Waiting For the Phone To Ring & Hoping It Doesn’t

I’m sitting down to write this as a kind of reflection in progress. I say in progress because the event(s) I’m reflecting on as I’m sitting here ruminating are only in the midst of their processing. How I feel today is not necessarily how I’ll feel after the next conversation I have on the phone.

It’s been that kind of week. Each time the phone rings, change happens. Some calls have led to minor improvements in mood and outlook. Others the opposite and more than one has brought quite a swirl of shocking emotions, competing for attention in my increasingly-stretched and pressed emotional view.

Just under two weeks ago, my family suffered an unexpected and sudden bereavement. Trained in pastoral work and care as I am, quite experienced in doing it pretty well as I’m told I am, after those first few times the phone rang to offer increasingly desperate and then ultimately crushing news, comforting words seemed far from my mind. Presence, quiet consolation, mixed with a raging sense of the unfortunate unfairness of it all, they’re what came to me then and have sustained me ever since. I hope I’ve been of some support and use to my family in their grief, still so new and raw, but even if I haven’t, I’ve given what I had, what  God gave me when I prayed urgent, hushed prayers asking for ‘enough’ for today and then that tomorrow would bring enough for that day. God has been faithful, kind and generous as have so many of our family and friends, and yet, still I wish what happened hadn’t happened. Death and grief are fine enough when they’re distant, theoretical concepts, but when they come close the feelings they engender, the tiredness, the bone tiredness that’s been part of my life for 12 days now, that’s what I think will change how I talk to bereaved families or families whose loved ones are close to the end. Anyone who’s been through it will probably remember, or still be experiencing the feeling. Being a professional minister means that I sometimes have to do the professional work of supporting grief and loss, but it is so important that any of us who have this privilege don’t detach ourselves so far from the visceral pain of what is happening that we seem aloof. The most helpful things that have happened over the last few days are people who have asked us ‘how are you?’ or who have turned up at the door with food we didn’t ask for or realise we needed but which have meant we haven’t had to think. Thinking is hard. Thinking is tiring. Decisions are distant dreams. So I all of a sudden am very keen on provided soup, casserole and the like.

All of that would and probably should be enough, but then a couple of days ago when the phone rang, it was for a different reason. On the line when I picked up was the Family Liaison Officer from a prison not too far from us. As soon as the prison was named I knew who it was about, but what I was told next really did shock me. A prisoner who I an others at Emmanuel befriended through our Foodbank and other work and who became part of our Church family was seriously ill with Covid-19, she said. He was in a bad way. My heart sank. How sad. He’s due out this year. The shock didn’t end there though. The prisoner, my friend, had named me as his next of kin. Was I willing to take on the role? Having then as I do now, not much idea of what that might entail I thought I ought to say yes.

What a privilege, a sad and humbling privilege. On the one hand that the work I and many others had done with him had had such an impact; on the other that there was no one else who he felt he could trust and rely on to take on this role.

That was on Wednesday morning. I’m writing this on Friday afternoon. In the intervening time, P has deteriorated and rallied, deteriorated and rallied. I have decisions and judgement calls on his behalf which have all been best-guesses. Apparently the answer ‘keep him alive please’ is not detailed enough when responding to the question ‘How would you like us to proceed’, for instance. Just this afternoon I have spoken to the prison FLO, a Dr who is treating him and a member of the hospital’s fantastic chaplaincy team. What I’ve gleaned is that all of them are fantastic and want the best for P and are doing the very best they possibly can to bring it about. It is still very much touch and go what will happen in the coming time. This afternoon P has been asking if I could go and see him. It is, I have to say, pretty gutting that I can’t at the moment.

So, rather than just tell you a long-winded piece of a tale with an unknown ending, how about some reflections….

First, at the moment, the two situations I’ve described above are all I can think about at the moment. As I’m typing I know that there are some people I work with who are pretty unhappy with how things are going at work. I also know that the Church of England, of which I am a part and who to an extent I represent, has got itself in more than one media kerfuffle over the last 24 hours. I also know that all over the place people are receiving news, both good and bad, that the team I support and chaplain for, Northampton Town, have a game tomorrow and plenty more besides. Ordinarily, of course, all of these things are important, some of them crucial, even, but at the present moment I couldn’t really care less about most of that. I wonder where God is in that thought? I wonder how it might impact how I talk to those who are dealing with things of this nature (because I know there are a lot of them) in the future that might be changed compared to how I might have been three weeks ago?

What would Jesus say to P, or to those treating him, caring for and about him, or to my family, or to me, if we paused to listen today? Maybe ‘come to me all who are weary’ might be something. Would Jesus weep? Would he rage? I think I know what he would not do: walk by on the other side. I think he would point out all the ways he is at present involved, working, caring for, soothing and challenging in equal measure. I think at some point he would ask ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ and then do it, to show that this world is not all there is, that what we see in front of us, the failures, the mess of our own making and that made by others, is actually gloriously passing away, and would give a sign that the better world we are promised and of which we dream is closer than we even dare to believe. I think he would do all this and more.

A little while back, in a previous lockdown, far, far away before any of this happened (the end of October) I wrote a piece about starting to record a new album called Ruthless Trust. Sometimes my trust is wafer thin. Sometimes it’s thinner than that, whatever that is, but at times like these, when I honestly have no clue what to do or say, it’s a surprising comfort to me to be able to say ‘I am no longer my own’ and that in some small way I have understood a little of what it means to enter into the fellowship of the suffering that Jesus went through for me, for my family, for P, for those treating and caring for and about him. I’d give a lot to not have gone through the last two weeks, or to have watched those I love go through the last two weeks, but it seems like all I can do is persevere and hope that in doing that, faith and character follow and that out of all of that, this maelstrom of words I have written here which gives you an insight into a little of the chaos of my brain at the moment, new hope would be born. I want that hope to be firm, not in a concept or a thing, but in the One who is making all things new.

In the meantime, if you pray, please do for my family, for me, for P and all who have not had pieces written about them today but who also need some comfort, some peace and some strength to carry on.

The phone only rang 3 times while I was writing this. I hope it doesn’t ring again for a good while.


Hope (a New Year Meandering)

I’m not big on resolutions for the start of a new calendar year. Over the last couple, I’ve promised to write on the Church of England lectionary reading every day (lasted a few months) and write a new song every month (managed one for half the months of the year) so it turns out I’m not too good at keeping to what I promise to do. That’s  pretty difficult, humbling thing to admit to.

The end of one year and the beginning of another offers the opportunity for grandiose statements about how great/terrible/abominable the year just ending was and how much better/more hopeful and full of possibility the one to come is. This seems particularly so with 2016 in mind. The combination of seismic political upheaval, the sheer fact that there are myriad celebrities in our aspiration-obsessed culture and therefore more of said celebrities (very sadly) die in any given year (and this will only be more so in the coming years) and the way that we have access to news about virtually everything, all of the time, if we want it, even though we often miss the most important things happening both under our noses and in the forgotten far-reaches of the planet, all of that can combine to make it seem like it’s been a terrible year.

Allied to all of this, it seems to me that I am not a very resilient person. I don’t know about you. You might be. In which case, move on and ignore this paragraph. But the fact remains that, I at least, am learning that I need deeper and deeper wells of resilience that I did not realise would be necessary. How did previous generations deal with, say, the loss of entire families in war, or to diseases like TB, when I can’t cope with not being able to complete my work because my internet connection is intermittent? How are we, for whom, in the West, life expectancy and quality of life is, in the main, longer and better than ever, become so frightened of death, so scared of ‘the other’ that we keep both as far away as possible, when, so we’re told, we have it better than ever before in the whole of human history?

2017 will be a year of change for me. I’ve got a calendar year from midnight to find a new role within the Church of England. Changes of this nature don’t just affect me. They affect my long-suffering wife and our wider family. As I go through the process of applying, if this time is anything like other such junctures in my life, I would not be too surprised to find myself questioning my worth, value, suitability for roles, even though I am trained, qualified, experienced, called, equipped and sent exactly for the kind of roles that I might be looking at in the coming weeks and months. These doubts have assailed me many times and they boil down to two key things: I don’t trust myself, perhaps rightly and, more seriously, I often fail to truly trust God, thinking instead that if I just work harder, longer, better, more sacrificially (those two often seem to equate to the same thing in my head at least) then somehow God will be more pleased with me and therefore elevate me to some kind of ability or situation that would otherwise be beyond me. Working hard is important. Making the most of the gifts we are given is a key facet of the scriptural narrative, but the key, the absolute key, is to know that the heart of those gifts, the giver and effector of them, is God. I have gifts to share with the communities I live in and serve because God gives them to me. I can use or squander them, in partnership (hopefully) with him, but the gifts are given by him. God has brought me to the beginning of 2017 to be someone who points people to Him, who draws people into family and relationship with him, themselves and with other people. I do have to move, to be active, to do ‘the work’, but most of all I have to trust God that when he says he will be with me, when he says he will not leave me, when he says that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to support and encourage me, when he promises miracles, transformations, healings, mercy and grace and all of the other things that we’re told are the promises of God: that those things will come to pass if I walk with him, one step after another, faithfully, as faithfully as I can, day by day. It’s not cool, it’s not sexy, it might not win me a platform, or influence, but it will be what I am invited by God to do in this next year.

I’ve been thinking recently that all the words I can use about God, Church, Faith, and what all of those things are and mean (all of which change on a daily basis) pale into insignificance when placed next to the Word, the coming of Jesus, who was both God and man, into the world that first Christmas time. He is who we need to get to know, to follow, to mimic even, as 2017 dawns. Not just by learning about him, talking about him, what he might think about certain issues, political parties or societal changes, but actually take him at his word that when he said that he would be with us to the end of the age (this one we’re in now) if we asked him to be, that he actually would be and that one of the main tasks, if not the main one, of the Christian life is some form of commitment to actually working out what that relationship of closeness might mean for us, both individually, as Church families and as the whole Church. If we got to know Jesus, what might we see? What might he invite us to do? What might he actually want to do for us, give to us, so that we might pass on the gift to others this year?

So, don’t fall for slogans, or long paragraphs like mine, this new year. Don’t rely on blogs, books, memes, videos on Facebook or even the Huffington Post to tell you what to think this new year. Don’t mindlessly retweet. Even more, don’t beligerently retweet. If you have questions, doubts, fears, if you’re looking for a reason to be hopeful, a reason to be cheerful (part 2017) this new year, then you actually, actually, actually, you actually can do no better than to silence all the words, all the screens, all the arguments, and invite Jesus, the only Word truly worth hearing and listening to, to be live with you, in you, through you and for you this coming year.

You might think this blog, therefore, is a waste of time, shouting into a void, obsolete. Well, yes, maybe, but these are the kinds of words I needed to hear at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017. So I wrote them to myself. What would the Church be like if I, if we, chose to prioritise the things that Jesus chose to prioritise? He gave a priority to love (of God and people), a priority to the poor, a priority to prayer, a priority to telling people about the kingdom of God through sharing stories they could relate to and a priority to building teams of people who could partner with him in his work. Wouldn’t it be great if I lived with these priorities? What could change? What could happen? What mountains might be moved if we joined together in living this way?

Let’s find out in the year to come


Talk Text: Carol Services 2016: John 1:1-14

As the Christmas season has rolled into view, I’ve had the great joy and privilege of leading and preaching at a variety of services and events. For the Emmanuel Carol Service and the Northamptonshire County Council Staff Carol Service I used variations on this talk. As quite a few people have said that they found it (variously) helpful, challenging and encouraging, I thought I’d reproduce it here. 

If Jesus hadn’t been born, would we still celebrate Christmas? This is the key question I was asked by a child in year one of a local school last week. What do you say when you’re asked a question like that? Of course, it’s an easy one to answer, without the birth of Jesus, Christmas wouldn’t happen, the Mass, the remembering of his birth, it wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t have all these carols (beautifully led this evening by the musicians, thank you guys). We wouldn’t have the Bible readings to listen to, glorious, well-known words to many of us that tell the story of the birth of a Saviour which was more fraught with uncertainty than it sounds when you’ve heard it for most of the Christmasses you can remember. We wouldn’t have turkey or the veggie equivalent, we wouldn’t have presents, a special reason to spend time with people at this time of year. 
Nor would we have the hope that now, today, God has made a way for the world to be more fair, more just, more honouring to him and his ways of doing things. .
However, before we get too despondent, good news: Jesus was born. The word of God was not just spoken into the world, it came alive and is still alive today. Jesus is that word, as we’ll hear in our final reading shortly. He’d been there at the beginning of all time, everything was created through him, he had a hand in it all. 
Later in his life, Jesus would continually frustrate those who he spoke to by emphasising God’s priority for those in the community who are poor. So did the early Church which followed in his wake, and so must we. God calls us, his people, to be the ones who live in a different way, acting justly, loving mercy and walking in humility with him. We do it not because doing good things makes sense (although it does). We do it because the Word of God came into the world full of grace and full of truth, and his word was that the world would never be the same again
When a word is spoken, written, signed or communicated in any kind of way, it demands a response. We don’t use words (most of us at least) for the sake of it, shouting into a void. We speak because we want people to hear us, to respond to us, to relate to us and what we’re saying. It’s the same with Jesus, the word of God to the world when he was born that first Christmas day, and the word of God to the world today. What is that word? It is life, hope, transformation, salvation, being given new eyes to see the part of the world that we live and love and serve in through the eyes of God and with the opportunity to make the priorities of his coming kingdom and way of life ours, too. Are we watching? Are we listening?
We live in a world which feels like it is waiting for something to happen. It’s a world which is searching for a better way, someone or something to change things. It feels like a time has come when the old order of things is passing away. In politics, the rise of the right is making things look very different. In our world of swiping from post to post on Facebook, of instant gratification of a like or a retweet, or of the need to respond immediately to everything that happens, it’s hard for us ever to be truly satisfied, trusting, at rest. Many of us see things that happen all over the world on our screens, or in our newspapers, all day every day. We can become anaesthetised to the enormity of it all. It’s hard to know what is truly important, crucial in the midst of the sheer quantity or volume of things that are offered to us for our response, our entertainment. Workloads seem heavier than ever, needing to be completed quicker than ever, and in the midst of it, it’s easier, it seems to be swamped in the dark and the chaos and let it all happen, than to pick out the light, the one true light, which came into the world to save sinners, all of us, and give us the opportunity of life, now and forever as children of God.
We’ll be hearing John 1:1-14 in just a few minutes. Again, we’ll be reminded that Jesus, the word of God, has spoken, transformed the world and wants us to hear, recognise and welcome him into our hearts this Christmas. Take the few moments of that reading to ask God to make his home in your heart again this Christmas time.
So, no, if Jesus hadn’t been born, we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas this coming week, but, truly, thank God that he was. We have hope, for ourselves, for our Church, for the whole world. We have a story to tell, we have a story of grace, mercy and peace to be part of, to live out and share with the world, that everyone we meet might see the true light of the world shining out from us. The light shines, let’s show it to as many people as we can. Let’s be hearers, doers and speakers of the word of God this Christmas.

Talk Text: December 4th 2016 – Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12 – Repent and Turn to God, the Kingdom Of Heaven Is Close At Hand

These notes formed the basis of my sermon at Emmanuel, Northampton on December 4th 2016. The passages I referred to primarily were Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12. 

‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’

Funny, as I’m preparing this sermon I’m thinking about the times in our society now that we might hear these words. Perhaps you, like me, have been on Abington Street in town of an afternoon, and heard a preacher loudly shouting these words. I wonder, do you stop and listen? I have to admit there have been lots of times when I’ve heard people preaching, using ‘Bible’ language, words like repent and sin and so on, where I’ve crossed over on to the other side of the road, actually been ashamed of fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, because of their methods of evangelism and the force which they often deliver their message. To be blunt, it’s just not cricket. It’s not cool, I think to myself. I spend a lot of time trying to build relationships with people, to get to know them, to find out about them and their stories and to draw them into a relationship with God, and his Church. A foghorn on Abington Street just doesn’t help my method, or a message of inclusion, togetherness and so on. Sometimes, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, I just wish people like this would shut up and leave me to get on with my day. And I’m a minister. Imagine what it’s like for everyone else.

But that’s the thing, these people, these voices in the wilderness, they just keep going, because they have a calling, they’re certain that they need to tell people about the fact that Jesus is coming, and that this matters. My annoyance that, quite often, in the midst of my sadness about the way they’ve chosen to communicate, I feel my conscience being pricked, I feel a prompting in my heart, in my spirit, to do exactly as they suggest and to ‘turn back to God, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’, well that is only part of the story. I don’t want to be reminded that, at times, I don’t live, or look, much like someone who follows Jesus. I don’t want to be challenged about the choices I make, about whether they help or don’t help the growing of God’s kingdom here on Earth. I have my freedom, and I don’t want someone, particularly if they look and sound like they’ve been in the wilderness for a long time, making any kind of suggestion about how I should use that freedom.

I wonder if that’s what it was like for people who heard John the Baptist. He was confrontational. ‘Repent’ he said, that meant that he thought the people he was speaking to needed to change how they were living, the direction they were facing, the direction they were moving in. They needed to turn to God, because the kingdom of heaven was close at hand. One was coming who was greater than he, he wasn’t worthy to untie his shoes. I suppose these days it might be Converse.

People didn’t like what they heard. Matthew says that it was the Pharisees (they would later be people that Jesus often clashed with, of course) who challenged John and were called, subtly I always think, a brood of vipers. No something you want to be called, I think you’d agree. They’re challenged to prove by how they live that they have repented of their sins. Jesus is coming and he will sort the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. He will see, he will know and he will judge entirely fairly. Words and piety won’t cut it. It’s motives and actions that will be the measure of whether repentance has happened. Does that challenge you? It challenges me.

We heard about Jesus-Shaped People this week. It was exciting. You’ll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks and months. We’ll be learning about what some of Jesus’s key priorities were and how we can apply them to the life of our Church. One of the key themes we talked about on Wednesday night was about being prophetic, speaking truth to power, challenging evil.

If we’re going to do that, it starts with us. It’s a hard thing to say, but sin, things which turn us away from God, it is evil. Sin is evil. Sins are evil. It doesn’t mean we are evil if we do sin, but we have to bear in mind that to live in a way which is not God’s way is a serious problem, one that needs dealing with. We can’t just challenge the evil we see around us. We have to challenge anything in ourselves which is not Godly, and invite Jesus to judge us fairly, as our readings this morning promises us that he will do. We’ve been reminded again this morning of the forgiveness which is ours because Jesus won it for us on the cross. That doesn’t mean we can carry on living in the way we did before we knew about his offer of forgiveness though. We need to invite Jesus to live in us, individually and as a whole Church, so that he can give us the strength, wisdom and courage to live his way.

Our job is to prepare the way for the Lord, to clear the road for his coming (as people did as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday later in his story). To do that, we need to make a continuing commitment as a Church family to turn towards Jesus, to let him bless the things we do and are that are of him and to challenge us on the things that we do and are that may not be.

Are we willing to repent and return to God? The kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Jesus is coming, not just in our annual remembering of his birth as a baby on that glorious first Christmas day, but he is coming back, to, to judge the living and the dead, to rule in a kingdom where ‘The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’ He will rule in peace and with fairness when his time comes and we have been offered the chance to live with him, forever. Let’s make sure that we’re facing towards him, worshipping him as the one who offers us the only true route to life and hope, and living his way this Christmas time.

And so, it turns out that those preachers on Abington Street are right after all. Not only that, but we are called to shout, with how we live our lives, as well as with our voices if God calls us to, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’



Talk Text: September 11th 2016: James 1

This past Sunday I preached on James 1 at the evening service at our Church. Our housegroups are studying the book this term. Here are my notes from that sermon.

Themes in James

  • Key Points for this evening – James 1.
  1. God wants to gift us wisdom, insight and knowledge. All we have to do is ask him and trust. We will receive it.
  2. God blesses those who patiently endure, who persist, who make worshipping him and telling people about him the main thing.
  3. If we call ourselves people who are religious, who have faith, we have to prioritise serving the poor, those who are sick, the widow and the orphan.
  • James is the brother of Jesus (probably). Think about how it was for him to grow up in the family. A simple family of lay people – the story of the birth of his brother etc, then one day Jesus gets up in the temple and preaches on Isaiah 61:1-4’today this is fulfilled in your hearing’. But it’s your brother. Remember later in the gospel accounts, the family of Jesus try and silence him. They think he will get himself killed. But by the time of the controversy in Acts 15 about whether the Church should accept non-Jewish believers, James sides with Paul and says that no-one should be excluded (19). That’s a miracle! James’s letter is a careful one, making it pretty clear that it is trust in God that is central to faith and life. We’re not to rely on ourselves, our own wisdom, our own strength, our own wealth, we are to trust solely on God.
  • He’s writing to a Church under pressure. Dispersed by persecution etc. Similar to us today, not all Christians in one place. 

Themes in James 

  • 2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
  • The purpose of testing – ‘the testing of your faith produces perseverance’. Testing/trials have a purpose. It’s hard to get excited about them (just being honest), but we’re told to ‘consider it pure joy’ when trials of many kinds come. Because of the perseverance that they produce. I find it interesting then that perseverance is seen as something which is at work in us, enabling us to keep going, almost like it should have a capital P. We become mature and complete when we allow it to finish its work. This is quite interesting I think. If we strive too hard, if we push on ahead, trying to make things happen in our own strength, in our own way, then we actually run the risk of not allowing maturity and completeness to come in the way that it is supposed to.
  • 5-8. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
  • We can’t be who we are designed to be without wisdom.  What James is talking about here is  sofia (insight, skill,intelligence). What I think James is getting at here is not that we all end up needing to be part of MENSA or that only people with brains the size of planets can understand God. Far from it. He is saying that the knowledge, the insight, the know-how we need for how to live for God, to love him, to serve him, in a world which can make it seem very difficult to be a Christian, that’s something that we need to ask God for, not to seek within ourselves. Wisdom is a gift from God. The word used for the way God gives it to people is haploce (generously, bountifully without reproach). All we have to do is ask for it, and trust God. And we will receive it. Our culture can make it seem like if you’ve had a great education (perhaps a Grammar School education, but we shouldn’t go there! you are of a higher worth than someone who hasn’t. If you got 74 A Levels and 5 degrees, you’re worth more to society than someone who left school at 14 and worked hard their whole life. This.Is.Not.True. I’ll say it again. This.Is.Not.True. I’ve been fortunate enough to be trained in Church leadership stuff for 5 years, with a lot of what I have done having been quite academically heavy, but if I don’t ask God for his wisdom, trust him and let him gift it to me, then I am lost. When you’re under pressure, it’s not your degree that saves you, it’s the power of God,
  • The trusting is important though! Without trust, we’re like people blowing in the wind or rolling on the sea, we’re double minded, or confused in all we do. If we can learn to trust God, to seek him first, to acknowledge him in all our ways and lean on him, not our own understanding, we are able to see something of the kind of life of faith, the life of abundant generosity, that can be ours. We miss it sometimes, trying to understand without seeking God’s wisdom.
  • 9-11 – 9 Believers who are[b] poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
  • Don’t chase wealth. Only the poor, the humble, can boast. Wealth brings more problems than it solves. Don’t you just wish sometimes that we all had more money? Or that the Church had more money? Or that we didn’t need to worry so much about all the stuff to do with money that seems to dominate so much of our lives these days? We’re conditioned to want more. We’re not conditioned to commit to contentment. Some of us in the room tonight are poor, we do lack, but as a whole body, as a whole Church, we have enough. Sometimes we just need to share our resources, our energy, our gifts, our talents, our food, more amongst ourselves. I say this to myself. I like comfort, I like stuff. I like not worrying about money. James says God has blessed the poor. Jesus says the poor will always be with us, that the poor in spirit, the meek, have the kingdom, that they will inherit the earth. God has a preference for the poor. What we do, how we think, it needs to reflect that.
  • 12-18. – 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong,[c] and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. 
16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[d] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[e] 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.[f]

  • Are we willing to endure patiently – hoop-om-eno, to persevere? To bear up against? It’s not so glamorous is it, but persistence and consistency are key themes in the Christian life. We have to keep going. Together. We have to keep the main thing the main thing, to keep our eyes fixed on worshipping Jesus and introducing people to him. That’s what God blesses. He blesses those who aren’t distracted into seeing shiny new things and ways of dong things round every corner. He blesses those who come to him for wisdom, who trust him with their lives, and then who keep on doing it, and keep on doing it, and keep on doing it, whatever comes, whatever trials, whatever opportunities. It might sound boring to those of us, like me, who are attracted by shiny, by new, but it’s the thing that gets you that, ‘welcome home, good and faithful servant’ at the end of it all. It’s what this life is all about.
  • Don’t be misled, God is never tempted to do wrong, or to ask us to. If we feel tempted to do wrong, it comes from us, from our own desires and leads to sin. We can’t get out of it easily by blaming God when we find ourselves having done the wrong things. God is not at fault, we are, but there is hope. Good, perfect gifts are given to us from God. I’m not talking about that new car we want, or a nice new job, even though those things can be very important to us at times. I’m talking about the things that last, the things that endure, life, breath, hope, we are the prized possessions of God. He gave us his true word, the word of life, Jesus. That’s a pretty big deal. God never changes. Never
  • V19- 
  • 19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger[g] does not produce the righteousness[h] God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
  • 22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
  • 26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
  • I like to talk, most of you know this. A lot of you have been on the end of one of my rants. Sorry about that. I’m wanting to learn to be quicker to listen, slower to speak. Not just to each of you, but to God too. We’re in a period where we especially need to be listening to God. Are we on his path, doing things his way? I think so. I think our priorities are right and good. Love God with everything we have, love our neighbours, our communities, and love ourselves. We are actually doing pretty well. The end of our passage tonight says that true religions which pleases God cares for orphans and widows in their distress. it puts the poor, the struggling, the sick, those in need, those who don’t have a place, or who society doesn’t value, it puts them first. 
  • We control our tongues, we speak well of one another, we bless with what we say, we don’t put people down, or insult, or attack.
  • We don’t let the world corrupt us…This is about priorities again, about money, about where we put our trust, our confidence. Is it anywhere but in God? Then it’s in the wrong place. Are we trusting God? Then we’re on the right track.
  • We need each other. We, Phil and I, the great people we have who lead services, preach, play music, people who serve our congregations in a whole variety of ways, we need God, we need each other, and we need to accept that we’re loved and precious too. As Phil said last week, we’re all in this together. All of us in this room, we are prized possessions of God’s. 
  • So, as we close, some questions and challenges….What’s your favourite thing? To God, you’re more important than even the most important possession that you just thought of, that thing, or person that you cherish. You might not be able to believe that, or think that that’s a key part of this passage tonight, but as I’ve prepared, I’ve felt God say to me that there are people here tonight who need to receive the gift of wisdom, wisdom to know that they are his prized possession, that he will not let go of you. 
  • Secondly, are we willing to put our trust, our confidence in God? It’s a hard one. Voices in our heads say we need to worry, to focus on other things, but God is where there is life, hope, a future, possibility. Let’s put our trust in him, together, as we move forward in to the future, wherever that may lead, remembering his faithfulness to us in the (very recent) past, and expecting it in the future.
  • Thirdly and lastly, let’s work together to find ways to serve those who are struggling this week. If you are, receive prayer before you go tonight. If you know someone who is, pray for them this week, with them if you can. If people are short of food, share some of yours. If people are short of money,or clothes, share some of yours. If someone lacks confidence, but you know that they are precious, valuable, tell them. Give generously, as God as been so generous to us. He’s given us his wisdom to see how great he is, how valuable the people he has made his prized possessions are. Let’s worship him now, and with our lives this week.



Talk Text: Northampton Civic Service 2016

Yesterday I had the great privilege of leading and preaching at the service to mark the beginning of the Mayoralty of Cllr Chris Malpas at All Saints, Northampton. I’m his chaplain for the year. I’m already finding the role fascinating and stretching. I thought I’d post the notes my talk was based on here, in case they are of interest. The readings were Micah 4:1-4 and Matthew 5:1-12

I wonder, do you still like to learn? We’re told aren’t we that it’s good, important, crucial even, to learn, continually. We live in an age of lifelong learning. Continuing Professional Development, or in my case, Curate Training and Continuing Ministerial Development, is all the rage. If you’re fortunate enough to have reached the stage where you’ve retired from work, you can fill your time with new experiences and knowledge in the University of the Third Age. The opportunities for learning are endless. Knowledge is power, we’re told, and who wants to be powerless in this day and age (or any day or age for that matter?). Knowing things, knowing that we’re right, and, all too often, ensuring that others know that we are right, have become key touchstones of our age. We’re not good at being wrong either. On Monday I prayed for the first time at a Borough Council meeting. From the wrong place. The Mayor was very gracious and said it didn’t matter, but I didn’t like feeling that I’d got it wrong and turned what should have been a sombre moment into a game of Where’s Wally or Where’s Chaplain? I’ve learnt for next time now!

Our first reading this morning from the prophet Micah talks of a time when people will go to the house of God and he will teach them his ways. His ways of peace, of disarmament, of a new way of life for all. Now, as rose-tinted as my spectacles may be, I know that not everybody who has come here this morning will set much stall by what the ways of God may be. However, I would hope that there are none amongst us this morning who would not seek for peace in our families and our communities, locally, nationally and internationally. The words in this reading, well known as they may be, about turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, are challenges for us as people who lead. What are the swords and spears, literal and figurative of our day? How can we lead in such a way that we set an example of a new way of living, one of justice, peace and joy, for all? It is not weak to act justly, to love mercy and to walk with humility, whether you believe you do so with God or not. To lead as a servant is one of the strongest acts a person can perform.

One of my favourite things about Jesus and his leadership is that he, like me, wasn’t fashionable. I mean, just look at me. But still, moving on, listen again to some of the key lines from the reading Mayor Malpas gave to us just now. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You might think that’s all well and good, that leaves the earth for those of us who aren’t weak, fragile or vulnerable. But no, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, we’re told. Later, we’re told that the merciful shall obtain mercy, and that peacemakers will be called children of God.

It’s not the most strident or tubthumping of manifestos is it. Not the sort of thing to get those popularity ratings sky-rocketing. It’s all too easy for people who pursue peace and justice for those they lead and serve as weak, to be taken advantage of. After all, this happened to Jesus. He was unfairly killed, so that the authorities could silence someone they considered an irritating, potentially dangerous political revolutionary. Except, of course, that it was in dying, giving up all of himself, that he gave each and every one of us the opportunity to have a relationship with God. It is only in this relationship that our lives can find their ultimate fulfilment, only in this relationship that we can be the people that we were always meant to be. God invites you this morning, whether for the first time, or again, to accept his gift of life in all its fullness, today. Walking with God, the leader of all, every moment of every day is an opportunity to learn again the privilege it is to live the lives that we do and to follow his example in pouring ourselves out for the good and benefit of all.

Leadership, of whatever sort, is always a sacrifice. It is costly. Those of you who hold office in the Borough, the County, or in any other civic role, will know that you give up a great deal to be who you are, in the roles you have. Thank you for the service you have given, and for that which you will give in the coming year. I pray for you that will learn the ways of God this year and that peace, justice and joy may be the hallmarks of our town.


Faith Lectionary Ramblings

My Grace is Sufficient – Talk Text: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Just in case you think I don’t post about faith or my work at Emmanuel here anymore, I thought I’d post my notes for the talk I’m giving at Church this morning. Be interesting to see how this one goes…


I feel like I’ve been telling you the same story for about a year now. Honestly, sometimes it seems really frustrating to me that you still don’t get it, that you keep going off after other, shiny, more exciting sounding stuff. In case you’ve forgotten the message that you’ve been given, it goes a little something like this:

  • ‘No matter how many promises God has made, they are yes in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1). Spirit is the deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
  • ‘Struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.’ (2 Corinthians 4)
  • ‘If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven’ (2 Corinthians 5).
  • God fashions us for this purpose. Spirit guarantees deposit. We live by faith, not by sight. We make it our goal to please God.
  • Don’t receive God’s grace in vain. Now is the time of God’s favour (2 Corinthians 6)
  • 2 Corinthians 7 – the justification continues (we have wronged no one; my joy knows no bounds. Paul is confident because of the deposit of the Spirit).
  • 2 Corinthians 8 Joy and generosity in the midst of extreme trials. “See that you excel in this grace of giving’
  • 2 Corinthians 9 – whoever sows generously will also reap generously. God loves a cheerful giver
  • 2 Corinthians 10 – I appeal to you, don’t make me be bold. We don’t live by the standards of this world. Our weapons have divine power to demolish strongholds against the knowledge of God, to make every thought obedient to Christ. You are judging by appearances.
  • 2 Corinthians 11 – Justification reaches fever pitch. Paul has put himself in danger in virtually every area of life for the sake of the gospel, and yet the Corinthian church are moving away from the gospel in Paul’s eyes. “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness”

Obviously, this is for effect. How could I ever be frustrated with you lovely people?! I did this to try and build up to the message Paul gives about the grace of God in our reading from 2 Corinthians 12 today. Sometimes the lectionary can do us great favours in giving us snapshots of scripture to get our teeth into. The trouble with that is that, often, as in this case, Paul has been building his case for eleven chapters before he gets to the reading we have today. As they say, context is everything. I’d really encourage you to take some time this week to read 2 Corinthians from the start and see what you make of it. I listened to an audio bible version read by David Suchet. I’d recommend that version if you feel like you’re too busy to sit still for 12 chapters!

It’s easy to think, when we get to the famous ‘thorn in the flesh, messenger from Satan’ part of this passage that we’re to be very British about it. You know the sort of thing, ‘stiff upper lip me old bean’. This isn’t what Paul’s saying. He’s prayed to God many times for it to be removed (the three is probably figurative) and, finding that it hasn’t been, he has instead had this powerful word from God

‘My Grace is sufficient for you’.

Stop and let that wash over you a little bit. It’s a huge sentence. First of all, whose grace are we talking about? It’s not Haydon’s grace, or yours, which is enough for us. It’s God’s. God who is the maker, giver, and provider of an unending, never running out, well of grace. It’s his grace.

Next, we have ‘is’. This is a firm statement. God does not say that he might do enough for us, sometimes, if we say the right words in the right order, or if we know the secret handshake. With the word ‘is’, we can have confidence that it does not change, it will not fail.

And what about sufficient? Sufficient means enough. It doesn’t just mean enough by the skin of its teeth, the tips of its fingers or even its fingernails, it means comfortably enough. This grace is plenty. It is more than enough. We have no more need. Everything is taken care of and supplied.

Now, I’m very aware that many of us live in situations day by day where it feels like we do not have sufficient. Whether it’s through issues of health, finance, food or drink, companionship, or if it’s through looking at the world around us and head-shakingly wondering ‘what the hell is going on?’ (this is allowed) it can quite often seem like the thorn in the flesh has more power than the God I’m talking about. It can seem like all our attention goes in to dealing with the issues the thorn gives to us, or supporting others who are affected by troubles in their own lives, or even just to watch the world continuing along and feeling powerless to help, but Paul had to learn, just as we do, that thorns, difficulties, suffering, are part of life, but still, perhaps even all the more, when we come to the end of ourselves, we are forced to look to God, to rely on God, to trust God. This doesn’t magic our problems away. Most of us in the room this morning can testify that it often seems that to put your trust in God seems to lead to an increase in pressure, difficulty, pain and suffering. This faith life is not for the faint of heart! But here it is: Jesus suffered for us, that we might have hope, freedom and life to the full. Earlier in 2 Corinthians, we heard that we carry round in our bodies the death of Jesus, but that if the tent (the body) we currently live in dies, we have an eternal building which God is preparing for us. This is fancy spiritual language, and no-one knows the complete answer to what this means but here is my best attempt:

Our bodies, our earthly lives, can fail, they can be tough. This is something of an understatement. Recently I gave Margaret a book called My Donkey Body (I think she’s just about forgiven me) by a minister, Michael Wenham, who is journeying with God through terminal illness.

As his body continues to let him down, he has to learn and relearn what it means to follow and honour Jesus, day by day. One thing that becomes clear from writing Michael’s fantastic writing is that bitterness can completely destroy any possibility for hope. We’re about to lift up our prayers of intercession. As we pray, we’ll be praying for the Church, for the world, praying for those we know who are sick and struggling in body, mind and spirit. We’ll also be praying for ourselves. Sometimes God does miraculous healings, situations change just like that. At others, the greater miracle is that he removes the burden of bitterness from us, sometimes when it has been there for a very long time. Are you holding onto bitterness against God, another person, or against yourself?

Later on, we’ll come to Communion.

As I retell the story of the night before Jesus died, as we enter into it together, I’d encourage you to think about what he went through. We know he died on a cross, an excruciating death. We also know that he was a man, who was betrayed by his friends. He had set his face towards Jerusalem. He knew that his time was coming. It would have been easy, understandable even, that as he broke bread and blessed wine, told us to do the same to remember him, he might have been bitter, afraid, confused. We do God a disservice when we make him too serene, too zen. This was a painful, deeply serious thing Jesus was doing. He asked God to take what was coming from him, but finished with ‘yet not my will but yours’. Paul did the same, but came to the conclusion that the grace of God was enough for him, rather than his own strength. Will we have the courage to let go of ourselves, our own resources, our own need to be ‘enough’ and truly let God take his place again on the throne of our lives?


What Are We Hoping For When We Show Up?

I’m supposed to write a roughly monthly column for Christians on the Left, but I’ve failed at that recently. Partly it’s because there’s so much noise at the moment, so much opinion, so little certainty, that I quite often think that the last thing anyone needs is me spouting off again. People talking about faith and politics seem so much more qualified, knowledgable and eloquent than me, i’ve silenced myself. If only some other people thought like that occasionally. That said, recently I’ve been reading Andy Flannagan’s fantastic book “Those Who Show Up” and it has rocked me to the core in the space of two chapters, so here I am again, writing about something I know very little about.

Andy’s book is a call for a both-and kind of approach to faith and politics. We can bring the prophetic voice calling for change, development, justice and progress from the sidelines. Sometimes that is needed. Sometimes it is the only course of action available. At other times, I would say mainly in Andy’s thesis, the real effect can be made by those who offer themselves within the system or the process. Are we willing to suffer endless meetings, bureaucracy, red tape, hold ups and so on? Are we willing to commit to a group of people, to foster community in an area, to seek justice and quality of life for all, not just the people who are like us? Are we willing to be frustrated continually, and yet remain faithful to the vision that we have and are working out? It sounds a lot like the Church of England to me.

I remember being intensely frustrated with the CofE as a firebrand-y unthinkingly conservative evangelical teenager. I was conservative because I was told to be. At least I stood for God’s ideals, I thought. I thought the CofE a hopelessly outmoded and outdated institution in which the Holy Spirit and its transforming power was not present or evident, and that it hadn’t been for some time. I thought this because I couldn’t work out what the CofE stood for. It never seemed to have a firm position on anything. It was boring, lifeless and so on and so on and boringly so on. Now, at the grand old age of 30 I find myself more excited about being part of an established Church than ever. “A Christian presence in every community” the streamline says. A sacramental presence in every community more like, as Christians embedded in the lives of their local communities show something of the light and life of Jesus to all, where all are prayed for, whether they be knowingly part of a church or not, where no-one is cast out, no-one is forgotten. Christians aren’t called to separate themselves from their communities. They are called to be at the heart of them. They’re called to set the agenda, not dogmatically or doctrinally, but in terms of the living of lives which infectiously, even contagiously, spread love, joy, peace, justice and hope. They do this by pointing to God, seeking the benefit of others over themselves. We can’t say, or sing, that we are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, or that we want to glorify, or lift him high on the one hand, and then put ourselves first on the other. What would our politics look like if we committed to putting others and God before ourselves?

Sometimes we need to get angry, to rant and rave. At other times, we need to lovingly coax things along, bringing light in to places of darkness, hope into places where it is lacking. Andy is quite right though, it’s all very well talking about it, but what are we actually willing to do? How much will we sacrifice? Will we think of the other or seek only health, wealth and happiness for ourselves? Is it all about prosperity and growth?

All I can say is, after two chapters, I’ve taken the plunge and joined my first political party.

Goodness knows what’ll happen when I read the rest of it.

So I suppose this is where I (finally) get to my (highly-opinionated) point. For those of us who say that we follow Jesus and put the agenda of the kingdom before everything else, there has to somewhere be the acceptance that eschatology, the end times and the age to come, play a huge role in the shaping of our faith. Christianity is a future-facing faith. As we are forgiven and freed for joyful obedience, we are freed not to look back, but to look forward, to a time when man’s inhumanity to man will be no more, when all our hopes will be realised, all our fears and sorrows will be no more, where the meek will have inherited the earth, where the last will have finished their race and come in first, where the riches we stored up for ourselves on Earth will have been eaten up and destroyed, and what we will be left with is the question, “what did you do to the least of this, my brothers? What did you therefore do to me?” We have a leader, a pattern maker for our lives who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom payment that we might have live, have it to the full, and share out of the abundance that we have with others.

As we show up this Thursday, let’s not leave it there. Let’s continually show up. Let’s offer our lives in the service of the voiceless, the marginalised, the dispossessed, those who are discriminated against. Let’s find ways to serve, rather than to seek to gain power, authority and to be served ourselves. Let’s cast off any sense of entitlement, clinging only to our one true birthright, to be called children and friends of God, because he chose to call us that, and because Jesus made it possible.

Who knows whether I’m right or not? More than likely at times we need to be on the sidelines too, or marching in the demonstrations, signing petitions, calling and holding elected representatives to account, but more than ever, it seems to me that it might just be the moment to look inside ourselves and ask the question of what God might be asking or encouraging of us in the places where we are? Where might we be being sent? Are we willing to go? What are we hoping for when we show up?



The Seduction of Difference

This is a tentative post. I know I’m not much known for being tentative in what I have to say. Sometimes it would probably help me if I was a bit more restrained. That said, what I am sharing this morning has been on my mind for a number of weeks and it just won’t go away, so, in a sense, I need to write it, even if you don’t need to read it. That’s most of the reason people write and say things anyway isn’t it, the faintly ridiculous conception that what we have in our minds is so crucial, so necessary for the future of mankind that we have to get it out immediately. I’m fairly sure that most of my opinions, including this one, have been written and talked about by other people in the past. They must have been. After all, if nothing else, theological college taught me there’s no such thing as an original thought. So, with various caveats in place, and having lowered your expectations of the quality of this piece sufficiently, here goes…

I think as a society we have fallen for something which I’m grandly (see, it is capitalised, that makes it grand) calling The Seduction of Difference. Just this morning, I heard UKIP’s Health Spokeswoman (apparently they have one, although it has to be said it sounded as if she’d just got in from a heavy night out) declaiming loudly that we don’t want “Health Tourism”. “We” in this case is us, you and me, right-thinking British people, unsullied by foreign genes or history, unless they “add” something to society (the “adding” is a nebulous concept. I think we all get to collectivise together and decide just how much “adding” is sufficient in order to pass go, collect £200 – but not Universal Credit, oh no not that for Johnny Immigrant, unless they pass a test, which we set, naturally – and keep Pall Mall to ourselves). We wouldn’t give a Work Visa to someone with a pre-existing health condition. Nobody wants this. Apparently. Well, I for one have never thought about it, but on reflection, as I sit here with my pre-existing health condition (the mind boggles at what a post-existing health condition might be, I suppose that’s death, unless we’re being eschatological this morning) I am not sure that I want to be disqualified from anything simply on the basis that my health might have some impact on my productivity, should I ever wish to emigrate. That day marches ever closer. House for Duty Priest in the Bahamas I’m looking at your job description.

So far so flippant. But is it?  You see, it is logical to say that someone who doesn’t “add” to society shouldn’t find a welcome in it. After all, if they’re foreign, they have a society of their own. Apart from those who are fleeing persecution, genocide or other things like that. Seems to me they are of no fixed societal abode. But where does it stop? If we keep out those who are not indigenously British, and have a pre-existing health condition, isn’t it logical to extend the exclusion to those who are British and have one? After all times are hard for the economy. We all pay our taxes. We don’t want our taxes to support anyone but us. We don’t want to consider ourselves a society, least of all a compassionate one. It’s survival of the fittest dontcha know. And any time it feels like we might not be the fittest, the goalposts must be moved, so that we can feel good about ourselves again. Until our world becomes so small, so inward-looking, our perspective so warped, that we consider ourselves the centre of the universe, and all other people merely irritations in our glorious orbit.

Fortunately I’m a Hard Working Man, from a Hard Working Family. Some days I think I might count as a Real Person (seriously, that’s a slogan being used in the election rhetoric. What’s an Unreal Person? Boris?) so I’ll probably be ok, but we’re on a slippery slope that I’ve written and spoken about before. We are Seduced by Difference. We are fearful of the other. We want to protect ourselves, more than caring for the poor (who will always be with us, someone famous said that once). We want to protect ourselves, only seeing others flourish if we can flourish along with them, or at least on their coat-tails. We are told we deserve this. We are told, therefore, that anything that stops us flourishing must be quashed, squashed, eradicated. Scared of homeless people? Ignore them. Want an excuse for your  lack of contentment? We’ll find one. It’ll probably be economic. Want a vision for a better, brighter future? We don’t really have one of those.

Except we do. Some of us at least. We just celebrated Easter. The recognition that someone who was so radical, so different, so uncontrollable that the authorities of the day had him killed, changed the world, the entire course of human history. Jesus stood up to the injustices meted out against humanity and defeated them. He also took the consequences of any just judgement which might be counted against us. He did this so that we, you and I, might have life, have it to the full (what an idea), and that we might share that life with others. Sure, Christians bang on about eternal life all the time, but what’s the good of that? Well, in my opinion, eternal life starts now. We’re called to a life of holy improvisation. God has shown us how to live. We’re to love him with everything we have, whatever that looks like for each of us. We are to love others, putting them before ourselves, to be a compassionate society, to suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who rejoice. What would society look like if we did that? If we committed to the “other” in the full and certain knowledge that we are exactly the same “other” to someone else. What would it be like if we drew that “other” closer, rather than pushing them away? If we were brave, believing that all people are of equal value, regardless of ability or lack of it, economic contribution, education, ability for self-knowledge and awareness or lack of it.

After all, what makes us human? It is that God pursues us as his beloved creation, constantly, consistently and without reservation. He did this to the extent that he died for us. He didn’t die for us that we might impose strictures on anyone else, elevate ourselves above them so that we feel like we have power or authority which has been ours all along. No, God calls us to a radical kind of self-love which has at its core an awareness that without God, and without others, we are not ok. It is only when we love God and others that we can truly love ourselves, because we see ourselves in the context of God’s passionate love for us. We are important, because he says so. So is everybody else. Because he says so.

So health tourism? What nonsense. Oh for a nation which puts the needs of others before its own. A nation that truly understands what a privilege life is, so much so that it shares that privilege as widely as it possibly can. Let’s not live fearfully. Let’s not vote fearfully. Let’s hope and pray for local and national leaders who rise above the petty, the soundbite and who ignore the temptation to score cheap points with policies bred on fear, which only spread its power.

So it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. What are we going to do to share life, love and hope together? That’s a question worth asking, and answering in the way that we live our lives, today and tomorrow. A day is coming when there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death. It is. Honest. I know it doesn’t feel or seem like it, but it is. In the meantime, we have God, the Holy Spirit to be our friend, guide, counsellor. We have ourselves, and we have each other. I’m more confident standing with you than against you. Can we do that? Can we stand together?



Talk Text: Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I haven’t posted sermon notes here for a while. Not for a particular reason really, apart from not having got round to it. As I had the privilege of speaking to a full and vibrant Church yesterday morning at Emmanuel, I thought I’d put the text of my notes up here for anyone who was there who wanted to check it again, or for anyone who wasn’t who wanted to know what I said. I hope you find it helpful. Happy Easter to all of you who read this site. Thank you for doing so!


Happy Easter! The message of Easter is this: Jesus is alive, Jesus is risen. Death is conquered. The glory is His. He offers life to us, a hope for today, tomorrow and for eternity. It is finished. Forever. Amen.


There, in case you want to switch off, those are the key points for today.


I heard someone say recently that one of the strongest reasons why it’s highly likely that Jesus did rise from the dead is that if he hadn’t, it’s pretty unlikely that we’d still be talking about it. Stuff without the ring of truth to it quickly fades away and is forgotten. Stories with truth at their core often endure.


I’m not trying to convince you of the truth of the resurrection this morning. Personally I’m not clever enough to do that, and it’s a matter for your own faith to decide whether you believe or not, but as we look at the readings we’ve had this morning, some key questions have come up for me:


  1. The importance of hearing the story

Some of us might know the story of that first Easter day well. Some of us might be hearing it for the first time this morning. Some women who had followed Jesus went to his tomb to take care of his body. They’d been worried about how they would roll away the stone that covered the door, but when they arrived they found it had already been moved. They find an angel, who, in effect, says “don’t worry, Jesus isn’t here anymore, he’s been raised”, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Not surprisingly, terror and amazement overtook them, and they fled to tell the disciples that the Lord was risen. The women are told that they will see Jesus “just as he told you” in Galilee. This was always going to happen, is the suggestion.


I can tell you, I would have fled too. Jesus was no longer dead. He was alive. The whole of the world, the whole of history, had changed forever. It’s ok to think this is unusual.


It does us good to remember this story. Not just because it’s a cracking good story, but because it shows us that Jesus, who died because he loves us, also rose because he loves us


  1. What (and Whose) Story Are We Entering Into?


In our other reading this morning, Paul lays out the story. Jesus died for our sins, to follow what had been promised. He rose from the dead to follow what had been promised. Then he appeared to an ever-increasing number of those who followed him, and the Church was born. We celebrate Pentecost later on in the year, when we remember the gift that God gave us of the Holy Spirit to be with us, our friend, advisor and protector, for all of our lives as Christians. God with us, living within us. Christ in us the hope of glory.


The story we are entering into is one of the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s his story, it has become ours. What did we say that good news was? Jesus is alive? Hope is here. Death is defeated. We are free. Life for all. As we say in communion sometimes, “this is our story, this our song, Hosanna in the highest”. Hosanna celebrates the coming of a King, a liberator. Jesus is our liberator. As we are part of His Church, the story we enter into is the story of His freeing and liberating of those who are in chains, those who are struggling, those who have no hope. The story has its end in the picture of the future that Revelation 21 gives us, of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more suffering, no more tears, no more pain and no more death. The hope for this new life was made real when Jesus rose from the dead. His Church exists to thank Him and to point the way to Him for others to follow.


And so…


3. How Can We Live the Story In Our Own Lives?

This, basically, is what does it mean to be a Christian? Jesus is alive. Hope is here. Death is defeated. So what? What difference does it make to our lives, our families, what we spend our time doing, what we spend our money on? Why does it matter at all?


God has given us the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Bible which tells his story. The story of a God who chased his people throughout history, longing to give them abundant life. Now God asks us to, as it were, improvise. There isn’t a right way to be a Christian. There isn’t a wrong way to be a Christian. There isn’t a script. There is, instead, something much more exciting. We’re called to a lifelong ministry of improvisation.  God gifts us peace and joy. How do we live peacefully and joyfully? It’s our privilege and our joy to work this out together. Jesus calls us to care for the poor, and to preach the good news to them. How do we do that? It’s our privilege to work that out together too.  It’s not as if any of us really know how to do this thing called “church” well, is it? We are fortunate here to be in a loving community and family, I love it, and I’m so blessed to be part of it with you all. I’ll tell you this for free though, I make mistakes all the time. I doubt myself all the time. Woe betide me if I ever think I know what I’m doing in my own faith or as a leader. But we’re asked to work together with God in holy improvisation to, basically, show in as many ways as we can that Jesus is alive. Doesn’t sound too bad when you put it like that does it?


Jesus calls us to go in to all the world with him and encourage people to follow him, by telling them his story, our story, inviting them to make it their story, and their song, that together we can sing now, and one day for eternity, “Hosanna in the highest”. Let’s rejoice together today, and commit together to showing people Jesus in how we live tomorrow.