natural element...the only place to stay if we are to really flourish…
A fish out of water needs to be returned to water pretty swiftly, really...but if time outside helps us to see what our environment is really all about, then it has to be worthwhile.

One night last week we were offered the almost inevitable after-dinner quiz - which featured a round of acronyms. Sadly, it did not include one of my favourites...KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Keep it simple...God is as he is in Jesus. Therefore there is hope.

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

Thank you for an early morning dose of God is Jesus - just what I needed as I ponder on our Concert of favourite hymns last evening in our Parish Church.

The Choir performed 37 hymns chosen by the congregation to great applause and congregational singing as we joined them in their performance.

As the words of familiar and not so familiar hymns passed through my lips, I shivered as worship, so glorious raised my expectations and imagination of Jesus among us, singing to the Glory of God. I already knew that Choral singing was a vivid expression of our mutual faith and community, joined in worship of God, but this concert was an expression of love, that really got to me.

Praise be to God for those moments that he gives us his presence as a gift and through his Son as an example for us all - his followers.