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.
This is a feel-good story – one that we enjoy sharing with children


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 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…
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)

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.

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 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!