Pentecost 13 – Sermon preached online by Andy Philip, Chaplain – 30th August 2020

Exodus 3:1–15
Romans 12:9–21
Matthew 16:21–28

“Who am I?” asks Moses. It’s a question that, on his lips, makes a lot of sense. After all, his upbringing is split between his Hebrew birth family and the Egyptian court. He is rejected by his fellow Hebrews and wanted by the Egyptian authorities for murder. He’s gone from adopted prince to herding his father-in-law’s sheep. With such a chequered history, it would be no wonder if he wondered who he was.

“Who am I?” is a question we all ask ourselves. We ask it consciously and unconsciously as we grow through childhood into adult life. We ask it when a crisis — perhaps in our relationships, in our health, in our careers, in our faith — throws our previous self-understanding into question and reopens our thinking about our identities.

“Who am I?” is the question Jesus asked his disciples in last week’s Gospel. It’s a question that opens up their thinking not only about how they understand him but about how they understand themselves in relation to him. And, in the light of that, how they understand the mission that they are fulfilling alongside him. In this week’s reading, they learn to their great surprise that this mission involves suffering, death and resurrection, that it takes them to the Cross and beyond.

Peter, who last week was identified as the rock on which the church would be constructed, shows himself to be a gey shoogly stane. To be fair, he’s probably just articulating what all the rest are thinking, but he’s always the one to blurt it out, isn’t he. This leads to his moniker of the week: stumbling block. That’s a bit of a come-down, but Jesus isn’t interested in boosting Peter’s ego. The order of the day is to be not self-realisation but self-denial:

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?’ (Mt 16:24–26)

That was and is a hard word for us to hear and unpack. Who wants to hear about self-denial, especially in an era replete with paths that claim they lead to self-fulfilment? Yet Jesus tells us self-denial is a requirement for those who follow him. He doesn’t give us any wriggle room.

Jesus connects self-denial with taking up our cross. What does this mean? The image has become commonplace to us but it should make us deeply uncomfortable. The aim of crucifixion was not simply to kill the victim, not even simply to kill the victim in the most brutal and humiliating manner; it was to extinguish them, to blot out all trace of them. Who would willingly choose such extinction? But Jesus tells us in typically paradoxical style that avoiding self-denial and refusing to take up our cross is the route to extinction while embracing it is the route to finding our true life, our resurrection life.

How can we make any sense of this? What is Jesus calling us to in these verses? It is certainly not a random, reckless abandon to martyrdom at any cost. Yes, there is a call here to be prepared to die for the sake of the Kingdom. As much as martyrdom might have been a literal threat for Matthew’s first audience, it’s highly unlikely that it will be demanded of any of us in 21st century Scotland. So, if this passage says anything to our context, losing our lives for Christ’s sake must mean something in addition to literal martyrdom.

Nonetheless, we can’t dodge round the fact that Jesus focuses self-denial through the Cross. But that, I think, is the key to understanding what it means for us. What drove him to take up his Cross was love — love for broken, sinful humanity; love for us. Looking at the passage in that light, we can see what taking up our cross means: a conscious self-giving out of love.

Love of that kind is at the centre of our reading from Romans today. Paul tells us to

‘love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour’ (12:10).

What is that if not self-giving love? To ‘outdo one another in showing honour’ is a laying down of our lives. It is part of the renewing of our minds of which we read last week. As such, it’s also the opposite of how the world around us works and has always worked. It’s the opposite of a system that says that black lives don’t matter, that the impact of our choices on our global neighbours and on the planet can be disregarded, that we should look out for ourselves, our reputations and our own honour first. Sadly, outdoing one another in showing honour is often also the opposite of how the church works. And I could list many instances when it was the opposite of how I behaved. But it shouldn’t be. It should be at the heart of how we, as God’s people, treat one another.

The honour we give one another must be more than words. It needs to be active and attitudinal. It means living out of generosity, consciously thinking the best of others, treating them generously. It extends beyond the membership of the church to the hospitality we are to offer strangers and to the way we are to engage with enemies, whom we are not only to bless but to feed — whom we are to treat with love.

Right at the start of our Romans reading, Paul says, ‘Let love be genuine’ (v9). One translation [The Message] puts it this way: ‘Love from the centre of who you are’. That brings us back to the question we began with: who am I?

How we answer this question will determine much of how we act. We like to put many things at the centre of our identity: our academic or career achievements; our nationality, race, politics or gender, for instance. These things set us up as different from others. They push us together with some people and away from others. Perhaps they set us up as better than others, more powerful than others. Or perhaps they set us up as inferior. But what does God say is at the centre of our identity, the centre of who we are?

‘Who am I?’ asks Moses. ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?’ (Ex 3:11). God’s response is unexpected: ‘I will be with you’ (Ex 3:12). It is in the going and obeying the call that Moses discovers who he is. It is in the taking up of their cross that disciples of Jesus find out who they are. At the centre of who we are, as far as God is concerned, is this fact that we are called. And we are called because we are loved. God, who is self-giving love, is with us as God was with Moses. Even more so, as God is with us in Christ. We are loved no matter what and called to live out of that love. Called to be a joyful, loving presence, rejoicing in hope, patient in suffering and persevering in prayer (Rom 12:12).

Questions for reflection/discussion:

  • How do you react to the image of taking up your cross?
  • In what ways have you found self-giving to be life giving?
  • Living out of generosity is a vulnerable stance. Are there or should there be any limits to this generosity? If not, why not? If so, what should they be?
  • What is at the centre of your identity? Do you agree that our calledness and belovedness is at the centre of who we are?

Pentecost 7 – Sermon preached online by Revd Professor Paul Foster – 19th July 2020

Genesis 28.10-19a

And Jacob said, ‘How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ … And he called the name of the place Bethel.

Places matter. They can move us, inspire us, and transport us to see things differently. Often that is the value of travel. New vistas are opened up. We see new ways to look at things. We find our world and horizons enlarged. However, when travel is limited and the possibility of visiting new places is removed it can be more challenging to find those new perspectives. We are forced to look in more detail at what has always been around us. In this process, sometimes as we look at the minute details it becomes possible to see clearly the bigger picture. In the microscopic we can begin to lay hold of the macroscopic. Then the panoramic view emerges by considering the small details that constitute the totality.

In our reading from the book of Genesis, we meet Jacob at the beginning of a long journey. Ostensibly he has been sent to find a wife from his own kinship group. However, there is more going on here. The wily younger twin Jacob, with the help of his mother Rebekah, has just defrauded his brother of the birth-right that was his due to primogeniture. By donning the skins of goat kids, Jacob duped his near blind father Isaac into thinking he was blessing his older and hairier son Esau. Perhaps partially as an act of self-preservation, Jacob follows his parents’ advice to travel to Paddan-Aram or Harran to find a wife. Thus the two estranged siblings are kept apart as Jacob agrees to this journey and the period of self-imposed lockdown that it will bring.

While on that journey, Jacob is overtaken by nightfall. Due to the darkness of a night sky unadulterated by light pollution, Jacob is forced to cease his journey and take rest. He sets a few stones as a pillow (admittedly, a poor substitute for duck down if you ask me), and perhaps unsurprisingly he has a restless yet dream-filled night. He sees a vision of a stairway or a ladder leading to heaven, above which he sees the Lord who self-identifies as the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. Then the same promises made to Abraham and Isaac – possession of the land and numerous descendants – are reiterated. Here old promises are renewed, and in fact become new. These are promises made first-hand to Jacob, who has had his own personal encounter with the Lord. After this, the one known as the God of Abraham and Isaac, becomes the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as this wayward and wily twin becomes enfolded into the divine plan. Thus, as the home-loving Jacob sets out on a journey of many years that will take him away from his home and the land of his father, he is promised that he would return. Little did he know that that home-coming would take more than twenty years.

However, during his dream Jacob is struck by the significance of his encounter. His journey has permitted him to meet the God who was worshipped in his home. A God in whom Jacob had previously shown little interest. So Jacob the scheming brother, who was determined to shape his own destiny has his vision enlarged when he realises that he has just met the one who truly shapes human destinies. In response to being overwhelmed by his experience of God, Jacob takes the stone on which his head had rested, he sets his stone pillow a pillar. Then he anoints it with oil to dedicate its sacred significance. He renames the place Bethel, or Bet-El, the house of God. It is some twenty years later on his return journey home when Jacob is fearful of confronting his brother Esau and his own past, that he receives another vision of God as on that occasion he wrestled with God through the night. There is another renaming in that story, as the God of transformations tells him, ‘you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.’ So Jacob who used his own means to swindle his brother of his birth-right is confronted by God and given something much bigger. A new name and a new destiny, that signals that the promises of God made to his ancestors begin to find fulfilment in somebody renamed and remade according to God’s destiny.

So Jacob found God in a special place, a location he called ‘the house of God.’ However, the perspective of the New Testament and some of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible is that God is not confined by place. Instead the limitless and uncontainable God can be experienced everywhere. So our story might seem to set up somewhat of a tension between the view that God can be encountered in deeper ways in certain places and alternatively God is accessible everywhere to all people. In the book of Kings, Solomon declares, ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you’ (1 Kings 8.27). A similar perspective is presented by Stephen in the book of Acts when he boldly declares ‘the Most High does not live in houses made with hands’ (Acts 7.48). Yet rather than play these perspectives off against each other, I believe that both are true. The God who is limitless and who cannot be constrained by place at times choses to meet his finite people in specific places. So places can instil in us a sense of being in a special location to meet God. This was the experience of Jacob, and it is often our experience too. However, perhaps we must remember it is the way that God reaches out to his creatures in the finitude of their being, rather than overwhelming them with the infinitude of the divine mode of being.

Recently most of us have had to find new places and spaces where me can meet God. Locations to conduct our routine of prayer and praise. Certainly many of us have had a certain sense of dislocation or even loss as we have searched for new ways of being the people of God, disciples of Jesus. A couple of Sundays ago I entered the cathedral for the first time in more than three months. The journey away from the regular spiritual home meant discovering new ways of worship and prayer. Yet arriving back, the home coming was quite emotional and overwhelming. The familiar had become a little unfamiliar and I was forced to look with new eyes. It was a bright day full of sunshine and again I marvelled at our Paolozzi windows. I spent some time looking at the colours cast on the stone pillars that are erected around the building to the glory of God. If you look closely at the windows you will see that there are sections that comprise alternating horizontal and vertical rectangles or bars. Together they create a sense of upward movement. However, what I did not know until the Provost told me, is that sense of upward movement is intentional. In fact it is based on a story from the bible. The vertical and horizontal bars that make one look upwards represents a stairway or ladder that leads to divine encounter. Surely you do not need me to tell you the biblical story that is the inspiration for that section of the window.

Like Jacob, not over twenty years but over the last few months, we have journeyed to new places – perhaps places to which would not have chosen to go. Maybe we were worried about what might have been lost. However, hopefully on the ever challenging journey of faith, we have not lost but gained, we have not withered but grown, and we have not been deprived of the presence of God, but rather encountered it in new and unexpected ways. The journey Jacob undertook resulted in him being renamed and remade. I suspect the journey we have been on will be equally transformative. We will never simply go back to doing things precisely in accord with the old ways. As we have encountered God in new ways, we ourselves have been remade, our acts of worship have become more widely accessible and maybe even democratised. It was not a journey that we would have chosen, but we are not the shapers of our destinies. However, in the process we have met the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have found his dwelling place to be here and everywhere. We also know our journey of discipleship is far from finished. As we look deeply we might see the stairway to God. The story of Jacob points to it, our Paolozzi window is incandescent with it, and in the Gospel of John Jesus declares that the stairway that Jacob saw with angels ascending and descending upon it is actually none other than the Son of Man, that is Jesus himself who gives us access to his heavenly father.

So to the God of journeys, the God of transformations, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God of Jesus Christ the ladder upon which the divine meets the human, to that God, the one who was, the one who is, and the one who is to come, the God of Bethel, we render along with Jacob all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power both now in our finitude of being and also in the life to come when we will dwell in the true house of God for evermore and worship God with unbounded and unending praise. Amen.

Questions:

  1. Are there any places where you have had a sense of encountering God. What was it about those locations that made them special for you?
  2. Was the choice of Jacob over his brother Esau fair? What does this say about God’s way of ordering events?
  3. All of us have been on a journey of sorts over the last four months. What are your new ways of worship and prayer, and are there things that will change permanently for you because of this enforced time away from corporate worship?

 

Pentecost 5 — Sermon preached online by Andy Philip, Chaplain — 5th July 2020

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Mt 11:28–30)

Who are the weary and burdened Jesus calls out to in today’s Gospel? We get a clue by looking back at the accusations thrown at him at the start of the passage. There, we find that people are scandalised by the company he keeps:

‘the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”’

They’re upset that he’s hanging around with the folk who’re perceived as immoral, as undesirable, as unscrupulous, as traitors — the ones who are, to put it bluntly, beyond the pale for the respectable people who take their religion nice and seriously.

If you’ve ever been on the outside of an in group — if you’ve ever been the unpopular one, the uncool one, or the odd one out for whatever reason — you’ll know that it’s wearisome and burdening to be looked down upon, to be made fun of or to be loudly or quietly despised. Unless you have a tribe of other odd ones out or until you find such a group or simply grow to be indifferent to what others expect, the rejection and ridicule can be immensely painful.

Some of us might well have experienced such pain on account of our race, our gender, our social class or our faith. Some of us might have been the ones to inflict that pain, wittingly or unwittingly. Sad to say that the church, unlike the Lord it tries to follow, has often been good at that.

Perhaps Jesus is calling out to those of us who are wearied and burdened by others’ expectations, others’ conventions and others’ standards. Maybe he is saying:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying the heavy burdens of rejection and exclusion.’

However, maybe there is something more. Looking back to those accusations at the head of the reading, there is a further clue in the word ‘sinners’. This clue sends us off into our reading from Romans, where Paul wrestles with the perversity of human nature, the weakness that dogs us all when it comes to willpower:

‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ (Rom 17:15)

There is debate among interpreters about whether the ‘I’ in this passage is Paul talking about himself — perhaps the course of his life before he encountered Christ on the Damascus road — or whether it is a rhetorical device he uses to demonstrate the law’s inability to fix us. In the end, though, the effect amounts to pretty much the same: the clear sense of a man burdened by the way that sin presses in on his will, turning him against what he knows is right, is good and is good for him.

Regardless of how personal Paul is or is not getting here, the implication is clear: this condition is a basic, universal human experience. As the confession for the Scottish Prayer Book’s daily prayer says: ‘there is no health in us’. The question is not whether it affects us, but whether we are aware of the predicament, whether we feel the burden of our sins in our lives, whether — to quote the prayer book Eucharist — ‘The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.’

We might feel the weight of wrestling with some form of behaviour that not even those most intimate to us know about — an addiction perhaps. We might feel the weight of the way we have sinned in our closest relationships — when, yet again and despite all that we want to do and be, we react in a way or say something that hurts our nearest and dearest. We might be waking up to the weight of sinful structures on our lives — structural racism, the damage consumerism does to our social fabric and the planet we share with other people, other species.

Perhaps Jesus is calling out to us who are burdened by sin:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying the heavy burdens of not living up to your own standards or to what God asks you to be.’

There’s a danger I might begin to sound like an old-style, dour Scottish Calvinist here, ratcheting up the guilt with every thump on the pulpit, driving us all deeper into the darkness of total depravity. But, as Paul says, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ For Jesus is indeed the ‘Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy’. What he offers isn’t a muckle big stick to beat ourselves with; no, it’s what we all need: rest for our souls.

Rest for our souls. Those wearied by rejection and exclusion find in Christ the rest of welcome, love and homecoming. Those wearied by the weight of sin find the rest of forgiveness and restoration, a burden removed and fresh energy injected by the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I think too that Jesus is calling out to those who are simply wearied and burdened by life. And that applies pretty much across the board at the moment, doesn’t it? We are all wearied and burdened by the restrictions and the worries that we have faced and continue to face. What does rest for our souls mean in this time of pandemic, a time when we are tentatively emerging from lockdown, with all the joys and anxieties that evokes, all the uncertainties that it entails?

I suspect that, above all, it’s about space and connection. As I saw people wander into the Cathedral this week — people I didn’t know and had never seen before — and noticed them sit in the nave or walk the labyrinth, it struck me that, in offering that space to them, we were offering them something of the rest that Jesus promises. Likewise, morning and evening prayer, which we continue to do on Zoom at the moment, are spaces where we can taste something of that rest in God, something of God’s ‘unfading light’ and ‘eternal changelessness’.

These are spaces in which we are able to connect: to connect with God and with one another as we rest alone and together, as we share prayer needs or even just the ordinary struggles and delights of the day. It is a connection that can lift us out of the confined space into which lockdown has placed us, lift us — even for a moment — up into the broad space that the Spirit of God creates, into the green pastures of Psalm 23, into the ‘Sweetness most ineffable’ that comes with Christ’s presence.

May we all find something of that rest in the days and weeks ahead. And may we all be people who, in whatever way, guide others into that space.

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

How does Jesus’ invitation to the weary and burdened speak to you? Do you feel yourself to be among that group? If so, in what way(s)?

Do you agree that what Paul says in our Romans reading about the human condition is a universal experience?

What does it mean to be a ‘sinner’? How do you react to that description? How do you react to Jesus’ invitation to sinners?

How might you find rest and/or guide others into rest in the coming days?

Lent 5 – Chaplain, Andy Philip (preached online) – 29th March 2020

Can These Bones Live?

Lord, fill these words of mine with your Spirit
that they may breathe your life into us all.

I imagine I’m not alone in finding I can relate to the dry bones from our Old Testament reading this morning. March has been a tough month for us all, leading us into a strange Lenten desert, a peculiarly arid valley. And Ezekiel’s vision is peculiarly apposite for these days, for it concerns not so much shattered individuals but a broken and dislocated community.

Ezekiel is a prophet of the exile, a prophet whose people are dislocated from their homeland and the spiritual practices that sustained them and that marked them out as the people of God. That context has an unusually familiar ring to it right now, doesn’t it? Who among us would have thought that what we would have to give up for Lent was the habit of meeting together? Who among us would have imagined that we would be exiled from many of the spiritual practices that sustain us as individual people of God and bind us together as a community of faith, not least the Eucharist?

“Can these bones live?” we ask ourselves.

It’s tempting to run straight to the rattling bones and rushing wind, but I want us to linger in the eerie silence that starts the text:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

Take a moment to listen to your surroundings. I expect you don’t hear much at all. If you’re watching on Sunday, that might not be too unusual; but if you’re listening on another day, it’s probably quite different from what you’re used to hearing. As I wrote this sermon, my surroundings were as still as a cottage in the middle of nowhere — a far cry from the normal weekday noises of a street round the corner from Linlithgow Academy!

Ezekiel’s vision, too, begins in silence. The silence covers two short verses but, from verse 2, we get the sense that it must have gone on for a while, because God was leading the prophet “all around” the “very many” bones. Apparently, the phrase “he led me all around” implies that God led Ezekiel around the valley repeatedly. It conjures up such a vivid picture in the mind, doesn’t it? I can just see the prophet stumbling bewildered and disoriented around the glen again and again; nothing to hear but the odd rattle as his foot catches another bone, however much he endeavours to skirt around them; no way out of this deep, dry pit of a place but the hand of the Lord who brought him there.

Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord!

It is into this disturbing silence that the voice of the Lord comes. And it comes not first off with a command or a comforting word but a question: “Can these bones live?”

Well, how can they? we might be tempted to retort. All we can see is bones upon bones upon bones. Ain’t no sign of life here. But Ezekiel, in a response that seems to me at once bold and humble, puts the answer back in God’s hands: “O Lord God, you know.”

There’s a lot we can learn from the prophet’s reply. Ezekiel seems to be aware that he’s at the limit of his knowledge and experience. God’s awkward question seems to invite a yes when the only possible answer appears to be a no. Maybe there’s a note of desperation in Ezekiel’s words. After all, he finds himself in a truly disturbing and upsetting situation and here he is being posed an impossible question. But at the same time, there is a tone of trust to his response. It’s as though he’s saying, “Look, Lord, I don’t have a clue what’s going on here. I’ve no idea where I am or why I’m here. But I know that you are faithful and I know that you can do all things.”

I trust in the LORD;
More than sentinels wait for the dawn

We, too, are in a bewildering and disturbing situation, at the limits of our knowledge and experience. It might seem like God has fallen silent. And it might continue to seem that way for a while. We might stumble around and wonder why on earth we are where we are. But God will speak into the silence. I encourage you to listen out for what questions, gentle or awkward, the Lord is asking you in this period of silence, of lockdown, of shielding, of isolation. Listen and respond with the humility, honesty, boldness and trust of Ezekiel.

O Lord God, you know.

You know how broken and fearful we are. You know how alone we are. You know how anxious we are about our relatives, our neighbours, ourselves. You know how uncertain our times are and how that scares us.

O LORD, hear our voice!

Only once Ezekiel has replied does his command to prophesy come. And only as he follows the command does the miracle occur: the bones knit back together, the sinews and flesh appear. But God is not finished, for the bones are not yet alive, so Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy for a second time and the breath of God quickens the slain.

I am the resurrection and the life.

But what does the resurrection of this “vast multitude” mean? The Lord tells Ezekiel that the bones are “the whole house of Israel”. It’s a vision of the revivification of a community. Not only the return of the Jewish people from their exile but, because it’s “the whole house of Israel”, it points to a reunification of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel. And it refers to the entirety of those communities: not just the devout but the doubting; not just those who serve the Lord wholeheartedly, but those who are sceptical.

Like the raising of Lazarus in today’s Gospel, it is a sign of healing, of what is broken being put back together. To our dispersed and dislocated family of faith, this is a sign of hope. And perhaps we already see inklings of this. Our neighbourhoods, where many people have barely known one another, are suddenly pulling together to help one another. Our fragmented society has begun to reconstitute itself. That is a grace of resurrection even amid the brokenness.

The Lord calls us to hope and trust and follow in what seems like an impossible situation. God will not abandon us to limitless exile and dislocation. God will not remain silent. And God promises that, when we follow and trust and live out our hope, we will see the truth of Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life.

Epiphany 3 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 26th January 2020

I’m going to take you back to work this morning.

Now I know this is the day of rest and for many of you it’s a blessed relief that you’re not at work, while those of you who are retired might well be more than content to have left the day job behind but I’d like you to imagine yourself in the place where you work or used to work. (It might help to close your eyes for this bit!)

Maybe that workplace is a big open-plan office or a small room with just you and a couple of colleagues; maybe it’s a shop or a warehouse; or maybe it’s your home. Perhaps it’s a-buzz with activity or perhaps it’s a slow day and everyone is quietly getting on with the tasks they don’t manage to do on the hectic days. Perhaps you’re in a meeting with clients, bosses or funders. Maybe you’re at the kitchen sink or hanging out the washing.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, imagine that Jesus now comes into the scene. At first, he’s simply walking through the space — alert but calm; moving in a way that suggests a deep inner stillness. When he comes near you, he stops, looks straight at you and says one thing: “Follow me.

Hold that image — the sight and sound, the feelings it provokes — as you return your focus to the here and now.

What I asked you to picture in your minds is exactly what happened for Peter and Andrew, James and John in today’s Gospel reading. They were quite simply at work when Jesus showed up and called to them, “Follow me”.

I don’t know what you felt when you pictured Jesus saying the same thing to you in your workplace. I wonder what they felt when they heard Jesus’ call, for it never ceases to amaze me that these four fishermen acted without any hesitation, dropping and leaving behind everything that supported them and their families.

This tells us that Jesus’ call to them was forceful. It was so forceful that it cut through all their busyness. The call didn’t come when James and John were enjoying a Sabbath meal at home or when Peter and Andrew were at the synagogue. No, it came when they were hauling on their nets or caught up in crucial repairs. Likewise, we should listen out for God’s call to us not only when we are captivated by the beauty of worship but when we are snagged in the daily grind of life.

For many of us, that daily grind will involve being with other people in some form. One thing we can miss too easily in our individualistic age is that these men were called and responded together. That is, they were called in community not alone. Not only were they called in community, but they were called into community, a new community created by Jesus for the purpose of spreading the Good News about God’s reign.

Presumably James and John knew Peter and Andrew. Maybe they were friends or maybe they regarded each other as competitors, but it looks from the text like they didn’t work together as fishermen. In Jesus’ community, they worked together not just in a common trade but for a common purpose.

That common purpose is nothing less than the transformation of the world. That is, theirs was a call to transformation. These first disciples weren’t asked just to carry on as they had been before and pop round to see Jesus now and again for a spiritual blether over a nice cup of tea. Nor were they invited to stroll around Galilee enjoying an endless party. No, they were called to do the work of the Kingdom and that work fundamentally involves transformation.

Just before Jesus calls the disciples, we read that he

“began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”

Repentance is, above all else, about transformation. It’s much less about feeling bad about your behaviour than it is about changing your behaviour or, more to the point, allowing the Holy Spirit to change your behaviour.

But the point of that change isn’t to make us better people for our own individual sakes; it is for the transformation of the world. It’s the bringing near of heaven’s kingdom to the earth. The disciples are called to play their part in bringing about God’s rule of righteousness and justice — liberation, not oppression; healing, not destruction; reconciliation, not conflict. And we are called to the same.

The irony is that this message brings Jesus, and of course his disciples, into confrontation with the Empire, just as it does for John the Baptist, whose arrest is mentioned at the start of the Gospel passage. So Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, John and James isn’t a call to security; it’s a call to deliberate, intentional vulnerability. Not a vulnerability born out of need or their brokenness but a vulnerability of love. It’s a call to a lifestyle that will lead to the Cross as the forces of the Empire attempt to neutralise its threat to them.

A message of transformation will always bring us into confrontation with those in places of power who feel threatened. We need only look at the response from certain powerful men to the pleas for change from climate protesters to see that play out in today’s world. The change that Jesus demands presents an even deeper, even more radical challenge. It leaves no room for business as usual on any front. And if we take our faith seriously, there is no room for business as usual when business as usual means a planet ravaged by pollution and overconsumption, people forced into poverty, homelessness and slavery or the continuation and even promotion of war and violence.

Jesus’ call to James, Peter, Andrew and John is the call he issues to us. We are called to leave what is familiar; to join them on the journey; to be vulnerable; to be transformed and to live transformatively; we are called to live this way together, in community; and we are called into this way of life in the middle and muddle of our busyness.

I invite you to return in your imagination to that moment I asked you to hold on to, the moment when Jesus, in the midst of your workplace, calls you to follow him. Hear his words to you again. How will you respond?

Christmas 1 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 29th December 2019

Where do you find yourself in the Christmas story? Perhaps you find yourself with the shepherds from Luke’s account, coming from work to worship. Maybe you find yourself with the Magi, making a long and difficult journey — whether physical, emotional or spiritual — to celebrate the birth of the new King. Perhaps you identify with Mary or Joseph, marvelling at the wonder of new life. Or maybe you don’t fit any of these patterns. Maybe you don’t identify with the story at all or maybe you find yourself alongside somebody in the margins of the narrative, somebody whose presence or involvement is no more than implied.

For several years, that last option was the case for me. It was most acutely the case in the year that our son died. That was the year I found today’s Gospel reading — specifically the middle section, the massacre of the innocents — the only part of the Christmas story that I, as a bereaved parent, could relate to.

It’s not an easy text, today’s Gospel, and not an easy part of the story in which to locate yourself. It has the Magi, but they are off stage by this point, avoiding and hoodwinking Herod rather than hobnobbing with him. It has angels but, instead of lighting up the midnight sky with songs of joy, they’re whispering urgent warnings in the darkness of dreams. It has the baby, but instead of ‘sleeping in heavenly peace’, he’s wrapped up to keep his cries muffled as the family steals out the village to escape the looming threat.

It’s more like something we’d look for in the plot of a TV thriller than what we expect of a text for worship. But importantly, amid our 12 days of celebration, it reminds us what our faith is all about.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the sentimentality that surrounds Christmas. Some of the ways we celebrate it tend to push us in that direction. That’s a danger with crib scenes, for instance. All those adoring faces directed towards the plump and perfectly clean Christ child. ‘No crying he makes’ indeed. No dirty nappy either, you could almost be led to believe.

All that joy, all those happy faces, all that sheer familial perfection can be hard to stomach — if you’re grieving, if you’re on your own or if your family is a place of struggle rather than rest.

But for all that our own crib scene is in that traditional mould, it also sits almost directly under a representation of Jesus dying on the Cross, reminding us that, instead of being far removed from the muck and the mess, the pain and the horror, the God we’re here to worship is right here in it, right there paying for it.

The massacre of the innocents does the same. It plunges the Holy Family — this unsuspecting, unassuming young Jewish couple and their new baby — into the intrigue and violence of politics and power. It places the newborn Jesus right in the middle of the mess, making him utterly dependent on the wits and alertness of his parents to save him from the violence of the rich and powerful.

This child, this little baby or toddler, too young to understand anything that’s going on, aware enough to sense and share the fear of his parents, alert enough to hear the screams and sobs in the village behind him — this is the Word made flesh, the Christ incarnate, God with us. Although this Word made everything that is, he is not God come in power and might, but God made vulnerable, fearful, traumatised flesh. He is God with us in the mess of our own making.

The mess we hear of in the Gospel is born of fear. Herod wants desperately, obsessively to cling to power and is terrified that this new baby will usurp him. If our gradual hymn is uncomfortably cheery about the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, it certainly gets the motivation of the culprit right.

The violence of the rich and powerful is born largely of such fear and it still besets the world. It is born of fear and stirs up fear. As we look back over the past year and decade, it’s uncomfortable but necessary to ask how much of what has happened in politics has been a product of fear. Fear of the other, the refugee, the immigrant. Fear of not being in control. Fear of not having enough. Fear of losing what we have or, maybe more to the point, what we think we have.

Fear creates victims, victims like the families in Bethlehem in the margins of the Gospel. Families among whom we must assume would have been relatives of Joseph. Mothers and fathers bereaved in the most horrific of circumstances.

Those fathers and mothers are the ones I identified with and still identify with. For all that the circumstances of my own son’s death were completely different and entirely natural, the presence of bereaved parents in the shadows of the text helped me to find a way back into the story when the focus on the central characters locked me out.

But if I identify with the victims, I must ask myself too whether there is any way that I resemble the villain, whether there is anything of Herod with which I can and should identify. Is there in me any fear that leads to my doing violence to others? Do I cause any emotional hurt through the way I think about or speak to others? Do I cause pain or suffering through the impact of the political and economic choices I make?

Christ, the little terrified bundle of today’s reading, came to free us from fear. He became vulnerable not so that we could be invincible, but so that we could be free to be vulnerable without terror of the consequences. For to love and be loved is to be vulnerable in the deepest places and the most profound ways. We see that in the manger, we see it in the Cross and we meet it every Sunday in the bread and in the wine.

Advent 4 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 22nd December 2019

It’s like I’ve only just woken from sleep.
Almost everything before seems
little more than a dwam.      Not that it felt
that way when she first told me about the bairn.
No, it was as though a legionary had run me through
right here in the chest. How could
she?
I thought. Mary. My Mary. How could she
do this to me?
I knew her to be a true, good woman.
Oh aye, a bittie thrawn at times, I’ll grant you.
Thrawn and feisty but mighty loyal to all she loves
and I knew — or thought I knew — that she loved me.

We were betrothed — almost as good as actual
man and wife. Everything was set for her
to move into my home, our home.
The beams of this house, our modest furnishings,
every piece of woodwork here —
I and my father crafted them with our own hands.
But my hands were tied by her unfaithfulness:
what choice did I have except to cry the whole thing off?

After weeks of wrangling and wrestling, I agreed
with myself to break it off in secret, so as to save Mary
from the shame divorce would heap on her.
I’m not a man to be vindictive. How could I
disgrace her before all our friends and neighbours
despite the hurt she’d caused
by sticking to her story about the child
being from the Holy Spirit?
But still, I wasn’t quite at peace.

Now, you know me: I go to synagogue, try to keep
the sabbath and the festivals, strive to follow the law,
but holy man I’m not, still less a prophet.
And you remember well how many
centuries have passed since God broke open heaven
and spoke to our forebears, lighting hopes
that even now are still deferred. So you’ll forgive me if
it took me rather by surprise to find
an angel stationed at the foot of my bed.

This angel — so bright and calm and beautiful it was,
like every blossom and bird
you’ve ever known or imagined rolled into one
and grown beyond the wildest expectation.
This angel told me Miriam’s tale was true.

Yes, you’ll tell me I was dreaming.
There’s no denying that, but mind how God
spoke to Jacob, Joseph and Gentile kings and slaves
through dreams. You’ll say
it was all just wishful thinking on my part
but think what the prophet Joel said
about God’s Spirit poured on all people
in the last days. Are these
the last days? I couldn’t say, but I woke up
with peace washing through me the like of which
I don’t think I’ve ever known before.

Peace, and great excitement. Excitement like
a child’s excitement at visiting the holy city
with its bustle and its towering buildings
but scaled up several hundredfold and at once
completely new, completely different. Why?
Well, God had spoken. God had spoken to me.
God had spoken to me and Mary about our people.

Now, anyone who knows me, they will tell you
I’m no Zealot. Though I yearn to see
the kingdom restored to Israel just as much
as any son of David does, fighting is not my style.
The angel was a sign, of that
there can be no doubt. And our boy — yes, a boy;
the angel let slip that wee detail — though I
can’t tell what kind of man he’ll turn out to be,
he too will be sign, you wait and see if I’m not right.

I see you find it hard to credit what I’m saying.
Think on Ahaz, who the prophet Isaiah invited
to ask God for a sign but turned the offer down —
and him a king and all! God spoke the word
and the sign was given anyway, the sign of a boy
named God-With-Us when it seemed the Lord
had left our people to their own devices.

Yes, those are old words and we are waiting yet
for the Messiah that the prophet foretold
but they still ring true to me. We must continue
to recite these signs to one another, holding hope
like a lamp in the dark.    God calls to us all
and calls each of us in many ways. Mary and me,
we’re no more special than you, just trying our best
to be faithful to what the Lord has asked of us,
however strange or hard it seems. And Mary, she’s
the one who’s led the way in faithfulness.

I’m awake now to the sound of God’s voice,
alert to the signs of his presence. Life
seems so much more alive, for God has come
among us again — among our family, our people.
I can’t wait to see what acts of power he’ll do.
Friends, wake up: pay attention to the signs.

Advent 1 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 1st December 2019

Wake up! Stay awake! Be ready!

These are the phrases that jump out from today’s readings as we enter the season of Advent. And it’s appropriate that they do so, for this is very much in the spirit of the season.

There is a prayer from the Northumbria Community that, for me, captures that spirit:

God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.

God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
and of the angels in heaven,

and of the child in the womb,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.

            (Celtic Daily Prayer, Vol 1, page 107)

I love how this prayer repeats and builds like the way we light the advent candles, building their light week by week, calling to mind what we heard the previous Sunday. More than that, I love its emphasis on WATCHING and WAITING. Although those words don’t appear in our readings, they are at the heart of what it means to wake up, stay awake and be ready.

In the Epistle, Paul urges us to “wake from sleep” (Rom 13:11) while, in the Gospel reading, as if he had already heard Paul’s words, Jesus gives us a clear command: “Keep awake […] for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Mt 24:42)

The purpose of waking from sleep and keeping awake is, as the parable of the Thief in the Night – that almost throwaway parable in today’s Gospel reminds us, to keep watch for the coming of the Lord.

Wake up! Stay awake! Be ready! Keep watch! This sums up Advent, but what are we staying awake for? What are we waiting for, watching for?

Well, it might seem obvious. As the prayer says, we are WAITING for “the child in the womb” and “the angels in heaven”. We are waiting for God come to us in the Christ child, to tear open the border between heaven and earth, between the human and the divine, to draw all nations of the earth to his presence as in Isaiah’s vision.

We are WAITING for God’s “good word for our souls”. The prayer is full of expectation that God will speak. It requests, even pleads for, a word from the Lord. It prods and pokes at our own desires and hopes: do we expect God to speak to us? If we are open it to, the Lord’s good word can come through Scripture, through other people, through circumstances. Are we looking and listening for the instruction that comes forth out of Zion, for the word of peace?

We are WAITING to “rest and rise in the kindness of [God’s] company”. As Paul says in the Epistle, “the night is far gone, the day is near” (Rom 13:12) and as he says elsewhere, we “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7) — our Lord who himself says to us in today’s reading: “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Mt 24:44).

Keep watch! Stay awake! Be ready!

Advent is, as our Gospel reading makes inescapably clear, the season when we think about Jesus coming back, returning to make all things new and to set us free to be the people of God.

So we are called by Gospel and Epistle to WAKE UP, to WATCH and WAIT and to BE READY for Christ, but what does this mean?

Waiting is countercultural. Everything is available to us at the touch of a finger on a screen; for next-day delivery through Amazon Prime; when we you want to see it on iPlayer or Netflix. But we are waiting for a Person who can’t be tracked on an app, won’t text to say the train is delayed, won’t call to say he’s stuck in traffic.

For all that it is countercultural, keeping watch does not mean that we are to head to the hills and all become hermits, waiting out the times and seasons in unceasing prayer and worship. No, the picture Jesus gives us in our Gospel text shows us men and women going about their daily business in the fields and the home. In each place, some people are ready and some are not. So whatever keeping awake entails, we do it as part of everyday life. It is a fundamental orientation rather than a set of special tasks.

Paul gives us a steer as to what this involves in the reading from Romans when he tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14). The image is of someone who has just woken up putting on their clothes, readying themselves for work, which implies that putting on Jesus isn’t about a moment of conversion but is something we need keep doing. As he puts it earlier in the same letter, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (12:2).

How do we put on Christ? We do it through our spiritual practices and disciplines. We do it through prayer, worship and opening ourselves to Scripture in community and alone. All these things tune us into the movement of the Holy Spirit, mould our minds in the way of Christ.

If waiting is fundamental orientation, perhaps waiting in prayer is its best expression. I encourage you to adopt as an advent practice the habit of waiting silently in prayer for maybe 10 minutes’ a day. Or, if you already do this, to extend your waiting by 10 minutes. Perhaps you might want soundlessly to repeat some word or phrase from the week’s Sunday readings or the day’s word from our Advent Word series on Instagram. But as you join the watching ones, the waiting ones, as you rest in God’s company, listen out for the whisper of God’s good word for your soul.

Remembrance Sunday – Andrew Philip, Chaplain – 10th November 2019

Luke 20:27–38

What does Jesus mean by saying that God is “God not of the dead, but of the living? And what does it mean to read this text on Remembrance Sunday?

This statement of Jesus’ comes at the end of what looks like a pretty arid and profoundly patriarchal theological discussion. But it has profound significance for how we understand God and, therefore, how we live our lives. So what does it mean?

Plainly, Jesus does not mean that God is concerned solely with the dead. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were, by the time of Moses, long gone. And by the time of Jesus, Moses was long gone. Yet Jesus asserts that, to God, “all of them are alive.” In fact, our translation diverges here from most others, which say not “all of them” — i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses — but “all are alive”. So Jesus plainly also doesn’t mean that God is concerned solely with the living.

It is tempting — especially in this period of remembrance — to think that Jesus is speaking simply about some form of afterlife. And as the question that he is posed is about the resurrection, that’s not unreasonable.

But Jesus is saying more, saying something far more radical, far more fundamental than a simple and vague assertion about the continued existence of a person’s soul or spirit or essence beyond death. Jesus is describing not so much our fate as our Father: he is outlining something of the nature of God.

Jesus is pointing out that God is, as one writer puts it, “completely and entirely alive”. The same writer goes on to explain it this way:

There is no death in God. God has nothing to do with death, and for that reason facts which are obvious to us, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob having been long dead at the time of Moses, simply do not exist for God. Let’s put this another way: for us ‘being alive’ means ‘not being dead’; it’s a reality which is circumscribed by its opposite. For God this is simply not the case. For God being alive has nothing to do with death, and cannot even be contrasted with death. [James Alison, Raising Abel quoted here.]

God has nothing to do with death. God’s back is turned to death. Life and creativity pour out of God. Therefore, God is God not of death but of life, not of the dead but of the living.

Lest we be tempted to think of this as Jesus being hopelessly naïve about the reality of death, we should remember that, when this exchange with the Sadducees takes place, he is standing on the threshold of his Passion. Jesus knew what suffering awaited him; he knew that he would die and what his death entailed. By this point in the Gospel of Luke, he has already predicted it three times. He has also predicted his resurrection twice, and that resurrection will vindicate his assertion that God is the God of life not death.

What does it mean to hear this message on Remembrance Sunday? Many of those whom we remember today, on whatever side of the conflict, were killed more than a century ago. They, too, are alive to God. For all that they died in what they hoped would be the war to end all wars, and for all our relative comfort and safety, we still find ourselves in a world shaken by war, hatred and violence.

Whenever we turn to violence, whether as nations or individuals, whether by taking up arms, lifting our fists or letting our lips become cudgels, we turn from life to death. In doing so, we expose our own fear of death even as we embrace it.

We need instead to turn to life, to let the life of God infuse all our living: all our thinking, all our actions, all our relationships. This would open up in us such boundless love and creativity that war would truly be a thing of the past.

We are so used to turning to death that we often don’t think twice about it. We need instead to make an active choice for life. This is why our liturgy includes a confession. In confessing our sins and our sinfulness, and in asking for forgiveness and renewal, we turn to life.

Turning to life is also part of what Communion is about. As we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we not only proclaim the Lord’s death but celebrate and receive his life. This life working in us by the Holy Spirit strengthens and enables us to turn to life in the choices that we face each day.

We do have the capacity to turn to life, as we are reminded this weekend when we mark not only 101st anniversary of the end of the First World War but the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And, as we face choices in the general election, we should ask ourselves what it would look like to turn to life in the way that we cast our votes.

To God, all are alive.” It is a bold, strong statement. It draws together the living and the dead. It draws together all those who have been in conflict with one another. It means that the Good News that Jesus came to proclaim to us is that, for God, death isn’t is a thing. So if death isn’t a thing for God, and if we trust God, we need no longer fear death — not for ourselves, not for those we love and not for those whom we remember.

Pentecost 12 — Andrew Philip, Chaplain — 1st September 2019

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

I guess that not many of us often serve up what we’d call banquets. For me, the word conjures up images of a Tudor monarch gorging on a seemingly unending stream of dishes. Whole roast wild boar with an apple in its mouth, haunches of venison and birds roasted inside other birds. Platters and trenchers and overflowing goblets.

Whatever the connotations of the word — even if it just brings to mind a muckle cairry oot from the local Chinese takeaway, enough to stuff all the family full — I presume we all tend to serve up something much more modest. Nonetheless, by the standards of many people in Jesus’ day — and even by the standards of a host of people throughout today’s world — the daily bread we lay on our tables has more in common with a banquet than with a simple crust.

It’s important to acknowledge that global perspective. It lands us in a much more complicated context than rural first-century Palestinian villages and towns of the Gospel narrative, where everyone knew who in the community was poor, crippled, lame or blind. Everyone knew who was in need and who was in plenty. The poor were not some abstract group hidden half a city or half a world away but real next-door neighbours.

That means we have to work harder to understand how to put into practice the challenge that Jesus lays down in today’s Gospel.

Strangely, the lectionary leaves out a crucial bit of context for that work. It skips the final parable Jesus tells at this Sabbath lunch: the parable of the great feast. You know the one: it’s the story where the feast is all laid out but the invited guests are much too busy with their other concerns, so instead the host orders his servants to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” — exactly the same groups that Jesus tells his host to ask to dinner. But even that doesn’t fill the party and the servants are sent out to the highways and byways to bring in the people they find there.

To leave that out of the lectionary altogether — we don’t even get to hear it next week — is a puzzling omission. The Gospel of Luke isn’t put together in some haphazard way. It’s constructed by a writer who knows what they’re doing and who is evidently aware that context is important because it changes how you read a story.

The parable of the great feast is the last and longest of three pieces of teaching at the table during the Sabbath dinner where our reading is set. It’s placed, if you like, at the head of the table, in the seat of honour. It’s the one that helps us to understand the other two more deeply. And the crucial point about that is that the Gospel writer makes it clear that the feast in the parable is a picture of the Kingdom of God.

The two pieces of teaching we heard in today’s reading — the parable about not taking the place of honour and the challenge to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” — are not quite so obviously about the Kingdom. The first might seem to be about nothing more than heading off embarrassment and getting the most out of a social situation. The second is more about generosity. However, when we read them both back in the light of the parable of the feast, we can see clearly that Jesus is not simply lecturing his hearers on table manners and social cohesion but illustrating the values of God’s Kingdom. In fact, he’s talking about God’s generosity, about how God invites the humble and the excluded to be the guests of honour at the Kingdom party.

The point is that the ones who big themselves up before God get sent to the back of the queue for the buffet. And the ones who thought they weren’t worth inviting in the first place are called up to the front, seated at the top table and waited on. The ones who are left out and left at the bottom of society’s heap, the ones who are debarred from contributing to the economy and from full participation in religious life, are invited to be the life and soul of God’s party.

Sound familiar? It’s part of the great overturning signalled at the start of Luke’s Gospel when Mary sings her great song of praise.

The stories we heard today are about more than food. They’re about more than where you sit at a dinner party. They’re about more than who you eat with day to day. At heart, they ask:

  • does what and who you value line up with who and what God values?

They show us what God’s values are and what a community that lives by those values looks like.

Well, does it line up? We welcome all to eat at Christ’s table in the Eucharist, but do we live up to that outside of the service in our interactions with others? Does the way that we treat people say that they are welcome to the party, even though they might be excluded, regarded by society as the lowest on the heap?

Of course, we might not personally know anyone whom we’d class as poor. But we need only go a matter of metres to find someone begging on the streets around us so maybe the first thing we need to do is to take the time to speak to them and get to know the people behind the appearance a little.

Not all today’s poor are homeless, though. Increasing numbers of people are a food parcel or two away from destitution and their situations can be hidden behind seemingly cosy front doors. So sharing our bread with the poor might legitimately include donating to a food bank, but Jesus’ words still challenge us to take the next step and build relationship between the haves and the have-nots. This means applying our creativity to find ways to overcome the fragmentation of our society.

Not all the poor whom our actions affect are local, either. I mentioned at the start the global perspective. We must not forget how well off we are in the UK. For all the anxieties about possible shortages of in the event of a no-deal Brexit, we are a rich country, globally speaking, and unlikely to starve. It is not possible simply to sit down and eat with poor people who live on the other side of the world, but we can certainly use our buying choices and campaigning voices to increase justice and fairness for them. The cathedral’s One World Stall is a good place to start, but this also includes how we as a community and as individuals use the planet’s resources wisely and making changes where they are needed.

Nor are all the excluded are poor either. Is there space at our table — space in our lives — for people who are harassed or pushed out because of their ethnicity, their gender identity, their autism or a disability, for example? And this is where it gets even more political. For if we are to be a community of welcome, we must think about what that means in a society where, as many of us will have read this week, a woman who has lived in the UK for 55 years, who was educated here, married here and has spent all her working life here has been refused settled status by the Home Office.

For, at the end of the day, we are all poor before God. What we have to offer is only what God has given us. And it is only through God’s gracious, loving invitation that we have a place at the table. We can serve only because God has served us. So, friends, come up higher.