Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Walking Together after Brexit and the General Synod

What do we do when we are divided and want the opposite to one another?  We face this as a country after the vote for Brexit.  We are split in half.  A small majority will take us out of the EU, but then what?  Can we ever be a united country again?

The Church is also divided.  I have just come back from the General Synod in York.  We decided to do something about our divisions over sexuality.  For 48 hours, we met for conversations.  We learned about one another and why we believe what we do.  There were tears, hugs, laughter, profound insights and differences.  I left exhausted, but hopeful that we can walk together into the future.

We still disagree.  But now we understanding better where that disagreement comes from.  Most importantly we have stronger relationships.  We see less of an issue, and more of the people it affects.  What we did was meet, share our stories, talk about our beliefs, and listen to those with whom we disagree.  It was all surrounded by prayer. 

So as we try to find a way forward after the referendum, the church’s conversations might have something to offer.  Let’s try this:  find someone who voted the opposite way to you.  Listen to them hard and carefully.  Learn about their story.  Ask them why they voted that way.  Be prepared to share your story and reasons for voting.  It probably won’t make you both agree, but you might understand one another more.  If you pray, then pray for them, for yourself and for the future of our country. 

And please pray for the Church of England.  We need it too!

From The Derby Telegraph Faith Files 16.7.16.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Deep Wisdom: Pokemon, Joseph and Paul

A Sermon for Evensong

Only I could see it.  There was a Zubat in the kitchen.  Quickly I lined up my Pokeball and threw it at the creature.  I caught it, and gathered it into my Pokedex.  For the uninitiated, I am talking about the game Pokemon Go.  It is an app for phones and tablets that allows you to see the mystical Pokemon creatures in the real world.  Samuel and I went for a walk yesterday and caught about ten different Pokemon.  The Cathedral, I am sure you are aware, is a PokeGym, and has been welcoming a range of new, younger visitors over the past couple of days.  The Church of Englandhas issued guidelines about this.  More worryingly, so has the NSPCC.  Pokemon Go works with the idea that there are things beyond the reality that we can see and touch and smell.  All it takes is the right software and technology and a new and exciting world can be seen in the midst of our world. There is something deeper and beyond our world.  You could even find a Pokemon in your kitchen.

Both readings this evening also speak of the deeper wisdom of God being encountered in the middle of our ordinary material reality.  First, there is Joseph.  The dreamer who is able to interpret dreams.  Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh’s aid.  The prisoner is made presentable and brought before the king.  “God has shown Pharaoh what he is to do, and God will provide the interpretation” he says.  Pharaoh, while asleep, has seen a glimpse of what God is planning.  But it takes someone hurriedly brought out of the dungeon to provide the wisdom needed to understand this insight.

Insight and foresight are things we rightly value in our political leaders.  From my place of undoubted bias, I can assure you that vicarage children do posses these qualities.  But just as Pharaoh found, political leadership needs to listen to those on the margins of society, the poorest, the forgotten and the ignored, if true wisdom is to be attained.  The story of Joseph is, amongst other things, a story about wisdom.  A story about how the true wisdom, God’s wisdom, is obtained.  In that story Joseph learns the importance of humility; Pharaoh learns the need to listen to those on the margins; and God’s wisdom brings security and food to a land that would otherwise have starved, and a new home for his people.  Humility and listening to the marginal – that would be a good starting point for all of us as we head together into the new world of post-Brexit Britain.  We might then begin to glimpse the true wisdom of God that can bring us security and life.

St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is also speaking of a deeper reality and a true wisdom that go beyond the simple material world that we can touch and smell and see.  But Paul is writing to those who have decided that they already know what is true and wise.  They are rich, powerful and successful.  What need have they of bringing disreputable and shabby prisoners before them to help them understand?  Paul, unlike Joseph, refuses to disguise his unkempt appearance.  Indeed he parades it before the Corinthians.  He is foolish, weak, disreputable, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, tired – the rubbish and dregs of the world. 

Paul’s point is this – in their wealth and power and success, the Corinthians have stopped looking to Jesus, and especially to the crucified Jesus.  They look only on the world as it can further their interests and careers and power and wealth.  Paul reminds them of Jesus.  Earlier he has told them that while he was with them, “I decided to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2.2).  If we want to see truly, to know what is really happening in this world, then we need to look through the lens of the cross of Jesus.  It will radically change how we see.  It will radically change how we act.  Through the lens of the cross of Jesus our wealth and success and power is shown to be shabby and foolish.  Wisdom is found in those who appear weak and disreputable.

How then do we encounter the deep wisdom of God.  Let me suggest three ways that we may put ourselves in contact with that wisdom.  Paul and Joseph have much to say to us, but the first insight I think comes from Pokemon.  It is simply this: slow down.  You cannot play Pokemon Go from a moving car, the game is configured so that it works best if you walk or cycle or move at a slower pace.  As Samuel and I walked around to find Pokemon yesterday, we came across other groups of people searching.  We shared our finds and benefitted from theirs.  Sharing and connecting with others is a fruit of slowing down.  A spiritual guide once told a church leader that he had to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.”  We need to slow down to encounter God’s wisdom.

If the first thing to do is to slow down, then the second is to pray and to worship.  Here we open ourselves to God, we acknowledge that God made us and everything there is.  Here is Joseph’s hard-won humility, and the fault of the Corinthians.  To pray and to worship is to admit that we are not the sum total of everything that matters.  So it is worth thanking the choir, all gathered here this evening, for all they do to help us to worship, to lift our hearts above ourselves, and to offer us inspiration.  St Augustine reportedly said that the one who sings, prays twice.  Thank you choir, for helping connect us with the wisdom of God, and helping us realise that we are not what this world is about.

So, to connect with the deep wisdom of God we need to slow down and to  pray and worship.  The third thing we need to do is to be in touch with those who are on the margins.  As a Cathedral, we do this regularly with those who come here in need, with those who sleep here in the winter.  As individuals we need to ask ourselves the question of how we can encounter and listen to those on the edge of our society.  Neither Joseph nor Paul speak the wisdom of God from places of power and security. How do we ensure we listen to them today?

Slow down, pray and worship, encounter those on the margins, these are the things that will put us into contact with the wisdom of God.  They are simple to grasp, but difficult to do.  I too struggle with them.  But they are gifts, interruptions into our self-contained universes.  They help us to hold the cross of Jesus before us, and to change the way we look and the way we act to be more in tune with him.  So recharge yourself, slow down, pray and worship, encounter those on the margins, and connect to the wisdom of God that longs to break into our lives.  Amen.

First given at Derby Cathedral 17.7.18.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Legislative Reform Measure - General Synod Speech

As ever, I publish my speech to the General Synod in order to be transparent about my work as an elected member of the General Synod.

This speech was on the Legislative Reform Measure  - this Measure would allow the amendment of legislation without going through the full process of a Measure (which takes about two years!).  The Bishop of Rochester introduced the debate with a list of some of the more ridiculous items of legislation that are currently affecting the Church of England.

Thank you Chair. 

Synod, I welcome the simplification process and this legislation.  I will be voting for it.  Bishop James' examples are clearly things that need to be addressed.

However, I want to remind Synod that what the Measure calls 'administrative inconvenience' and an 'obstacle to efficiency' are very much in the eye of the beholder.  The Church of England has held to a long tradition of dispersed authority.  This is neither convenient nor efficient in all circumstances.  But it has been an important way of enabling a range of voices to be heard.

I think, Synod, that the responsibility is ours, not just in passing this Measure but importantly in the operation of it.  Once this is in effect, we will need to exercise care in using it so that our right and proper concerns for convenience and efficiency do not have the effect of silencing the voices of those that we need to hear.

I do support this Measure and will vote for it.  However, I hope we will continue to value the proper place of inconvenience and inefficiency when they help us to hear inconvenient and otherwise unheard voices.

Thank you.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Seeing God with Thomas

A Sermon for the First Eucharist of Sarah Dawson

Habakkuk 2.1-4; Ephesians 2.19-end; John 20.24-29

It is a great pleasure and an enormous privilege to be here this morning.  I bring you greetings from Derby Cathedral, where I minister.  Thank you to Joabe for the invitation.  Thank you also to Sarah.  I’ve known Sarah since I was 11.  She and I have laughed, cried and gossiped our way together through our lives for a long time now.   It is a real joy and delight to be here when she presides at the Eucharist for the first time.

Some words from the Gospel this morning: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  Today we gather to celebrate with Sarah, to share bread and wine, which are for us the body and blood of Christ.  And we also gather to thank God for St Thomas, one of Jesus’ first disciples and an apostle of the church.  In the midst of all of this, we hear Jesus talking about seeing and believing.  Seeing and believing are still things that are important in our world today.  Seeing and believing are things that we encounter as we hold in our hands and taste on our lips the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  Seeing and believing are bound up with what it means for Sarah to be a priest.  Seeing and believing are bound up with what it means for all of us to be Christians.

We know Thomas, above all as one who doubts.  ‘I won’t believe until I see’, he says.  Today we thank God for Thomas and so we thank God for doubters.  Thank God for those who doubt, for those who ask questions, for those who don’t accept things at face value.  Thank God because they are the ones who enlarge our vision, they are the ones who save us from falling into the traps of easy solutions to difficult problems; they are the ones who make us question ourselves.  Thank God for doubts and questions.  We all have them.  We all need them.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Doubt is an important part of how our faith develops and grows.  Sarah’s role as priest here is to ask questions, and sometimes to ask uncomfortable questions.  That is how she will help us to grow in faith.  Your role is to ask Sarah questions, and sometimes they will be uncomfortable questions.  That is how we help Sarah to grow in faith.  Thank God for doubts and questions, they enlarge our faith and they help us to see more of God.

Thomas doubts and asks questions.  When he meets Jesus, he is shown the scars of the cross.  ‘Put your finger here and touch my hands and my side’, says Jesus.  ‘Touch my scars.’  Today we thank God for Thomas, and so we thank God for scars.  The scars I have on my body are part of my story.  There is the scar on my ankle from where I trod on a saw at Scout camp; the scar on my wrist where my friend’s dog bit me.  And I have other scars, invisible, but no less part of my story and who I am.  I am not unique in this, and my scars are not bad ones.  We all have scars, visible and invisible.  Scars are not wounds.  Scars were wounds, but they have healed.  Scars, visible or invisible, give us hope that what wounds us now can be healed.  Scars stop us pretending that in life, or in the Christian life, we won’t get hurt.  We do and we will.  In that hurt that has been healed there is a gift that we bring to others who hurt and need healing.  Sarah too bears scars.  They are gifts, not to Sarah, but to all of us who receive her healing ministry.  But a health warning for us all, do not mistake wounds for scars.  Wounds need treatment, and if you are wounded you should get that treatment.  We can be gifts to one another if we bring our scars, as hope that wounds can be healed and to stop us pretending that we have no wounds.  Thank God for scars, they are hope and honesty for a wounded world.  They help the wounded and the hurting see God.

We thank God for Thomas, and so we thank God for doubts that enlarge our faith and we thank God for scars that give us hope for healing.  When Thomas speaks to Jesus, his words are ‘My Lord and my God.’  As we thank God for Thomas, we thank God for Jesus.  The lives of the saints are windows through which we see the life of Jesus.  That’s why we celebrate St Thomas, St Barnabas and all the saints.  As Sarah stands behind the altar to preside at the Eucharist, she is not there just as Sarah.  She is there to help us to encounter Jesus, to touch and taste and see Jesus.  The American theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that Christians should live lives that only make sense if the resurrection of Jesus is true. Our lives should only make sense if the resurrection of Jesus is true.  Our prayers, our generosity, our love, how we deal with our enemies, how we speak, how we listen.  All of these things are ways in which Jesus is part of our lives.  Jesus lives in us.  Thank God for that.  St Paul tells us that we are ‘a dwelling place for God’.  All of our lives are windows through which Jesus can be seen.  So thank God for Jesus, who lives in us and who can be seen in our lives.

Today we thank God for Thomas, and we thank God for doubts, for scars and for Jesus.  And then Jesus tells Thomas ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  It is not enough to see Jesus, we have to make Jesus known for those who do not see him. Christianity is not a religion of clever words and holy people.  It is a religion that stems from the way that God came to live among us and share the stuff of our life.  We do not bring Jesus to people in words, we help people find Jesus in the stuff of their lives. It is not enough to see Jesus, we are to make Jesus known to those who do not see him.  That is a priestly task.  It is a task for Sarah, as she presides at the Eucharist, helps us to see Jesus in bread and wine that are for us the body and blood of Jesus.  It is a task for all of us, as we help a broken and damaged world, see Jesus in the stuff of their lives.  That will need our doubts and our questions; that will need our scars; that will need our lives as windows in which Jesus can be seen.

Thank God for Sarah, for his work in her life and the gifts that she brings to us.  Pray for her and look after her.  Thank God for Thomas, Apostle of Jesus.  May his story help and enrich our stories.  Thank God for doubts and questions, which help us see more of God.  Thank God for scars, which give us hope for healing and honesty about our woundedness.  Thank God for Jesus, who lives in and is seen through our lives.  And let us take all of this to the altar where we meet Jesus in bread and wine, and are sent to help others see Jesus in their lives.  Amen.

First given at St Barnabas, Micham 3.7.16.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Proclaiming and Bringing: A sermon preparing for priesting

Some words from the Gospel reading this morning:  Jesus ‘went on through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.  The twelve were with him, as well as some women’.

It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning.  My thanks to Simon for his invitation, and to you all for your welcome.  I bring greetings to the Cathedral of the Peak from your Cathedral Church in Derby, where we pray for you regularly.  I’m here, I think, because one of the roles I have is as the Director of Curate Training in the Diocese.  So I have been involved with Sue, not least as she prepares to be ordained priest at the end of the month.  I want to say a few things this morning to help us all prepare for that new ministry. 

At the end of the Gospel reading this morning we hear that Jesus ‘went on through cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.  The twelve were with him, as well as some women’.  Jesus, with the twelve and some women, is involved in proclaiming and bringing the good news.  Proclaiming and bringing – Jesus doesn’t just talk about the good news of the Kingdom of God, he brings it to people.  The Gospel, the good news, is not something that we just talk about.  It’s something that we do.  That is why we ordain people to be deacons and priests – so that they can bring the good news to others.  In my experience, ordained people (including me) spend a good deal of time talking about the good news. That’s OK – so does Jesus.  But we need to also spend time bringing the good news to others.  And if you think this pattern of proclaiming and bringing is just for ordained people you are very wrong.  Jesus brought with him a load of other people who shared in his ministry of proclaiming and bringing.  We all share in Jesus’ ministry.  We do that because in our baptisms we were made part of the body of Christ.  In our baptisms we all share in Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming and bringing.  What I want to do for the next few minutes is to look at each of the three characters in the Gospel story and ask what each one has to say to us in our ministry of proclaiming and bringing the good news.

The first character is Simon.  You will understand that I feel some affinity to him.  Not only does he have a good name, he is a learned and influential religious figure.  Simon does not come well out of the story.  But he still has things to say to us.  First, notice that he has invited Jesus.  Simon may have invited Jesus to show off the new preacher to his friends, to demonstrate that he was up with the latest religious developments or even to try and put Jesus right.  But he did invite Jesus to be with him.  If we are honest, we all have mixed motives for being in church and for inviting Jesus to be with us.  But Jesus responds to that invitation, however faint and however self-serving.  So the first thing that Simon says to us is that we are to invite Jesus to be with us.

The other thing that Simon does is to learn.  It is in his house, at his table, that Jesus tells one of his parables.  Simon learns from his encounter with Jesus.  Learning is something that we all have to do.  Whether we have been coming to church for nine days or for ninety years, we all have things to learn.  Being ordained is not an end to learning, far from it.  Sue is here to learn.  I hope that you will help her to learn, and that you will learn from her.  Above all, I hope that you will learn with her.  God always has something new to teach us.  We need to learn.

Simon, then, tells us about inviting Jesus and about learning.  The second character is the woman.  We don’t know her name, but she disrupts the party and makes a big show.  If someone were to do that in church this morning, we would react pretty much as Simon and the other guests reacted in the story.  But this woman has things to say to us.  What is clear from the story is that this woman has made some mistakes.  She brought them to Jesus and he forgave her.  And this is the first thing that the woman says to us – make mistakes and bring them to Jesus.  This is a bit like Simon telling us to learn.  We learn by making mistakes.  But it is hard, painful and vulnerable to make mistakes and then to admit to them.  But that is how we will learn.  And we are to bring our mistakes to Jesus.  I hope that Sue has made some mistakes during her year with you.  I hope you have made some mistakes.  And I hope that you have all brought them to Jesus for healing and forgiveness, so that you can learn and go and make better mistakes.  Make mistakes and bring them to Jesus, that’s the first thing that the woman tells us.

The second is this – be lavish in love.  The woman pours ointment on Jesus feet, but she is also generous with her tears and her hair.  She is lavish in her love, and we too need to be lavish with our love.  We need to be lavish in our love for Jesus, and in our love for one another (and the two go together).  Love means helping one another in practical ways, but it also means shedding tears with and for one another.  It means gifts and care and a hundred and one other things that show our love for each other.  Break out the perfume, cry buckets, wipe it all up.  Be lavish in love.

Simon teaches us to invite Jesus and to learn.  The woman teaches us to make mistakes that we bring to Jesus and to be lavish in our love.  And the final character in the story is Jesus himself.  What does he have to say to us in this story?  The first thing we notice about Jesus in this story is that he accepts everyone.  He accepts Simon with his half-hearted welcome and his dubious motives for inviting him.  He accepts the woman with her over the top gifts, and her dubious past.  And we too are to accept people.  We accept those who are half-hearted and those who are over the top.  We accept those with dubious motives and those with a dubious past.  I hope that in being your priest Sue will be found in the company of the wrong sort of people.  And I hope that you will find yourselves in that same company as well.  That is where Jesus is found.  Jesus accepts Simon and the woman.  He accepts you and me.  He accepts those we’d he didn’t, as well as those people that we like.

Jesus accepts and he forgives.  I think the most important note of a curacy is the need for forgiveness.  If Sue is to learn and to make mistakes and to be lavish in love and to accept all kinds of people, then you are going to need to forgive her and she is going to need to forgive you.  As we travel together as Christians, we will hurt one another.  Often we will hurt each other without meaning to.  Sometimes, if we’re honest, we will mean to cause hurt.  We need to forgive one another, and to be forgiven.  That is one of the features of Christian ministry and Christian community.

I’d like to finish by asking you to pray.  To pray for Sue as she prepares for her ordination, pray for Simon (White) as he supports Sue, pray for one another.  Throughout Sue’s curacy I have and will pray for her and for you.

And remember what Simon (the Pharisee) tells us: invite Jesus, and learn.  Remember what the woman tells us: make mistakes and be lavish in love.  Remember what Jesus tells us: accept all kinds of people and forgive.  Doing all of that will be make for a good curacy for Sue.  It will make for an amazing place of Christian community here in Tideswell.  It will be a way not only of proclaiming the good news, but of bringing it into being.  


First given at St John the Baptist, Tideswell. 12.6.16.