Sunday, September 12, 2021

Proper 19 Trinity 15 Year B James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38

 May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I pray that, or a variation on it, practically every time I preach.

Words and thoughts go together, not just in the pulpit – and may honour or dishonour God as they leave our mouths and begin to set up the reverberations that can continue beyond any expectation, or any desire.

Of course, words can be slippery creatures, their power magnified in this age of instant communication. As one who tends to over-communicate, I have to remind myself that when I tweet “That was the WORST DAY EVER!”, actually meaning “Things went a bit wrong for a while this afternoon...” there will be people who assume that a Serious Disaster has struck...As one who thinks aloud, I need to preface some responses with “I’ll know what I think when I hear what I say” - and that’s just when dealing with well-intentioned, day to day conversations.

This week guidelines issued to candidates standing for General Synod from a particular tradition in the Church of England, suggested careful phrases behind which to disguise their views, and likely voting preferences on some of the bigger issues that divide the Church today. That anyone should seek to win votes IN THE CHURCH on the basis of a clever deception seems deeply troubling….giving away something about the inner reality of those who suggested this behaviour.

You see words, even words intended to deceive, may reveal more than we plan…

James’s insistence that you should not be able to truly praise God and curse our neighbour underlines this. Our words will often show others more of the truth of who we are than we would ever choose, for good or ill.

Sometimes, this is a lovely surprise, as I discovered a week ago, as it was getting dark. I was walking down Hill Top, ...and saw a group of youths coming towards me who looked, if I’m honest, really rather scary.

There was no diversions possible so I pressed on, with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and one hand clutching my keys firmly, just in case.

As we passed one another, one lad, seeing my cross and collar, called

“God bless you, Mother” - a joyful blessing revealing a kind heart that was at odds with his tough guy exterior, and reminding me that words can be a window onto our true selves.

The words of our mouths, the thoughts of our hearts – and of course, the direction of our lives.

Things we simply MUST take seriously, aligning them as best we can with the way of the Kingdom, the way of the Cross.

You see, no matter who we are can get things disastrously wrong…

Enter, Peter who in one short reading swings from trimphant epiphany as he recognises the truth of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, to missing the point entirely, and finding himself equated with Satan.

It’s easy to imagine how it happened. Try putting yourself in his place just for a minute.

Imagine, you have enjoyed the daily companionship of Jesus…have listened to his teachings…broken bread with him…watched him transform the lives of men, women and children by his presence as much as his miracles.
You have gladly given up everything for the sake of his company – just to be with him, to be known as one of his followers.
I would guess that each of us is here because at some level we’ve made the same choices as Simon…

But what if we had to take Jesus out of the equation…if we had to imagine life without him. I’m sure that is what prompted Peter to take him to one side and try to persuade him to see sense.
The very clarity of vision which had enabled him to recognise the Messiah meant that he was horribly clear what life would be like for him if Jesus went to his death.
He was very sure that he understood how a Messiah should behave – and “suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and being killed” simply wasn’t on the agenda.
Of course, there was this baffling line about being raised on the third day – but that just didn’t make any sort of sense…it certainly wasn’t something to rely upon.
No…Peter was adamant.
Death should not touch his Messiah.
Full stop.
No argument.
God forbid!

would we be without Peter?
So often, he models
faults that we too struggle with…and, once again, his words are a dead give-away of the fightings and fears within that I recognise only too well.
Here he has decisively proved that one can proclaim Christ as Lord without really grasping what that means in real life. Peter is convinced that his Messiah will triumph through strength…He’s completely floored by the way of the Kingdom.

And then Jesus tells him what it means to line up words and deeds in perfect accord…To actually LIVE the gospel...right through to death and beyond.
If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will gain it”
It’s all a bit Alice in Wonderland isn’t it?
If we pursue our goal, we will never reach it…but if we focus instead on a different way – why then all, all will be ours.

Dear Peter!
He knew the right words, but the living reality was altogether too much for him.

He wanted to keep his version of Jesus safely confined in a box tailor made for the purpose. That can be a problem for us too. We don't fully understand God and so we try to fit God, in all his greatness, into our understanding. We baulk at the effort of expanding our views to encompass God..., rand whether we want to or not, our words will probably demonstrate this.

Yes. Your words as much as mine.

Whether you’re setting out to teach or not.

Take this seriously. PLEASE.

The words of our mouths, the thoughts of our hearts, the course of our lives...need to line up.

That the old “sticks and stones” adage is often dreadfully, catastrophically, WRONG. Wounds left by words can hurt far more, and may never fully heal.

Each of us carries a potentially deadly weapon around with us, every single day, and sometimes it seems so much easier to blame than to praise, though we all know from experience the disproportionate power of criticism, which stays with the recipient long after affirmation has been dismissed. That’s a strange bit of human wiring – but one we need to recognise and attend to all the time. While St Francis encouraged his followers to practice “Custody of the eyes”, our readings today remind us that we alone can keep custody of the tongue – and it’s important that we do so.

How will you use your gift of speech to encourage, what kind words will you share this week?

Remember, our words reveal the truth of our being, and the complex reality of our life as citizens of the Kingdom.

May all that we speak be to the glory of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Proper 14 for the Cathedral Eucharist 8th August 2021 "I am the bread of life"

 I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”

When I was a student I had a good friend named Jack. He was extremely tall (particularly when standing next to my 5’4”) and carried not an ounce of surplus weight. He was a great cook and a famous host, but the meals I remember him by most clearly were those I never actually got to eat. You see, Jack was generous with his invitations to afternoon tea, and his rooms were only a short walk from one of Cambridge’s better bakers. When he was expecting guests, Jack would set forth to Tyler’s, on a mission to buy bread for the tea-party. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion the smell of the new bread, and its fresh-baked warmth proved too hard to resist, and he would arrive back in his rooms with only the stub end of the loaf, having consumed the rest on the walk between bakery and college. Legend has it that on one occasion at least, he visited the bakery 3 times before actually making it home with an untouched loaf. Bread from Tylers was pretty wonderful, but for someone Jack’s size, one loaf was only a short-term solution.

I often think of Jack as I break the bread at the Eucharist.
Of course, we generally use wafers, and sometimes people complain sadly that they bear no resemblance to real bread at all. Perhaps that’s a good thing. There’s no room for confusion. We’re not eating a “proper meal” together, but taking part in something quite different, whose value lies far beyond any standard nutritional benefit. The fragment of unleavened wafer we receive becomes something much greater than itself, for it is here that we are offered Christ, in all the fullness of his risen life.

In our gospel this morning, John sets out to demonstrate that Jesus is the One for whom Israel was waiting, and to do this he aligns Jesus with Moses...To understand his technique, we need to remember that for the Jews, the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) provided a constant frame of reference. The contents of these books were not abstract concepts for the Jew - these were living words, pregnant with layers of meaning, and each new generation of Jews felt themselves living in the story in some way.
And so John has Jesus evoke memories of the defining period in Jewish history, the Exodus from Egypt, and recall God’s provision of manna, “bread from heaven”.
This was the freedom food, which enabled God’s people to travel onwards to the place they had been promised.
The food which sustained them, and made it possible for them to live as a people on the move, following wherever God lead them.
But, though this food seemed miraculous, it had to be consumed on the day it appeared, or it rotted and became worthless.
The Israelites were not allowed to build up supplies in case of crisis. They just had to trust God’s provision, day after day after day.

Now Jesus compares himself with that bread…in terms guaranteed to have any observant Jew sitting bolt upright on the edge of this seat
I am the bread of life.
I AM is the name God gives himself when he meets Moses, at the burning bush
Say I AM has sent you.
And so Jesus identifies himself with God and urges the crowd
Stop looking only to your physical needs!
Your ancestors ate manna but died!
You who ate when I fed the 5000 will die in time!
But belief in me is ‘food’ that leads to eternal life.”

Jesus, the bread which now comes down from heaven sustains those who eat for ever.
This is no less the food of pilgrimage, no less a food provided directly by God,- indeed this food represents God’s very life, available to be absorbed by all God’s people.
Jesus is offering himself to his disciples…whoever eats me…
Imagine the impact of that, with Jesus himself standing beside you, on a hot day in Palestine, as the crowds press around, murmuring in doubt or disapproval.
A living, breathing man inviting you to eat him.
Shocking, unthinkable words.
Frightening, unwelcome words – in the same way as those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper
“This is my body…this is my blood...”

John wrote several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as part of a community that would have regularly celebrated the Lord’s supper together. For them, as for us, Jesus’ imagery - eating flesh and drinking blood - had come to life in a new way as the church shared the meal Jesus instituted.
So it is, week by week, when we gather and make Eucharist.
We bring ourselves, just as we are, broken, flawed, hungry for love and reassurance.
We bring the mess and muddle of our lives and lay them with our gifts upon the altar.
And as the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed, as Christ becomes truly present in those ordinary things made holy by the power of the Spirit, so we find ourselves joined with Christ and with one another.

There is a story* told about a Eucharist that took place in prison camp – where rations were low, and morale lower.
Neither bread nor wine was available but the longing for Christ, the prayers of the faithful and the words of the priest together made this a true Communion.
It was Easter in the camp. There was not a single cup.
No bread or wine. The non-Christians said, "We will help you; we will talk quietly so you can meet for worship." Too dense a silence would have drawn the guards' attention as surely as the lone voice of the preacher. "We have no bread, nor water to use instead of wine," the preacher told them, "but we will act as though we had."

"This meal in which we take part," he said, "reminds us of the prison, the torture, the death, and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body that he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings…but in Christ all our hungers are satisfied. The wine, which we don't have today, is his blood and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, the hope of the kingdom to come...."

He broke the bread and held out his empty hand to the first person on the right, and placed it over his open hand, and the same with the others: "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." All of them raised hands to mouths, receiving the body of Christ in silence. The communion of empty hand..."

Was Christ present there? Need we really ask that question?

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”
Hear Christ speak these words to you as you make your way to the Communion rail.
In that tiny fragment of bread, we receive Jesus himself, all we will ever need to sustain us on our pilgrimage.
Bread is the traditional staff of life, but the life that this bread represents is everlasting.
It is the life of God himself…and we are invited to share it.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Lammas Day sermon at Holy Trinity Coventry, Proper 13 B 1st August 2021

It’s always a pleasure to join you here at Holy Trinity – and one of the things that I specially love it to imagine the pews filled with all those who have worshipped here across many years. The thought of the citizens of Coventry gathering before the Reformation, Sunday by Sunday to hear Mass...and to celebrate the many Church festivals and Saints days that gave the year its shape and structure delights me, so it’s a rather wonderful that we are here together on 1st August..

Lammas Day - the day of the “Loaf Mass”. What? You may cry. Has Kathryn finally lost the plot? What IS she talking about? Isn’t Lammas inherently pagan? No – not a bit of it. Actually, Lammas tide has impeccable Christian credentials. It is the festival of thanksgiving to God for the start of the harvest, where corn and bread are offered as symbols of gratitude. It’s name comes from the Old English word for ‘loaf’, hlaf, which is followed by ‘mass’, the Eucharist, at which bread is broken and shared before we are sent out, strengthened for service in God’s world. After a year that has featured periodic shortages of particular foods, exacerbated by the panic buying that seems irresistible to some, we are perhaps more aware that we have been for a while about the sources of our food, and our dependence on those who produce it. Food is not an optional extra, but something we all need to sustain our life – and to pause and give thanks should surely be part of our daily practice even though we may not bring that gratitude into our worship as often as we should.

The writer David Adam invites us to

Be gentle when you touch bread. Let it not lie uncared for—unwanted
So often bread is taken for granted. There is so much beauty in bread
Beauty of sun and soil, beauty of honest toil
Winds and rain have caressed it, Christ often blessed it
Be gentle when you touch bread.

So – bread is a gift in itself, but also a symbol of so much more and it’s rather wonderful that our readings today are part of those summer weeks in which the Lectionary invites us to think repeatedly about bread..

Today we focus first on God’s daily provision for God’s people on their wilderness journey, the solid, physical evidence that God remained absolutely invested in their wellbeing “ the morning you shall have your fill of bread, then you shall know that I am the Lord your God”. When you’ve embarked on a journey into the unknown in obedience to God’s call, it’s more than reassuring to have reminders that God really IS part of this. We, who have so much, are far less able to spot the blessings poured upon us. Our eyes are blinded by the surfeit of good things we can enjoy, and so we lack the readiness to give thanks that we recognise in the Israelites in the desert (even if that gratitude turns out to be short-lived) and in those who surelye filled this church in centuries past to celebrate the Loaf Mass on Lammas day. But, you know, being attentive to God’s gifts is a skill worth cultivating. That may seem too obvious to be worth mentioning - but you might be surprised at how easy it is to slip into complacency and the kind of pernicious egotism that assumes that everything we have is “Because I’m worth it”. Note that the manna fell from heaven not because of who the wandering Israelites were, but because of who GOD is...a God of generosity, who, then as now, delights to bless, to overwhelm us with God’s grace, the undeserved free gifts that are quite simply part of God’s nature.

So – be alert. And be thankful.

But there is more. Our gospel, too, reminds us of how God’s gift of bread is a sign of God’s commitment to humanity...but now we are in a different world, the bread no longer simply a matter of milled flour to sustain us day by day. Jesus is beginning to explain to the crowds that they need other gifts – other nourishment – in order to really live. It sounds like a simple journey. Forget about your material needs...focus on the food that will last for recognising the truth that stands before you in the person of Jesus, Son of Man and Gift of God. But the crowds need something concrete to focus on. They are drawn back into their history – into the recognition of God’s goodness played out in the lives of their ancestors in the wilderness – and they want more of the same. If we’re supposed to believe in you – how can we know that your claims are true. What do you bring to the table as evidence that you come from God. And the answer comes, loud and clear – It’s not about what I am doing. It’s about who I AM.

That moment which makes clear how Jesus emerges from and perfects God’s covenant with Moses. Not simply “I AM has sent me...” but now, explicitly, “I AM”.

Astounding. Earth shaking. An itinerant rabbi proclaiming himself the great I AM...the one who’s name is so holy it cannot be pronounced. A human being announcing that he, HE, is the one who has come from heaven to give life to the world. Next week we will hear Jesus expanding on that theme, to the amazement and disquiet of his hearers. Next week, I’m confident that my preaching will dive deeper into the mystery of God’s life offered to us here at the altar week by week in a fragment of bread…for truly, as we break and share the bread of Eucharist – thanksgiving – we encounter the reality of God’s presence transforming us from the inside out, and experience the reality that is our life in God.

But today, Lammas day, I want to return once more to the role of ordinary, daily bread as a powerful sacramental sign of God’s care for our bodies as well as for our souls. Let me end with a pair of stories...which entwine together around this theme. Are you sitting comfortably?

I used to go on retreat to Llan, a wonderful place in the Shropshire hills, miles from anywhere. The set up there was geared around an individual retreatant, cooking for themselves from supplies bought in by the hosts.
One year when I arrived, there was a lovely loaf of new bread from the local bakery waiting wrapped in the bread bin, and a slice of that with some local honey made a blissful breakfast. It was just as good with "Gold and herbs" cheese and salad at lunch time, but though I was making inroads on the loaf there was still plenty left the following morning, when A. announced that G was baking, and there would be home-made bread in time for lunch. I protested that I really didn't need it. The shop loaf was very tasty, and I had quite enough for the whole of my stay.
My host
smiled but said nothing, and just before lunchtime, as I sat on the terrace in the sunshine he appeared bearing half a loaf of steaming white bread, straight from the oven.
It was, of course, delicious and I appreciated it hugely for itself, but also for the reminder of God's joy in giving more than we can either desire or deserve...a reminder that I, who sometimes hesitate to ask, absolutely needed to hear. That week I was gently practising Ignatian spirituality, encouraged by an American book called, intriguingly, Sleeping with Bread.
The story behind the title is a joy. Listen.

During the bombing raids of WWII, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, "Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow."

As the orphans found tangible comfort and reassurance through holding the bread, so the process of looking back each day and noticing the times of consolation and desolation, the moments for which I'm most grateful or most regretful, makes it easier to attend to God's presence and work in my life. That might be so for you as well. For me, at Llan that week, bread was very much part of the story. Ordinary, every day but infused with a generosity that far outstripped my needs or my desires.

Why not use it, this Lammas tide, to help you focus your own gratitude for God’s gifts lavished upon you, grace on grace, to the glory of his name.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Son of Thunder - a sermon for the Feast of St James for "Welcome to Sunday" 25th July 2021

Among those many stories of Jesus that we love to hear, there are literally no examples of Jesus helpless with laughter. We know that he wept. We know he got angry. But we never ever hear that he laughed. This might, of course, be because we human beings often add a measure of unkindness to our jokes...or because he was never surprised by anything...or simply because the four evangelists didn’t think that tales of the Messiah sharing a joke with his friends would help them to win souls for God’s kingdom. I am not sure that's altogether right - but there we are.

But – we do know that he teased those same friends gently from time to time….particularly in his choice of nicknames for them. There’s Peter more rocky than rock-like – yet nonetheless capable of providing a firm foundation on which to build the Church...and then James and John Boanergese … the sons of thunder. Two men intent on making a noise – on being noticed – even when they were frankly missing the point and rather out of their depth.

So here they are – approaching Jesus. along with their mother, with a special request: to be marked out as particular favourites, with the best seats in the house when Jesus comes into his kingdom. They really should have known better. Perhaps you've read that Christian bestseller, "The Shack". I didn't love all of it, but I absolutely have to applaud the way that the author presents God, in each of her conversations with humanity, as reminding each individual 

You are my particular favourite”.

I guess Jesus was like that with his friends – but that wasn’t enough for the lads.                      Or their mum (but then, I recognise that pushy mother syndrome lurking in myself too – so I can’t be too cross with Mrs Zebedee) Much like the spiritual toddlers they were, they wanted recognition. "Jesus! Over here! Pick MEEEEE"…and Jesus wanted them to face up to this as he asked them

“What do you want me to do for you?”

It’s a question he asks again and again.

He asked it of those coming for healing.

He asks it of us too - as we come with our different needs.

"What do you want me to do for you? What are the deepest desires of your heart?"

Think for a moment. What would you say if you heard him ask you that question?

I suspect that actually our deepest yearnings are pretty much universal. Aside from superficial desires, we all long to matter – to make an impact on our journey through life – to know ourselves accepted and beloved for who we are. And God wants that s for us too – but he wants it for us in ways that are good for us, and good for the world. We’re not just here to make a noise – to be notable because of the fuss we make. We can stop jumping up and down and yelling to make God notice us...or practising attention-seeking behaviour ...worrying that if we don't we will be somehow overlooked. 

We don’t NEED to be children of thunder for God to attend to us.

God sees us and God loves us... 

God sees and loves you.

YOU absolutely and incontrovertibly matter to God – so let us try to abandon attention-seeking behaviour and relax into that truth.

And then we can listen, as God calls us to do great things, in sharing that love, in serving others, in building the kingdom in this time and this place, exactly where we are planted.

We can see in James and John’s desire to sit beside Jesus in his glory, how our deeper, spiritual, genuine, yearnings get tangled up with the ambitions of the world. And that’s kind of reassuring really, specially if, like me, you find yourself sometimes doing the right thing for the wrong reason. I know I like to be liked. Human approval matters more than it I'm glad that we can see the disciples as, quite honestly, a pretty ropey bunch, as liable to fall over their own feet and create waves of chaos as to radiate the love, joy and peace that are the gifts of the Spirit.

But for all that, God works in them and through them…

James and John gradually get the message…as they watch Jesus live it out.

Though they have no idea what lies ahead when they eagerly protest that they CAN share their,  Lord’s experiences and drink his cup, as they see him washing their feet, as they run and hide to avoid the way of the cross, they begin to understand what he has been talking about all along.  "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give himself as a ransom for many"

Then they meet their risen Lord and in due time are transformed by the coming of the Spirit, empowered to make a big noise for Christ, in proclaiming the Kingdom.

And so today we celebrate the feast of James the Great.                                                                         Not James the self-seeking.                                                                                                                                  Not James the mother’s boy.

James the Great – apostle and inspiration.

And we think of the thousand upon thousand pilgrims who make their Camino, journeying across Europe to pray at his shrine. Let us travel with them in our hearts and minds, prepared to answer the question that our Lord still asks of each of us

“What do you want me to do for you?” and to answer honestly, knowing our own frailty, of course, but knowing too the reality of his surpassing love.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Who'd be a prophet? Trinity 6 B, 11th July 2021 Coventry Cathedral

 If you could choose anyone from the Bible to invite to dinner – apart from Jesus – I wonder whom you might pick.

I suspect that very few of us would choose John the Baptist.

He is such an uncomfortable character - “Right but repulsive” as Sellars and Yeatman might have put it – and we don’t as a rule welcome the voice of challenge that he exemplifies.

Even when he was drawing the crowds on the banks of the Jordan, he wasn’t known for his winsome, beguiling approach

Addressing them as “You generation of vipers” is, you have to admit, an INTERESTING way to get your hearers on board

John the Baptist is a disrupter, a disturber of the peace – and on the whole we don’t warm to that kind of character, even if he isn’t attacking us directly.

Small wonder, then, that he is short of friends at court.

John has spoken openly against the marriage of Herod to his brother’s wife Herodias, and this had made him very unpopular with the lady concerned. I suspect that this might be because she knew in her heart that her relationship with the King was irregular...You may have noticed in yourself a tendency to particularly dislike those whose words confirm your own secret feeling that maybe you’re not getting things as right as you pretend.

When someone else confirms the rumblings of conscience, it’s really hard to ignore – and hard to enjoy their company while you’re still ignoring their words

 So, here at the centre of the national life, John is making waves – and as his imprisonment is not enough to silence him, Herodias seeks another way.Her husband, caring more for his image than for doing the right thing, is putty in her hands. After all, his kingdom is built upon power and wealth and he can’t afford to show any weakness, whatever good sense the Baptizer seems to be talking. No U turns here. To change his mind, to withdraw his expansive after-dinner offer to Salome, would mean losing face – and that’s something that leaders struggle to do.

 So Herodias has her way


 But surely not very relevant to us today.

Blocking a dissenting voice on social media or refusing to engage in difficult conversations is a world away from silencing anyone for good.

What on EARTH has this passage to say to us, the peaceable, respectable congregation of the Cathedral Church of St Michael, Coventry?

 While we might recognise that we are not above reproach (“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” remember) we are probably not struggling with the kind of monumental disquiet that Herod and Herodias are experiencing. Or so you might suppose.

As a quick reality-check, it’s always worth asking God to help you consider  just whose kingdom you’re busy building...

(Of course, if you ARE being battered by your conscience, listen to it – and perhaps take your concern to one of your priests so that together we can listen to God and seek God’s healing and forgiveness)

And yet – and yet – there is SO MUCH that we should be challenged by in Church and world alike, so many things that should give rise to every bit as much scandal as the immoral marriage of Herod and Herodias.

Things that diminish our humanity, if we allow ourselves to let them slide as “just the way things are.

Things we – you and I – need to challenge.

 If we do not identify as Herod OR Herodias, then perhaps we are called to be John.

Prophets do not always foretell the future.

More often they speak truth to power...standing on the edge of society, from where they have better view of all that is going on, both good and bad.

What’s the view like from where you are?

I wonder if you have noticed anything in the past week that might need challenging?

A change in legislation that could make it illegal for anyone to rescue a boatload of asylum seekers drowning in the Channel perhaps, or a decision to cut the UK Aid budget by £4.1 billion...A growing tendency to value people in terms of their productivity…The gradual disappearance of integrity in public life...The removal of the £20 top up to Universal Credit…or a decision by the House of Bishops of the Church of England to ignore the recommendations of its own commission, that each diocese should appoint a racial justice officer because they couldn’t afford them – though there are still funds for church plants ...

Those are among the things that have given me pause, at least. You might well be fired by other causes for concern, and look at things from a completely different viewpoint.

That’s fine....but the point is, that there will be times – and this may be one of them – when you and I need to speak.

It can be hard to find the courage to lend our voices to those who are often silenced by the structures of society – but, be comforted, I don’t think it’s likely to cost us our heads.

John the Baptist’s role was to point the way to the Kingdom.

That’s our role, too, as Christ’s Church – and we sell the gospel short if we do not strive to show its values in our life together and in our interactions with  wider society too.

 I’m sorry.

I know this isn’t easy but it feels like one of those inconvenient truths we have to confront now and then.

I did say that John the Baptist was an uncomfortable companion, and if we take on his mantle we may not find ourselves universally beloved.

We may, though, find ourselves closer to Jesus, who tends to be found among the victims when power is abused, who loved, and still loves, to spend time among the marginalised, the defenceless, those of little economic value at all.

If all of this fills you with a degree of panic, you might like to pray with me now, that we may have the courage to speak truth to power, to be advocates of the Kingdom values of justice and mercy, to set our sights always above all on Christ

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Attributed — Sir Francis Drake — 1577