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


“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, 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.


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


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 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?' 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.