Friday, December 01, 2017

Coventry - a place I love.

Dear DCMS,
I know that today you're being inundated with pictures and tags about this remarkable city. Here are some thoughts that have been brewing gently over 4 years now. Enjoy reading them - and reflecting on our city. We love it - and it is making an extraordinary journey from despondency to joy. You have the power to help us on the way to transformation...that's really special. I hope you'll fall in love with Coventry too 

Home for now. 
A phoenix city that has reinvented itself repeatedly through history - from weaving and dyeing, to ribbons, sewing machines, bicycles, cars...and latterly, students.
A city that, not long ago, seemed to have run out of energy and resources, losing its self-belief and with it, the ability to dream.
A city that people don't visit.
A city that defines itself over and against its neighbours
"Well, of course, we're not Birmingham!"

Four years ago, my experience of Advent was unlike other years. It was, more than ever, a time of preparation, but this year as well as all the busyness of parish life, the comings and goings of schools and community groups, the 24/7 carolling, I was also preparing, beneath the surface, to be interviewed for the post I now hold. At that point, I knew little of Coventry, though in common with many thousands of others I had visited with my parents in the 1960s, had reportedly sat myself firmly on the floor by the West Screens and said, with some indignation, "You never told me that God was so BIG".
As part of the interview I was asked to give a presentation about creating a reconciled and reconciling people - and instinct suggested to me, even then, that the Cathedral itself might need to seek reconciliation with its city. This is what i wrote then...

The Cathedral stands as living symbol of resurrection and healing through brokenness....and can offer a safe space to gather and hold individual and community stories, tales of a city destroyed, reborn, and travelling onward. Sometimes those stories will seem to point to differences that cannot be resolved, divisions almost beyond healing.
For all the joy and pride in the new Cathedral, the loss of its predecessor was a real blow for the city. The night of the blitz left scars even as the whole shape of the city was redrawn. Writing of the post-war redevelopment of Ladywood, not so very far away, the parish priest of St John's pointed out ““The heart of our community was destroyed. A living, corporate personality was crushed by the bulldozers” - and the impact was significant and lasting, for all the obvious local improvements. 
Similarly here the building that had evolved over generations to be a theatre of memory where the story of Jesus and the story of the city came together was replaced by an award-winning project not welcomed by all.
If stories were lost, or voices stifled, perhaps now is the time to hear them.

Perhaps too the remarkable ministry of international reconciliation you now represent, created a distance between the Cathedral and the city?  Do we need reconciliation at home as well as further afield?

I think I was onto something then - but I believe that  things are different now. 
Yes, for many our Cathedral is still defined above all by a moment in history and the challenging decision of Provost Howard, the morning after the night before, to write just two words on the wall of his ruined Cathedral's sanctuary. "Father forgive", he said, and in that moment plotted our course from then on, as a place where we don't talk of "them" and "us"....where we recognise that both destructive and creative habits lie within all of us...where we understand that whatever is happening in the world, the responsibility is shared. in choosing reconciliation over retribution, he established our DNA - but that has led us to places and encounters that I imagine he could not have dreamed of.

Our reconciliation story is as powerful now as it ever was, and we continue to lean on the power of the past to build peace for the future....but there is more afoot. 
With a culture of openness and welcome that tries to reflect God's unconditional welcome of each one of us, with a programme of worship and events that is wide-ranging and sometimes challenging, with strong friendships with our neighbours at the University next door and the leaders of the city across faith, cultural and political divides, we are doing all that we can to be a space for all. I love the city and the Cathedral's place in it and look forward to working with our neighbours and partners to nurture the seeds of hope til they flourish and grow to make our city beautiful again.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bible Sunday: an extraordinary gift

Today is Bible Sunday…when we are invited to focus afresh on the gift that is Scripture. And there’s a particular power in celebrating that gift today, Reformation Sunday, when we look back 500 years at the moment when an obscure German monk and academic began something that was to shake the world, as he nailed a document to the door of a small German church.
At the time, nobody could have foreseen what would follow, but the reverberations of Martin Luther’s hammer were to be felt across the Church, and across the world. The Protestant Reformation altered nations, shaped politics, provoked wars, and led to innovations in science, industry, economics, and medicine. It gave us Bach chorales and the Protestant work ethic, but so much more, the Reformation provided a much-needed corrective to a Church that had lost its way amid its own excesses, and, by placing the Bible in the hands of anyone who wanted to read it, gave ordinary baptized Christians the responsibility for their own faith.
Sola Scriptura was the cry then– Scripture alone. This was to be the single authority from which Christians were to work out their own salvation, in fear and trembling. They were no longer to outsource their theology to priestly experts, but to read God’s word for themselves...and to allow it to change them.
Of course, this gift was not the only outcome of the Reformation...As in most revolutions, people got hurt. Feelings ran so high that hundreds died, acclaimed as martyrs by one faction or the other, and the enmity between Protestants and Catholics endured for centuries. Today, though, there is repentence on both sides. “We have to say that breaking up the western church was not a gift to the church," says the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  while one American RC bishop announced "Catholics should do penance for setting the stage for the [division],"
And what about us, as members of the church of England, both Catholic and Reformed. We remain rooted in the traditions of the Fathers, our ordained ministry linking us in a chain that leads back to the moment when Jesus said to Cephas “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” - and yet celebrate the priesthood of all believers and welcome all comers to explore Scripture for themselves, to hear God speaking to them in words that are both ancient and absolutely contemporary. At its best, Anglicanism might seem to be one of the most positive fruits of the Reformation, founded on tradition AND Scripture, on reason AND experience.
Which brings us to M, who will be baptized into God’s Church in just a little while. This is her heritage...not just the blood of the martyrs and the passionate lifelong search for God’s truth but the gift of Scripture itself, to guide her on life’s journey...
But hold on. What kind of gift is this? On a bad day, some might see the Bible as rather a white elephant, an outmoded piece of cultural and social history that shackles Christians so that they are unable to move forward to encounter God in the world today. Of course, that’s not my view, though I do worry that too often well-meaning Christians fall into the trap of asking the Bible to be something it really is not...and that can be decidedly unhelpful. The Bible is a GUIDE but not a detailed instruction manual. There’s work for us to do as we relate to it, and we must never, in reading it, suspend our common sense, leave our brains packed neatly in tissue paper and expect the Bible to make all our decisions for us. That way lies the sad tale of the apocryphal Christian who, seeking guidance,closed his eyes,opened his Bible, and let his finger land at random on the page…only to read
Judas went and hanged himself”, followed closely by “Go and do likewise” and “What you do, do quickly”
It’s a good story….and a good illustration of the sort of abuse that the Bible can be subject to. The Bible was never intended as a fail-safe rule book, or a kind of detailed route-planner to lead us safely through life if we only pay obedient attention to every word within its covers. We were never expected to follow its words mindlessly – but to enter into a relationship with the text, allowing what we read and hear to act on us as we mark, learn and inwardly digest.

That’s the key. The Bible is not simply the story of people who lived long ago and far away. It is OUR story too. This library of ancient texts tells us the story of a people’s relationship with God…. And like any good story, this one evolved with the telling, gaining meaning as it impacted the lives of those who spoke and those who listened, til those meanings became part of the story themselves. That’s still how it works for us. We read of the struggles, disasters and misbehaviours of others and their story becomes a lens through which we can interpret our own lives and see, again and again, how God’s love remains constant. The bible is history – HIS story, the story of God’s love and justice and mercy, God’s ways, purposes, promises and victory. Everything, whether narrative or poetry, fable or rules, reflects this, a ollection of writings made both before and after Christ, which point us to God. A set of writings which considers God’s dealings with humanity in the past and his revelation of himself in Jesus.

Those who’ve listened to my preaching over the past 3 years will know that one of my very favourite questions is
Where are YOU in the story?”
That, for me, is the key to a relationship with the Bible.
To remember that those women and men, prophets, shepherds, slaves, fishermen and kings, were living in a very different context, but with the same struggles, hopes and fears that we all carry day by that in their stories and their experiences of God we can find wisdom, comfort and strength ourselves.

The Bible is God’s word – but God did not just tell us of God’s ways..God SHOWS us always and above all, through God’s LIVING WORD made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s words, written and lived are a love-letter from God to God’s you and me, and today especially to M as she joins the household of faith.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” said Paul to the Colossians...and that’s my hope and prayer for each of us today. that we should love the Bible and make it our own, giving it our best attention, wrestling with it for a blessing time and again.
Let’s not be afraid to get things wrong, for errors are part of learning.
The Bible needs us, if it is to have any existence beyond the sterility of the page.
We need the Bible, if we are to gain insights into the ways of God for it is a book that will lead us to God and help us to engage with God in bringing in His kingdom.

The great theologian, Karl Barth, was once asked to sum up all he had learned in a lifetime of study. His response was to sing, very gently, a song that I, like him, learned in early childhood
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Holy wisdom, Holy word,
A gift, to be savoured and celebrated, laden with the love of God.

For the Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God!

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.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon for Proper 18A, Trinity 13, 10th September 2017 at Coventry Cathedral

What is the Church?


That’s the kind of question that you find yourself answering a lot during theological training – but not often afterwards. Fom then on you’re usually far too busy working at being a public face for the Church, contending with her oddities, screaming (whether publicly or internally) at some of the institutional baggage she has collected through the centuries, worrying about her future, or quite simply living with her. For her clergy, the Church is simply the non-negotiable reality that shapes every single day...but that can make it hard to remember what she is really called to do and to be.


Today’s readings might help us reflect a little though...with their emphasis on relationship -for one thing is certain – you can’t be “the Church” on your own. So let’s start with the gospel – which makes it very clear that the Church is a community gathered around Jesus. That community might be large and impressive – a Cathedral crammed to the gunwhales for an ordination perhaps – or small and intimate – a handful offriends meeting in a former shop – but the fundamental point is that what brings these people together is their longing to get close to Jesus.  And Jesus honours that longing with his promise

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”.

Such very familiar words – I wonder if you really heard them as Sarah read them just now.


Jesus promises that when we gather in his name – he is among us.

Right here and right now.

THAT’S what makes us Church.

Not our building (though it is, confusingly, what makes us a Cathedral)…

Not our entrance requirements – whether you see those in terms of baptismal status or of adherence to each and every clause of the Nicene Creed.

Not our success or failure in obeying his commandments

What makes us Church is that we meet around Jesus – and it his presence with us, - in his Word, in one another, and in the beaking of bread, that enables us to do and to be whatever else worthwhile we might attain.

It really IS all about him – so whatever your view of the tapestry, its presence in this building calls us back again and again to the reason we are here.


Though the NRSV translation which we heard this morning begins “If another member of the church sins...” the original Greek phrase is “If your brother...”. So, when we speak of the Church as family – we’re not saying anything new. The members of this community will share a family resemblance with one another. Leaving aside the optimistic use of the hypothetical “IF” (for we know full well that as the fallible people we are, we surely WILL hurt and distress one another along the way) Jesus encourages us to be honest about those hurts...Familes do not agree 24/7 – but if there is a healthy, trust-based relationship, its members can admit when they’ve hurt or been hurt by one another and seek healing together.


So – we need to be a community that reflects this. A community where we will not always agree with one another, but where damage and difference is acknowledged and reconciliation sought. The Church must never be a place where integrity is sacrificed to a superficial niceness: Jesus is very clear indeed about this – but it should, always, non-negotiably, be a place where love is practised. Again, and again and again.


And that’s where Paul comes in...distilling all the complexities of human relationships, all the duties and joys, into that fundamental

“Owe no one anything except to love one another…” “Love does no wrong to a neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law”

Put like that it sounds so simple, - deceptively so, of course, because this thing called love is the work of both a moment and a lifetime, both a feeling and a decision...And that is as true for a church as it is for any other family.


But there’s a fair amount of confusion about that little word, love. We use it flippantly to describe a feeling of admiration and desire “I love those shoes”. “I love the carrot cake in Rising Cafe”..We use it to describe things that make us feel better “I love Bach...And poetry...and sunsets”...We use it  romantically, when what we really mean is “I’m hoping that in connecting with you, my own needs may be met”…

Love, then, might seem to be all about warm and fuzzy feelings.


But I’m reasonably confident that this is NOT what either Paul, or Jesus, is getting at.

The kind of love that we’re called to is of a different order.

It doesn’t even mean giving others what we ourselves would value, even though we’re told to love our neighbours as ourselves...just this week, I watched a really well-meaning attempt at love lead to near disaster in another community of which I’m part, thanks to an assumption that what would make one person feel better would have the same effect on another. Let me tell you, there were some very wobbly moments, with hurt experienced on both sides before that was resolved. Good intentions just aren’t enough, and we are so bad at setting aside self-interest, even when we try.

I suspect Desmond Tutu may have a better grasp of this than many.


Perfect love is not an emotion; it is not how we feel. It is what we do. Perfect love is action that is not wrapped up in self-regard, and it has no concern with deserving. Instead, perfect love is love poured out. It is self-offering made out of the joy of giving. It requires no prompting. It seeks no response and no reward...”


Action not wrapped up in self regard...Love poured out….That self-less drive to serve the other person, to care for them, to seek their best...sounds impossibly, immeasurably costly...the kind of love that leads to the cross, indeed.


And that’s what we owe one another.

I’m beginning to wish we could find another way to define and to be Church. This feels way too demanding – but Paul says that this must be the only transaction between us as disciples of Christ

“Owe no one anything except to love one another”


That language brought me up short, for debts are rarely something to celebrate...and even if you consult a thesaurus and substitute “obligation” there’s a sense of being weighed down by duty. Is that what Paul is about? Are we asked to pay our debt to Christ by our love for one another? That surely cannot be.

God’s love is unconditional, asking nothing in return...though God’s love for me stirs up my love for God, and inspires me to WANT to love other people…

But which other people?

Those sitting around us this morning?

Those whose company we cherish day by day?

That might be manageable….but I’m afraid it’s not enough.

If love is a way of paying our neighbours their dues, of offering what they are owed – then, actually, ALL are due love. Jesus is very clear about that, casting the net wide, reminding us to love our enemies, to bless and pray for those who persecute us. Those with whom we have nothing in common. Those whom we struggle to like.. Those whom we are afraid of.

Yes, even those world leaders whose actions terrify us...those groups and individuals whom we suspect are bent on our own destruction…


We owe a debt of love even to them.


Goodness, this business of living as Church is hard. I’m not sure if I’d have joined if I had really understood it. I’m absolutely certain that I can’t actually manage it, because I’m small and human and fallible and badly, oh so badly, in need of God’s grace.

I can’t pay my debt of love – and so I will never fulfill the law.


Which takes me, thankfully, back to where I started.

The Church is a group of people gathered around the person of Jesus Christ.

He is here, in the midst of us. In the midst of our longings to love and our failure to do so.

Jesus Christ, Love alive in human calling us onward to be more than we had ever imagined giving of love’s self again and again and again, and helping us to learn to do the same.


Can we, dare we, try and be Church together?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Evensong Trinity 11 Psalm 90

Lord,  thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another

Words for our time
Words for all time, coming first from the mouth of Moses, - so that the truth they offer does indeed come from many many generations past. Some 3000 years.Words which have lasted because they speak directly into the human condition, for we are a people often living in the shadow of terror and crisis and needing a safe place in life to call our own. While the default response to disaster in our day and age is no longer to gather in huge numbers in places of worship, there’s still a real need for communities to share in collective lament. This week, you’ll find it expressed in well-nigh every corner of the internet, as different groups rail against the words and actions of others, demonise those whose view differs from their own, and wail “What is the world coming to”.

In common with other psalms of lament, psalm 90 takes us on a journey..
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations.”  says one translation of the Hebrew, and we need to note that when Moses speaks of the Lord as our dwelling place, he’s talking about a relationship, not a particular location. Not even a cathedral. That may be surprising...We tend to think in terms of concrete structures with physical addresses... And yet, where you dwell is not necessarily the same as where you live. It’s where your heart is, where your passions lie – which may be something altogether different. You may remember those car stickers that were popular a while back, saying  “I’d rather be … singing … reading… skiing … swimming … walking the dog,”  They recognise that our hearts aren’t always exactly where we find ourselves. You may be working at a desk or stuck in a traffic jam, but your heart is high atop a mountain peak or still beside a quiet stream. That’s where you’d rather be. Where your treasure is….Where you dwell.
And Moses presents God as the place where we might choose to dwell, you and I...for that dwelling with God had been the defining experience of God’s people, as they spent their forty years in the wilderness. It wasn’t the landscape that mattered. It wasnt the pleasure of water from the rock or manna and quail to meet their needs unlooked for. It wasn’t the collective memory of the fleshpots of Egypt but God’s presence with them that reminded them that they were chosen...people with a purpose...people travelling through life with God. One writer defines that experience beautifully
“They walked by faith for so long that walking by faith became their way of life. What difference did it make where they were? All that mattered was that God was with them, leading the way.”
THIS is what is at the heart of Moses opening gambit, as the psalm follows a familiar path, from certainty, orientation, through disorientation and lament and back again to firm ground.

Looking back, first, at God’s steadfastness through many generations, then confronting the contrasting brevity of human life, the psalmist celebrates God’s presence with God’s people as strong defender then dares to magine seeing the world from God’s perspective, taking the long view. A thousand years in God’s sight are but as yesterday. Even a troubled and troubling week like the one we have just experienced is not, really, of such huge significance in the grand scheme of things. We get so embroiled, you and I, in our own lives, our own times – but in the history of the world, and from the perspective of eternity, we are only here for nano-seconds. And actually, that’s OK.
It may not seem to be very helpful at first. It  may well make you feel insignificant, yet more fearful in a week when nightmares threatened to become reality – but actually, if God IS our refuge, the place where our treasure is, then that offers comfort even as we recognise our own frailty. Though the psalmist seems to spiral down into depression and despair, dwelling for a time on the evidence of God’s anger and frustration, and the futility of those three score years and ten, yet even he reaches a turning point and finds hope.
“Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”.
In other words – use your time well and wisely because it is finite and you CAN make a difference if you choose to. Apply your heart to wisdom. Not to fear. Not to revenge, Not to outraged denunciation of “the other” which seems to threaten your peace of mind for the moment. Apply your heart to wisdom, and recognise that the best wisdom is to be found when we are rooted in God’s love, dwelling above all in our relationship with our creator, who holds all our times securely in his hands.
That is the best defence against feelings of fear or futility...And it’s something to practise when life seems clouded by terrors beyond our practise by consciously giving thanks for that gift of time as each day practise by celebrating blessings, - food, friends, practise by looking for God’s presence in the beauty of the day and in the faces of those whom you meet…
“Show thy servants thy work”
It’s something to practise, too, in the hard times – turning to God for direction for the path ahead, taking the hand of another suffering person and forgetting your own agenda as you focus on theirs…
The great hymn writer Isaac Watts paraphrased psalm 90 in words that have become an essential part of Remembrance Sunday services. He too focusses on the frailty of human life and the wonder of divine permanence – but somehow does so without a trace of anger or lament. Perhaps he had learned the lesson of the psalm, and so could recognise the brevity and frailty to our lives and yet treasure each moment as the moment of encounter with the God who is our true dwelling
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come
Be thou our God while troubles last and our eternal home”.

Homily for Proper 15 Matthew 15:10-28

What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. There are what defile a person.”
Sometimes the synergy between the appointed lections and current events is breathtaking.
It’s been quite a week in the news, as the events of Charlotteville, more than dreadful enough in themselves, have produced wave after wave of horrible responses….
A clergy eye-witness wrote powerfully of her experience last Saturday as she knelt with many others praying for peace.
As more Neo-Nazis passed the clergy line, they verbally abused us one by one over the course of a few hours. One man screamed that Jesus hates us. Another screamed that we hate the white race and are contributing to white genocide….”
Out of the heart come evil intentions indeed.
And that’s before we even think about Friday’s events in Spain….
Lord, have mercy.

It’s hard, very hard, to understand where such hatred has its roots, tempting to just rejoice that we DONT understand – but then that runs the risk of relapsing into self-righteousness…
And, of course, we’re falling into the “them and us” trap immediately. And that is something today’s gospel reminds us is not good news at all.
It’s maybe comforting that Jesus himself seems to need to be taught this.
The beginning of the passage sees him turning away from the natural heart-land of the observant Jew, speaking against those purity laws that have been part of a nation’s identity for centuries...Then he heads into foreign territory, breaking more barriers – and when he arrives, finds himself challenged once again, jolted into a fresh recognition of common humanity by that woman who simply won’t take “No” for an answer.

But, dear Lord, that’s hard for me this week.
I want to put an unscaleable barrier between myself and the far-right, whose harsh words are reinforced by frightening actions.
I want to keep all my friends and family safely away from “people like them”.
But that’s not the Jesus way.

The one who healed the Canaanite's daughter, and who also opened the eyes of the man born blind can deliver anyone --there are no barriers for Jesus, not even those I’ve erected inside my own head and my own heart.
Time, then, to revisit our own Coventry litany, with its two word refrain that resists the urge to divide humanity into “them” and “us”.
ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God….
We know that when we hear the news
We know that when we look hard into ourselves.
The hatred that divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father forgive”.
Amen, amen, amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Trinity 5 Evensong We cannot keep from speaking...

For we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Last week a Facebook friend shared a rather alarming statistic.
Apparently members of the United Methodist Church in the States invite someone to come to church with them on average once every 38 years.
Once every 38 years.
Isn’t that staggering.
I’m trying to get my head round a mindset that means that you care enough about your faith to give up time for worship week on week, but without any impetus to share
They feel that it’s worth giving up a chunk of their time week on week to attend worship but they aren’t excited enough about what happens there to suggest that any of their friends or family join them!
I find that really hard to deal with.
I can grasp that when it comes to God I might be more enthusiastic than many – it would be a bit of a problem were that NOT so, really, given my calling – but even so….Either those faithful United Methodists in the States are just turning up at church week by week because it’s a habit or something has gone rather wrong with their sense that they (and WE) have good news to share.

I’m sure that the average for Coventry Cathedral congregation would be MUCH better than once every 38 years. At least, I hope so…
I know that some 2000 years have elapsed since Peter proclaimed his faith in front of the authorities – but we are here on this Sunday afternoon in Coventry because we believe that we’re onto something worth attending to.
Admittedly, things may not be quite as exciting here and now as the experiences of the early church.
Peter and John have got into trouble because they presumed to tell a paralysed man who was stationed daily by the Beautiful Gate to the Temple
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth get up and walk”….and, scandal of scandals, the man followed instructions.
He rose and walked.
Transformed.we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.
Just like that.

And Peter is full of it – and full of the Holy Spirit too – and can no more keep silence than a child on their birthday.
And so, using the experience of the paralysed man as a launch-pad, he embarks on a compelling narrative of salvation, a challenge to the old order and to those who represented it.
And at the heart of that challenge is Peter’s declaration
We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard”.

So, it struck me that perhaps one reason that some are more reticent in speaking of faith ourselves is because they’ve forgotten to expect to see and hear salvation stories playing out day by day. They’ve got used to thinking that the golden days are gone...that while God still holds the earth secure in God’s love, the action is over for the moment. Their faith is more to do with dogged hope than with the experience of transforming power. And that does not make it the less admirable (think about Jesus telling Thomas “Blessed are they who have NOT seen, and yet believe) but it does make it harder work…and if your faith is mostly a matter of wistful longing then it is going to be that much harder to work yourself up to share it with others.

During the past few weeks some of us have enjoyed a series of talks by the Dean, “The Holy Spirit and the People of God”. As we explored the ways in which the Spirit was active in the Old Testament as in the New, and traced her work in the present too, it was noticeable that there were periods of church history when you might have been forgiven for thinking that the work of the Spirit was simply to bring the Church to birth – and then leave us to get on with the work of being God’s people. I’m confident that this is NOT the case…but I also have tremendous sympathy with those who feel that somehow the Spirit has mostly passed them by, that faith is a matter of head-knowledge rather than the inspiring heart knowledge that is the unmistakeable fruit of a direct experience of God at work.
But you know, while we may not have seen a dramatic healing or an incontrivertible miracle, there’s still so much evidence of God’s power at work...It’s simply a question of looking with expectancy.

Yesterday, for example, I was talking to a visitor from Canada, who happened to be in the nave just in time for the Litany and Eucharist. Talking to visitors is almost always good for my faith, I find, because their appreciation of the Coventry story and their response to our cathedrals, both old and new, reminds me of quite how remarkable this place is. Just in case you’re struggling with end of term exhaustion, shall I remind you?
Of the way that Provost Howard lived his faith through his determination to reject human patterns of behaviour, centred on revenge and retribution...of the power of forgiveness, co-operation ahd hope that is built into every inch of the new cathedral that exists to remind us that while we all carry scars, but that wounds can be healed, and peace built even in the face of death and destruction...of the worldwide family that is the Community of the Cross of Nails, - hundreds of people in many and varied situations, united by their determination to choose peace…
That’s evidence of a kind, I’d say...God at work even amid the pain and devestation of war… The Holy Spirit inspiring God’s people with a fresh vision of the world as God’s love would have it be….
Things that WE – you and I – have seen and heard...Things to share with joy...

Or if you prefer to look elsewhere, tonight’s psalm is full of suggestions
Come and see the works of God
The psalmist invites God’s people to look back at their history and see God’s hand at work...He encourages them to rejoice in the past – and as he catalogues the wonders of yesteryear he inspires himself afresh to join in the chorus of praise
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried aloud to him,
    and he was extolled with my tongue….
And that act of praising created a virtuous circle, so that the psalmist found himself carried forward on a tide of rejoicing that enables him to recognise just how active God is in his own life...Not just the God of history but the God of his life...the God who listens and responds when he prays

That’s the God who is active in the work of transformation right here and right now.
My piece of evidence might make you smile. You see, I can’t manage even the simplest piece of decorating without getting paint everywhere. But the smurf-like shade of my fingernails last night is a sign of something rather wonderful...the emergence of a new church community in the unlikely setting of the former cathedral shop. Yesterday a whole group of friends gathered from far and wide to join in a painting party that in itself set the tone for what St Clare’s hopes to be...friendly and flexible, created by its members, bringing people together from a huge variety of contexts to live out the great commandments to love God and neighbour.
It’s exciting to witness God doing a new thing among us...and I’ve found myself sharing that excitement with all sorts of people in the past weeks and months.

There’s lots of evidence if you view the world with expectant hope.
The God at work in the wisdom of Solomon, the faith of the psalmist, the passion of Peter is at work here and now...If you’re in any doubt, look at those around you...Each life a tapestry of joy and struggle, pain and blessing...shaped by the overarching love of God.

we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard

Let’s be brave and share our stories...and share, too, in God’s work of transformation here and now.