Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Day

Every four years, when this predictable but somehow unexpected gift of a day comes round, I determine to use it well. 
Perhaps this year I'll write a poem, or visit a long lost friend.
Maybe I should hold a party, or send letters to everyone I love, explaining just how important they are to me.
Whatever I do, surely the day can't be just ordinary. 

And yet, when it arrives, that's exactly what it is.
Tempting, then, to be disappointed.
I haven't done anything amazing.
I've just lived.

Except - isn't THAT extraordinary? 
I'm already almost three years older than my mother was when she died. 
That's a gift in itself.
And I've seen places and met people I would never have expected to.

More, I've had the delight of watching one of my children become a parent, and discovered just how overwhelming the joy of grand-babies can be.

According to my calculations I've been given 15 of these bonus Leap Days so far...and yes, that's fun but actually it's no more amazing than the fact that I woke up this morning and have done so reliably through almost 60 years. 

So, today has simply reminded me that all time is a gift. I am particularly good at squandering it, but at least today has reminded me to be thankful.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday

"Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days" sang the visiting singers tonight's Ash Wednesday Eucharist.
Choir half term, so no Allegri for us in Coventry, but as the voices wove around one another, in the courtly dance that is the middle section of Maurice Greene''s setting of the psalm 39, it didn't much matter.
The graceful interchange of voices belied the words
"Man walketh as a vain shadow"
Not a hint of futility here, but rather gently ordered beauty, soothing the soul.

The paradox of the setting is a good one for today, ostensibly  heavy with foreboding,  the intimations inescapable of mortality.
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return", I say, over and over again, tracing the cross as best I can on faces known and unfamiliar.
It ought to feel portentous, is certainly solemn, but is redeemed both by the inescapable intimacy that connects us all in our fragile, time-limited physicality , and by the second sentence I get to share.
"Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ".
Diagnosis and cure delivered in two short sentences.
"Let me know mine end"

At the lunchtime Eucharist we gather under the gaze of saints and angels on the West Screen, the leaden skies supporting the message of the death that is the inescapable lot of each and every person there. Yes, even that delightful baby, and the little girl who watches,  warily, from the front row.
"You are dust...."
But then,  as the people come to me one by one, something wonderful happens.
It's an ordinary, every day event: the sun comes out from behind the clouds.
Suddenly I can no longer see the faces of those I'm ashing.
They are invisible, concealed by the pool of golden glory, the black ash crosses completely lost in the transfiguring brightness of this holy moment.
Again and again I reach forward into this enveloping blaze, declaring the truth of the moment even as I look ahead to offer sure and certain hope for the future.
"Let me know mine end".
This, this is what we can look forward to as we turn to Christ and follow in his steps on the way that leads to everlasting life.

"Rejoice oh dust and ashes,  the Lord shall be thy part."
That is the end, which opens us up to a new beginning, as during Lent even we are allowed to try on Easter hope. 

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Salt and Light - a sermon for Proper 1, 9th February 2020 at Coventry Cathedral.

Welcome to Ordinary Time.
After the high celebrations of the past weeks we are back again in the green and growing season, with a focus on very ordinary things.
Salt and light.

No abstruse theological concepts but everyday things we encounter without thought....but for all that, also quite extraordinary, since in different ways they impact on everything around them.


Salt, of course, works in a way that is hidden. When you add it to a recipe, you don’t SEE the salt at work...and you can’t remove it again no matter how hard you try Used well it enhances other natural flavours, changing everything for the better.

Just think of salt and shake crisps!


When we describe someone as the salt of the earth, we’re saying something particular about them.

Yes, they are people of good principles, people of absolute integrity– but they may not always be that easy to spend time with precisely because they are people who don’t compromise…who carry on holding the line no matter what. Wholesome but unmissable.

Jesus is very clear about how he feels about those who don’t stay true to themselves – who become like salt that has lost its flavour, through exposure to damp so that it is no longer really salt at all. Roman roads were often coated with such unsalty salt, as a sealant to dry things out – trampled under foot daily as it is no use for flavouring any more.

So Jesus isn’t mincing his words. If we’re no use in flavouring things, we’re out…

If we adapt so completely to the secular word that there’s no way to distinguish us from our neighbours we’ve lost something essential.

We have a calling, you and I….a calling to make a difference by living in a different kind of way.

We should stand out from the crowd in ways that make others long to be like us. You can decide for yourselves whether the recent appearances of the Church of England in the media serve that purpose or not…Certainly we’ve made our presence known – but not, perhaps, in ways that make our secular neighbours long to join us. Salt in the wrong place can wreck a recipe.


Light, on the other hand, works quite differently. Nothing subtle about it.

You are the light of the world

If it is dark and you light a lamp – everything changes.

That’s the whole point of a lamp - to make a visible difference….(and of course, if you put a basket over a naked flame, you can expect a fire)

We need light in order to make sense of our surroundings, to stay safe, to do our work, to recognise our friends.

Again, Jesus is anything but obscure in his teaching – and is not preaching obscurity to his disciples either.

You must be like a city on a hill, like a lamp in full view” - outstanding, unmissable.

Illuminating everything through our confidence in God’s love, and our obedience to his law in ever aspect of our lives.


In other words, we have a God-given responsibility to BE different and to MAKE a difference –

This week our city is dealing with the tragedy of another teenager lost to knife crime and gang violence. Babakar was 15. Let that sink in for a minute. FIFTEEN. Anyone who has ever been a teenager will remember that this is above all the age of poor choices and impulsive decisions. I’m pretty confident that I am not the only one in the building who did some fairly stupid things at that point, though mine were pretty low key, involving fashion sense, dreadful haircuts and the way I chose to spend Saturday nights – but I’ve been given the gift of time to redeem them, to make better choices, to direct my energies in ways that might add to the sum of human happiness, not its reverse.

And, what’s more, that gift of time is still current – for each and every one of us here. A gift to be used.


So – what are you going to do?

What are WE going to do?

How might you demonstrate the love of Christ, as Jesus weeps over our city, where some young people go in fear of their lives, knowing that to step into the wrong post-code is to risk real violence, even death…?

The calling to make a difference is not an optional extra, so what next?

You might make a difference as salt – quietly changing the flavour of your own neighbourhood step by step by step with random acts of kindness, befriending the stranger, defending the weak, advocating for the voiceless, welcoming the homeless stranger into your house

If that appeals, you might enjoy signing up to one of the generosity challenges, Love Life, Care for God’s Creation, or 40 Acts where you are set a different challenge for each day of Lent, to lead you on a journey to transform your small corner of the world.

I’m sure you’ll find ways to achieve that – and it WILL change the flavour of your community...bringing out the best in others just as salt brings out the true flavour of food.



Or you might prefer to commit to big, visible projects that light up the whole city.

We’ve certainly got a building that lends itself to that, here on Hill Top. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden...and nor can a cathedral. Indeed, the night that St Michael’s burned it truly shone for all to see, far and wide – and the work that stemmed from that night continues to shine, visible yet further afield, drawing others from across the world so that, like a mirror, we can reflect the light of God’s reconciling love.

But that doesn’t mean we can sit back here in the cathedral and rest on our historic laurels.

If we’re keen to make a difference together perhaps there are things we can do as a community right here and now.                                                                                            What about joining in Bishop Christopher’s initiative against youth violence? 

Or committing ourselves to better stewardship of the earth’s resources by aspiring to become an eco congregation, taking our part in handing on the planet more or less intact to the generations to come?

Or – you may well have other ideas – so do please share them, and start a revolution based on love...for the point is that even if we feel weary, inadequate or defeated by the scale of the world’s need, we are called to act.

That’s as much part of our faith as daily prayer and Sunday worship.

Indeed, it’s very much part of that worship – a way in which we affirm God’s rule over every aspect of our lives.

Indeed, if our worship ends as we walk out of the door then it’s sadly incomplete…


When we are sent “to love and serve the Lord” those are not just words.                                                                                                                                    We serve him in proportion to our service to those who are struggling.                                To be salt that gives flavour to lives devoid of joy. To be light that illuminates dark places where violence and fear seem to have the upper hand…We should go out alert to signs of God at work in our world, and eager to join in that work beside Him.

It’s far too easy to leave Sunday worship as salty as winter road grit, and as bright as a child’s torch left on overnight. You’ll know that each year in our NCD survey we have had outstanding scores for our inspiring worship...but the question is, what does that worship inspire us to do? If it just makes us feel content, refreshed by a morning of beautiful liturgy and great music, then I’m rather afraid we’re standing beside the Israelites to whom Isaiah spoke. They attended worship, practised fasting and felt pretty good about it. They hoped to win God’s favour , and were quite indignant when God did not seem to be impressed. God’s diagnosis of their condition is brutal in its clarity. Listen to how it reads in The Message “Because your worship and fasting are all about YOU says God...You’ve missed the point. .This is the kind of [worship] I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around. Your righteousness will pave your way...If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives be bathed in sunlight.”

That really is inspiring...Christianity is not a club where we gather but a movement of people going forward to change the world as we collaborate with God in making the Kingdom real – even here, even now. True worship extends beyond the doors of our cathedral into our city and beyond, and is realised through acts of generosity and faithfulness. You’ll see it wherever you look, if you keep your eyes open. You’ll see people pausing to chat to homeless strangers, affirming their dignity as children of God. You’ll see it when people of faith stand up and challenge injustice, when they set their personal or institutional safety aside for the sake of the downtrodden, the excluded, the victims. God is constantly at work – and invites us to join in...It might not win us friends, but then Jesus didn’t call us to be popular, didn’t promise us an easy ride, or invite us to stand under the radar. If you’re shining with the light of God’s truth, you can’t really hope that no-one will notice…

I’ve heard of one church where, above the door going out a large sign proclaims

“Worship has ended. Our service has begun”

I would love that to be our motto too. Lent is near, with a fresh opportunity to recalibrate our lives and recover our calling. Let’s step out together and let our light so shine before all that they may see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father.