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 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 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."


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.


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 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.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Advent 3B at Southwark Cathedral 17th December 2023

 Today all our readings are full of music. We have Elgar "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me", Gibbons "This is the Record of John" and Purcell et al inviting us to "Rejoice in the Lord alway"...wonderfully appropriate for this Gaudete Sunday, when, were we wrapped in heavy-duty penitence, we might cast it aside briefly to break into pink vestments to express our joy.

But - what is there to rejoice at, - in our world or in our worship in this troubled and troubling season? Can we rejoice at all?

I'd say we certainly can. There's much to celebrate in our life as a community here. One of my personal highlights in all the busyness of these first 3 months at Southwark is undoubtedly that service of Compline which the Merbecke choir sang under the Museum of the Moon. Listening to the music of ancient prayers said and sung so beautifully, in this space where so many have brought their hopes and fears, under the peaceful light of Luke Jerram’s great moon was a truly wonderful, joy-filled experience that I will treasure for some time.

But the amazing thing about the real moon, of course, is that of itself it has no light at all.

It shines only with the reflected light of the sun.

If that light were extinguished, among many other problems, the moon itself would be all darkness.

 And here in today’s gospel John the Baptist stands as the moon, to the sun that is Jesus.

He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness to that light….

He bore witness because he too shone with reflected glory….and he at least was in no doubt that his role in the gospel was not centre stage.

He was not that light but was sent to bear witness...

His calling was to be a sign, pointing the way to Jesus.

We too share his calling to reflect the light of Christ and to so shine that others can see the way…


There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

Not much of an introduction, but then John was not one who cared about such things. He stepped out of his priestly heritage, shrugged off the wonders that surrounded his own birth.

You could imagine him saying, again and again “It’s not about me”.

John was quite happy with a life of wandering in the wilderness, rough, unfashionable clothes, basic food, and an unshakeable, uncompromising message.

 Uncompromising, but compelling.

So compelling that people assumed that he must be the Messiah, and we completely nonplussed when John said,


That silences the questioners for a moment, but then they are off again.

“Well, if it’s not you, where IS the Messiah? He must be close, if prophets like you are abroad.”

"He is here. He is among you," says John.

And that was almost as startling as anything that had gone before.

Imagine, you have been waiting and watching for the Messiah all your life long, your people have looked for him for centuries, and now you are told that he’s hear among you already. Surely not…

The Messiah arriving unrecognised? Unthinkable…

 But John is insistent, absolutely confident that he has heard God aright, and that he knows his own place in God’s script of salvation.

Thus he can say, with no false modesty,

"I am the voice crying in the wilderness...As Isaiah foretold, the day of the Lord IS coming. Get ready..."

John´s message is compelling, right enough. He believes it himself and is wholly committed to his task, in the tradition of the great Old Testament prophets.

His claim to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord,' immediately aligns him with Isaiah as his authority. This inheritance absolutely real to John, and the authority that he received from God shone in his commanding words.

And of course, John´s message is so compelling, so authoritative, because, above all, he points away from himself towards Jesus. That’s the foundation for everything, - all that he preaches, all that he does, all that he is

 He is the moon, not the sun, remember..."Not that light"... "Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."

And this is the mark of all those who aspire to preach the true Gospel. 

We must remember always that the Gospel is all about Jesus, the Jesus who took as his mission statement, when he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, these very words of Isaiah.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel..”

John points to Jesus, and Jesus comes, not with a teaching which would imprison us with fear, not with words which would tie us up in knots, but with tidings of great joy. 

As the way is made straight, as our lives are put right, so we can know that the good news of hope and freedom is for us as well. This is the promise we hear in Isaiah.

"He has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord´s favour."   "to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning."

 Isn’t that fabulous?

This, surely, is the central core of our gospel, the heart of the church's ministry.

Healing for the broken-hearted. 

Liberty for the captives.

 And yet so people can be imprisoned by religion rather than freed by it. It’s not a coincidence that many assert that the root of the word comes from the Latin “religare” ,to bind...though that binding can, at its best, be a benevolent banding together of those drawn by a system of belief. Not always, though.

At its worst, religion really CAN imprison. 

We’ve seen this recently during those synod debates that set out to determine who might be in and who out, or where the most pure doctrine might be found. It’s always a risk when you travel with those of like minds...Its all too easy to strengthen your own position by building relationships based on exclusion...whether on account of gender or sexual orientation, youth or age, or preferences in worship.

When that happens, it's not good news at all.

Emphatically not the gospel. 

In case of doubt let me remind you - the gospel is not about legalism, but about liberation, justice and joy.

The year of the Lord’s favour.

It is not about hierarchy but about equality and inclusion.

It is not about fear but about freedom, security and hope

It is without doubt GOOD news – the best possible !

THAT is what John points towards. THAT is what Jesus preached, in word and in deed. And – that is our calling.

 John stands as a model for us.

We share his task, to witness to Christ in our lives, our words, our actions…To speak good news and to be good news as well, hoore in this cathedral for sure, but yet more when we go out into our working weeks, into the flurry of last-minute busyness, the tetchyness of weary crowds.

Like John we are to point to Christ, knowing that any light we may bear is not ours but reflected from him alone…We might be surprised to find that in doing that we become surprisingly beautiful, - as beautiful as the moon on a cloudless night, away from the heart of the city.


When you get home, please do read the gospel again, and put yourself in the place where John stands


There was a man (or woman) sent from God, whose name was ...


May God strengthen us as we witness to the Good News each day.


Monday, November 13, 2023

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday, 12 the November 2023 at Southwark Cathedral

History repeats itself.

It has to. No-one listens.

I have used those words as a tag, a way in to preaching on Remembrance Sunday time after time but they have rarely seemed more poignant. Even a few seconds engaging with world news reminds us so forcibly that the peace that we might have imagined was largely secure in most of the world is far more fragile than we hoped. I prepared this sermon having not heard the day’s news, but certain that it would be terrible. We seem to be living in a smouldering world that might yet burst into flames around us…

History repeats itself. It has to. No-one listens.

So, what is the value of today if humanity refuses to learn the lessons of history and turns away from the radiance of wisdom...and what on earth are we to do with those 10 bridesmaids, gathered in their wedding finery just outside the door?

That question, unsurprisingly , took me back to my son’s wedding here in Southwark  in April. It was all very beautiful...the music, the space, the sheer volume of love for Jack and Rachel that filled the building to overflowing. And yes, of course, there were bridesmaids, looking fabulous as they followed Rachel down the aisle.

But that is not why they are important to us as a family. 

Each of those friends  is someone who had shown love and care for the bride and groom through some very tough times...who had been responsive to cries for help, quick to meet needs that were sometimes hard to put into words.

Theirs was an active role, lived out over months and years

And  as the parable reminds us, to be a bridesmaid escorting a delayed groom also needs care and attention, forethought and preparation. It’s absolutely not about being passively decorative and hoping for the best. There is work to be done if we are ever to celebrate. 

The parable invites us to be ready to take our place in the kingdom of God, that place of justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…

But how can we get ready in this broken, angry world, where the lessons of peace seem to be beyond us? We have prayed for it, looked for it, longed for it to arrive – and yet, we’re still waiting.

Perhaps we’ve imagined that the responsibility lies elsewhere. Perhaps with our friends from the Services whom we have welcomed today.

After all, one middle-aged cleric singing Evensong doesn’t have much power., no matter how often she sings “Give peace in our time, O Lord”…

Should I just keep singing, and do nothing else, in the hope that my song might drown out the cries of fear and pain that are echoing outside?

To do that is surely to make our Remembrance worthless, to dishonour the memory of the dead by losing sight of the purpose of their sacrifice.

We have to be willing to be changed ourselves, if we want to change the world

Mahatma Gandhi understood this writing

Peace is not something you wish for

It is something that you make, something you do, something you are, something you give away

Peace is something you ARE.


That’s a challenge, is it not? And yet, Christ has promised us the gift of his peace...if we can only open ourselves to receive it.

But that process of opening will repeatedly demand that we give up bits of ourselves...habits of heart and mind, small seeds of unkindness, growing plants of selfishness that let us believe that somehow, our own needs, our own agendas have more value, more justification than those of others.

And there may be other things to be set aside, - things that are good in themselves, but which we need to give away, as individuals or as communities, on our journey to the greater good of ultimate reconciliation. 

Even as we stand at the war-memorial and ponder the names and dates of those who died too soon, it matters that we remember those who were “the enemy” - but whose deaths were as painful, whose loss was felt as deeply, who were every bit as truly the victims of war as our own heroes.

I don’t say that lightly – but I’m convinced that we won’t end war until we come to really understand the equal humanity of those whom circumstance has placed as the “other”.

I am not sure how the conversation would have gone with my own father, injured by the Japanese in Burma, still less sure if I would dare to speak thus on the streets of Jerusalem or amid the broken chaos of Gaza.

But when we only see the issues, and not the people, we’re horribly, cataclysmically stuck so we need to find a way to change our lens.

Being a peace-maker, and a peace-keeper is hard and costly. 

The Mennonite theologian John Paul Lederach, who has written and worked extensively on reconciliation tells us that we will only truly arrive as reconcilers when our own constituency believes that we have betrayed them…

in other words, what he refers to as conflict transformation will provide us with a new set of lenses through which to view both the presenting problems and their underlying meaning.  This matters because, to reach peace, we need to be able to look hard at the triggers for war, in ourselves and in others,  to look behind and beyond those to explore relationships at a deeper level and then we need imaginative, distance lenses to help us see how the world COULD be.

The problem with Remembrance-tide is that inevitably it invites us to look back, - and though that can sometimes help us to learn from history, as we’ve established, it doesn’t in itself make us creators of peace. But re-membering means bringing the scattered pieces of the past into our present – where we are invited to take a serious look at ourselves, and establish whether we are part of the problem or its solution.

That’s a choice. We can join the sleeping bridesmaids and leave the work of peacemaking to others but it seems to me that to do that is to condemn ourselves and countless others to a remembrance that is soaked in the blood of today’s wars, 

Or we can consider what actions we can take, what tools we might need to find, what oil should fill our lamps to help us set out on a journey of peace-making. That probably won’t involve you or me heading off to a war zone to stand as a human shield, though I do know a couple of people who have done just that. However, it’s more likely to mean that we have to confront our negative feelings about that former colleague, that awkward relative, those siblings in Christ whose  interpretation of Scripture differs radically from our own., and invite the Holy Spirit to help us look beyond the issues til we can recognise and love the face of Christ in each. 

Monday, November 06, 2023

Sermon preached at Cathedral Evensong on All Saints Sunday, 5th November 2023 Isaiah 65 & Hebrews 11 & 12

Say what you like about the author of Hebrewsl...he’s nothing if not logical!

On this All Saints Sunday we’ve been given snapshots of the stories of some of the heroes of the faith, and reminded that they represent unfinished business, since their company and their story is incomplete without US…

The evidence is amassed in Chapter 11 and then, after perhaps the briefest pause for reflection, chapter 12 begins with a triumphantly assertive THEREFORE, answering any question that might have been lurking at the back of our minds

“So they did! So what?!”


“THEREFORE since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….”

Our ancestors in faith, men and women whose spiritual DNA should run in our blood, firing us up to follow in their footsteps. On a good day, it’s easy to answer the “so what?” question as we stretch out willing hands to receive the join in the children’s hymn with conviction…


 I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

Oh yes. We’re called to be saints. Let’s get on with it, right here and right now. Where do I sign?


Except – did you notice how many of them had a pretty miserable time of it. - tortured, mocked, flogged, stoned, sawn in two

This is not really the stuff of stained glass windows, nor, if I’m honest, the kind of adventure I really long to sign up for.

Physical courage isn’t my forte…

I’m inclined to agree with S Theresa of Avila, who famously said

“If that is the way you treat your friends, Lord, it’s not surprising you have so few of them”


And yet – and yet – we ARE surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses...and the courage that filled the hearts of the martyrs of old burns bright in God’s Church even today.

Behind me in front of the high altar the Tears of Gold exhibition illustrates this powerfully.

I’m sure many of you will remember the horrific news in 2014 that school-girls had been kidnapped by the terrorist group Boku Harem

The world was, rightly, outraged and we prayed for those young women in many of our churches for weeks on end. Now some of those stories have faces. .In the Sanctuary there are self-portraits of some of those Nigerian Christian women, created as they began to process their traumatic experiences, and to look for healing and hope. In each self portrait, the woman weeps, - but she weeps tears of gold, a reminder that the God who holds all our tears in their bottle, treasures each woman and their story of faith and courage.


For now the tears are all too real. The pain of the world is acute today, and our pictures give but the tiniest glimpse of it, but our first reading gives us a promise that God is not oblivious to that suffering, but hears the cries of God’s persecuted children.

 “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard...or the cry of distress” we are told.

The picture of hope in Isaiah’s prophecy takes us into the same realm  of realised perfection that we will meet later, in Revelation 21, where what is broken is restored, what has been lost recovered, where the future is secure

They shall build houses and inhabit them”...and where even the natural instincts of fallen creation are transformed.

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox….They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”


A parallel transformation is expressed in our exhibition through the art of Hannah Rose Thomas which stands side by side those self-portraits. Those rather naive, childish images, the ways in which the women see themselves, are turned into something very different as Hannah Rose writes them afresh as parallel icons. Their stories of suffering become windows for the soul, enabling us to look through the likeness, the brushstrokes, colours and shapes, to glimpse the deeper mystery and meaning of God’s love.

 As we pause, look, and listen with our hearts, we are changed and perhaps those unspeakable experiences, and that untold courage seems less remote, less unattainable, after all.

Many have called icons windows for the soul. The word “icon” comes from the Greek for image or likeness. And, as I’ve shared, God’s image and likeness can be found everywhere. Icons—and other forms of art—are invitations to look beyond the brushstrokes, colours, and shapes to the deeper mystery and meaning. If we take the time, we may all glimpse God;s face gazing back at us, as we gaze at these beloved daughters.


My favourite All Saints story is the apocryphal one of a Sunday-school child who was being quizzed by the vicar about what he had learned in their session that All Saints morning. Looking wildly around he spotted a halo’d being in the nearest window and announced “A saint is someone that the light shines through

I’ve always loved that...because, you see, though there are so many tales of great heroism to be told within the Church of today as much as that of the past, in the end its not our stories that matter. Each of those women at the altar would see themselves, I’m sure, as very ordinary, just as each and every Christian persecuted for their faith in every age would, just as that great cloud of witnesses would...…just as you and I do.


And yet, by God’s grace shining through us, each of us CAN be a sign of hope, of courage, of loving-kindness...building up the Church to be all that she is called to be


I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.                                                                                                  They were all of them saints of God and I mean                                                                   God helping, to be one too.