The last post

Every ten years I, like many other clergy, get the opportunity for a sabbatical.  My last one was in 2006 when I went to the States, South Africa and India.  It was a really important three months for me and I’m amazed at how often I still refer back to the things that I experienced then. But what that means is that I can have another sabbatical and that is what I am going to be doing in the autumn.

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The Last Post

However, with unusually efficient diary planning (that is not one of my strong points as anyone who knows me will be able to confirm) my summer holiday will almost segue with the beginning of the sabbatical. The term ‘sabbatical’ of course has its roots in the keeping of the sabbath and the sabbath rest that we look to as the ultimate gift of God to his people. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is hot on that towards the beginning of his letter

‘So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his.’ (Hebrews 4.9-10)

If it was good enough for God then it’s good enough for us.  So the real privilege is that I will be having the whole of September, October and November off.  I will be back for the ROBES Sleepout at the end of November but that will be the only break into this time of rest.

The reality is of course that it isn’t just an opportunity to lie on a sofa, watch ‘Jeremy Kyle’ and do nothing.  Instead I have the space to do again as I did in 2006 things that I want to do but simply haven’t the space and time to do. The plans, therefore, are that in September I will be in Canada visiting some great cities and seeing the Anglican church in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.  That will be a real treat and will involve the 4 day train journey across the country from the west coast to the Great Lakes.

Then in October and the first part of November I will be in Jerusalem staying at the college at St George’s Anglican Cathedral. I’ve been to the Holy Land on many many occasions but never on my own.  I’m normally leading a group of pilgrims, shepherding them onto coaches, off coaches and out of gift shop queues. So it will be odd to be there onmy own doing things at my own pace.

But the principal reason for going there is that I have a plan.

When pilgrims stand on the belvedere at the church of St Peter-in-Gallicantu their guide will invariably point out a Greek monastery quite close by. ‘That is in the site of Hakeldama, the Field of Blood’ they say. We nod and take our photos and move on. There isn’t time to go down, there isn’t time to do everything.

Hakeldama

The monastery at Hakeldama

As pilgrims head up the road from the Church of All Nations to Mount Sion the guide will say ‘On your left is Absalom’s Tomb’; they may say ‘That is the monastery on the site of the martyrdom of St Stephen’ but as with Hakeldama there is no time to stop and visit.

Most pilgrims visit the same holy sites during their once in a lifetime pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is right that they do that because we have to see the Church of the Holy Nativity, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the various places, Nazareth, Tabgha and suchlike in Galilee. But I am conscious that there are other holy places that we never see and yet probably have a great deal to say to the pilgrim who has already been to the ‘Top Ten’.

Two experiences in the last pilgrimage I went on earler this year have convinced me of this. The first was visiting Jacob’s Well in Nablus. In over twenty visits with pilgrim groups I had never been to this place and the opportunity to do so opened up and we visited it. It became a highlight of the pilgrimage for the whole group.

The second was in a throw-away comment from the bishop with whom I was co-leading the pilgrimage about a church that stands on the place where Mary and Joseph realised that Jesus was not with them after their visit to Jerusalem. I wanted to go and I want to go.

I have tried to find out what holy places I am missing out on. It is hard, if not impossible to do. Our focus is so much on the principal sites that we lose sight of the others. So I want to spend time visiting some of the ‘hidden and holy’ places.

My hope is that I can experience them, take some photographs, spend some time making a few notes and then writing up the experience with the intention of producing a book or website to help other pilgrims encounter the ‘hidden and holy’ because these places are also in our own communities and that is where the project comes back home – discovering the ‘hidden and holy’ where we are.

Then, finally, on my return I’ll spend a week in retreat, time to reflect on all these things.

So it’s all really exciting.  But the real thing I wanted to say is that I’ll be taking a sabbatical from this ‘Living God’ blog. There will be a sabbatical blog (look out for that please) because I don’t think I can resist the opportunity to share with others the experiences I will be having and reflecting on them and praying through them. So, as I titled this blog, this is the ‘Last Post’ ….. but only until December when I will resume thinking about what Living God means for us at Southwark Cathedral and beyond.

 I love Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Last Post’ with those wonderful final lines

If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

I hope that my sabbatical can help me look backwards and forwards, with the God of past, present and future. So this may be the last post for now but not the last word.

God of daily work
and sabbath rest,
bless all we have done,
all we do,
all that we will do,
with your strength,
in your grace,
by your love.
Amen.

Requiem for Fr Jacques

This morning, on the day of his funeral, we held a Requiem Mass at Southwark Cathedral for Fr Jacques Hamel. This is what I said in introduction.

Rest in peace and rise in glory

Rest in peace and rise in glory

For over 20 years we have been twinned with the Cathedral in Rouen. At the beginning of the twinning agreement which we recommitted ourselves to on the 20th anniversary of our relationship in 2014 we said

We, members of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Rouen and the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Saviour and Saint Mary Overie, Southwark declare that:
We give thanks as children of the same and only God and Father, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ our Saviour, quickened by the same Holy Spirit.

It is in the spirit of those bonds of faith, friendship and affection and bound to one another in prayer and our common service of God and all our brothers and sisters, that we gather here this morning. This afternoon, in the Cathedral in Rouen the family and friends of Fr Jacques Hamel will gather for his funeral. As the day begins we gather here.

Fr Jacques was a faithful and much loved priest who was simply doing what priests are called to do, stand at the altar and represent the people to God and God to the people and in that very act he was killed. We hardly need to pray for his soul for we are confident that God has gathered him into the divine embrace.

But for ourselves and for our communities and for the people of Rouen and of France and, indeed the people of the world, we must pray. Those who commit terrible acts against others and believe they are serving the purposes of God are wrong. We must not allow ourselves to be terrorised. Christians believe that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ goodness, love and life are already victorious, for as St Paul says to us ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God’ not even death itself.

So as we gather we remember the love and mercy of our God who never abandons us and we call to mind those times when we have abandoned God.

And so we pray with the community on the day of Fr Jacques’ funeral.

Almighty God,
you bring life out of death,
light out of darkness,
hope out of despair;
as you gather Jacques
in your divine embrace
hold all your people
in your unfailing love;
for the sake of your Son,
our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

A city of martyrs

Southwark Cathedral has had a twinning relationship with the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame de Rouen for over twenty-five years.  It grew out of a personal friendship between the then Administrator of the Cathedral in Rouen and the Vice-Provost at Southwark. But from those beginnings, grounded in personal friendship and respect, has grown a much wider and deeper relationship. These kind of associations that we make with other parts of the Anglican Communion – Southwark Cathedral is linked with the Diocese of Masvingo as part of the wider diocesan link with the Anglican church in Zimbabwe – or other denominations or other parts of the world – we are also linked with the Cathedral in Bergen, a Norwegian Lutheran cathedral – are sometimes strong and meaningful, at other times struggling to find a purpose.

The relationship that we have with Rouen is an interesting one.  Any Anglican-Roman Catholic link hits up against the fact of not being in communion at one stage or another and is always much discussed.  I’ve been to a number of big events in Rouen – last year the enthronement of the new Archbishop – and seated in splendour and treated with honour – but unable to make my communion. I understand it and I respect it and I know that the desire, the passion for unity, comes out of the pain of disunity which itself is fuelled by the literal hunger for communion.

Yet, the relationship goes from strength to strength and becomes more real as it becomes embedded in true friendship.  Yet there are interesting historic links as well.  Just over a thousand years ago King Olav of the Norwegians, left London, after pulling down London Bridge next to the church which is now Southwark Cathedral, and was baptised in Rouen Cathedral. He then went from his Norman cousins in Rouen back to his own land where he converted his people to Christianity.

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Joan of Arc by Sir John Everett Millais

In 1431 at the age of around 19 Joan of Arc was condemned to death as a heretic and committed to the flames in the market place in Rouen.  At that time Cardinal Henry Beaufort was Bishop of Winchester and living in the Palace alongside the Priory of St Mary Overie (now Southwark Cathedral). In 1431 Beaufort was present to observe some of the heresy trial sessions In Rouen presided over by Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais. He was present at the execution and so we’re told that wept as he viewed the horrible scene as she was burned at the stake. His arms and cardinal cap are carved into the stonework of the south transept of our cathedral.

So the links go back in history but are made real and alive today.

When we heard of the brutal killing of Fr Jacques Hamel whilst saying Mass last week in Rouen we were all horrified.  This was a new level of terrorism. Christians, many, many Christians, have already been murdered by the so-called Islamic State. Indeed, when I was last making my way through the Coptic Church on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, there was a banner above the door showing the killing of twenty-one Coptic martyrs last year. But this murder was closer to home, this was in the city of our friends, this was an elderly priest doing what priests do on behalf of the world, offering the sacrifice of the Mass and being sacrificed as he did so.

It bore the marks of the killing of Blessed Oscar Romero in 1980, gunned down as he said Mass. The motivations of the killers in both instances might have been different but the effect was the same.

This is when, however, the relationships that we have become so much more real. Messages of prayer and support have been sent to Rouen from Southwark; messages of thanks and nuggets of news have been sent back. One member of the congregation has told me that all Muslims are being encouraged to attend a church in the city this Sunday as a sign of solidarity; others have told me that Muslim and Christian neighbours have been spending time together. One friend in the congregation sent me this message

‘These 3 days, the mass has been said for Fr Jacques in the Cathedral with about 400 people each day. Muslims are invited to come to masses on Sunday to share prayer with Roman Catholics. Let us hope this drama will help building peace. One in faith and prayer.’

In the midst of the trauma there are signs of hope.

The artist Monet who lived and worked close by to the city produced beautiful pictures of the towers at the west end of Rouen Cathedral; they are bathed in different colours. Now once more the city is bathed in the red of martyrdom, a colour it has borne historically.  We stand with them at this time.

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Rouen Cathedral bathed in Monet’s many hues

 

Fr Jacques’ funeral is in the Cathedral in Rouen on Tuesday.  We will offer a Requiem Mass for him in Southwark Cathedral that morning.  Communion, instead of dividing us will unite us, we will break bread together. As we pray for Fr Jacques and that love and mercy of God for him, which needs no prayers to secure, we pray for our sisters and brothers in Rouen, Christian and Muslim, ordained and lay, in that city of martyrs, witnessing to the God who transcends and transforms all things, the God of the Mass, the God of the meal, the God of broken bread and wine outpoured, the God of fast and feast. May priests still offer that ‘one true, pure, immortal sacrifice’ for the peace of the world and may we all receive the bread of heaven that gives true life to the world.

Lord, accept the sacrifice we offer
of bread and lives
as we accept the sacrifice you offer,
yourself,
bread and life.
Amen.

London is open

Hashtags are an interesting part of the whole Twitter business.  You can get some hilarious ones, others simply help to gather together the reactions of people, others create something.  The Mayor of London has been encouraging us to use a hashtag this week ‘#londonisopen’ to get across the message in this post-brexit Britain that we are open and doing business.  He was pictured at the doors of City Hall and so, not to be outdone, I was at the doors of Southwark Cathedral.

But that hashtag has a deeper message too and a more long-lasting one and a more life changing one.  It’s all to do with hospitality.

I was watching the news on Friday evening, seeing again the aftermath of a terror attack, this time in Munich.  It was only a week after Nice and in those intervening eight days other terrible things have happened, and some, I suspect, have gone unreported.  One of the things that really moved me, however, was the report that social media was being used by the people of Munich with the hashtag #offeneteur (open door). It was a fantastic, generous, human, hospitable response in a crisis.  People were stranded as a result of the lockdown in the city; no one knew who was out there, or who had perpetrated the crime, and here were people saying to others ‘my door is open’.

When Abraham looked up from his tent he

‘saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.’ (Genesis 18.2)

He didn’t know who they were, he didn’t know why they were there, but the instruction went to his wife Sarah that food was to be prepared for their guests and the men were made comfortable and welcome.  As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2)

The people of Munich even in a moment when the doors might be bolted for fear of what was outside, opened their doors to the stranger and to angels.

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Enjoying the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

Last week we had the privilege at Southwark Cathedral of welcoming the family of Sam King MBE for his funeral.  They brought with them friends, former and present Mayors of Southwark, representatives of the wider community and hundreds from the Jamaican-heritage community in London and beyond.  Sam was the first black Mayor of Southwark and the first Jamaican to be Mayor anywhere in the world outside of Jamaica.  But Sam was so much more, one of the founders of the Windrush Founder, the Notting Hill Carnival, a champion of human rights, a member of the RAF, an inspirational family man and a dedicated Christian. It was a fantastic funeral service.

But in one of the tributes to Sam King that we heard in the service there was a reminder that when he arrived in London after sailing across in the SS Empire Windrush he was met with a notice on the doors of lodgings ‘No Irish. No blacks. No dogs.’ It was the complete antithesis of #londonisopen or #offeneteur.

Notice

One of the many dangers that it seems to me that face us in this challanging and at times frightening age is the closing of doors and the assault on that basic spirit of hospitality that should be the hallmark not just of Christians but of humanity.  It was disturbing to hear US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump reiterating his pledge in his acceptance speech that he would build a wall across their border with Mexico and saying that ‘americanism not globalism will be our creed.’ This contradicts so directly that amazing sight that welcomed new arrivals in the States, the Statue of Liberty outside of Manhattan, ready to welcome, suggesting the open door, for it was an open door.

It could have gone wrong for Abraham and Sarah, opening their home up like that for those three men, but in fact it was the reverse – it brought them a blessing. Just before the strangers arrived God had made a covenant with the old man

‘This is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.’ (Genesis 17.4)

By letting the strangers in blessing and fulfillment flowed and a child was born to Sarah and Abraham became our ancestor. When we open our doors we welcome people like Sam King MBE and others who make a difference. The hashtag says ‘London is open’ – the challenge is to ensure that it continues to be and perhaps the Munich hashtag has a lesson to teach us.

Lord,
you welcome me,
your house is open to me,
may I welcome others
and may my door be open.
Amen.

A world gone mad

I arrived home on Friday evening after having seen a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park only to switch on the news and hear about what was happening in Turkey. A military coup was underway and the BBC News was showing live pictures of people trying to get on to one of the bridges over the Bosphorus only to be faced with the sound of gun fire.  It followed waking up that morning to find out that 84 people had died in the carnage in Nice and that more were critically ill. It followed the dreadful shooting of police officers in Dallas which in turn followed the shooting of African-American citizens by the police in the south of the USA.

What is happening?  How do I make sense of the world?

All of these violent acts were in addition to the upheavals occurring in our own political system; a leadership race becomes a coronation; a leader without support from colleagues refuses to stand down even though challengers emerge; markets are in turmoil one day and then booming the day after.

In the church we spend even more time talking about who is allowed to love who, whilst hundreds and thousands fall out of love with the church.

What is happening? How do I make sense of the world?

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The Beastie Boys

 

It feels as though the world has gone mad.  I never thought I’d be quoting lyrics from a song by the Beastie Boys, but life is more than surprising.  In March 2003 in the midst of the Bush-Blair war on terror and on Iraq they sang a protest song called ‘In a world gone mad’ the chorus goes

In a world gone mad it’s hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight.

Watching ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ again after so many years I was struck particularly by the message of non-violent resistance in the face of violence which we found in Jesus.  There, on stage, before Pilate, before Herod, Jesus looks like the victim whilst he is the victor. It was such a powerful image, this bleeding tortured man, crowned with thorns and receiving the 40 lashes minus one.  In the staging of that moment in the passion, instead of whipping him, the cast ran up and threw glitter at him which stuck to his sweating bloodied body.  It sounds weird but it worked fantastically well because the more he was beaten the more glorious he became. It sounds like madness and, of course, when the apostles and the early Christians began witnessing to Christ after his resurrection it sounded like madness.

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I love the episode in the Acts of the Apostles in which Paul is standing before Festus.  As Paul gives his testimony before King Agrippa, Festus cries out

‘You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth.’ (Acts 26.24-15)

The only way of responding to the madness is to witness to Christ, and in a non-violent way, to ‘fight the non-violent fight’ to quote those Beastie Boys and to continually proclaim a better way whether that be in domestic politics, the life of the church, of our communities, of our world, a way that witnesses to the God who embraced the cross, defeated death, that the world may live.

Holy God,
when madness abounds
may love witness strong
and your word be heard
above the world’s clamour.
Amen.

Praying for Nice

The news from Nice has been so shocking. This the prayer I have written for use in the Cathedral. 

Loving God, hold in your everlasting arms those killed in Nice; comfort the bereaved; heal the injured; calm the distressed. May the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity amongst the people of France not die but find new strength in you. Amen.

 

The sound of silence

If you’re expecting a Living God blog today I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m at General Synod and so my Synod blog has been active. But more importantly today we begin two days behind closed doors talking about sex. We’re not meant to blog or Tweet about it. So I have to be silent. 

But as Elijah discovered it was ‘in the sound of sheer silence’ that he encountered God on the mountain. So my prayer is that that may be true for us who engage in these shared conversations. 

Lord, in our talking and our listening may we also enter into that deep silence in which your voice can be heard. Amen. 

Looking back

It’s the season of ordinations and on Facebook I’ve noticed that a great many of my friends have been posting about the anniversaries of their own ordination. So I added mine.  On Friday, 1 July, it was 33 years since I was ordained deacon; today, St Thomas’ Day, it is 32 years since I was ordained priest.

Inevitably you look back at the photos that were taken on those occasions.  For younger readers of this we were using ‘cameras’ with ‘film’ that needed to be taken to ‘Boots’ to be ‘developed’. You then had to spend a few days, maybe even a week before you could go back and collect them.  Dylan Thomas uses a lovely but tear jerking phrase at the beginning of his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in describing the photos on the walls of the rooms in Llaregyb of the

‘the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead’

It’s a bit like that looking at the photographs of all those years past – Mum in her hat, aunties then alive who are now dead.  There’s the inevitable wondering as well, where have those years gone.

Deacon

After my ordination as a deacon

 

It took me a long time to get to the point where I was able to face up to my sense of vocation. I knew that God wanted me to be a priest when I was just 14.  I was worshipping at the church where we had always gone, All Saints Wigston Magna. It was (and still is) a lovely mediaeval church in the heart of a not so wonderful industrial village on the edge of Leicester.  I was in the choir and by that stage I think I was singing alto.  Anyway, it was a June afternoon, the sun was shining and I was walking through Willow Park from where we lived on Carlton Drive to the church for the rehearsal before Choral Evensong.  I was just passing the cricket pavilion (as I write this it is as fresh in my mind as the experience was then) and I just knew, just knew, as much as  I have known anything, that God wanted me to be a priest.

I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. You have to understand that I was a very shy boy, with a small circle of friends, stayed a great deal around home, lacking in confidence, not what I thought God was after and there was a lot I didn’t know about myself.

Priest

After my ordination as a deacon

 

It took me until I was studying for my first degree to really begin to tell others and to tell our priest what I had experienced.  Those intervening years had been difficult because the call of God niggles away inside you.  I love reading the passages in 1 Samuel and Jeremiah that talk about their sense of call.  To each of us it will be different and particular, sometimes come through others, sometimes a growing realisation, for me it happened like this.

Yet, those words of Jeremiah still resonate for me.

I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. (Jeremiah 1.6-7)

The 33 intervening years have been incredible.  God has equipped me for the tasks I’ve been presented with in the most incredible way.  But at the heart I remain, and I hope will always remain, the boy by the cricket pavilion with a consciousness of the very real presence of God and able to hear his voice in an instance.  Because, if I remain authentically him then I won’t begin to imagine that I am doing any of this in my own strength.

If you know that God is calling you, to whatever it is, then all I can do is to encourage you, even if you think that you are the last person God needs – maybe God knows better.

Lord, you call us
and equip us.
Give confidence to all
who feel the persistent niggle of your call
within them.
Amen.

So where to now?

Last Sunday I was preaching about naming those demons but this Sunday I was preaching after the vote and in the new reality in which we are in. The community of which I am part is, in the main, stunned. So I thought I would share my sermon with you. The readings (which once more were a gift to the preacher) were 1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21, Galatians 5.1,13-25, Luke 9.51-62.

There’s only one person who’s really celebrated for turning back and he was a former Lord Mayor of the City of London.

Many of us will have seen a panto version of ‘Dick Whittington’ and so will remember the scene when Dick has set off with his cat and his possessions slung over his shoulder, retracing his steps because things hadn’t worked out as he had dreamt, hoped they would. And then he hears the bells of the city ringing out and calling him back as they sang, ‘Turn again, Whittington; turn again, Whittington.’ And he heeded the voice of the bells and turned back and became Lord Mayor.

'Turn again, Whittington.'

‘Turn again, Whittington.’

At the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries Richard Whittington actually became the Mayor of our great city on four occasions though the rest of the story is fiction even though you can see a statue of him and his cat in the Guildhall!

In the story he thought the streets of London were paved with gold and of course they weren’t but they were paved with the opportunity to be successful, the opportunity to make a difference, the streets did form another kind of city, another kind of country.

Both in the First Reading and in the Gospel we’re encouraged not to turn back. When we’ve put our hand to the plough, when we’ve said that we’ll follow Jesus, then we should not turn back, not even to bury the dead. It’s all about commitment to discipleship, it’s about commitment to Jesus, commitment to the journey, commitment to the kingdom and heading back, retracing our steps is just a waste of time and energy. Heading forwards is so much more positive is what Jesus is saying to his disciples, even if he has set his face towards Jerusalem and what will ultimately happen there.

I have to be honest with you. I was gutted when I woke on Friday morning at around 4.00am, put on the radio and heard how the votes in the referendum were coming in. When I’d gone to bed it seemed as though there might be a chance that we’d voted to remain. But we hadn’t and in the first streaks of the dawn and a new day it was clear that we were in a very different place. I was too shocked to cry but I could’ve done. I voted to remain and I can still see no sense in how the vote has gone. But I believe in democracy and the people of the United Kingdom have spoken and we’re leaving the European Union.

I could’ve cried then but I couldn’t but I did cry later. One of the priests in the diocese was having breakfast with her 13 year old daughter. They were listening to the news. They’re black, Caribbean heritage, both of them first generation in this country. And the daughter turned and said to her mother ‘Does that mean we have to leave?’

I’m not really bothered what happens to the politicians, I am bothered about what happens to our children and the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society. I am bothered about the seeds of doubt and un-belonging that are sown into young minds. What she thought was not true and her mother reassured her – but for that moment what did it feel like to her?

But on Friday the sun rose and shone and in the evening it set again, day follows day and Jesus Christ, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews describes it so well, is the same ‘yesterday and today and for ever.’ The world turns and God is good – and I have to believe that.

I’m not assuming, and I never have assumed, that every one of us in this Cathedral voted in the same way. I know I have a very privileged position, as do my colleagues. We can get into this pulpit and sound off about things and we do. And because we’re a community that’s inclusive and engaged, orthodox and radical, a community that believes in the reality of love, then we tend not to shy away from the issues of the day and hide ourselves in pietism. I make no apology for that. Christianity is about the whole of life and the whole of life is nailed to the cross and resurrected in Jesus Christ.

But however you voted, and you had every freedom to vote as you did, or not vote as you chose, we’re all in the same situation and we’re all probably feeling a sense of anxiety, of the fear of the not knowing. But there’s absolutely no turning back. There’s no turning back to the world as it was before we entered the Common Market – that world does not exist; there’s no turning back to the days of Empire, thank God those days no longer exist, and even the Commonwealth has changed since our young Queen first took her seat amongst those serried ranks of men.

We are leaving the Union

We are leaving the Union

We only ever go forward and we go forward together because we believe that the world is already good and already good for all, if we embrace, really embrace and live out the values that St Paul speaks of in our second reading.

Those who live in the Spirit, says Paul to the Galatians, will produce fruits of

‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’

And then he adds

‘There is no law against such things.’

There are no laws, no regulations to stop us being a people characterised by those qualities. We have now a massive task before us as a nation, we have to rebuild this country and work at reconciliation – but what will be its values? We can’t turn back we can only go forward and those fruits, I believe, are the ones that can make us a good place to be.

It was ironic that the end game of the referendum was played out in Refugee Week of which this is the final day. Voting to leave the EU does not solve the refugee crisis that Europe and so much of the wealthy and safer world is facing. Inevitably it will mean that the crisis comes closer to home as the UK border is moved from Calais to Kent. One of the very real challenges we’ll quickly have to face is how we welcome and embrace refugees properly and no longer keep them at arms length across the Channel. It will be the church which will help the nation face that challenge and meet that opportunity with love and compassion and it will be the church who can help the nation to face up to reality in all our communities as the implications of leaving Europe begin to bite.

I’m confident that we as a community that doesn’t just talk inclusion but lives inclusion, that doesn’t just talk community but lives community, that doesn’t just talk love but lives love, will be wanting to play our part.

The Jesus we meet in the Gospels always goes before us and leads us to the good city, not paved with gold, but built of ‘love joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ those living stones on which the structure of society can be built.

As Paul says ‘Christ has set us free’ but not free to serve our own needs, free to serve the needs of the other and free especially for those who now feel scared and anxious and vulnerable – and the face of Jesus looks out from amongst them.

There’s a journey to be made and we need food for that journey. That’s precisely why we’re here – there’s bread and wine on offer. Eat it, drink it because the journey we now face together will be long and hard but know this, my friends, Jesus is walking it with us.

Lord Jesus,
wherever we are now going
walk with us
feed us and love us
as you always have done
and always will do.
Amen.

Calling out the demons

It is amazing how often the readings for the Eucharist are what we need to hear. The gospel for today is Luke 8.26-39, the story of the casting of out of the demons from the Gerasene man. I was on the rota to preach and this is my sermon.

Jesus was in a foreign place. He’d gone across the Sea of Galilee to the far side. It was unfamiliar, foreign, outside of his comfort zone. The town he’d come to – and there’s dispute about where that actually was – was certainly a Greco-Roman community. This was not Israel, it was chiefly pagan, it was different. It was most probably a city of philosophers, where issues were debated, views expressed, truth contested. We know it’s a foreign place because there were herds of pigs around. The Jews didn’t raise them, they didn’t keep them. After all, when the Prodigal goes off to earn his fortune and live his life away from his father’s gaze he goes to a foreign land and there he ends up looking after the swine.

And arriving there, in this foreign place, Jesus is immediately faced with a man, out of his mind, who leaps from amongst the tombs and confronts him. The scene that Luke paints always reminds me of that opening scene in the 1946 film version of ‘Great Expectations’. Young Pip is in the marshes; the mist is rolling in off the sea and out from it all leaps Magwitch, like a madman and grabs the boy.

Magwitch confronts Pip

Magwitch confronts Pip

The pigs and the tombs make for an unclean environment for Jesus to be in, the pagan culture was another part of that challenging environment – yet it seems Jesus has purposefully gone there, left the security of homeland and known environment, left the familiar for the unfamiliar. It’s not as if he was lost, had strayed from the path and by accident found himself in this environment; this is where he’d come to, this is where he wanted to be.

The man is in torment, possessed by demons, many of them and Jesus asks their name. They call themselves ‘Legion’ because they are so many. And Jesus calls them from him and they leave and inhabit the swine and send them to destruction.

We’ve lived through the most terrible week. It’s amazing to think that only last Sunday we were in party mood as we were celebrating the 90th birthday of the Queen. But how quickly that mood of celebration changed.

The news from Florida, the attack on the Pulse Nightclub, the slaughter of 49 people, out with friends, out for a good night in a place in which, presumably they felt safe and able to be themselves, the injuring of so many, the traumatising of people there and those of us who’ve felt touched by the events, the pain of bereavement inflicted on parents and partners and lovers and friends is simply unimaginable.

Then we heard of football hooligans intent on fighting, intent on destroying a tournament that many had been preparing for, looking forward to. The senseless violence, the destructive power of the mob, whatever their nationality, the pressure on the French police and security forces who were trying to protect the fans from possible terrorist acts was sickening.

And then a 41 year old mother of two, an MP, newly elected, going about her duties, seeing her constituents, serving them, is stabbed and shot and killed. It’s hard to know what to say when violence like this not only takes a life but chips away at the very fabric of our society, at our hard won and precious democracy. As Bishop Christopher said here on Friday when we held an Act of Remembrance for Jo Cox, those who represent us, serve us, make themselves vulnerable in order to do so.

Jesus enters into a foreign place and a man, full of demons, leaps from amongst the tombs and confronts him and Jesus makes himself vulnerable and names those demons.

In Shakespeare’s perhaps greatest play, ‘Hamlet’, which the Globe took to the globe over these last two years, Marcellus says to Horatio

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’

There’s something rotten going on and as Christians we have to name it, we have to name the demons that are threatening our society. Jesus asks the demons their name because, as we know, in Jewish thought to know a name was to have some power over the one named. That’s why God will not let his name be known or spoken, that’s why Jacob asks the name of the one with whom he wrestles all night beside the Jabbock not far from where this tortured man meets Jesus.

St Paul writing to the Christians in Galatia makes it very clear that we’re part of a new created order.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The old demons of division were destroyed. Instead in Christ we’re a new creation and in that world we’re all one. It’s one of the most powerful lines in the New Testament for me and something that always gives me hope and encouragement and a sense of vision and purpose for this place and what we stand for together. But out there the demons are at play and they must be named before they destroy us.

I spoke a couple of weeks ago about what I described as the dangerous fear of the foreigner – but that demon of fear, of xenophobia is still there and being fuelled. It’s a demon. Posters showing queues of refugees are designed to make us fearful. It’s a scandal that political debate was reduced to such a level that it uses the most vulnerable as a tool to win the argument. The Daily Mail had to retract a story at the end of last week – but by then the damage had been done.

There’s the demon of homophobia, a demon that drives a man, for whatever reason, to enter a nightclub and slaughter people simply for who they are and who God created them to be. There’s the demon of racism, the demon of sexism, that generalise, objectify, diminish the individual.

There’s the demon of abuse when social media is used to attack and denigrate and discredit and drum up hatred in a way that we could not imagine possible. We’re all fair game for the trolls out there, whether we’re being bullied at school, or bullied in the workplace, or bullied as politicians.

There’s the demon of nationalism, the demon of false identity that wants to build walls around ourselves, walls across Mexico, walls across Israel, walls to exclude Muslims, walls between us and the rest of Europe.

There’s the demon of violence in which guns are seen as a right and not a threat, a solution and not a problem, in which going out simply to fight someone because of who they support, because of who they are is seen as acceptable.

There are more demons around, they are legion, and we must name them and banish them from our societies, for the demons will consume us, they will destroy us. But the vulnerable man Jesus, the vulnerable God enters that terrifying place and, as the prophet Isaiah says, lives out those words

I will not keep silent.

But what seems obvious is not always welcome. The demons are gone, the man is clothed, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from him and the people are terrified and ask Jesus to leave.

The man is healed

The man is healed

It doesn’t make sense. You’d think they’d be delighted for the man and for their town. But they weren’t. Perhaps they’d grown too used to the demons and the madman amongst the tombs. If we do not keep silent, as the church, as this community, as I believe we cannot be, we have to realise that what we say will not be good news to all. But that shouldn’t stop us speaking the truth.

Our vulnerable God enters the dangerous territory, of that nightclub, of those streets in France, of that square in Yorkshire, of the queue of refugees, of the despised and traumatised, of the ones behind the walls and holds out his hands so that they can be nailed and nailed and nailed, and the power of the devil is destroyed.

Before we plunge further into the depths we need to look to Jesus and ask him to rid us of the demons, for ‘in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith’, in Christ we are already free – so we mustn’t allow our society to be shackled to live among the tombs where there is death but in the city where there is life.

God of peace,
call out the demons from amongst us
and give us your peace.
Amen.

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

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