Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist, Trinity 8, Proper 14 11th August 2019

Do not be afraid little flock. It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

It isn’t supposed to be this way…
That’s a thought that crosses my mind with increasing regularity. I wonder if you feel the same...That things in the world right here and now leave more than a little to be desired.
There’s climate change
There are food banks
There area people mown down in mass shootings, simply because they found themselves in the wrong place when someone deeply unstable decided to exercise the right to bear, and to use, arms…
There are beggars on the streets of our own city – just a few yards away as we gather for worship this morning
There are lonely souls shut up behind closed doors, not knowing if it’s safe to come out, whether they’ll be welcomed or rejected.
There are children – CHILDREN for God’s sake – locked up in detention centres or entrusted to tiny boats crossing a stormy sea (oh yes, THEIR parents desire a better country for sure – they may simply be sadly deluded as to where they will find it)
It’s not an encouraging picture, is it?
Nothing like the world I imagined when growing up, not even the world into which I confidently bore my children.
It’s certainly not the world that we read about in the great kingdom prophecies of Isaiah, in the teaching of Jesus or indeed in any of the aspirational passages of Scripture.
It isn’t supposed to be this way…

So – what are we to do?
Confronted by the pain and disillusion of here and now – how should we respond, as people of faith?
My first reaction, I must admit, owes less to faith than to fear. I want to gather those I love around me and circle the wagons...If the world has all gone wrong, I want to protect them if I can, or at least huddle together as we face the worst. There’s a lot of metaphorical huddling that goes on as we listen to the news day by day – but into this experience of anxiety, fear, even despair, I hear Jesus speaking
Do not be afraid little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”
Do not be afraid!
Really? Why ever not?
Fear seems perfectly rational to me!

But I’m here to preach the gospel and am reminded of some wise advice, that in preaching, the task is always to celebrate what God is doing rather than to struggle with the demands and failures of life here and now.

So – what IS God doing – that might, somehow, be enough to encourage us not to be afraid?

I guess it all depends on where your treasure is. It's far too simple to just focus on material possessions - but nonetheless, if those things that you treasure most are firmly of this world, you may well feel that God’s action is woefully inadequate (and that a bit more human action, based on unconditional love, would not go amiss either). 
But at no point does Jesus promise us a charmed life – quite the reverse, in fact.
In the world you will have troubles, he says….and that’s reassuring, when the troubles come. They may not be welcome – but they don’t indicate that God has somehow lost the plot. Not even for a second.

But, despite the troubles we are not to be afraid because, whether we deserve it or not, it is God’s good pleasure to GIVE US THE KINGDOM.

That’s extraordinary – and transformative, if we can but recognise it.
You see, what we believe about the future absolutely shapes how we live in the present.
We remain conscious of that sense that “it’s not supposed to be this way” - but instead of allowing that to halt us in our tracks, frozen in futility, we affirm that this is not our permanent home, not our eternal destiny.
We desire, with all those Old Testament heroes, a better country...and we press on towards it as best we can...sometimes confident of the terrain, more often stumbling, having no idea where we are heading or how we will get there….simply keeping going in a long obedience to God’s call.
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly”
Keep moving forward faithfully, step by step.

Sometimes, our faith may not bring us all that we hoped for.
We try to trust God, to place in his hands our needs and those of the people we love – but things don’t pan out as we’d expected.
Don’t be afraid little flock.
God’s got this.
Really.
Have faith.

Do not be afraid little flock – you’re aiming for somewhere better.
Somewhere where your heart can find a home, alongside solid joys and lasting treasure
Somewhere worth more than all the possessions you might cling to in the here and now.

So – like that rich farmer constructing giant barns whom we considered last week, we’re invited to reflect on what we value most – what is closest to our hearts. 
And, deep down, we all know that those things which matter most aren’t things at all...though we seem programmed to grasp them with both hands.
Let me tell you a story, the story of a guy whose unlikely lifelong ambition was to use the flying trapeze. To celebrate a significant birthday some friends organised a circus skills day for him– and suddenly, it seemed that this dream might be within reach. He had a wonderful day, learning about high wires and low wires, about tight ropes, slack ropes and safety nets...And finally the moment came when he could, if he chose, finally live his dream.
He found himself swinging in mid air, - another swing heading towards him. This was the moment.
BUT in order to fly, he had to let go of one trapeze, in order to grasp the other.
He HAD TO LET GO and trust.

That’s faith.

That’s the faith that sent Abram away from his roots, wandering in obedience to a promise that was not fulfilled in his lifetime.
That’s the faith that sends us into exile, moving us on beyond a place of comfortable certainties, showing us that, in fact, we never really belonged there...that we are wayfarers heading home
That’s the faith that enables the serious disciple to do as Jesus says – to sell possessions and give alms, trusting that in letting go of one thing, we will be given something else, still more valuable…
Yes. Letting go IS hard.
I know that. You know that.
But – it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom – and his promises won’t fail.

So, don’t fret about the state of the world, but do long for something better...
Do all you can to live into God’s future, making a difference here and now, but don’t despair if your efforts seem hopeless.
Trust that God will bring to pass.

The Welsh priest-poet R S Thomas wrote about God’s kingom – coupling a huge sense of yearning with the certainty that as we desire a better country, that country’s borders are open to all
Listen.

It's a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It's a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf

Sunday, August 04, 2019

An 8.00 reflection on Proper 13C, 4th August 2019 at Coventry

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above...Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth
That sounds like pretty clear advice – and indeed, Paul is a past-master at viewing the world in black and white binary terms...As he addresses the Colossians, he is asking them to draw a firm line between their former selves and their true selves, those selves that are hidden for now, only to be revealed when the Kingdom breaks in in all its fullness.

The only trouble is that, when I look at my own life, that opening “IF” feels like quite a significant word.
Yes – I was baptized as a baby, went through that symbolic drowning of all the old order, the original sin, if you like...and what's more my parents went on to honour the baptism promises, doing everything in their power to help me realise that to be a Christian was to live a different kind of life. And yes, I long to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, strength and to love and serve my neighbour selflessly...And I take the call of God on my life, and the joyful obligations of priesthood very seriously indeed but (oh, goodness, why is there ALWAYS a but?) that IF brings me up short every single time.

IF I have been raised with Christ – then surely my life should look very very different.
If the only evidence there is for a Christ-like transformation is the way that I spend my Sunday mornings and the institution that employs me, then I rather think I'm doing it wrong. Please don't think that I'm fishing for compliments if I say that I don't honestly think there is very much that distinguishes me from my atheist friends, whose lives are every bit as moral, every bit as free from Paul's catalogue of evils as, on a good day, I aspire to be.

So – if my transformed life is buried treasure,hidden with Christ, then sometimes it feels as if it's rather better hidden than I’d like...I find myself asking “Where’s the evidence, Fleming?”

I know myself quite well, by this stage...and I know that often my actions are shaped by anxiety rather than trust...I can all too easily imagine myself delighting in having stored up supplies for a rainy day (in fact, I might as well admit that yes, I do have a Brexit cupboard – though I take some comfort in the fact that my initial motivation was to be sure that I have something in reserve if life gets so bumpy in London that my family need to return home).
I want to feel safe – and to be able to ensure the safety of those whom I love.
But I’m working on it.
I know that while I might not always have enough for all my WANTS I have infinitely more than my basic needs...And that in any case, all those THINGS aren’t actually what matters.

The parable of the rich man with all those barns might well be a parable for 21st century life. For decades we’ve worked on the assumption that more is better – and that there will always BE more...that we can carry on expecting growth in every area...that somehow a money tree WILL grow, that our poor beleagured planet will shake itself and continue to meet all our demands, even as we strip it bare of so many precious resources. Now we are, perhaps, reaching the crunch point – the point when our souls are required of us. Too many of us have done very nicely thank you, at the expense of others…- those in the global south whose lives are being decimated by climate change – those in our city who find themselves turning again and again to the Food Bank as our society seems intent on cutting costs by making life ever harder for those who are already vulnerable…
I may not be alone in recognising a tendency to think “Somebody should DO something to make things better...” without accepting the responsibility to do something myself – right here and right now.
There’s something grotesque about the rich man talking to himself “Soul...relax, eat, drink, be merry” - for the soul is not sustained by anything you might find stored in a barn. Instead the life and health of our souls is found in Christ alone – and the choice is ours...to live into this as the central truth that shapes our lives, or to turn aside, and pin our hopes on the things of here and now.

Let’s pray for the grace to make Kingdom choices and so live that it’s clear for all to see what we really value – Christ, our life.




I

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Evensong sermon Trinity 6 28th July 2019

The story of Joseph and the deeply pessimistic psalm of lament set for this evening might not seem to have much to say to one another.
After all – we all know the story of Joseph AND his amazing technicolour dreamcoat
We are absolutely familiar with the grand finale “Any dream will do” and certain that families will be reunited, past wrongs forgiven and everyone will live happily ever after.
Simple,
This is a feel-good story – one that we enjoy sharing with children

REALLY?

If that’s your thinking may I suggest that you take off your 20/20 hindsight specs and throw yourself deep in the heart of the story...a tale of unexpected and extraordinary gifts (Joseph’s ability both to dream and to interpret the dreams of others)...of family jealousy played out in attempted murder and of the consequences of this shaping the future for a nation. Also the tale of God's covenant with Israel, but we'll come to that later
While it’s nothing like as long nor, actually, as convoluted, this is more Game of Thrones than Rice & Lloyd Webber

So – is this simply another one of those Old Testament stories that make us shuffle uncomfortably when they come round in the lectionary? One of those of which we are tempted to ask “IS this the word of the Lord”
Well – clearly I don’t believe so, or I wouldn’t have chosen to preach on it – but I’m willing to guess that while they were living through it Jacob and his sons did not see their experience as likely to have anything constructive to offer to future generations.

Later in the story, in Genesis 50,  we will hear Joseph tying up all the many many loose ends of the experience as he says to his brothers
“20 As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”
But that’s a long long way in the future
At the moment we’re deep in the mess.
Yes, Joseph is no longer in prison or facing death – indeed his fortunes have taken a dramatic upward course – but family relationships have been stretched to breaking point and beyond.
It has been a long time already since his days of carelessly interpreting dreams to make his brothers feel small...and they have carried the guilt of their hatred towards him through the intervening months and years
Through most of that period it has been Joseph who has bourne the cost

That’s where psalm 88 comes in.
His experience has been very much like those who go down to the pit – and for his griefstricken father, he has indeed been counted among the dead.
This whole journey has been one that has taken him deeper and deeper into the land of lament – and, unlike other psalms of lament,  that take a sudden turn towards optimism half way through,  psalm 88 is one of those that leaves us in the darkness… This is the “Close every door to me” moment that “Joseph” afficionados may remember – but for Joseph, light is on the way.
Though the psalmist remains trapped in darkness and despair, and though Joseph still bears the heavy burden of exile and estrangement, his fortunes have improved.

He cannot yet fully reclaim his name and his identity within the family – but power has unexpectedly arrived in his hands. Not only the power of Pharoah’s minister for food but also the power of one who has knowledge – who recognises his brothers but is not recognised by them...Who ought to be dead but is, incredibly, alive.
God is working his purpose out – but goodness, it does take a long long time.

In this morning’s gospel for the Eucharist we heard Jesus telling his disciples to keep on praying – keep on petitioning – keep on keeping on in their relationship with God no matter how discouraging the silence. After all, though we are creatures negotiating the long slow journey through time, God works from the perspective of eternity – where “all time is eternally present”. So when it seems that God has walked out on us...when we fear that our prayers are just words flung into the darkening silence...we need to remember to take a long view.

The story of Joseph gives us hope.
His struggle for survival is also a struggle for faith. He needs to be able to believe that God has not given up on him – nor, indeed, on his whole complex dysfunctional family.
There’s the Covenant promise made to his great grandfather Abraham – that his descendents should be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore. If they are all going to starve to death, that promise would be null and void – the whole history of God’s chosen people obliterated just like that.
Surely, in sending his sons down to Egypt, Jacob is doing all that he can to honour his part of the bargain…
In the manipulation of the situation to help his brothers learn that actions have consequences, Joseph too is honouring the Covenant…
Perhaps he is already imagining the whole family settled in Egypt, safe from famine – and with relationships restored in a way that also honours his dreams of long ago, realised as his brothers bow before the unknown Egyptian, their victim delivered, their brother made good.

Faith and survival are both achieved by the end of the story – but here, as we wait in the long now, let’s pause to reflect on all those who are immersed in the lament stage of their own journey.

Yes God is at work in even the least promising situation – but knowing this is often absolutely NO help at all – and certainly well meaning Christian claims that everything happens for a reason may be enough to provoke fury when the “everything” is unmanageable and our resources are exhausted.
If that’s where you are now, then can I recommend the psalms.
Their searing honesty from a place of desolation makes them the best prayers for those times when prayer feels impossible and darkness inescapable…
Don’t be afraid to name that darkness
But take comfort, if you will, from the presence of God right where you are – even if that presence is completely intangible in the here and now.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is our God too – and though his ways are beyond our understanding his purposes are always, ALWAYS loving and always faithful to his children...

Trinity 6 sermon for St Peters, Hillfields

Lord, teach us to pray

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after almost 3 years of following Jesus round Galilee that the disciples might have begun to grasp the fundamentals of prayer. It’s not as if it wasn’t part of Jewish practice.
Prayers and blessings are built into the fabric of Judaism – and those same prayers find their place in our worship to this day – but clearly the twelve have noticed that something rather different is going on when Jesus prays.
He hasn’t encouraged them to join him in any particular pattern of words
indeed Jesus doesn’t actually invite others to be with him when he prays at all. He goes off by himself...so perhaps his friends are simply feeling a touch excluded when they ask their leading question. Teach us to pray

They have a model in mind. Why isn’t Jesus more like John in this?
Rabbis of that era were apt to sum up their own particular teachings in a pithy prayer and maybe a law or two – giving their followers a common discipline to unite them, creating a group identity. We don’t know exactly what John taught – though we can assume that it was probably quite ascetic and with a strong emphasis on repentence…
So now the Jesus followers want a prayer programme of their own...

So they asked him to teach them to pray, as John taught his disciples And he said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation."

This version is shorter, more concentrated than the form of words we use week by week, based on the gospel of Matthew...but that’s fine. What we have here is the heart of prayer for Jesus – and thus the heart of prayer for us…It’s a pattern for praying, far more than a set of words...and that pattern is rooted in relationship. it’s not what you say, it’s who you know.

No grandiloquent introductions “Creator supreme and judge of the earth”
Rather there is  intimacy with God right from the start.
Yahweh – the one whose name is too holy to be pronounced at all – becomes suddenly, extraordinarily, approachable.
Jesus calls him Dad – and tells us to do the same.
Go straight to the heart…
“Abba”
Isn’t that amazing!
We’re invited into the relationship that Jesus has with God...a relationship of surpassing intimacy “(I and the Father are one)
Dad

Of course, we know that relationships with our human fathers are sometimes flawed and broken – and if that’s the case for you, then please don’t let it limit your relationship with God.
Let go of unhelpful language – and replace it with love.

Here is the relationship as it should be…and it’s a relationship that exists before we ever turn to God or open our mouths to speak to him...We love because God first loved us - so that we’re qualified, by God’s grace, to speak the unspeakable.

When we pray like Jesus,  we are not simply firing off set formulae in expectation of speedy results that exactly match our desires…
We are not feeding our petitions into some sort of mysterious slot machine…
We are not dialing 999 so that God can send the rescue we require
We are responding to an invitation to friendship with one who loves us beyond all our imaginings

OUR Father – says St Matthew – and the Church too. Because we need the reminder that this is not an individualist’s prayer, but rather a prayer for the whole body of Christ.
It’s a prayer to be spoken in and for community…
I know that sometimes corporate prayer can fall short of the ideal. To pray in community does not mean that it’s OK to gallop through familiar words by rote...side by side with our neighbours…
I confess I do that sometimes...conscious at the start of the prayer and at its end, but wandering off in my thoughts to plan the week’s shopping or day dream about an much longed for holiday so that it’s a shock when I hear the concluding “Amen”.
PLEASE try not to do that with these precious, weighty yet intimate words
Write them on your hearts, by all means
Absorb them into the very depths of your being, absolutely – so that they can resource you daily – and at the hour of your death.
But pray them consciously.
NOTICE what you are saying…

This is not a prayer about me and my needs, me and MY Kingdom.

OUR Father.

And we aren’t invited to decide who is included or not in that description…this prayer is for everyone…whatever their wants, whatever their needs. It is a prayer that seeks for the whole of creation to be restored as God is honoured in everything...Thy Kingdom come – with justice and truth, peace and righteousness

This prayer means business! It’s vast in its scope...but nonetheless private and intimate, inviting each one of us to trust God for our daily needs.
Bread for today, please lord. Just as you provided manna in the wilderness. Enough for one day only but not to be stored.

Do you find that as hard as I do? I’d love to ask for the certainty that would be represented by a freezer full of all that I might imagine my family could ever need...but that would be to miss the point.
This is about trust – but trust in a God of abundance.
Enough for today.

God’s forgiveness of us spilling over into our forgiveness of others…
God safeguarding us through times of trial

And so it goes on – this wonderful foray into relationship with God -
and Jesus invites US to go on as well – to keep praying – to keep stepping into that place of intimacy  no matter what seems to be happening.
Keep calm and carry on praying -  whether we feel that our words are hitting the spot or bouncing off to land ineffectively at our feet.
Keep on asking.
Keep on knocking
Persistence will be rewarded, I promise.
Even if it feels as if you’re being offered snakes and scorpions (and the news this past week might make many people feel that this is exactly what is on the menu)
Nonetheless - stick with it.


Because – you see – what God is offering you is more than anything you could actually expect or deserve
God is offering you GOD’s OWN SPIRIT.
The Spirit that enables us to cry “Abba, Father”...the Spirit who fills every breath of Jesus’s prayer….the Spirit that will give life to the people of God
If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children – how much more will God give the Holy Spirit...

The disciples were asking the wrong question of Jesus.
They wanted to be traught to pray as John’s disciples prayed
Instead they found themselves introduced to the amazing reality of their identity as co-heirs with Christ
So Lord – teach US to pray
Teach US to want that relationship above all else
Give US the Holy Spirit that we might live our days transformed by your love and power at work in us for the world.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

An extra Special week: thought for the day, BBC Cov & Warwickshire, 14/ 7/19

What do you get when you bring two Coventry icons together?
A week of hope and joy it seems – as every evening from Tuesday to Friday our “outdoor Cathedral”, was packed to its missing rafters with happy people enjoying The Specials, back on their home turf after too many years away.

I have to admit that I was the sort of girl who only enjoyed classical music bacl in the day, so I missed out on the band first time around, and was curious to discover what it was that made friends of all ages and backgrounds quite so excited about their return to Cov. 

When I saw photos from the first night, it all made sense.

Behind the band on stage were the kind of placards I’d be proud to carry in any march against injustice
“Think! Vote! Right wrong! Help Someone!” they proclaimed – and then, intriguingly,
"Non Judgement Day is coming…"
I loved that, because of course immediately BEHIND those placards in the ruins are two words present 24/7 for anyone to see.
“Father forgive” they say.
an invitation to resist judging or “othering” anyone…
A declaration that we all mess up, but can all make a difference for good in the world too…
A reminder that sometimes it’s harder for us to do that on our own – which is where God comes in, offering inclusive love no matter what.

I’m not sure what Provost Howard, who had those words written on the wall in 1940, would have made of the actual music The Specials perform….but I’m certain he’d have been absolutely in favour of their ethos.
Listen:

Just because you're a black boy
Just because you're a white
It doesn't mean you've got to hate him
It doesn't mean you've got to fight

There we have the essence of reconciliation work in just 4 lines...as we celebrate difference and learn to live with diversity.
And, what’s more, the band walk the talk.
A lovely twitter exchange saw Horace Panter encouraging fans to treat any protesters with kindness and respect, agreeing with my tweet that we wanted everyone to feel heard – and then quoting my own favourite maxim right back at me  “I’d rather be kind than right”.

"Amen to that", say I.
As The Specials performed, a door opened on to hope and peace – right here at the heart of the city.
“We need to stop the hatred and division and talk to one another with respect, even if we don’t agree” said Lynval Golding...I still don’t really get the music, but in terms of our philosophy we’re definitely singing from the same hymn sheet.
What a great week!

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.