Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday Evensong: John 3:16

If you had to sum up the Christian faith in a single verse of Scripture I wonder what that verse might be. Have a think, and do tell me afterwards. I’d really like to know.     I guess that many of us would want to plump for something that gave us a reminder of God's  love...for that, surely, is at the root of pretty much everything that the Church proclaims, struggle though we may, in our human frailty, to make that love clearly known. When I was a teenager, I had a phase of frankly alarming evangelical zeal, which manifested itself in a desire to place stickers with cheery Bible texts all over my home town, reflecting this basic message. I don’t recommend this as a way of achieving anything much, except possibly a police reprimand for defacing public property – but for a while that summer most of the lamp-posts between my home and the school bus stop were decorated with smiley faces and the reminder “Smile, Jesus loves you”. Other stickers assumed a degree of familiarity with the Bible that in retrospect seems very optimistic – for they proclaimed quite simply John 3:16 – without any further explanation at all.
Nonetheless, there IS something about that verse. Gathering my thoughts as I prepared for this sermon, I remembered a moment early in my ministry as a deacon, when this passage came up in the morning lectionary Still new to the context, and rather weighed down by the formality that characterized the Parish Mass, I was well into the story of Nicodemus from John 3 when I realised that the reading continued over the page from the words I could see in front of me. In fact, they continued all the way to verse 16. To stand there in the midst of God's people and speak those words aloud was, suddenly, the most mind-blowing privilege..The words were so real that they almost burned on the page and I was allowed, even expected, to share them with others. It seemed to me then that perhaps sharing those words was the most important task of ministry, that everything we do and everything we say as ministers of word and sacrament is in some way or other a translation of this text – into other words, into symbolic action, into a whole way of life…
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not die but have everlasting life."
Today is Trinity Sunday. WE’ve just heard a wonderful Collect intoned, which may well have given you a deep sense of mystery but not much of a clue as to how that mystery might be solved. Listen to it again
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee, that thou wouldest keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
WE are asking God to keep us steadfast, anchored deeply in this faith – but I suspect that if any one of us was backed into a corner and asked to explain exactly what this faith was, we wouldn’t choose to express it in terms of trinity OR unity. The doctrine of the Trinity, however many knots it may tie us into, is fundamentally an attempt to describe our human experience of God’s love. One theologian, Catherine Mowry La Cugna, puts it like this:
 "The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately therefore a teaching not about the
abstract nature of God but a teaching about God's life with us and our life with each other. Trinitarian theology could be described as ...a theology of
relationship, which explores the mysteries of love, relationship, personhood and communion within the framework of God's self-revelation in the person of Christ and the activity of the Spirit."

In other words – God is love…Jesus reveals this…The Spirit enables us to share it…
or if you prefer “God so loved the world...”
We do get ourselves entangled when we try to sum all this up in an intellectual proposition – and that’s really not surprising. After all, we are exploring nothing less than the ground of our being, the one in whom all things hold together
This is not a mystery to be solved, in the grand tradition of Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple...but one to inhabit.
It’s all there in John 3:16
God so loves..not the good, not the chosen, not the Church – but the WORLD
The world which God made and saw was very good – the world whose beauty and potential still shines through for all our best efforts to obscure it. Sometimes its as simple and as impossible as asking God to lend us God’s eyes – so that we can really SEE and learn to love God’s creation.
God so loved the world...
But God does not love passively...that love finds its expression in action, in the sending of God’s Son...God’s self-revelation, - God showing us what God’s love looks like when translated into a human life completely and utterly shaped and informed by the presiding action of the Spirit.
Jesus is the complete and flawless expression of God’s love in human form…
We glimpse this perfection and are drawn into relationship by a love that we cannot resist
“He sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him should not perish...”
We are made for this. This is our place of safety...the place where we will not, cannot be touched by the tangle of our faults and fears, the loud voice of our own insecurity and its equal opponent, our pride…

You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless til they find their rest in you…

Believing in Jesus is absolutely nothing to do with head-knowledge...with intellectual assent to the fact of his existence (in the way that we might believe historical or scientific truths that we don’t know from first hand experience). It is, rather, to do with where we put our trust...where our hearts find rest and lodging. In practice it means believing that self-giving love is at the heart of everything...and that this love is the strongest power there is, bringing joy out of grief and life out of death.

It means, too, LIVING this out as our core belief.
Not settling for anything less, - no matter how eloquently it may be expressed
What might that mean for you? How might it translate into your daily life?

Hold these words and ponder them in your heart…
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life…
Amen.
Let it be so.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sermon for Pentecost and Pride

Pentecost and Pride – Coventry Cathedral 2019
Acts 2, John 14
When the day of Pentecost had come the people of Coventry Cathedral were all gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire space where they were gathered and……
How did you feel as you heard those words?
What would that sort of dramatic outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit actually mean for us here?
Do you honestly believe it could happen?
Every year as we approach Pentecost, I’m conscious that I’m being pulled in two directions.
On the one hand, I feel safe within the familiarity of  Anglican liturgy. I come expecting to find God (in this community) amid the blend of Word and Sacrament, of beautiful music and well chosen words and I am seldom disappointed. I’m Anglican by choice as well as by chance, and I do value worship which is conducted “decently and in order”, no matter what those of you who’ve seen my last-minute dash in to Morning Prayer might assume…so imagining the sort of radical transformation that the Holy Spirit might bring to us is, on one level, more than a little alarming.
But on the other, I have experienced the joy of worship transformed and lives brimming over with radical love – the gift that I find in charismatic worship, particularl in the community that gathers each year for the On Fire conference. I know for myself how it can be when you are so filled with the Spirit that you know for a fact that there’s nothing in creation that can’t be changed by God’s power.
And surely, looking at the diverse challenges that face both church and society today not one Christian believer could fail to pray for the transforming power that enabled a group of fearful uneducated men to take on the world for Christ?
So, while I value what we have I know that we so often settle for less than our primary calling – to BE the church – a sign of God's kingdom, a powerful agent of transformation in a broken world...And I know that we will continue to fail, without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit – in our lives, in our city, at this time.
So, I want radical change – but I’d like to keep some things the same. You see my dilemma – and I suspect that this is simply par for the course. We all know that encounters with God wont leave us untouched – and sometimes the changes and challenges ahead seem too huge to contemplate.
The good news is - I rather suspect the disciples felt the same. When the Acts reading begins, they are gathered together, waiting. Though Luke doesn’t say so, it’s quite possible that they are actually gathered together in the upper room, their unofficial Jerusalem HQ. This is holy ground for them, the place where they’d celebrated the Passover with Jesus, and hidden when the Lord was arrested and crucified. It was the place they had huddled in the fear and grief of Holy Saturday and the place where they heard the first rumours of resurrection. There they had encountered the risen one who came among them despite barred doors, there they had regrouped when he went from them, there they had watched and prayed for his promise to be fulfilled.  Holy ground indeed,the place where they felt themselves to be a community, still united despite the departure of their Lord.
Yes, they were a community in waiting, uncertain about their next step, but a community gathered in faith and hope nonetheless.
Does that sound like is? I really hope it does!
Of course, they were also a community under threat.
Outside the house, the streets were thronged with people once again – just as they had been at Passover…some sort of festival going on...different voices, strange sounds, hints of unfamiliar ways of living right there on their doorstep. Perhaps the disciples defined themselves as if set against the crowd outside. They were the ones with the special knowledge and experience of God, though the crowds were the ones with the courage and freedom to move about the city.
We don't really know, but we DO know that with the coming of the Spirit, everything changed.
Hiding no longer, they went gladly out from their place of safety, out to speak to the crowds, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for a message that just had to be delivered. They were caught up in the excited turmoil, which was so pervasive that it seemed to onlookers that this was a scene of drunken revelry.
Rather alarming, I think?
But alarming or not, it worked. This wasn’t simply a particularly raucous worship service from which everyone went home scratching their heads, thankful to get back to normal.
Lives were changed.
People heard the Gospel and responded to it. They recognised the authentic presence of God in those men and were stopped in their tracks.
For the disciples, the coming of the Spirit meant that they had to let go of the securities of their holy place and go out into the streets, among the crowds
The Spirit made that venture possible…and in doing so, opened up Salvation to the whole world.
Wonderful, inspirational....but perhaps a bit too far away from our expectations here this morning.
But, you know, Pentecost was not a once only event...The Spirit has been active throughout history, moving over the face of the waters at creation, transforming Ezekiel's dry bones, descending like a dove upon Jesus at his baptism.
And the Holy Spirit has not vanished from the world, not even from the Church!
At that first Pentecost, God reached out to communicate directly with everyone.
And God still does, though not always, of course, in the mighty rushing wind, the multilingual gifts and high excitement of the day of Pentecost.

We have to do the same.
Filled with God's life-breath, Inspired as God's church, this is our calling.
Knowing that God so loved not church alone but the whole world, we are to reach out to her in all her pain and brokenness and speak God's words of healing and forgiveness.
Knowing that our language may not be adequate, we are to listen to God and allow the Holy Spirit to translate so that we may more fully communicate God's love.
We speak so many different languages – of mind and heart and spirit – culture and community – yet all must hear the Gospel.
There is no official language for God rather God comes down and speaks our language, whatever it may be.
And God’s language is always, incontravertably, the language of love.
Sometimes the Church fails to make that as clear as she should. Sometimes all that outsiders can hear is our in-fighting...or self-protection...or judgementalism. Please hear me when I say that I do not believe that THIS is the message God has left us to share with the world.
We are treading on dangerous ground if what we do is at odds with what we aspire to preach.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments…the commandment to love God with our whole being – and the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Love, love, LOVE
Love unconditionally, love without judging, love without fear...What have you got to lose?
Love so that God's one supreme message of love is translated for everyone you meet to understand.
Today, the Church's birthday, we should not celebrate a monochrome church, full of people just like us. God’s love is broader, wider, deeper than we can ever imagine so  let us rejoice in the diversity of God’s people,  within and beyond our doors, and  reach out to share good news with them. Here at Coventry Cathedral this is easy for us – as our values include “Hospitality of people and ideas” and our CCN priorities, “learning to live with difference to celebrate diversity” - but that mission is not limited to us alone. It’s the calling of the whole Church – to make God’s love in Christ known to everyone we meet.
Our good news is rooted and grounded, wholly and eternally, in the love of God, from which nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us. So, let us make that love our language today, tomorrow and always
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created,   And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

When the angel departed....a thought for the day for BBC Cov & Warwickshire

There’s a patch of bare earth in front of the cathedral – and a real sense that something is missing
For 8 weeks the Knife Angel occupied that spot, within sight of old and new cathedrals – and it turned out to be a really fertile ground to plant seeds of hope.
Every day for those 8 weeks we gathered close by at noon and shared the Cathedral’s Litany of Reconciliation – our trademark prayer with its two-word refrain “Father forgive” -  and followed this with a declaration of hope that invited people of all faiths and none to commit to better choices, to putting down knives and building community instead.
Over the weeks, in sunshine and rain, several thousand people must have stood to make that commitment – with its confident conclusion.
“we will each play our part – we will not be afraid – today we choose to believe in hope”.

Now, though, the angel has moved on. That’s what angels do. Right through the Bible, angels are sent as messengers from God to alert us to important things.
They usually begin with reassurance
“Do not be afraid”...and that’s good to hear if you’re confronted by a shining stranger who has apparently come from nowhere – even if he is not 27 feet high and made of knives.
But though we don’t need to be afraid, we CAN expect changes.
Angels disrupt the everyday order of life.
Think of Gabriel, telling Mary she’s going to become a single mum
Of a whole angelic choir telling some weary shepherds to leave their sheep and go and look for a baby
Of two telling some weeping women that Jesus, whom they had seen dead and buried, was no longer in the tomb but risen and alive for all time.
Angels alert us to big changes, and are always surprising. The Knife Angel has been no exception.

He’s stopped us in our tracks, gathering crowds around him at almost any hour of the day  – but his greeting was not so much “Do not be afraid” as “Beware...Things could get out of hand here – in this city and beyond but you do have a choice”….
So many people chalked their responses on the stones around or wrote commitments in the Cathedral’s Book of Hope...but now it’s time to put those words into action.
Without the angel there to inspire us, can we really commit to building a united, peaceful city?
We’ve done it in the past. Back in 1940 I’m sure the decision to commit to peace and reconciliation did not win Provost Howard many friends in a city that was wounded and grieving– but that decision, followed through by practical demonstrations of friendship to those who had once been our enemies, was the beginning of putting Coventry on the map as a city determined to use the pain of the past to build peace for the future.

That’s why the knife Angel seemed so much at home here – and, though it’s rather fanciful, I Liked to imagine him chatting quietly to our own guardian, Michael the Archangel, after dark when the crowds had gone home.

What it is that makes a city of peace? they might have pondered…
How can fragile seeds of hope be protected?
Can we help the people of this city to look into the faces of those who might be enemies, and see their own hopes and fears reflected there?

Angels never do the work for us – they just point out when we might need to take a new direction...but though the Knife Angel has gone on his way,
St Michael is still here, watching over cathedral and city alike, reminding us that the story of Coventry today is written by you and me as we make our choices.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A tale of rwo vineyards

I’m not a very assiduous gardener. I enjoy a bit of gentle pottering but confronted by the account of Isaiah’s vineyard, I’m instantly looking for a get-out clause.
Surely there’s way too much time and effort being lavished on that vineyard….
Why on earth doesn’t the vintner cut his losses and look elsewhere.

Except, of course, that we would be in real trouble, you and I, if he did…

Because this story is our story...and the story of generations of God’s people….

Listen again.

My beloved had a vineyard, prepared the ground, tended the soil, planted the choicest Vine, the Vine he had brought specially from Egypt...a people to be God's own, and to model God's way of living for all the world to see. Yet this hand - picked people had let God down. For all the care lavished on them, they could not, would not be fruitful. Instead of an abundant harvest of fine grapes to share, they were producing only the tiny, bitter inedible wild grapes..fruit to pucker your mouth and set your teeth on edge.
What more was there to do?..an question taken up across the centuries by the prophet Micah , before finding its place in the heart-rending agonising grief of the Good Friday reproaches. How could God love us more? Give us more of God's self?
"O my people. What have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me..."
For Isaiah, here and now is the moment of truth.
Looking at the vineyard, God finds no fruit, no justice, no righteousness on this Vine that is God's people, Israel. To be this Vine means to receive God's special care, God's loving nurture...but it means, too, to come under God's judgement.
And there is nothing to show him. No harvest at all.
"He expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness but heard a cry."
A well tended vineyard, with not a single grape. It was a theme that was to become heartbreakingly familiar.
So God spoke through the prophets again and again..the story of God's care and our neglect, God's cherishing and our indifference. As Jesus spoke to that mixed crowd in the Temple, where priests,scribes and elders mingled with disciples and the curious bystanders, everyone present knew that the vineyard parable was about them, about God's people, the Jewish nation. They knew too that the rejected messengers were those prophets who had tried, again and again, to call God's people back to themselves...and to their core relationship with God. Had tried to no avail.
But what next?
A Son and heir. Now we are onto unfamiliar ground...we enter a new chapter. A Son???.
Who knows if the tenants in the parable actually had anything worth offering their landlord. Maybe, rather than cheating him of his profits, they were simply trying to hide their own fruitlessness. They knew his hopes and expectations, but knew too their own complete failure.They had nothing to offer, no matter how many messengers, prophets, sons were sent. Israel, called to be a light to the nations, a people shaped each moment by God's law of love, had become instead a people bound and defined by other laws, a people intent on protecting themselves not for the sake of the fruit they might give to the world but for their own security, hanging on for dear life to an identity that had lost its purpose.
This is not just bad discipleship but bad viniculture too. An American nun, Sr Judith Sutera OSB, who is also a master Vine dresser, writes thus
"Good vines require cutting and more cutting. A mile of runners won't give you one more grape, so get rid of the branches that don't bear fruit. Do you want to keep everything? Then expect nothing. Cut and then cut some more."

It seems that this is the point we have reached, that even God has run out of patience, that the guardians of fruitless tradition have signed their own death warrant. We have reached the end of the story of Israel the Vine, but now God begins a new project, replacing the Temple whose core purpose has been lost with one where the rejected Jesus becomes the missing piece, the corner stone to comlete the whole building. Now he becomes the template, against which we will all be measured...

Does that sound terrifying...something beyond our highest dearest aspiration? Are you, like me, left scrabbling for good news in the dirt of a vineyard that seems to be so much less fruitful than you'd hoped?

Then remember that Jesus also said I AM the Vine...not simply the one in whom God's fullest intention for Israel is made good, but the one whose runners stretch even into those places of least fruitfulness, the one who is inextricably involved with our barren hopes, our wasted efforts, our inertia, greed and fear. Jesus the Vine is connected with us in those places where we are furthest from God's will and God's pleasure...Indeed he is here scrabbling with us in the dirt as we look desperately for some harvest worthy of the name.


Today Holy Week begins and as we walk again the way of the Cross, it is to discover for ourselves that the whole story of humanity, of God's love and our intransigence is focussed on the person of Christ as he moves towards Calvary. If we follow him closely, the sorrow and love that drops from the crucified one will transform our barren vineyards, softening our hard ground and harder hearts til we are fully human once more. A shoot shall spring up from the stump of Jesse...the Vine shall be renewed, its branches reaching everywhere, to bear fruits of righteousness for there is nowhere beyond the reach of that self giving love.

From Coventry to Notre Dame, a prayer


God, the source and inspiration of all that is good and lovely in our world,

Today we grieve with the people of Paris,

Mourning the brokenness and hurt to such great beauty.

We believe that your everlasting arms hold all things steady.

Help us to hold fast to that hope and to trust that with you

Nothing is lost or wasted, but everything transformed and made new.

Help us to glimpse, in this cathedral ruined and rebuilt, the truth that  beyond the dark of Good Friday the promise of the new dawn of Resurrection always shines,

And to trust this for ourselves, and for the world, through Christ, our sure foundation and our Saviour.




Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mothering - not just for mothers. Thought for the Day for BBC Cov & Warwickshire

Good morning – and happy Mothers’ Day to you...or is it actually Mothering Sunday.

 And does it matter anyway?

I think it does.

Mother’s Day is all about giving thanks to and for our mums – and that can be a wonderful thing. I remember once working with a class of primary school children on list of all the things they’d like to say thankyou for.
Some were predictable – Thanks mum for giving me cuddles, for cooking me pizza, for washing my football kit.
Some were hard to hear  (from a refugee child)“ Thanks for bringing me to England to keep me safe”
Some were in a class of their own.
I’m really glad that my children never needed to thank ME for defrosting the mice for a pet snake. I love my children more than life itself – but honestly, I don’t think I could do that!

Anyway – Mothers’ Day is all about celebrating that kind of thing and a whole lot more besides. It’s the stuff of tv ads and happily sentimental cards – and that’s great – except when it isn’t.
I always used to feel uncomfortable, when I my children were small, because I never matched up to those perfect tv mums...but actually I had it easy. Mothers’ Day is a really tough time if your own mum has died, or your relationship is broken, if you long to hug and hold your children but they’re living far away, if you’ve longed to be a mum but it just hasn’t happened, or if you’re the parent of a child who has died too soon. Many years ago I suffered a misscarriage just days before Mothers’ Day and it felt as if the whole world was intent on making me even more conscious of my loss.

So – I’m not very keen on Mothers’ Day. I think it carries too much potential for accidental hurt.

Mothering Sunday, though, is quite different! It’s all about the verb. Mothering: the work of nurturing,supporting and encouraging, of being there when you’re needed, of going the extra mile and sharing one other’s burdens.                               That kind of practical love has never been limited to those who have given birth: the year that I broke my arm, on Mothering Sunday I told my church that I’d received the BEST mothering ever from my teenage son.
So yes, of course we can give thanks for those who laboured to bring us into the world – but let’s remember too that we belong to a wider community than simply our biological family and let’s each one of us try to pass on that kind of practical love which is part of being human. At its best you see, that mothering love reflects the love of the God who is a loving parent to us all, no matter what. And that really is something to celebrate.  

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.