Monday, July 15, 2024

Thought for the day. Southwark 13th July 2024

 I wonder where you are in the story.

Yes, I know I ask that question quite often.

That's because I think it's one of the very best ways to engage with Scripture, rather than sim0ly find yourself lulled into unthinking by a familiar scenario, a sense that you already know what is going to happen.

So...I wonder where you are in the story.

Likes account of the Last Supper.

A scene we know so well ThatThat we literally have a liturgy that brings us into the story week after week after week. We know the script 

We really do know what happens.

But I don't think it was ,ike that for the disciples.

Come on. REALLY think about.

Set aside any sense of wondering devotion inspired by a long Eucharistic obedience 

It won't have felt like THAT at all

Rather I imagine it was one of those situations in which while we understand each individual word, the overall message of the conversation makes no sense at all.

"What, oh what, is Jesus talking about?

Why is this the last Passover he will eat?

Are those ugly rumours about forthcoming violence true? And if they are, why are we here in thecfebrile atmosphere of Jerusalem at festival time..?

How can he know he won't drink wine again until the kingdom comes?

And then he blesses and breaks the bread but instead of taking us into our past, into our familiar defining story of Passover, he says, quite calmly, that the bread is his body.

The wine his blood

Even Jesus surely can't rewrite a story, change its meaning, just like that.

And if he has...what are we supposed to do?

EAT and DRINK.? While the man we love is still sitting among us, full of life and love? Really?!?

How can we?

Surely that would be an unforgivable betrayal, not an act of faith?

It seems that Jesus is expecting betrayal from one of us....but that hasn't stopped him sharing this strangest of meals with all of us. Each and every one of us as welcome, as beloved as ever, no matter what.

I wish I understood what he was talking about, what it all means...."

I wonder whether it began to make some kind of sense for them in the coming days or whether they clung on in blind obedience to the mandate Do this in Remembrance of me gaining confidence little by little every time...

I wonder too, whether the visitors who enter our churches and hear those same words, so familiar the insider, are every bit as confused and disturbed,

What a way to celebrate love....

And yet...and yet...the experience of eating and drinking in humble obedience brings the deep certainty that Christ is with us, that we can, and do, meet him in the breaking of bread.

May we find ourselves in the story, welcomed, fed, transformed...


Sunday, July 07, 2024

Trinity 6 Evensong, for the end of Choir Year

:‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’

So then, each of us will be accountable to God 


I hope, on this last Sunday of the cathedral choir’s year, that the rest of the congregation will forgive me if I literally Preach to the Choir.

You see, week by week, service by service – they preach to us.

Their tongues, their voices give praise to God and encourage the rest of us to do the same, whether we arrive as fervent believers or curious spectators. That’s the power of music in worship. It takes us up, even despite ourselves ,and transports us to places we cannot reach in other ways. 

Sometimes it catches us unawares and while it may be the tune that we take away in our conscious thoughts, often that tune carries with it words that lodge in our hearts, shaping us against our expectations.

You see, I’m pretty confident that, regardless of your feel8mgs about God, you cannot sing as you without having a keen sense of beauty...and beauty rests in something that is beyond the strictly rational. I know that those in the choir will be all too familiar with my describing music as something that can open windows on to heaven. I really do believe it. It is, I guess, pretty much why I am a Precentor...because I believe in the power of words and music together to effect what they describe.

But I wonder, oh my loved and lovely choristers, if you had ever noticed that you are potentially enticing a riot whenever you sing the Magnificat. 

Listen to yourselves

He has put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away

If that’s not revolution I’m not sure what is. 

That’s the world turned upside down even more assuredly than our own UK political landscape in the small hours of Friday morning.

And you, as you sing the Song of Mary with so much beauty and skill, are reminding us that this – THIS – is what God has done, and what God will always do...Challenging injustice, unseating oppressive power, lifting up the lowly.

And God invites us into living in that world of Magnificat right here and now...We are to be part of building it.

 It is here that our accountability lies.

What does that mean for us?

Sometimes we seem to put our own gloss on it. We choose to assert that, as God's kingdom is not of this world, so we can live our daily lives according to the rule of our own wills. We leave God to one side in some kind of remote insubstantial spiritual realm which doesn't impact on our actual behaviour at all, and seek to build a kingdom based on our own desires.

That’s NOT being accountable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Remember, this is the God who is SO involved in human kind that He opts to join in with our life in all its mess and muddle, frustration and disappointment.

He's invested in us, all right.

Interested whenever his children cry out for justice...whenever they long for bread but are given stones....whenever we exclude or deny or try to limit His life-giving, transforming Grace.

Christ's Kingdom may not be FROM this world but it is most emphatically FOR this world...For those taking up new roles in government, assuming weighty responsibilities that might just reshape our national life for the better...and for those who are having to rethink their lives in the light of electoral defeat….

For those who now dare to believe that they may have a voice in the conversation and a place at the table, and those who are anxious that at a time of new beginnings they might be discarded, excluded while the world oves on.

For the General Synod of the Church of England in all its current pain and division and, for the people of this city, - baffled, apathetic, distressed...f

In all these structures, and in every aspect of our lives, we are to be accountable to God as together we look for the signs of God’s Kingdom,  founded on love that gives without reserve, that befriends with ceaseless generosity, that values everyone, regardless of gender or opinion, as someone made in God's image, someone for whom Christ was pleased to die…

So as we sing of a world transformed and renewed, we can begin to LIVE the Magnificat. Let the music effect what it describes in your hearts and in your lives...and let is song continue in your soul through these holiday weeks when we may not worship together...because the Magnificat is for life and not just for Choral Evensong...it is a rallying cry which calls the world together to magnify the Lord, to sing God’s praise and with our lives as with our voices.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

A Sermon for St Edward's Kempley, Trinity 5, for the first Mass of Molly Boot.30th June 2024

 It’s a complete delight to be with you here in the beautiful Leadon Vale...a bit of a change from Elephant and Castle, where my day began. Coming down the A40, as soon as I crossed the border from Oxfordshire the memories began. I passed signs to The Rissingtons, where I served as a Reader fir 10 years before ordination, Charlton Kings where I served my title and resisted the urge to follow the road to Stroud where I was a very happy incumbent.


I loved living in Gloucestershire – but for one thing. It is so distressingly far from the sea.


Like Molly, I grew up in East Sussex, and have loved the sea all my days, whatever the weather.

As a child I imagined the Sea of Gallilee to be very like the English Channel off Hastings – and whenever I heard the gospel that has just been shared with us, I imagined Jesus and Peter crunching their way along the shingle as they completed their life-changing conversation. I would be there,  trailing along behind, and catching a few words til the wind blew them away.


I have since had the joy of visiting the Holy Land, and even read this passage to a group of pilgrims on the shores of Galilee – but even so, I’ve yet to re-imagine the story in its true setting. Somehow the sea off Hastings, in all its many moods, has become inextricably entangled with my images of God, so the first time I sang the hymn we’ve just enjoyed together, it made perfect, uncompromising sense.


"There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.."

When I sing it, there I am, a small child on Hastings beach, looking out at the vastness that stretches as far as my eye can see...The chances are that I am singing, or shouting poetry into the waves (I've not changed much through the years!), safe in the knowledge that the sound of the breakers will drown me out. I can say anything and the sea will just keep on being itself and let me be myself, and everything is absolutely alright.


Please don’t panic at this point, and think that I’ve given in to panentheism and am so intent on meeting God in creation that I’ve confused creation with Creator. While that can sometimes seem a tempting diversion, it's never really more than a signpost...a prompt to help us look in the right direction.


"A wideness like the wideness of the sea..."


God’s boundless mercy, God’s endless love – there, just for the taking.

There for Peter, who has so comprehensively failed in his aspirations that he has denied the One whom he held most dear.

There for each of us, no matter what is going on in our lives, whether we feel able to respond, to dip a cautious toe in, or not.

There despite what our flawed and broken institutions may say.


A love that is truly broader than the measure of our minds


And it is into this love that each one of us is invited today.


Our Gospel has a very particular invitation, which understandably resonates with many who have taken a leap of faith and hitched their wagon to ministry in the creaking institutional church. 

Jesus tells Peter – Peter, crushed, mortified, overcome by his failure to stay true to his call – that he still has work to do…

."Feed my lambs...tend my sheep…"

Despite his proven inadequacies, he remains one of the foundation-stones on which God builds his Church, and Jesus trusts him to care for the people Jesus loves.


Often the call to ordained ministry is thought about in those terms – shepherding a flock, keeping them safe, fed, watered. 

If you were in the cathedral yesterday, you’ll have heard a lot about what the Church expects of her priests…They are not just to shepherd but to teach and preach, absolve admonish,  baptise and so much more....It’s an exhaustive and exhausting list, which can all too easily leave clergy feeling defeated at times, but I think that at its heart it boils down to one central calling


Listen


“With all God’s people, priests are to tell the story of God’s love”


That’s it. That’s at the heart of everything. THAT is what Molly has signed up for this weekend...but it’s not their calling alone .

Yes, of course ordination matters.  

God’s Church has been blessed and changed forever by this new priest – who, wonderfully, gloriously, is the self-same Molly, flawed and gifted and graced as we all are...

Our Molly, whom we love,- and so we are rightly excited and delighted to see what they and God will get up to together in this new phase.


As God’s priest they are empowered to tell God’s story in particular ways, inviting others to take their place in it, offering God’s forgiveness to those burdened by doubt, feeding God’s people in the Sacrament of Bread and wine, God’s very life offered to each of us as a gift of transformation and hope. 


Molly, your new priest, will seek to tell that great story through how she lives her life each and every day...but it’s not their calling alone. 


As God pours an immeasurable, unbounded tide of love into our hearts and draws us inexorably ever closer. there is a vocation and ministry for all of us, that uses all our gifts, and makes sense of all that we are to shape a song that only we can sing.


Today, and every Sunday as we gather for worship, the God stories become real, lived experience 

We meet with God in one another – made in God’s image, carrying oour own spark of creativity and compassion- gifted by God to serve the world in this time and this place.

We meet with God in God’s Word, shared and interpreted to challenge and change us.

We meet with God in a fragment of bread and a sip of wine, God’s very life offered to each of us as a transforming gift.


And then – this is where it gets really exciting – we are to take that gift and share it….take that story of love and tell it to others, using words if we must….

It’s a story born before the world began to be,.a story which sweeps us up and carries us along until by God’s grace we are embraced in love for eternity.


Molly, even on the bad days, stay with that story – for it is the truest thing there is...and let us tell it here together til, by Gods grace we see God face to face and need story no longer, for we know as we are known.



Sunday, June 09, 2024

Where are you? A sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist, Southwark, Trinity 2 (Proper 5)B 2024

Disclaimer: Before we dive into this morning's thoughts, let me reassure you. I believe that Scripture can be many things, and can be read in many different ways. Sometimes it points to deep truth through the language of story or myth - but it is nonetheless true for all that.

I suspect that I am not alone in finding that there are lines in Scripture that have the power to stop me in my tracks whenever I hear them.

Sometimes it is because they shine a spotlight on a deep truth that I need to hear.

Sometimes it is because they force me to recognise something about myself and the way I am living my life

But sometimes, it is because they take me to a place of such utter beauty that I would long to be there, more than anywhere else in the world.

The first sentence of our Genesis reading today is firmly in that category. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze”.                                                                                                       Oh, - I so want to be there...To hear God’s footsteps walking across thhe grass….God’s presence making perfect an already perfect place, for this is Eden, God’s company hallowing an already sacred time.

I imagine myself running to meet him...slipping my hand in his and strolling on enjoying the evening breeze together.,Everything is just as it should be. Just as God has always intended.

And it was good.

Til I look down and realise I’m naked, unfit to be seen. That I must hide. And I run off into the trees because my shame and my fear are greater even than my longing to be close to God…I slope off , as Adam and Eve did before me,

And God calls out to me “Where are you?”

If this is hide and seek its’s a game with the highest stakes, the greatest prize.

Where are you?

God’s first question in Scripture...addressed to Adam and Eve, yes – but beyond them to everyone...who has lived since, who will ever live.

Where are you?

I wonder how you hear that question.

I suspect that quite often our knowledge that this is the story of the Fall, - the day when it all went wrong – constrains us to hear the voice of an angry parent.       "Where ARE you, you disobedient child? You’ve failed me, let yourself down and now you are in BIG TROUBLE."

If that’s the tone that you hear, well, it might well make sense to stay hidden, hidden from God, - and maybe even hidden from yourself,After all, humankind cannot bear too much reality.

There’s a measure of that in the Genesis story, where nobody is keen to look at the world in the light of God’s truth, nobody is willing to take responsibility for their actions...Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, and the serpent slithers away, content at the chaos caused. In this version of events “Where are you?” seems inevitably to lead to “Come hear so that you can be punished...”

But what if we reframe it, hear that question in a different tone? Still a parent, but one who is anxious, afraid that their child is in danger, unable to rest until they are sure they are safe and sound.                                                                 Where are you? Come here love...I’m waiting. It’ll be alright”.

I wonder if that voice sounds more familiar...the voice of the God who so loves the world…Can you quite believe the generosity of that invitation? Is it enough to draw you from your hiding place? Dare you, dare I,  accept that depth of love?

Or maybe, just maybe, this is a wistful call from a God who loves those evening walks in the garden, who is missing those precious companions made in God’s image...Can we hear the voice of the lover entreating the beloved               “Where are you? My arms are empty, until you come to fill them once again”

However you hear the question it is surely one worth attending to. God only asks, you see, because we are none of us quite where we should be. We have become so caught up in ourselves that we cannot stand the thought of God seeing us naked , undefended,...in all the bare truth of our flawed humanity...and so we prefer to slip away into the trees.

In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is the world’s first theologian because it is the serpent who convinces humankind to exchange obedience to God for theology about God. That’s a little unnerving, specially for those of us for whom doing theology is a substantial part of how we live out the vocation that we believe is one of God’s gifts to us...but then, misreading what God is ACTUALLY calling us to is a problem as old as humanity.It’s the same problem the scribes were dealing with, - they had become so trapped by their own understandings of how God would be that they simply couldn’t recognise God walking beside them in the person of Jesus Christ. Their presumed knowledge had become a means of self preservation and protection in its own right, rather than a means of transmitting and communicating faith in the living God.

Small wonder, then, that Jesus draws a clear line to point up the contrast. Relationship with God depends not on knowledge nor on obedience to any elaborate system of codified laws...nor even on family background. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”

Time to ask ourselves afresh that key question “where are you?” Are you hiding from God? Or have you created an elaborate system designed to fend God off while purporting to bring you closer? 

We often speak of searching for God, as if in this ultimate game of hide and seek it might be God who is playing hard to get. I hope by now you are beginning to realise that this is not the case. Rather, the whole sweep of salvation history is the story of our relentless pursuit by the one whom Francis Thompson described as the Hound of Heaven….

I fled him down the nights and down the days

I fled him down the arches of the years

I fled him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind...”

Again, it takes a long time (171 lines of poetry in fact) for Thompson to understand that this is not a hostile pursuit…to recognise that though God has eternity in which to find us, God does so only to bring us safely back to that walk in the garden at the time of the evening breeze

Rise, clasp my hand and come” says the final stanza, a gracious invitation to all.

When I first read today’s lections, my heart sank as I homed in upon emnity, a house divided, a mother and siblings rebuffed. I’m glad that the Spirit drew me to focus on that picture of the Lord God walking quietly, inviting us to come close again. When I logged on last night for one last polish, one more attempt to offer what it seemed that God wanted me to bring today, I found that a friend had posted what was presented as a summary of the whole of Scripture.

Perhaps I should simply have shared that and left you to ponder, for hear I read that the God who asks “where are you” has a 4 line manifesto.

It runs like this. Listen!

I love you.

I am with you.

Do not be afraid.

You can come home.

Amen. 

Thanks be to God





 

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Holy family? A thought for Morning Prayer on the feast of the Visitation, 31st May 2024 at Southwark

 Families

They bring you joy

They bring you pain

And they very rarely turn out the way you expect.

I was young when I was first betrothed to Joseph...very young.....naive...hopeful....

He was kind, gentle...and we walked the hills around Nazareth imagining our future home..Naming in our dreams the children we might have together

That was before the angel came and the world changed forever.

Honestly I didn't know what to say, what to think, how to feel

Was this new beginning going to end all my hopes and dreams of a quiet family life?

I know I had a choice, but honestly...how could I say no when God called, however strange the summons?

At first I hugged the news to myself, praying in the wakeful nights, pouring out to God all my amazement "how can this be...." my confusion "what will it mean?'....my fear..."how shall we live.".

But babies grow and the time came to talk to Joseph and to my parents. 

That was hard. So hard.

Always a quiet man, Joseph shut down completely.

"I see" he said, then walked away into the evening shadows.

Next day, though, he returned. He too had had a message from God. We would stay together. He would father my child. God's child. I think I fell in love with him properly that day....

But that still left the neighbours to contend with, so it was agreed I should go away to my cousin Elizabeth, a visit to buy some time.

When life is hard, family can be a rock,-  though sometimes they are first to pick up a rock to hurl at you.

Not this time though. The moment I crossed her threshold Elizabeth was all joy at my visit and at my news. With no prompting she affirmed my news

"How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

She KNEW. Her unborn baby KNEW.

I wasn't going mad, as I had sometimes worried...I had heard an angel

We hugged, laughed, cried, praised God together. Mothers, babies and the Holy Spirit dancing for joy.

Joy was the keynote when my delivery day arrived too.Yes it was hard to be away from home, from my own mother, but Joseph was there, and the light and love that filled the strange birthplace was enough to confirm that God was deeply involved, committed, an ever present part of our little family.

After that came fear again,- the strange old man at the Temple who said wonderful things about my baby had harsh things to say to me, about future wounds to my heart and soul...the reports of soldiers coming for all baby boys and toddlers in Bethlehem.

Tragic. Chilling. Even though we were safe enough in Egypt.

And as Jesus grew up, I  could never quite relax into motherhood. He was all loving kindness of course, sensitive beyond his years, quick to help, to hug, to listen and love. Sometimes it seemed he was the parent, I the child.

He would tell me off if I tried to protect him, tried to fix things.

"Just trust" he would say. "My father's got this."

Strange, wonderful years though sometimes he shook our family to the core, wounding Joseph so deeply when he told those in the Temple "I must be about my father's business"

There were other children by then, boys and girls whom I love truly and deeply, but my bond with Jesus was different, so I felt torn in two when he left home.

I knew it was time.

He knew it was time

But all the same, I thought he would miss us, his family, would be as excited to see us as I was to catch even a glimpse of him in the crowds.

I never imagined he wouldn't spare us even a few minutes.

Would disown us so harshly.

It seems he has a new family now,-bigger, for sure...but can they love him as I do?

Do I still have a role to play, for my precious firstborn? I am still his mother.

And maybe for this wider family, those who do God's will I can be a mother too. 

After all, I have tried to do that every day...tried to trust that God's got this, even when it seemed most unlikely

Yes. Perhaps I can mother by example for them, . 

Mary, mother of God' family. Mary, mother  of God.


Friday, February 16, 2024

All about chocolate? Thought for the day, Friday 16th February

How is it going so far?

Barely three days into Lent, and I’ve so nearly failed in my Lenten disciplines already, as yesterday morning my hand automatically stretched out to take the chocolate kindly offered by a colleague after a big memorial service. Salted caramel…pretty much my favourite. Of course I’d like one…Thank you…Except…and so I remembered in the nick of  time the new law that I had established, and swerved away – my resolve unbroken even if my internal monologue was on the decidedly grumpy side.

Sometimes at the start of Lent it can feel as if we have written a whole catalogue of new rules simply to make life harder for ourselves, forbidding things overnight that had been entirely licit only the day before. Whether we are giving things up or taking things on, whether we’ve created a whole new schedule of prayer or are planning to spend 5 nights a week volunteering for some worthy cause, we often seem intent on creating situations which confine us, set us up to fail, load us all with a plethora of new reasons to beat ourselves up.

So – is that really what it’s all about. Lent, a season to make ourselves as miserable as possible and, as a result, to make those around us pretty miserable too? Is the idea that I should become a kind of penance for my nearest and dearest?

Well, obviously not.

While Lent can look like a kind of spiritual assault course, one more desperate attempt at self-improvement at which we’re bound to fail, that’s never the point. Yes, we are called to amendment of life..Yes, we should expect to learn some important truths about ourselves in the coming weeks…but the point of it all is to enable us to focus ever more deeply on God and God’s love.

A  long time ago, I asked a group of primary school children what they thought Lent was about.

“It’s spring-cleaning for the soul” said L – and for me, that hit the jack-pot. This is our season to give up, not just chocolate, but all those things that get in the way so thoroughly, to declutter heart, mind and soul – to attend to those matters that really need attention…Remember, though,  it’s not the obedience to our own internal legislation that matters, any more than it was adherence to the full Mosaic code that spelled salvation for the Galatians.

There’s nothing we can do to make that happen...Nothing we can do to earn our seat at the table, - Christ has already done that for us and it is ours through God’s grace…

But we CAN use these coming days and weeks to strengthen our faith, as we learn to be God’s people once again, touched by God’s love and enlivened by the Spirit. With an agenda like that, chocolate probably doesn’t matter.

 

 

 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Racial Justice and Transfiguration Sunday 11th February 2024 at Southwark

How clearly can you see?

I’ve just admitted defeat after decades of wearing glasses to drive, and am the somewhat anxious owner of my first pair of variafocals. In theory this should mean that absolutely everything is much clearer, though I’m not completely convinced yet. I asked the Sub-Dean for advice and he simply told me to follow my nose – but I’m not quite sure that my nose knows where I’m heading, which makes me feel rather like an unsuccessful blood-hound., so I’m wearing my new glasses rather less than I should.


However – the whole experience has made me think hard about the gift of sight, and the need to see clearly in order to navigate life without injuring myself or anyone else.

And that seems a good route in to today’s readings – and to Racial Justice Sunday too.


It seems to me that a great deal of what Christian spirituality is about is "seeing."
When Elijah was taken from him, the critical question for Elisha was “would he see it happening”
On that hung so much of his own future hopes in ministry …He would be given a double share of his Mentor’s spirit if he had eyes to see, even if to see is not always a joyful experience. Whenever I read this passage I’m struck by Elisha’s desolation “father, father...the chariots of Israel and its horsemen”

He can see that for Elijah there is no going back. He really is leaving, so Elisha stands, bereft, tearing his garments, confronted by the incontrovertible evidence of his own eyes.


Clear vision isn’t always welcome – as we begin to comprehend things, notice hard truths that we just hadn’t seen before.

When I was a child, Racial Justice Sunday simply hadn’t been thought of. It was first marked in 1995 though it has taken far longer to gain a secure foot-hold. At its best, I imagine that the Church of my childhood was full of benevolent paternalism, that my mother’s view that to be colour blind was the best possible approach was pretty widespread, that nobody had noticed, somehow, that the playing field on which different races and colours were standing was unimaginably far from a level one. It took a long time before anyone felt able to acknowledge that.


It would be great to be able to say “But that’s all gone now...” - except that clearly, it isn’t. If we’d learned, then there might be no need for Racial Justice Sunday at all -….but you’ll know the statistics as well as I do...how much harder it can be to simply get through life, let alone thrive, if, to put it crudely, your face doesn’t fit.


It can be very hard indeed to truly see and name the situation for what it is. White privilege remains white privilege whether we acknowledge it or not...and can be internalised in myriad unhealthy ways. I discovered this for myself when I first spent time in India, as part of a diocesan exchange programme. Wherever we went, with our Indian clergy hosts, queues formed to ask for blessings and I discovered that there was an unexpected hierarchy at play, such that the hands of a white British priest, - even a woman- were perceived as somehow more holy than the hands of the faithful Indian priests who served those communities day in day out. It was shocking, unwelcome but undeniable. The myth of white superiority had been so thoroughly absorbed in those rural communities, it was hard to imagine an appropriate response that did not look simply ungracious. And, after all, that myth had its origins in the days of the Raj...it was my forbears who had taught those communities that they were of second rank, second value.


Simply because I was, in effect, wearing new glasses, this did not change the view for everyone. Seeing clearly can be very hard work…Sometimes the gospel, the truth of God’s unconditional, all-inclusive love, seems to be veiled by the very institutions that exist to embody it – and that is something of which the Church must, and does, repent.


But the truth, of course, is always there, whether we see it or not, just as it was for the disciples on the holy mountain. Listen to these words from Madeleine l’Engle’s wonderful book The Irrational Season:
"Suddenly they saw him the way he was; the way he really was all the time, although they had never seen it before, the glory which blinds the everyday eye and so becomes invisible. This is how he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy like a flaming sun in his hands. This is the way he was - is - from the beginning and we cannot bear it. So he manned himself, came manifest to us; and there on the mountain, they saw him; they really saw him, saw his light. Now, perhaps, we will see each other, too."


NOW PERHAPS WE SHALL SEE EACH OTHER TOO.


That must be our task, on this Racial Justice Sunday.

To see ourselves, to see the unconscious privilege that some of us enjoy and to repent of that.

To see the face of Christ in all whom we meet, regardless of race, colour or all the other external markers that might deceive us or threaten to distort our vision.

To see Christ and so seeing, to love and serve him as he loves and serves us all.


So, how clearly can you see?

Perhaps you need new glasses yourself...


As a pilgrim in the Holy Land some years ago, my own experience on the Mountain of the Transfiguration provided the kind of lesson I wish I didn’t need. We visited in January, and as the group emerged from our taxis close to the church, cloud did indeed overshadow us so that we could see – , honestly, precisely NOTHING.

Inside the church building all was gold and blazing splendour – the image of Jesus with Moses and Elijah instantly recognisable and unmissable.above the altar Outside, though, I could barely see the ground at my feet...had no idea where I was heading...was in real danger of falling over my own feet or tripping up others..


I know I can be guilty of that in daily life too. I just don’t see


But perhaps that is the task of priesthood: simply to help others to see.

Or better yet, perhaps we can help each other..

Would you help me?

Together we might learn to see God’s presence in everything and everyone, to see one another with his eyes of love…with no judgement, no comparison, neither anxiety, pride nor fear…

To look at one another and to see, not those features that divide us, those characteristics that irritate...but, like the disciples, only Jesus.




As we begin our journey through Lent, our eyes fixed on the cross and the love that transforms it,, let us pray for that grace to see God’s glory blazing through the ordinary til everything is extraordinary, everything illuminated. May we see that more and more til the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

Thought for the Day 24th January 2024

 

God is our refuge and strength, - a very present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear proclaimed the psalmist...but our reading from Matthew’s gospel leads us into very different territory, as we are taken into the darkness of fear and uncertainty, anticipating the events we will experience once again in a few short weeks as we join Jesus in Gethsemane.


It seems to me that in this passage we encounter Jesus at his most vulnerable...He NEEDS his friends, because the weight of all that is to come is overwhelming, unbearable. It has been suggested that the name “Gethsemane” derives from the Hebrew word for an olive press...Certainly this is the time when Jesus is pressed almost to breaking point.


Is it the anticipation of the physical pain of crucifixion or the knowledge that he may feel himself cut off from his heavenly Father that grieves him, even to death? Is the cup that he longs to set down one of physical suffering or the deep emotional and spiritual trauma of carrying the brokenness of the world and all its pain? We can’t know – and I’m not sure that it matters. The point is that on this, the night before he died, Jesus went from the light and companionship of the passover meal out into the darkness where, even in the company of his disciples, he found himself alone.


The disciples are vulnerable too. For all their longing to support Jesus, they cannot keep awake...falling asleep repeatedly so that Jesus faces his ordeal, wrestling with himself and with God without any tangible human support.


Perhaps its perverse, but I find this ultimately comforting. If JESUS longs to step aside from suffering, if he too would prefer to take another, easier route, if he finds himself at odds with God as he contemplates the way ahead, then it is surely OK for me to to protest against even the second-order challenges of my life and my faith.


In my earliest days of ministry I was sent to visit a lady who had been shaped and supported by her faith all her life long. By the time I landed, a shiny new curate in the church she loved, she was already well advanced on her final journey, housebound as her cancer took its inexorable course. As I spent time with her during those final weeks, she told me something of her fears. No stranger to pain, she was worried that she might face an agony that nothing would alleviate, though her MacMillan nurse promised that it would be managed. Then, one afternoon, she suggested that she was letting God down.

“I’m afraid. Afraid of dying. Afraid God might not be there. Afraid of my own fear”


I was SO inexperienced and for a moment gripped by total panic – but then, wonderfully, this passage landed. Can you think of a time when Jesus felt like that I asked….

Silence, so I prompted “What about Gethsemane?”

There was another silence but then a smile of pure joy spread across her face.

Oh.

I see.

He’s been there.

He knows how I feel.

It’s going to be OK


Thought for the Day January 17th 2024

I’ve always felt a kind of appalled fascination at the description Matthew’s Jesus presents in this passage, the “Little Apocalpyse” which takes us into an unimaginable future, which will arrive – who knows when? Not as soon as Matthew expected, for sure. He was surrounded by all the baggage of a struggling community and in this writing wanted to give them a rationale for their suffering, a sense that it had purpose and direction….

More, he wanted to make sure they were alert – to both the pain and the potential of the moment, - and in doing so, paints such a vivid picture of a community oblivious to the dramatic events unfolding in their midst.

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away...so too will be the coming of the Son of Man”


It’s so easy to imagine life going on as normal – Happy couples celebrating their wedding night...Families gathering around the dinner table...while all the while the world was changing around them.

Indeed, it’s hard to work out what people might more properly do.

Remember those last weeks of February 2020 – that half term break when families headed determinedly to Italy, obstinately refusing to accept that the tide of covid was rising so fast and so high that it might yet sweep all away…?

When confronted by crisis, we tend to seek comfort in the familiar...and that’s both understandable and acceptable up to a point.


But there comes a moment when surely nobody, NOBODY can ignore the lie of the land...When carrying on regardless seems an act not of courage but of wanton stupidity. Jesus makes it clear to his friends that there WILL be signs – and highly dramatic ones at that. Only the foolhardy will choose to ignore them, to pretend that there’s nothing to see here….


As we continue our journey through Epiphany, it’s still all about seeing...and allowing what we see to change and shape us…

I find myself transported unexpectedly back to my childhood, and to the large crucifix that hung outside a local church…As we travelled home by bus, I would find myself on eye level with the words carved beneath

Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by?”...and something in the power of word and image arrested me every time, making it impossible to look away….

But how often we choose that route…


On Sunday’s dog walk in the park I was accosted by a man who was clearly highly disturbed and anything but happy. He was standing next to the tennis courts, swearing voluably at those playing and at all those walking past. I managed to skirt round him on the way out, but as I headed homeward his imprecations became harder to ignore.

EFF YOU...and your dog!”

I paused, uncomfortable, out of my depth, but realising that avoidance was no longer a workable strategy. He was just a few feet away...his anger and distress at the world hitting me in waves. I stopped, offered him a few clumsy words to convey that I had at least tried to listen to his pain

He spotted my collar

You a priest?”...His hand went into his pocket. I froze. Was he going to pull out a knife? No – a fistful of coins...”Take them. Go on. TAKE THEM”…

Which is why I have a single penny in my coat pocket...the least I could get away with taking, but somehow enough to satisfy him.

As I moved away, one of the guys playing tennis nearby called over to me

IGNORE HIM. Don’t engage with him. Don’t looks as if you’ve seen him”


But I did. He was there. I couldn’t look away – and in actually seeing him, saw something of Christ in pain in his broken, suffering child…

Is it nothing to you?

Before we see the Son of Man coming in clouds and great glory, we need to learn to see him in the broken, the weary, the discomforting situations of our here and now.

Behold and see”…

In this season of Epiphany may we see indeed – may we read the signs of the times and respond before its too late.