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”...to 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.

c 

Monday, August 08, 2022

Evensong sermon for Trinity 8 2022


BEHOLD GOD IS MY SALVATION. I WILL TRUST AND WILL NOT BE AFRAID

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 ....so 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.

Really.

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 welcoming...to 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 ..to 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 ourselves...so 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 me...so 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 God...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 clergy...you 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. 
DO THIS... T
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. 
DO THIS 
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. 
DO THIS 

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. 
DO THIS 
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. 
DO THIS. 
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.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Welcome to Sunday - Pentecost 2022

 When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of Coventry Cathedral were all gathered together in one place when suddenly………..  How would you carry on with the story? After all, those words from Joel draw each one of us into the dreaming of dreams and the seeing of visions. What would your dream, your vision be for this church family on this day of Pentecost? Does it feel to you as if the coming of the Holy Spirit might surprise us all at any moment, or do the events we’ve been hearing about have a flavour of unreality, of long ago and far away that can have little impact on Coventry in 2022? Sometimes it’s easy to be trapped by our own weariness, - the pandemic has taken its toll on all of us, whether we fell ill or not, and it’s not impossible that we might really never be the same again.. Personally, I’ve found it very temptingto simply focus on keeping going without daring to lift my eyes to see God’s bigger picture, to allow sheer exhaustion to divorce me from the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit… If you’ve ever felt like that, imagine how it must have been for the disciples…They had lived through the emotional upheaval of the first Holy Week and Easter…the grief and despair of Good Friday, the confused excitement of the Resurrection, the joyful reunions with a Jesus who was both the same and also unutterably different. They had heard him promise to be with them always – but seen him vanish from their sight. Now they were faced with getting on with things by themselves– and perhaps his promise to send them a comforter seemed less than helpful. They didn’t want comfort. They wanted Jesus, with them at every stage…Without him they had no sense of the big picture, no inkling of where God might be leading them, certainly no courage to dream. Does that sound at all familiar? I’m pretty certain that the disciples, waiting obediently because they had no idea what else they could do, had no inkling of what was about to happen. So the impact of the Spirit’s coming upon them is the more amazing. Suddenly, there is courage and conviction. Suddenly there is complete understanding of just what God has been doing (would Peter the fisherman of old have launched into this sort of sermon? Clearly not) Where there was weariness and despair, suddenly everything becomes new and exciting. History has reached a turning point. Through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence became real once again for the disciples. Through God’s gift of the Spirit, God’s presence is real for us - with us, in us and even working through us. The word for Spirit in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) also means ‘breath’ – and breath, of course, is synonymous with life. It INSPIRES us…bringing new life to the world, to each individual and each community, near and far, past, present and future. New life…for weary churches, for battered communities, for a hurting world. Perhaps that’s how we should carry on with the story… “When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of Coventry Cathedral were all gathered together in one place when suddenly everyone realised that they could make a difference…that they had a specific and important role to play in changing the world for the sake of the Kingdom. So they began to pray.. and to work together to affirm life in all its fullness” I think that might be one happy ending that would make God smile…but there are others too, for the Holy Spirit does not just bring new life…the Holy Spirit empowers people so that they can empower others... Those confused and defeated men found themselves transformed into radical preachers of a dynamic message, full of confidence, longing to share their gospel in all directions. They knew at first hand what a difference God could make in the lives of the most ordinary, unexceptional people…and they wanted their friends, their neighbours, and the strangers from across the world to experience that same transformation. Might that be the end of the story? “the people of Coventry Cathedral were so thrilled by the reality of God’s presence that they, that WE, could no longer keep quiet but simply had to go out and tell the world, - better yet, show the world, that things had changed. We’re not just called to be a gathering of good, well-meaning people but a sign of God’s new creation! These actions of the Spirit show the changes God wants to bring about in the world. And the message of Pentecost is that God calls and equips us, as transformed people, to play our part in this mission. We are called to live in a new way. Through the Holy Spirit we can see things differently, recognise the truths that lie beneath the surface of our own lives, the comfortable excuses we make to ourselves about our own lifestyles, and see the injustices around us. Through the Holy Spirit we can have courage to “speak truth to power” - to call out corruption and dishonesty, greed and selfishness, no matter where we encounter them. From the upper room, the disciples went out to prophesy and testify on the streets of Jerusalem. They told the truth about what had happened in recent weeks, and about where it would lead the world. Many joined their number as a result. As followers of Christ, we are also called to proclaim God’s love, and the justice he requires. We are challenged to speak and to act where there is injustice and abuse in our world, and of our world…to be a voice for the poor and the marginalised…and a voice for the planet itself, the fragile earth whose balance human greed has threatened. So, another ending to the story “The people of Coventry Cathedral pledged themselves to respond to the needs of the world around them by living lives based on God’s justice…by working to make trade fair…by befriending the planet….” Big words, big concepts – but we are all ordinary people, living largely insignificant lives in unimportant places…and yet, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit unites people in purpose and mission. “When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of Coventry Cathedral knew themselves important in God’s great plan. They recognised that the Holy Spirit is already with them, giving them the gifts they need to bring about God’s dream for this place…and they dared to look ahead, to see God’s bigger picture, and to weave their own dreams to collaborate in the coming of the Kingdom” So - will you pray with me?  God of the rushing wind, sweep through our indifference.  God of the fiery flames, ignite our compassion.  God of the many voices, open our mouths to speak out against injustice. That through your Spirit and our actions this world may be transformed. Amen.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

No Words – just Jesus

 


This was the final slide at the final Mass of this year’s On Fire Mission conference, there to convey the information that, though we weren’t going to attempt to take the Blessed Sacrament for a walk in the grounds our final blessing would come not through human words but through the Benediction of the Sacrament.

But for me, this was also a short-hand for a series of beautiful, precious encounters that I had with Christ in the Sacrament during that wonderful season at On Fire. - and indeed, a lifetime of graced moments which have ensured that my theology of Eucharist is incontrovertibly that of Real Presence.

I don’t think I ever really doubted it. I grew up amid the incense-laden heights of Sussex Anglo-Catholicism. Even my beloved honorary mother, who self-identified as a heathen, was very clear indeed that she was “HIGH heathen” and all my early experiences of worship were full of awe, wonder, and multi-sensory delight. I’m not sure that my Confirmation and 1st Communion, aged 13, were remarkable in themselves, but I do know that I had a real sense of Jesus slipping his hand into mine at some of the trickiest moments of my teens, and I recognised that those experiences of his closeness were in some way tied to the whole business of Communion.

It wasn’t, though, til I joined the choir of St John the Divine, Kennington, when I landed in London after university, that I really began to grasp what was going on. Once a month the choir sang Evensong with Benediction at the chapel at St Gabriel’s college down the road, and though Evensong had been my spiritual life-line during my student days, college chapels offered glorious music but not in my experience Eucharistic devotion, so I had less than no idea what to expect.

The choir sat at the back of the chapel, I’m short-sighted and anyway, and that first Sunday evening I didn’t really know that I SHOULD be looking out for anything in particular as the liturgy moved from the familiar territory of Evensong into something completely different, completely wonderful.

I’ve no idea at what point it was that I found myself completely bowled over by a wave of love that brought me to my knees, and left me there, head bowed, for the rest of the service. I just know that suddenly that reassuring hand was back in mine, that I knew without question that I was utterly beloved and that, no matter what life looked like, everything at the deepest level really was alright.

And….it has been that way ever since.

No words – just Jesus.

Just Jesus in the Sacrament, offering, quietly, to hear my confession as I waited close to the tabernacle for an available priest at On Fire 3 years ago…

Jesus flooding the space with light and beauty and love and peace as I knelt this year in a once soul-less conference room that was suddenly the best, the only place to stay and sing, and experienced the glorious blend of Compline and Benediction.

Jesus, wonderfully, being taken from the tabernacle to join worshippers at a Forest Church experience just as I (this time properly equipped with a fellow priest ready to hear my confession) had said “I’d LIKE to meet for Sacrament of Reconciliation close to Jesus but I rather think that the meeting room is in use”...so that I was able to kneel close by, under a tree, so very conscious of his presence that it was absolutely as the hymn has it

and in his ear all trustingly, I told my tale of misery...”

No. It makes no sense at all – but all the same, for me it is deeply, wonderfully, true.

I’m not sure why I’m writing, really. I guess so that when I hit one of those times when God feels a little more distant, I have a little altar in the wilderness to remind me of precious encounters.

But really, I should heed that wise advice

No words – just Jesus”.


Saturday, May 28, 2022

That they might be one - thoughts for Easter 7 C at St Francis, Radford

If you ever find yourself talking to a priest about their job and ask them what aspect of their work they love most, the chances are you won’t wait long before they rather apologetically mention funerals.

I have to say, I’m another enthusiast for these opportunities to stand beside a family in the torrents of love and grief and honesty, and try and find ways to help them process all of that...to light a candle of hope amid the sadness...to offer a reminder of God’s love stronger than everything in creation. It’s holy ground and I’m always conscious of the privilege of walking there.Yet more precious are those times when I’ve been with a friend in the last stages of their journey, and together we have worked out the whole heart-breaking but hope-filled business of saying goodbye. Recently I’ve trodden that path through long months of decline with a beloved friend and priest, and together we found comfort in the worlds of Thomas More “Pray for me as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven”. Wendy loved prosecco and I opened bottle and raised a glass to her on her birthday, which fell just a few days after her death this month, as I reflected on the bubbles of resurrection joy she would now be experiencing til next we meet...

Equally, I’ll never forget the words that Pat, a dear lady in my last parish, left to me                    I'll see you later...” she said “Here or there”

In both cases, the words were a wonderful expression of the faith that had filled and shaped their lives and spilled out to touch the lives of others...and I paid special attention in those conversations because I was very conscious that we would not be chatting together on this earth for much longer.


Last words have a special power – and our gospel today is part of the the lengthy prayer that Jesus offers at the Last Supper in John's gospel – the wise words that are know as “The Farewell Discourse”

Last words of advice from our Lord himself…

Clearly we should all sit up and take notice.

We NEED to hear what Jesus is saying.

And what does he say?

Well, on one level, he says nothing to US at all.

We are eavesdroppers, listening in as he prays to his Father – but as so often in the gospels there is a sense that we are meant to hear just as elsewhere in John, Jesus says to God

You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me."

But this prayer is both an entreaty to God – to make things happen – and a declaration for us of the way things should be.

At this most crucial point in his earthly ministry Jesus asks God for one thing for us

That they may all be one”

Words that have troubled and burdened us ever since, as we deal with factions and disputes, as we take sides over theology and worship separately on the grounds of belief or simply of preference.

Words that can change how you feel in a matter of moments.

Let me explain. Some years ago, before I came to Coventry, I was at a training event – and sitting at the same table as my then Bishop. I wasn't very pleased with him that day. Not long before he had refused to publicly affirm something that mattered a great deal to me – and I was planning to air my disappointment with him in the course of the event. Only very early on, as an illustration of something (I can't remember what) we were asked to give something we valued to someone else around our table to look after for the rest of the day. And so it was that I found myself wearing Bishop Michael's episcopal ring for a few hours.

It was heavy on my hand – a man's signet ring with a dark stone...and around the stone I saw engraved “Ut unum sint” “That they might all be one” As I read those words and realised that for Bishop Michael they would be non-negotiably present whenever he caught sight of his hand, at any moment on any day, I understood just HOW heavy the ring really was – and how heavy the burden on our bishops to be a focus of unity within the church. Every day they are confronted with the need to make Jesus's high priestly prayer a reality – while the members of the churches they serve seem intent on ignoring it as much as possible. For a little while that day I was able to put aside my own anger and disappointment that +Michael had not fallen in with my particular agenda as I recognised his role in calling us back to the over-riding agenda that Jesus placed before us in his farewell discourse.

That they might all be one”

But oh, we seem so far from becoming the answer to that prayer.

There are divisions within our families, our churches, our nation.

A seemingly endless series of opposing pairs – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; Christian or Muslim; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; have or have not.

But those labels that we bandy about so liberally are attached not to issues but to people...real people, with names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like our own. I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is easier to deal with an issue than a real person...to keep our distance from the unfamiliar by drawing lines to exclude and to reassure ourselves that WE are right, approved of, accepted, in control. That’s why I believe that our Cathedral’s Litany of Reconciliation is important...It doesn’t pray “Father forgive THEM” as it catalogues the ways in which we harm one another and the planet. Instead it says “Father forgive” - recognising that there is no “them” and “us” - that we all alike mess up and need forgiveness. That life is not designed to be a contest, or an expression of a binary universe where if I am to win, someone must lose, if I’m to be included someone must be excluded…Both/and, rather than either/or, is the message, even as the divisions of our lives seem sharper and wider than ever.

But still Jesus prays “that they may be one”

He doesn't pray for tolerance, for smoother relations between factions...

He doesn't pray that differences would be eliminated.

He prays “That they may be one......as he and the Father are one – so that OUR oneness might be a revelation of God's presence in the world.


That does not mean, however, that we will lose our identity or individuality. You are called to be YOU – not a bland copy of me...And I’m to be me, Kathryn, with all the joy and frustration that this entails.

This is unity, not uniformity.

Jesus does not stop being Jesus nor the Father stop being the Father because they are one.

Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other.

Their oneness – and the oneness to which we should aspire - is not about eliminating differences.

It is about love.

Love is the only thing that can ever overcomes division...for divisions are, ultimately, based on fear...and perfect Love (the love we meet in God) casts out fear.


In love there may be differences but there is no division.

God’s love knows no conditions and no boundaries.

God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight.

God loves Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated.

God loves young and old, introverts and extroverts, haves and have nots...all those on either side of the binary divisions we’ve created

All are loved fully, completely, and uniquely.


Often when I'm baptising I tell the family “Baptism will change nothing on God's part. God already loves your child so much that if she was the only person every born, Jesus would still have come into the world for her.”

I don't often unpack what that total love means...

God's love has NO boundaries...not even between Jesus and you...or me.

Shall I say that again?

God loves you as much as he loves Jesus.

God loves your neighbour as much as he loves Jesus.

God loves your enemy as much as he loves Jesus.

No difference, no distinction.

Absolute love for each and every one.


If that is how God loves how can we be content to do less?

For far too long we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. See where that's lead! It's not very pretty

Though Jesus is praying to the Father you and I will in large part be the ones to answer his prayer.

We can collaborate with Him – or go our own way, clinging to those divisions wrought from fear and suspicion.

Let's begin, every day, to choose Love.