Sunday, October 16, 2022

Pray and do not lose heart Trinity 18, Proper 24 for the Cathedral Eucharist 16th October 2022

 One of the complaints frequently levelled at the Church of England as an institution today is its fondness for adopting management tools from the secular world, often some time after that world has moved on to another, different approach. Thus, when I was training for ordination I experienced not only Myers Briggs and Gilmore Freyling, but also the Belbin inventory. What I learned and whether it has made a difference is perhaps open to debate, but it was always at the very least INTERESTING to discover more about oneself. The Belbin test is designed to help people find their preferred style of working within a team...Individuals answer various questions until their preferences are clear – and are then given a score depending on what emerges. A healthy team will include a variety of preferences - visionary planners, people with a critical eye for detail, those good at implementing the ideas of others...and more. You might find it entertaining to consider which of your clergy might have which preferences, and which might be most useful around the place on a day to day basis. The options include those styled "completer/finishers" who find their satisfaction in a job done thoroughly and well. Completer finishers are well worth having on your team if you hope ever to see a project through to a successful conclusion – but I regret to inform you that the last time I was asked to do a Belbin interview, produced a score for this category that was so low it was almost in negative numbers!

I may be fine at having 6 great ideas before breakfast, but when it comes to sticking with projects from launch to completion, I'm probably not your woman. I get bored quite quickly as the unfinished tapestries and knitting projects around the house testify … so perhaps it's not surprising that when I first looked at today's readings my heart sank.


That heart sink was compounded when I reflected on all the dearly loved and surely well-deserving people whom I know, who are currently having truly torrid times, in a wide variety of ways. Of course I’ve prayed for them, as I have for this countryand our government, for the planet and those most grievously impacted by the climate crisis, for peace in Ukraine, for a place of warmth and safety for all those who seek shelter around the cathedral campus overnight as the temperatures fall, - and so the list continues. I’ve prayed and prayed again, a heart-felt cry of “HELP!” and thus far the results have not been encouraging.


It would be extremely tempting to give up, or at the very least to berate God soundly for not falling in to line with my longings for some quick and effective fixes. Perhaps you know the feeling?


Couple all of that with an habitual anxiety that I should NEVER be a bother, and you can see why this morning’s parable is a tad tricky to preach with integrity. Working with my favourite question “I wonder where you are in the story” I cant easily cast myself in the role of the widow, whose relentless appeal for justice, against the odds, won her the day. But that’s EXACTLY the invitation…


All this talk of the unjust judge might seem unsettling at first. It's easy to jump to conclusions, and presume that Jesus is equating God with that hard-hearted judge who neither fears God nor respects people... the kind of God who ears seem deaf to those cries of HELP that resound across the universe. I have heard intriguing interpretations (by reputable scholars, including Sam Wells) that invert the parable so that we encounter God as the widow, relentlessly pleading with the unjust rulers, the governments that exclude, disadvantage and oppress, but I’m not sure that’s where Jesus is going with the story. For once, this parable is not setting out to explain an aspect of the Kingdom – but to show us how we should be in our life of prayer.

We’re given the interpretation before we even hear the story, just to make sure we land in the right place


Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

Those communities for whom Luke wrote that orderly account of his were confronting all sorts of challenges to life and to faith, - it was ever thus – so in setting out the agenda of the story Luke is acknowledging that. You can imagine him saying to himself “I know it’s tough for them…and hard times can make belief almost impossible, just when you need it most. I won’t let them be in any doubt…they need to keep at it….stay in touch with God even when God seems to be looking in another direction.


In a certain city…Jerusalem, perhaps? Or maybe even Coventry? For like all parables, this is OUR story too

In a certain city there lived a judge…


A judge, eh? One who holds the power of freedom or imprisonment, sometimes life or death…One we need to know is kind and wise and humane. Except that he’s not. He sounds, frankly, a nightmare…but he’s the only route to justice that there is, so you either give up and go home or….Well…


Christmas is coming and already advertisers are intent on harnessing what they call “pester power” - the way that children can and will continue to nag, badger and entreat until their adults give in and provide the “must-have” toy, game or garment of the day.

This parable is ALL about pester power – and it makes no bones over asserting that it should be a recognisable element in our prayers.


God won't mind – I promise!

God loves it when we turn to him again and again – when we bring to him those people and situations about which we care most deeply.

Despite my reticence, we will never EVER be a bother to God.

This is the same God who, in our OT reading, speaks with compelling hope of the day when God’s people will have such a close relationship with God that they will have literally nothing to learn about him. “They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest”….They will live in harmony with my law, til it becomes the very rhythm of their heart-beats.


OF COURSE we can’t be a bother to God. OF COURSE God listens to our prayers.


Yes. I know it’s tricky

I'm willing to bet that we have prayed for world peace on every Sunday of your Christian life – and mine.

Week after week after week...

And we know that there isn't a day when someone somewhere experiences just how short of peace the world remains.

We've prayed, day by day, “Your Kingdom come” - but struggle with the evidence of a world still gripped by powers of selfishness, violence, corruption, greed.


But – does that mean it's time to stop praying?


Of course not!


Yes - we can be discouraged.

And often, we lower our expectations...

We have learned by experience that prayer does not work like a slot machine, - prayer in, desired result out – and so gradually we may allow it to become a fairly meaningless duty, or we pray so vaguely that it is impossible to discern what an answer to prayer might look like.


We lose hope and lose heart.


But prayer is surely about tuning our wills to God's

It's not about changing God but about changing US.

Spending time with God, growing our relationship...holding on tight through thick and thin to the God who loves us.

Think back to the spring, when we were constantly confronted by Jacob wrestling with the angel.

Think of that persistent widow

Keep going.


It won't always feel easy – remember the cry of the psalmist 

"How long, oh Lord, how long?"

"Day and night I cry out to you, but you don't answer me"

But even as the psalmist complains, he addresses that complaint to God. He keeps the relationship going

It’s the same for us. We need to cry to God day and night. we need to hang on, we need to wrestle for our own particular blessing.


Please do try to take that seriously…Whatever it looks like, believe that God is listening, and that keeping close to God no matter what is always, without exception, the best policy.

It may seem that prayer achieves little…but please don’t give up.

Listen again to the final question that Jesus puts in our gospel today

“When the Son of Man comes – WILL he find faith on earth?”

I wonder.

Will he find faith in his church? In each one of us?


If we really believe what we say about God – that He is a God of love, compassion, and endless grace...a God who makes all things new and heals the broken-hearted – then surely we will make our relationship with Him our priority, trusting that though God’s ways are not our ways, that sometimes it seems that we’re getting nowhere, yet nonetheless, it always makes sense to stay close, to pray, and not to lose heart.


It’s not long now until Advent, when we wrestle with that sense of Now and Not Yet that is our current experience of God’s Kingdom. Many of our prayers land in that same territory, -prayers heard but not answered as we might have hoped. Nonetheless, they are the cords which bind us to God, that keep our relationship active and current, that give our hopes and our fears, our griefs and rejoicings, somewhere to go


We NEED to pray and not lose heart because it is through those prayers that we draw close to God – and there is nowhere better to be.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sermon for a Eucharist in a Time of Mourning

It has been an extraordinary week in the Cathedral

From the moment the news of her late Majesty's death broke and long established plans were activated, my overriding sense has been of the sheer privilege of ministry here at such a time as this.

Of course we know, always, that we have a role beyond ourselves as a gathering place, a theatre of memory for the whole city and beyond, but this has been heightened as thousands of visitors have made their way through our doors or into the ruins.

They trust us with so much.

With their feelings of grief and disorientation, as our national landscape shifts once again, after all the traumatic changes of the past few years.                   With the newly-awakened resonances with earlier experiences of bereavement always revived by each successive loss.                                                            With story after story of their encounters with the Queen, perhaps here in Coventry or sometimes, for the favoured few, a proud memory of a royal garden party.

Actually, it’s noticeable how often food has featured in the memories, from the tiny, perfect cucumber sandwiches of the palace garden parties, to the pot of home-made jam Her Majesty was so very delighted to receive from a Maundy Pensioner here in the Cathedral, and of course there’s Paddington and the marmalade sandwich too.

My own favourite tale is of a nervous guest at a state banquet, who, dry mouthed with terror at finding himself at table with Her Majesty, grabbed and drained the finger bowl intended for a discrete wash between messy courses. The Queen, hospitable to her core, immediately picked up her own bowl and did the same, protecting her guest from any embarrassment and demonstrating that kindness which so many have spoken of in recent days.

While I’m sure she insisted that her children learn that table manners matter, she, so often the guest of honour, demonstrated that day that making others feel welcome matters yet more…

Of course, people sought a connection with the Queen. She represented so much that was good in our national life, and her constant presence became for many a rock on which to rely in turbulent times. That need for connection, is, I think, part of what motivates those waiting patiently in The Queue. They long to say “I was there” find a place for a moment for their own complicated feelings of gratitude and pride, love and loss...Others simply want to stand in solidarity with their neighbours, as even in death the Queen fosters community, bringing people together once again, helping them to feel that they belong, have a part in our national life.

Welcome. Connection. Community.

Such important themes - aspects of being human that touch us all, whatever our rank or status.

Aspects of being human that, at its best, the Church can model too…

Because of course, the Church exists as a sign in the here and now of God’s Kingdom that is for all time, and all places.

And at the heart of our worship and at the heart of our hope is – another meal

I am the bread of life...Whoever comes to me will never be hungry

That’s an invitation that is always open...It may not arrive on a gilt edged card, but that’s OK because here there are no VIPs, and actually there’s no need to queue, no fear that there may not be room for all

Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away”

As we gather this morning to make Eucharist, as our community forms and re-forms at the altar, we each receive the same extraordinary gift – God’s very life, entrusted to us in that precious fragment of bread and sip of wine.

Here we practice on earth as it will be in heaven…

Here, indeed, we become for a moment caught up in the heavenly banquet, with angels and archangels ….

Week on week we affirm We believe in the Communion of Saints” - and that is never just a reference to a closed catalogue of those canonised by the Church. whom we revere for the strength of their faith, the beauty of their lives.

The Communion of Saints is all those – ALL THOSE – who share in the eternal banquet of the Lamb…

Those whom we love and miss...Those whom we have not yet known, whose hope is in Christ, and with whom we are therefore united in community.

Great and small, famous and obscure

Elizabeth II and Chris Kaba.

All guests.

All welcome.

All wanted.

The Catholic theologian Margaret Hepplethwaite, widowed very young, talked about her deep sense that it was when she came forward to receive Communion that she was able to share a meal with her beloved Peter. She knew as the knelt and received that he was close at hand..part of the same celebration…his eternal life ensured through Christ’s promise that he would “lose nothing of all that is given to me, but raise it up on the last day”

That is the promise that sustained Her late Majesty through her own experiences of loss and grief.

That is the promise that we offer, as a Church, whenever we hold the light of Christian hope aloft at a funeral.

That is the promise that we claim, you and I, as together we feast on the bread of life.

In recent days it has been a comfort for many, and a gift for preachers, that our late Queen had become increasingly open about her own deep faith. I like to imagine her penning these words with the hope that they might speak to her own family when her time came to leave.                                                      Listen

We are all visitors to this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.

THEN we return home. The fragile earthly tent of mortal life was never intended as a permanent residence. We are just passing through, and what looks to us like death is the moment when we are, as Paul puts it, swallowed up by LIFE, when we can leave behind our campsite here and go forward to claim the place prepared for us.

As C S Lewis wrote, in the final paragraph of “The Last Battle”

The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

This is reality.

This is home

And at that homecoming, see, the table is set and the feast is ready.


Monday, August 08, 2022

Evensong sermon for Trinity 8 2022


Hmmn. Easy to say but looking at the world today I find myself thinking....

It isn’t supposed to be this way…

There’s the climate crisis

The cost of living crisis

The pandemic, food banks, mass shootings, beggars...

There are lonely souls shut up behind closed doors, not knowing if it’s safe to come back out, others not daring to come in,  uncertain whether they’ll be welcomed or rejected.

There are children – CHILDREN for God’s sake – locked up in detention centres or entrusted to tiny boats crossing a stormy sea...

It's really not great is it 

Nothing like the world I imagined when growing up, not even the world into which I confidently bore my children.

It’s certainly not the world that we read about in the great kingdom prophecies of Isaiah, in the teaching of Jesus or indeed in any of the aspirational passages of Scripture.

It isn’t supposed to be this way…

So – what are we to do?

Confronted by the pain and disillusion of here and now – how should we respond, as people of faith?

My first reaction, I must admit, owes less to faith than to fear. I want to gather those I love around me and circle the wagons...If the world has all gone wrong, I want to protect them if I can, or at least huddle together as we face the worst. There’s a lot of metaphorical huddling that goes on as we listen to the news day by day – but into this experience of anxiety, fear, even despair, Isaiah speaks

I will trust and not be afraid.

Oh my!

Thats an act of will I might not be able to manage....because right now

Fear seems perfectly rational to me!

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

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

You could say its a question of priorities. 

Isaiah seems very excited about all that he looks forward to when God does act,in terms of Gods people being established in peace and freedom...but  his trust will be bought at the expense of others for whom the land is also home so even here we can't relax into uncomplicated joy

Yes God does great things, but there's no guarantee of an easy ride. Paul points this out too, with his praise of solidarity in suffering

And his contention that to be confronted with insuperable difficulties,  even to face a sentence of death, is the route to perfect dependence on God.

We were so unbearably, utterly crushed that we despaired of life itself that we would rely not on ourselves but on God

My sympathy if that doesn't make you feel much better. Me neither yet....Trust is a choice we can make if we raise our eyes from the present struggles to see God's bigger picture...finally in God's dealings the answer is always YES

That’s extraordinary – and transformative, if we can but recognise it.

You see, what we believe about the future absolutely shapes how we live in the present.

We remain conscious of that sense that “it’s not supposed to be this way” - but instead of allowing that to halt us in our tracks, frozen in futility, we affirm that this is not our permanent home, not our eternal destiny.

We look forward to the day when the Lord is strength sing and salvation and so

we press on towards it as best we can...sometimes confident of the terrain, more often stumbling, having no idea where we are heading or how we will get there….simply keeping going in a long obedience to God’s call.

“Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly”

Keep moving forward faithfully, step by step.

Sometimes, our faith may not bring us all that we hoped for.

We try to trust God, to place in his hands our needs and those of the people we love – but things don’t pan out as we’d expected.

Lament, cry to God acjnowledge your fear (sometim3s you just cant fight it) but nonetheless keep trusting.

God’s got this.


Have faith.

Look forward

This isn't the end of the story....but the final word of that story will be Yes

Yes to healing

Yes to hope

Yes to light and life and love 

I stake my all on that.

Behold God is my salvation I will trust....

Sunday, July 17, 2022

One thing needed. Trinity 5C for Welcome to Sunday 17th July 2022

The duty of hospitality is something that Christianity shares with many world faiths...We know that it matters to be make space for all comers, - those we like on sight and those who make us nervous, those who are soul mates and those (sometimes including children) whose presence in our churches sometimes makes us wonder if we are losing our own precious sanctuaries. 

We know this – though we don't always find it easy.

Hospitality is written into our Christian DNA because we know that we are all recipients of God's boundless hospitality, his unconditional welcome that excludes nobody. NOBODY!

When St Benedict was writing his Rule – the template for monastic life that has influenced so much of the western church – he was clear that his brothers should welcome strangers as they would welcome Christ himself. That’s something we find ourselves wrestling with at the cathedral again and again when someone comes through our doors whose behaviour is best described as “Challenging”. To stand as a place of sanctuary means that our doors must be open without condition...After all, if we are welcoming strangers as it they were Christ, then actually the cathedral belongs not just as much but MORE to them than it does to we who find ourselves standing inside looking out.

That’s challenging – specially when behaviour that’s a bit different from our norm seems to threaten the very peace and beauty of worship which drew us there in the first place....How do we offer hospitality in equal measure to those whose needs are radically different? How do we balance the needs of those children who need to be themselves in their heavenly father’s house and those who have come to the cathedral because the presence of children in their parish church is too hard to bear in the wake of a bereavement?

How can we be fully inclusive of those who have been forced for too long to absent themselves from worship as they were made to feel unwelcome with those for whom the very word “Inclusive” is redolent of something that strikes at the heart of their understanding of Scripture?

How can we recognise the presence of Christ in ALL who present themselves?

I wonder how it played out among Benedict’s monks in the early years...How they created radical hospitality that really did have space and welcome for all...I'm confident that they didn't always find it easy, any more than we do today - but there really isn't any wiggle-room

We should welcome strangers as we would welcome Christ.

So – our gospel shows us two different approaches to the task of welcoming Christ himself....An honoured guest is treated to the best the house can offer and his hosts revere him as the one who brings God’s blessing. But hang on. This isn't simply a question of "Lovely to see you. Do come in". Cultural conventions are being flouted left right and centre, for Martha and Mary are women alone, householders in a society where lone women were generally beyond the pale. They risked their already compromised reputations in inviting a wandering rabbi and his disciples to eat with them and Jesus, of course, should not have accepted the invitation

But we know how little he cared for convention...How little he cares for it still.

He ALWAYS responds to our invitations, always comes to us if we are serious in inviting him, and so he comes to that house in Bethany and it's a red letter day. Martha longs to ensure that everything is just so...and bustles about, cleaning, cooking, doing all in her power to create a perfect occasion. She wants to make things right, - to show herself truly ready to welcome Jesus. To give him unmistakeable demonstrations of just how much she loves him, how much she longs to please him.

Mary just longs to be with Him show her love by spending every possible moment in his presence. Gazing on his face and feeling her heart and soul transformed by the loving gaze he offers in return.

Doesn't that sound wonderful.

But - Imagine a hot day like today.

Imagine that you’re with Martha, slaving away over a hot stove while everything in you longs to be sitting with your guest, hanging on his every word, treasuring the moment.

Small wonder that Martha is loudly resentful, unable to bear the way in which Mary is enjoying everything she longs for...She slams the pans down in the kitchen, emerges red-faced and angy...and oh, it must have been hard for her when Jesus appears to take Mary's part and points out what’s really going on – but I think that in fact he is offering her freedom.

You don't HAVE to do all that to please me. It's OK. Come and sit down. Let me love you

He offers that freedom to us as well.

The Christian life often seems very demanding. We've so much we could do, so many ways of serving God and his world. We could work at the food-bank or help with the flowers...we could visit the housebound or play games with the children...we could join a house group or enrol on a course. And obviously we could, and we do, create the great acts of worship that punctuate our cathedral year...the celebrations of festivals...the ordinations....the special events that bring hundreds of guests through our doors (and remember, we’re to welcome all of them as we would welcome Christ, who is both host and guest)...

All of those things may be right and good – part of our loving response to the love that we've received.And it's true enough that when we look into our inmost souls, when we stand in silence before God there will be much that we long to change...much that needs cleansing, restoring, renewing – but that's not something we can do for there's no point in tying ourselves in knots in our endeavour to be READY to welcome Jesus.

So- stop and listen to him now. These words are for each of us...for we've come here today because we want to spend time with Jesus, to make him welcome in our hearts and in our lives. These are his words to us.

You’re busy with many things, but only one thing is needed. We are here because you wanted to spend time with why not do that? Come, be with me – there's no need of special preparations or elaborate menus. Just come close. Let me welcome you as you want to welcome me....

That one thing needed is to be open and hospitable to come close to him so that he can come close to you. You don't have to be anyone special. You don't have to DO anything special. Just choose the one thing that is needed....Choose to be as close to Jesus as you can, and trust him to do the rest.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Sermon for the 1st Mass of the Revd Su McClellan, Coventry Cathedral, 10th July 2022.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, our Dean was involved in training a group of clergy, myself among them, to act as peer reviewers. There was a lot of good input that day but the thing that I carried with me and have returned to again and again was a poem, Priestly Duties, by Stewart Henderson. It’s way too long to share in its entirety (though it’s easy to find online), but its opening questions return to me regularly and seem apt today as we give thanks for this new chapter in Su’s ministry and share in the joy of this first Eucharist. 

It begins by asking “What should a priest be” and goes on to question “What should a priest do”, providing a series of answers that are both astute and comic, reflecting the complex expectations that we have of ourselves, as well as those projected by others. Many of these are contradictory 

 What should a priest be? 
All things to all – 
male, female and genderless ….. 

What should a priest be? 
accessible and incorruptible 
abstemious, yet full of celebration,
informed, but not threateningly so, 

Others are just terrifyingly unrealistic or utterly bonkers. 
Keep an eye open to spot times when miracles are expected of very ordinary, flawed and feeble might, once in a while, find you are falling prey to them yourself... 
What should a priest be? 
all-round family person 
counsellor, but not officially because of the recent changes in legislation,
teacher, expositor, confessor, 
entertainer, juggler, 
good with children, 
and possibly sea-lions, 

And so it continues – the kind of catalogue that has most clergy ruefully nodding in recognition of tropes that are all too familiar...though its final section comes very close to nailing some of my own longings and aspirations 

What does a priest do?
 tends the flock through time, oil and incense, 
would secretly like each PCC 
to commence with a mud-pie making contest 
sometimes falls asleep when praying 
yearns, like us, for heart-rushing deliverance 

What does a priest do? 
has rows with their family 
wants to inhale Heaven 
stares at bluebells 
attempts to convey the mad love of God 
would like to ice-skate with crocodiles 
and hear the roses when they pray. 

Of course none of this may resonate with you at all, so It’s a blessing, then, that Su and those ordained beside her last Sunday have another explicit agenda provided by the Ordinal. Those who were present will have heard Bishop Christopher sharing it – and again, do look on line if you can’t remember all the details. Once more, the list is distinctly demanding and generations of priests, having heard those words, have fallen on their knees thankful that in ordination we explicitly invite the Holy Spirit to come down upon the candidates, as there’s simply no chance we could ever manage what is asked of us alone. 

Some of the charge is directed at all those present, including the calling that most resonates with me “with all God’s people priests are to tell the story of God’s love” 
What an utterly wonderful responsibility – and one that is absolutely at the heart of today’s Gospel, when you come to think of it. Our parable shows us a love that transcends any boundaries we might choose to create. Of course, Jesus told the story in response to two pressing and pertinent questions “What must I do to obtain eternal life” and the supplementary “Who is my neighbour”. There are undoubtedly stock answers available for these, but the answers weren’t really the point.... The whole exchange is intended to catch Jesus out.. We don’t know what kind of lawyer is speaking to him...if a Pharisee, then eternal life is very much part of the theological deal...if a Saducee, then it absolutely is not, so by even asking the question there’s a covert intention to force Jesus to declare himself for one side or the other… Instead Jesus sidesteps the whole thing by inviting a lawyer to give a legal opinion, - “how do YOU interpret the law?” He is meeting the lawyer on his home ground, before bringing the question swiftly from the abstract to the specific...from theory to practice. 
 DO this and you shall live. 
DO this. 
 That’s a bit demanding isn’t it. Like the lawyer, we’d often prefer to celebrate theory rather than get involved in the mess and muddle of practice…and so the lawyer makes another attempt to protect himself, at least. Who IS my neighbour? 
Surely there must be ways in which I can limit this troublesome command to love...boundaries that can be confirmed, to protect me from anything too radical. 
 And so Jesus plunges into this beloved, familiar , challenging story...of neighbourly love neglected and then revealed in the most unlikely place. Of course we have no idea what prevented those insiders, the priest and Levite, who you might expect to be first on the scene to offer support, from actually doing anything for the unhappy traveller. We might imagine that it was the strict purity laws that intervened, but the truth is that the obligation to help someone in need would always trump those – so the likeliest explanation for their inaction is fear, pure and simple. To this day, that road from Jerusalem to Jericho remains rocky, desolate and dangerous and the fate of the traveller has already confirmed that there are unsavoury types about. We’ve all seen tv dramas where a driver stops in the dark in a response to an appeal for help, only to be ambushed himself – and this is that kind of situation. I doubt if I would have had the courage to stop...Fear often gets in the way of kindness...Maybe not fear of physical danger – but there are other threats – to reputation or self-image...The fear of rocking the boat...of standing out from the crowd...of finding oneself committed to something that after all seems far too demanding. I wonder if fear has ever stifled compassion for you? It’s a question worth asking. 

Of course, the point of the parable is that compassion is found in the outsider, the Samaritan...the one who was LEAST likely to tell the story of God’s love in any way that Jewish hearers could recognise. He showed it so clearly that even the lawyer, unable to actually articulate the word “Samaritan” nonetheless knows the answer to the final question from Jesus “Who do you think was a neighbour” The words may stick in his throat but he cannot deny...“The one who showed him mercy”… The one who actually did something to help. 

You see – that’s the point. 
hat command to do bookends the parable. 
Do this and you shall live. 
Go and do likewise 
A command to us all...that transcends the restrictions of race or tribe or religious institution. 
Love is a doing word that is so much more than warm fuzzy feelings. 
Tell the story of God’s love by the way we live each day, by the ways in which we demonstrate active compassion, by the ways we reach out beyond our comfort zones to ensure that EVERYONE is included, everyone welcomed, everyone embraced just as they are. 

And if you are unsure quite how you might achieve that, or what it might look like for you– well, we’re going to model that right here and right now. 
We’re going to hear Su speak those words in just a few minutes time. 
DO THIS in remembrance of me The Eucharist over which she presides for us today is itself both a living reality, Christ’s once for all sacrifice made real and present for this time and place AND a parable, a story into which we can enter to learn more about life in God’s kingdom…It is the story of God’s love retold by countless priests standing at countless altars around the world, day after day after day...
It is a story that Su has been preparing to tell in this way over all the years of discernment, the story that shapes our faith and enables us to share that faith with others. In the Eucharist, the story of God’s love is demonstrated as bread is broken and wine outpoured…. We are given an insight into the self-giving love at the heart of everything, we see it made real as we enter once again into the miracle that transforms the brokenness we bring so that it becomes the very life of God, here to be received by us all That is the story we are gathered to tell, the story that shapes and defines us, the story with the power to change the world. 
Never mind all the other demands and expectations, the aspirations, failures and regrets Never mind the priestly duties that can so occupy our time, our thoughts, our energy Together with all God’s people, priests are to tell the story of God’s love Su does this in many ways, by who she is and by what she does Today she does it in a new way as she gathers the hopes and dreams, the fears and failings, the prayers and longings of THIS community in an offertory that has always been about so much more than material gifts, of money , bread or wine. She takes our stories and brings them before God, who receives them and retells them in the language of a love that is stronger than everything in creation, stronger even than death. 
So – as we rejoice in our new priest let us hold on to our shared calling to tell that story...with our words, of course, but so much more with our lives…. How will we tell the story of God’s love here in Coventry Cathedral? How will you tell it in your daily life? It’s a calling for us all, an exercise in show and tell that gives us hope and purpose now, and beyond that the promise of life everlasting.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Trinity 1 C "Clothed and in his right mind"

One of the peculiar blessings of being here at the Cathedral is the sheer variety of people who find their ways through our doors...I think perhaps I never really understood the phrase “all sorts and conditions” before I came here. Often conversations with visitors are pure joy...So many people blown away by the beauty of our building or coming to reconnect with a precious memory of past visits and special people. Inspiring stories of the difference that reconciliation has made in their lives, and of the part that Coventry played in that. Moments of encounter with God in so very many ways. Other conversations, of course, can be more difficult – especially with those whose grip on what I’d see as reality seems to be on the loose side. Some visitors are clearly struggling with life, and this is reflected in behaviour that can be, at best, challenging. You may remember hearing of a visitor who arrived one Sunday evening during the 6.30 service clad only in an umbrella – but there are others, less dramatic, who don’t obviously fit into the gentle world of arts societies and choral evensong. I have to admit, I find those enounters uncomfortable. I would quite happily avoid them. Nonetheless, the demoniac in our gospel takes the phrase “challenging behaviour” to a whole new level. Small wonder that he is excluded from normal society. He's as frightening as he is frightened - not simply because of the shouting, the antisocial behaviour, the unnatural strength. His vulnerability is alarming too – a brutal reminder of our own frailty. When the chips are down, this is the truth of our existence….what Lear’s Fool describes as “unaccomodated man …a poor bare forked animal” We would prefer, I think, to clothe ourselves in more splendid garb, to imagine ourselves as more powerful, more sophisticated, with more agency in our own lives and our own destinies… We struggle with anything that challenges this, and so it’s much safer to turn away from those who might paint a different picture. Send them packing if you can. That’s what has happened to this man, driven out to live naked among the tombs, in a place of death and decay. He is at the mercy of the elements, as well as other less tangible forces beyond his control, beyond OUR control….and it is that lack of control that renders him most alarming. No wonder he is no longer welcome at home. He’s just too disruptive...the feelings he inspires just too big to accommodate. I cant help but wonder whether some of the more extreme views and behaviours that have gripped our country in recent years have a similar root. Quite often after listening to the news or reading an article on line I’ve thought “What has happened to us? Have we all gone quite mad?” … Is this our response to a feeling that we have lost control? That conflicting voices are goading us in different directions, that, like Elijah in the cave, we are taking shelter while earthquake, wind and fire rage around us... I guess that many of us may have been feeling overwhelmed by the rate of change even before the pandemic hit, with its insistent reminders that we are not, after all, in charge of our own lives, commanders of our own destinies, as we might have liked to believe. The past 2 years have made it very clear indeed that for all our startling brilliance, the stunning achievements of civilisation, nonetheless as the Collect puts it “through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing” And we don’t like hearing that. We don’t want to confront our own helplessness, our own neediness, our own nakedness. We’re in control, remember. So, when the evidence suggests otherwise, we take steps to distance ourselves We turn away from those who make us uncomfortable. We may choose to ignore inconvenient truths about our pwn reality or better still, we might cast out those who disturb us, to pretend that they and their problems do not exist. Maybe we could try shipping them off somewhere… If that’s sounding a bit political, can I remind you that there’s quite a political agenda present in the healing miracle we’re considering. The story is set on the other side of Lake Galillee, in the Decapolis, a part of occupied Palestine where the Romans are very much in evidence asserting their unwanted control. We are not intended to miss the implications, when the demons speak as Legion, and are cast out from their human host, straight into a herd of swine. Hard to think of a more appropriately insulting abode for them from the viewpoint of observant Jews...and when the swine charge into the lake, (remember the sea is synonymous with chaos in Jewish thought,) - well, you don’t have to look very hard between the lines to see a bit of wish-fulfillment and a declaration of God’s power over all the forces of oppression, whether political or supernatural. That’s probably quite helpful for us. We may be slightly wary of the overtly supernatural – but nonetheless, we might still see ourselves, or our society, embodied in the struggling demoniac. Though we won’t use the language of possession, we cannot deny that many find themselves at the mercy of feelings, thoughts and patterns of behaviour that they would never have chosen...driven by addictions beyond their control..Fightings and fears, within, without… Things that strip away our disguise and leave us naked, our vulnerabilities exposed again. But in this place of fear and fragmentation we meet Jesus. We shouldn't be surprised to find him there. Others may have written the demoniac off – but not Jesus. He always pays particular attention to those excluded, literally and metaphorically -- those with nothing, beggars at the gate, lepers, bleeding women and dead children. He thinks nothing of engaging with the ritually unclean – and here he is in unclean Gentile territory, close to that herd of swine… Jesus is never choosy about the company he keeps -for he is intent on restoring not just the individual but the community as well....Again and again he confronts everything that stands in the way of wholeness, everything that divides us from one another, everything that prevents us from knowing the love of God in loving community. Here in this wasteland of death and destructive behaviour Jesus stands – and sees that within the alarming person of the demoniac is one of God's own precious children. The demoniac recognises Jesus too – asking him a crucial question “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God” Naming is powerful. The demoniac no longer knows who he is. He has lost his own name, his own identity, and is at the mercy of so many voices, driving him every which way, intent on his destruction. But Jesus speaks into that maelstrom and brings healing. The inner storms cease. For all their volume, those were never really the important voices. At last the man can listen and in the sheer silence, he knows and is fully known, restored to the truth of himself and, in due course, to his community. You see, ultimately this is another story of reconciliation – our story, our song. So, I wonder where you would place yourself in this narrative. Are you the man tortured by so many conflicting voices, so many fightings and fears that you have lost track of yourself? Or perhaps you’re just off-stage, among the conscientious community that has driven him in to exile, as his rantings are just too disruptive, too disturbing, and you must preserve the peace? Or one of the swineherds, whose livelihood is destroyed by this unprecedented turn of events...for sometimes God’s works of mercy to some seem to come at a cost to others? Or a disciple, gasping in amazement at the company your Lord keeps almost more than at the wonders he performs? It can be hard to watch Jesus engaging so attentively with those whom we don’t understand at all, those who don’t look like us, speak like us, respond like us...We are striving to follow him, and yet he seems sometimes to prefer to focus on those who show no interest in him at all. I wonder where you are in the story. There may not be many parts that you’d LIKE to claim for yourself. But wherever you are, remember, there is hope. Jesus is here, healing what is broken, engaging with the powers of the world Yes, truly – Jesus is HERE. It’s easy, I think, for us to name some of the demons that drive our society mad...There’s poverty, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry… There’s self-interest, pride, hatred, greed, ...Just think of our Litany and you’ll find it easy to name the legion…Endless varieties of unkindness, couched in the most respectable, acceptable terms to exclude some and imprison others. A panoply of Powers that seek to divide us one from another, to prevent us from living as citizens of the Kingdom. But we’re not bound by them. We do not need to run naked, at the mercy of their tormenting, conflicting voices, nor do we have to protect ourselves with the garments of false self that preserve us from acknowledging our vulnerability. Be still Listen. Amid that clamour, there is someone speaking who knows the truth of who we are, each one of us, and better still the truth of who we could be. Listen. He calls you by name. He will clothe you and restore you to your right mind. The power of his love drives out demons and restores outcasts to their community, commissioning them, commissioning us, to declare to OUR families, OUR city just how much God has done for us.