Epiphany 1 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 9th January

Isaiah 43.1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

The New year, despite the dark and cold – or perhaps because of the dark and cold – often begins with a burst of optimism. In the setting of new year resolutions there is a sense of turning over a new leaf, making a fresh start. But this year feels different I think: I’ve not heard much talk of new year’s resolutions, and that’s perhaps because after nearly two years of this exhausting and over-turning pandemic, we are all too aware of how optimistic endeavour can be undone by events. It feels hard to plan ahead and chart a new course, when we are so unsure what the next few months are going to bring. And yet, our readings on this Sunday, the first of the season of Epiphany, chiming with that new year, always invite us to the baptism of Christ – and that surely is about a new beginning.

It’s certainly true that at the heart of the Gospel descriptions of Jesus’ baptism is the declaration that this is where the re-creation that is enacted in Christ begins. The baptism of Jesus by John on the banks of the Jordan is the beginning of the story of Jesus that all four Gospels share: we have heard, of course, the stories of the nativity from Matthew and Luke; and John’s beginning in the Word existing before time; but those different ways of describing the coming into being of Jesus converge with Mark’s telling in this event: this moment of baptism. And the language that is used to describe it is rich with symbolism drawn from the biblical account of the first creation. In the account of creation in Genesis, the Spirit moves over the face of the waters, so that life and order emerge out of those waters that symbolize chaos and disorder and death.

So perhaps in our time of exhaustion, when hope seems in short supply, we need to first dwell on that entering into the waters that is the first movement of baptism. Jesus, at the start of his ministry does not set himself apart, but enters the waters along with everyone else, enters those waters of chaos and death. And actually, our present sense of things being out of control, disordered, is not something new to most of humanity most of the time, but a description of the human condition. This is what God coming alongside us looks like – an immersion into what life is.

The American writer Anne Lamott puts it well in this description of baptism: ‘It’s about full immersion, about falling into something elemental and wet. Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that’s a little sloppy because at the same time it’s also holy, and absurd. It’s about surrender, giving in to all those things we can’t control; it’s a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched.’

Jesus baptism begins with an entering into, a drenching in, the human condition in all its chaos. And we know all about that chaos, a sense that things are out of order, even as we long for things to be otherwise. And in that longing we hear of God’s purposes. As Isaiah put it in our first reading this morning:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

And so Christ rises from the waters; and as Luke beautifully describes it, receives, in prayer, the gift of the Spirit, as he hears those words of the Father that will underpin and ground the life and ministry to come: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Jean Vanier, who helped create the L’Arche communities, told the story of Pierre, a learning disabled resident of one the communities, who was asked if he liked praying. ‘Yes’ he answered. ‘What do you do when you pray/’ he was asked. ‘I listen.’ ‘And what does God say to you?’ ‘He says, ‘You are my beloved son.’

Today we are not asked to make fresh resolutions that we might well fail to keep, but are reminded that we too have been baptised into that divine life of the Father, that names the Son as the loved one in the power of the Spirit.

We are reminded that we are baptised in to the baptism of Christ, who rises from the waters of chaos, into new life, that new creation which is God’s will for all.

And we are reminded, as we shortly re-affirm the promises that we made, or that were made on our behalf, in response to the gift of baptism; we are reminded that that baptism is not ours alone – we are baptised into the death and life of Christ, and we are baptised alongside and together with Christians throughout the ages. Baptised together into that new creation that Christ enacts and makes possible.

This last year, in the face of the climate crisis, and CP26, we began to talk about what it might be to be a Regenerative Cathedral, a Cathedral whose mission was to live in that new creation that is found in Christ. And there is no better place to start that exploration and journey than here, in the baptism that sees Christ plunging into the depths of our need and chaos, to rise into that new creation which is founded on the relationship of love that is held out to each and all. And as we re-affirm our baptism into that new creation, so we begin that journey, once again, with Christ as he shows forth what that new creation, the kingdom, looks like and asks of us. Amen.

Midnight Mass – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway

Isaiah 52.7-10; John 1.1-14

I don’t know about you, but this has felt, among many other things, like a year of statistics. It has become almost a daily ritual to check the Covid rates in Edinburgh, and then to worry about hospitalisation rates, to compare infection rates across countries and continents even as we also read articles that tell us how difficult it is to statistically compare. It’s been a year of statistics for vaccine efficacy; for the rate of vaccine take-up; of the R number. And through it all, the statistic of the mounting number of those who have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test – 147,720 people in the UK as of yesterday. And the estimated 5.4 million people worldwide who have died from Covid since the pandemic started. Such numbers are almost unimaginable, do scarce justice to the reality: the danger with statistics is for the sheer size of the issue, the weight of humanity represented in these numbers, to be what distances us from what is happening for each of the people represented in those numbers; the sheer mass of numbers masks the particular story of each.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of one particular human being. In the midst of our current crisis and challenge, is there any reason to focus on this human life any more than any one of the other billions of humans who have populated, lived and died, on our planet? This child is not any more, or less, human than any of those many others, than you or me even.  Jesus, in the vulnerability that calls forth the love of Mary and Joseph, in the fact that he is immediately subject to the whims of forces and powers beyond his control, to the rage of Herod that forces him to flee with his family; in all that he is as human as the rest of us. And yet our faith proclaims that in this particular human life, the light shines and the darkness cannot overcome it. That does not make Jesus uniquely special in a way that no one else is: instead this human life reveals that this is the way God reaches out and loves each one of us– in the very depths of every particular human life. God does not love in the abstract, through the contemplation of statistics, but loves every human being unconditionally and equally. Jesus we proclaim reveals the divine in the human, to open that way to each and every human being, to each of us. We may struggle to comprehend the humanity behind the statistics – but God does not. For this is how God comes – in love to every particular, unique, special, wonderful, glorious, broken, human life.

God comes not as some ideal of peace and calm, or as the idea of love. God comes not in the form of a sermon on love or a treatise on peace. God comes into our reality as it is, however muddled and muddied it may be, like the stable at Bethlehem, with straw and cow dung. If Christmas is about an ideal then we are easily oppressed by it because we rarely live up to it (Christmas is supposed to be about peace and love, so why does my family irritate the hell out of me?). Or, as an ideal, we decide it’s not practical, and dismiss it as irrelevant and carry on regardless – as if the message of peace proclaimed at Christmas is simply some sentimentalized story to warm our hearts, and please the children, and therefore has little to say that will redeem our mess and muddle, our anxiety and fear.

But God does not come as an ideal: God comes not as a plea for world-peace; not as an insistence that you have a good time; not as the latest consumer product that life is incomplete without. God comes in a particular place, at a particular time, as a defenceless baby. The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.

The invitation of this night is for us to come and see, gaze upon God come among us and place that fact in the midst of our living, in the midst of any family squabbles and tensions, in the midst of our griefs and sorrows heightened by absence, in the midst of our anxiety and fear at the continuing pandemic.

To place God in the midst of all that – to gaze upon the Christ child born this night – is paradoxically, given our current predicament, to be brought into joy. Like the shepherds we are brought to rejoicing. This wee babe we welcome tonight, in all his unprotected vulnerability, like countless children before and since, has the capacity to break hearts, to breach our defences, unplug our wellsprings. Joy bubbles up this night – that is God’s gift we receive tonight, and everything is put in its place because joy bursts forth. The joy of Mary, as she forgets the pain and travail of birth, forgets the alien surroundings and the worries about tomorrow, and cradles her child close. Joy melts our hearts and makes living worthwhile – without it the present giving and receiving, the surplus of food, is strangely sterile and empty. God comes amongst us bringing joy. And from our joy flows our giving, our celebration, our peace-making – the gratuitous acts of people in love, delighting in our ability to mirror the gratuitous, gracious, unmerited overflowing of love that is God. This night, light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.

God comes among us not as an ideal to admire, but fail to live up to, but as a child and a man who, in the midst of our brokenness, loves his people into joy, into resurrection life. Tonight we are not here to worship an ideal, but have come to be visited by joy, and to carry that joy into whatever mess and muddle, whatever anxiety and grief, is ours, so that stumblingly we too may offer our gestures of generous joy. For God’s resurrection joy and life is unconquerable, and it is revealed as with us this night. To celebrate Christmas is to celebrate the God who comes, not in the general ideal, or the vague sentiment, but in a particular human life – a particular human life born in that stable long ago; and because of that human life, we now realise, God comes to meet us in love in every particular human life. In you and me, and every one of our neighbours. Amen.

Advent 3 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 12th December

Zephaniah 3.14-20; Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18

This 3rd Sunday in Advent is sometimes known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete comes from the Latin for Rejoice. And our first two readings certainly pick up that cue: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice, says Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Sing aloud, says Zephaniah, Rejoice and exult with all your heart. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. Zephaniah, from the midst of his own grim present, invites his readers to rejoice in the promised future. Gaudete Sunday is a moment of rejoicing within the solemnity of Advent, as we anticipate that promised future.

And then, into this invitation to rejoice, comes striding the figure of John the Baptist. Like the crowds, in our Gospel reading, flocking to the banks of the Jordan to catch the latest thing, abuzz perhaps with excitement, we are suddenly confronted with John’s anger and directness. ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’

John is an uncomfortable figure. He’s often described as the last of the OT prophets, living on the edge of civilization, in the wilderness. He seems beholden to no-one, free to speak truth, fiery words that address our darkness. He puts into practice the judgement of which he speaks. And, I suspect, we do recognize, even yearn for, that kind of figure – the one railing against corruption, expressing our anger at the world, the darkness that this week, as ever, presses in on us. We all know something of that anger – at those who think the rules are not for them. John expresses our  rage against hypocrisy, against injustice and inaction. And our anger, we hope will, like that of  John the Baptist, cut through the darkness, convict our politicians, and our vacuous celebrity obsessed age, issue a wake up call to those who simply lash out without thought except to administer poisonous bites: ‘You brood of vipers.’

It’s a tempting role; one that the church is often invited to fulfill: to stand in judgement on society, wag our finger disapprovingly, or shake our head disappointedly, as we reflect on society going to the dogs. That’s what church is about isn’t it?

Tempting as that is – this week especially – I think that gets both John and our calling wrong. Certainly in Luke’s account that we just heard in our Gospel, the anger is there: alongside the description of his hearers as a brood of vipers, he informs them that even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ Such fiery words draw a crowd, gets him noticed, but when John begins to address those who come to him, what he advocates is far from extreme. ‘What shall we do?’ they ask. And John invites them to act, here and now in the present. He addresses the situation of each that comes to him, encouraging a culture of generosity (sharing cloaks and food); of fairness and decency, so that we are not concerned simply with acquisition but know when we have enough. It’s a call into responsible living, finding some meaning and purpose in what lies in front of us. The anger gives way to something else.

And famously and above all, John points away from himself to the one who is coming. For John, the one who is coming is the one who will execute judgment, put things right, and so we better get ready. Luke’s gospel, in this early chapter, sets up our expectation: this is what the coming Christ is about, Jesus will execute that judgement that John, and we, look for. But as Luke’s Gospel will go on to show, the one who comes will subvert that judgement, will not simply point the finger and rage at the world. Instead of executing God’s wrath, he will reveal the anger and violence for what it is, by taking the violence on himself – the One who comes is not the bringer of violence, however seemingly justified, but its recipient. Jesus’ ultimate journey will reveal violence to be what we do to love, not the way God is.

So, as we wait this Advent, John rightly reminds us to wake up, and his call into responsible living, still resonates. And we need to follow his pointing finger, not pointing in judgement, but at the one who will come, to subvert all our fantasies, above all, the fantasy that it is simply other people who are the problem, that pointing the finger is enough.

Advent is often described as the season of waiting. That can make it sound a very passive season, perhaps in contrast to the dashing around in preparation for Christmas that many of us are engaged in. The French verb for ‘waiting’ is ‘attendre’, from which we get our words, to attend, attention. If our waiting is about attending to something, paying attention, what will you attend to this week? If what I am suggesting about John is right, then, even in the darkness, even as we rage and know our anger, we wait, we attend, to something that subverts that darkness. The light that the darkness will not master is coming, so let us pay attention, or we will miss the reason for rejoicing. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.’ Let us find space for the coming outbreak of cleansing joy.

God our healer, whose mercy is like a refining fire,
touch us with your judgement,
and confront us with your tenderness;
that, being comforted by you,
we may reach out to a troubled world,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Feast of Christ the King – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 21st November

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33b-37

Today we celebrate the final Sunday of the Church’s year, the Feast of Christ the King. It’s the climax of our year’s pilgrimage, from the anticipation, and then the birth of, Christ, at Advent and Christmas; through the mystery of Christ’s life, and death and resurrection that finds its focus at Easter; and then through the long season of Pentecost as we learn what it might mean to walk that way ourselves in the power of the Spirit. And so to this climax of the year, as Christ is proclaimed as King: our readings from Daniel and Revelation rejoice in the setting to right, the drawing into worship of all creation, that is at the heart of the King and his kingdom that we proclaim today.

And yet, and yet, in our Gospel reading, under Pilate’s questioning, Jesus quite pointedly deflects, refuses even, the title of King. It’s a gospel that places a question mark, at the very least, against any easy triumphalist acclamation of Jesus as King; certainly against our usual ways of understanding that title: ‘So you are a King?’ Pilate asks Jesus. And Jesus answers: ‘You say that I am a king.’

We are taken back, in our Gospel reading, to that moment of extreme conflict and brooding violence, in the early hours of Good Friday, as Jesus stands before the authority who will decide his immediate fate. And he is given an opportunity to defend and justify himself: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ asks Pilate.

And in that place of conflict and brooding violence and powerful authority, Jesus does two things, which place that question mark at the heart of what we celebrate today. First of all, Jesus asks Pilate where he stands. He asks the one who apparently has the authority at this moment, to give an account of himself. ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Why do you care, asks Jesus. For to all intents and purposes, Jesus is clearly not a King in any way that makes any sense to Pilate, or to us. Here he stands, helpless, friendless, deserted by his followers. And yet, from a deep well of courage and conviction, he throws the question back at the one cloaked with the authority and power: where do you stand, what’s in this for you?

And Jesus then goes on to say something even more radical to the uncomprehending Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’

Not from this world – in this place of conflict, Jesus identifies himself as being from somewhere other-worldly. It’s a common accusation thrown against those who come at things from a faith perspective – that we are just being other-worldly, and it’s not usually a compliment. But here, it is the hard-edged reason for Jesus’ refusal to get involved in the conflict on the usual terms: ‘If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.’ But Jesus isn’t going to get drawn into that fight; instead, he draws strength from a place that is not from here; he is subject to a different set of rules and demands.

In a world which constantly seeks us to take sides, get drawn in, arm ourselves, define ourselves as not like them, Jesus points to a kingdom not from here. Faith is characterized as the practice of going to that place, that kingdom not from here, which resources and strengthens us; it is that travelling together in the company of others who strengthen and renew us; it is the practice of prayer and self-discipline, that equips us with power that is not from here. ‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,’ says Jesus, ‘to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’

Pilate famously dismisses that claim: ‘What is truth?’ he exclaims. To the one who trades in the might of the sword and empire, truth is simply the wielding of that power and authority. Pilate ends the exchange uncomprehending; and the friendless, helpless prisoner before him makes his way to the cross. But we gather here as those who do listen to his voice, who gather as subjects of that kingdom that is not from here. We listen to that voice even as he makes his way into suffering. For the King we celebrate is found not robed in majesty, but walking the way of the cross; not wielding power and might, but offering himself for the life of the world. He asks his followers not to take up arms and fight on his side, but to follow him in finding the strength for acts of costly, forgiving and life-giving love. To be subjects of this kingdom, to listen to his voice, means growing in faith in the possibilities which that forgiving love open up; it is about being drawn into that kingdom not from here. That kingdom which on the far side of cross and resurrection, on the far side of costly forgiving love, is revealed as that which judges the uncomprehending and blustering power of Pilate, and Prime Minister; judges the preening power of might and authority found in different degrees in all of us, with the truth of forgiving love.

And so the question that the helpless, friendless, and yet faithful Jesus offers Pilate lies at the heart of our celebrations today: ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Where are you before this man; where am I before this man? Shall we trust in the might and power that is all too evident in the world around us? Or do we recognize our deepest truth in the journey this man makes, and so find our selves strengthened in his broken body and outpoured blood, strengthened by his kingdom not from here. Amen.

Pentecost 21- sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 17th October

Isaiah 53.4-12; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45

One of the glories of this Cathedral building, something close to the heart of the vocation it embodies and enables, is the fact that it stands open, day after day. Open to people’s prayer and desire for sanctuary; open as an antidote and response to the bustling world around; open to their need as well as their curiosity and wonder. Of course that means that all sorts of people pass through those doors, seeking to satisfy a variety of needs. For those of us who work here that can be both a delight and a challenge. Inevitably those needs include the need to talk, to be affirmed, to seek counsel, and to ask for money to sort a problem. To be open to all that, to navigate our way through those needs and find the appropriate response is an ongoing challenge, but it’s also a small window on to the needs which press in on people day after day, the stresses and strains we live under.

Now I don’t want to claim too much in that – others are far more intimately and daily involved in the stresses and strains of life, in seeking to serve the needs of others, and they know a lot more about the costliness of that. NHS workers, for example, particularly through the pandemic, are challenged daily by pressing needs, and by the challenge of navigating, prioritising, through those. This Cathedral exists also to resource and strengthen those people – you – in that service of others in our healthcare, and many other, settings.

And that brings us to Sir David Amess, and his shocking death on Friday. For he died in active service, in the process of serving his constituents through the public surgery he, and many other politicians hold, week after week, to meet the public that, in all their needs, they are called to serve. His shocking death, without indulging the need to speculate on the particular motives of his killer, must make us wonder if the effort to serve is worth it, or at the very least if there are different ways to organise ourselves; insulate ourselves from those needs in what seems an increasingly fractious, hate-filled world.

Our Gospel reading for this morning offers a jarringly appropriate text to contemplate: You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

Jesus’ response to the disciples as they argue among themselves, about who is the most important, who will get the best seats in the house. Jesus turns our usual way of thinking on its head. And we continually need to be reminded of that truth: David Amess’ death, and the manner of it, reminds us that that service lies at the heart of a functioning democracy. But that reminder is trumpeted by a media that simultaneously exalts the lifestyle of the rich and famous, those who lord it over others by their very manner of life. The supposed freedom of not being beholden to anyone is so often vaunted as the highest good, and so we need the continual reminder that, as Jesus, puts it, it shall not be so among you. And democracy, in all its messiness and challenge, embodies that service, our boundedness, one to another, so that we are not subjects of rulers and tyrants, who lord it over us, but participants in a common life over which we have some say and responsibility.

The final words of Jesus go even further however, in addressing how we might react to death, and suffering – both Sir David’s, but also that in life more generally. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.

A ransom is that which is given to gain release, freedom, for many. That terminology and language has given rise to much metaphysical speculation about to whom that ransom is paid, and how that is effective in giving freedom to many. If the statement is taken literally, you get into a debate about whether the ransom is paid to God – in which case, why does God need to be paid, especially when the price is the life of God’s Son; or the devil – but how does that work, that this life, somehow pays off the devil, and releases the rest of us.

As is often the case, especially when dealing with religious language, the literal reading can be the enemy of what is being offered as a metaphor, an imaginative understanding. For beyond the immediate question of what is being paid in this offering of a life, and to whom, is the bigger question of the senselessness and meaninglessness of suffering and death.

For the disciples, and the early church, this question is focused in the figure of Jesus Christ. The impact, the startling insightfulness and effectiveness of his life, bring the question of the meaning of his brutal, senseless death, into even sharper relief. What sense can be made of this death, and does it not render everything that went before meaningless. His short life is brutally brought short by the rulers and tyrants of his age – is that not a final statement about where power truly lies, so that what preceded is rendered worthless?

Christ’s resurrection begins to turn that despair around; it shifts the disciples’ faith and perception, so that the previously meaninglessness and futility of Christ’s death, is suddenly seen in a new light. But they still have to make sense of it, find the words to describe that faith, and experience, that his shameful death by the exercise of brute power, is not the end. And that takes them back to one of the oldest human questions: why do we suffer? They find that question explored in their own scriptures – Isaiah 53 that we heard as our Old Testament reading is a classic articulation of the possibility that suffering might be the working out of redemption, an offering toward that good which is our final end and salvation.

I am not suggesting that David Amess’ death is on a par with Christ’s. But Christian faith, after the crucifixion and resurrection, sees suffering and death in a different light; sees the possibility that such suffering participates in that which frees us. And inasmuch as Sir David’s death brings into focus the centrality of service to our common life; as it displays that what we have in common is far more than what divides us; as it enables us to celebrate, even, that life of service, then it reveals that that is what endures, and begins to answer the senselessness, and the nihilism of the brutal act that led to his death. Such violence will not define us; instead suffering and even death can contribute toward our freedom from the rule of violence and force; and lead us into that service which binds us, and completes us, one with another.

In a moment we will participate in an act that week by week, recalls, remembers, the death of Christ – his sharing of his body and blood, himself, for the life of others. We are drawn into that resurrection faith, which knows full well the depth of suffering, of cruelty and hate. And yet, through participation, we are re-made as the Body of Christ to offer our service to the world – to be open to the transformation of suffering in resurrection life. Amen.

Creation-time 2 – Sermon preached by Rt Rev Brian Smith – Sunday 12th September

MARK 8:27-38

 

  1. A lot is going on in a few words in our gospel reading – I shall initially focus on just three points.
  2. These points are:
  • Peter’s ‘confession’ of Jesus as the ‘Messiah
  • Jesus’s command to his disciples to keep quiet
  • Peter being rebuked with the words “Get behind me, Satan.”

    Many commentators see these verses as a turning point in the narrative in Mark’ Gospel.

    [It is an open question whether they should be seen as end of the first part or the start of the next part of the Gospel…… But all see them as important verses.]

  1. Putting it crudely, Jesus begins by asking the disciples how they understand who he is. It is not an easy question, for in Jesus something really new is going on, and it is going to be difficult to describe it in vocabulary that was devised from the older traditions.
  1. Clearly many people had been trying to describe who Jesus was using old traditional terms and ideas: “John the Baptist; Elijah; and, one of the prophets.”
  2. Peter enters and continues the conversation, and has a go, again using traditional ideas. He says “You are the Messiah, the anointed one…….” [Or in Greek, The Christos.]
  3. From our standpoint this is a bit closer, but in Mark’s Gospel Jesus does not say “Well done Peter”. He tells him to keep quiet.
  4. It is as if Jesus is saying That is close, but don’t go repeating it ….  The old words don’t quite capture what I am really about. If you simply repeat what you have just said here, people will misunderstand, and my mission will be frustrated. “
  1. And of course as the conversation goes on it soon becomes apparent that Peter has not fully understood what Jesus is about.
  2. [ Scholars will often call this feature of Mark’s Gospel ‘The Messianic Secret” – that Jesus wants to keep a proper understanding of himself ‘secret”. Much has been written on this, I have neither the time not ability to elaborate it here.]
  3. For the time being we can simply note that Jesus is evincing two concerns.
  4. a) He wants to be understood by his disciples – hence the teaching that he gives to them.
  5. b) But equally he does not want to be misunderstood by the population in general – hence his urging his disciples not to talk about him using ideas which they don’t fully grasp, and that may all too easily lead to a misunderstanding.
  6. But what sort of “misunderstanding” are we thinking about?
  1. Let us pause together on that word that Peter used when he said to Jesus “You are the Messiah”,
  2. [“Messiah” is a Hebrew term meaning “anointed one”, usually translated as “Christ” in Greek.]
  3. Originally the word “Messiah” was simply a term referring to the anointed King, but the title “Messiah” took on slightly different overtones at different stages in the history of Israel.
  4. In times of political hardship people might entertain the hope that a king, like their great King David, would arise and make them great as a nation again. [You can almost hear the growing shouts of the activists: ‘Lets Make Israel great again!”]
  5. However as their political situation got worse and worse, they could not longer see such a figure rising up from among them by natural means. Thus some people began to place their hope in the coming to them, from outside, of some form of supernatural deliverer. Many different ideas either of a messiah figure arising naturally or one coming supernaturally jostled for attention among the people.
  6. The core of such a belief in a messiah is that it gives hope in a world of confusion, and most of these ideas were characterised by the notion that God will intervene in history by sending someone who by political or other (possibly supernatural) means will rescue his people from oppression.
  1. It was against this sort of view that we see Jesus beginning to develop a different understanding of Messiah
  2. Hope is not to be grounded in a cosmic intervention from outside history, for which the people must simply wait and pray
    But it is to be grounded in a willingness to walk a way of suffering and rejection.

    ***********************************************************

  3. With these two notions in our mind, let me pause for a moment, for the Provost, in inviting me to preach, suggested that I might put an ecological spin upon what I might say.
  4. Obedient to the Provost, I gladly do this, for one question that animates us all today is “What can we do about climate change?”
  5. I have spoken on this before in this Cathedral, and I recall in my address then telling of an incident I saw when I was watching the television, which in its simple way expresses in iconic form, the issue we face..
  1. The programme was on the work of the Chemist Joseph Priestly.
  2. The presenter was discussing aspects of Priestley’s thought, and was doing this by illustrating his seminal experiments.
  3. You will recall that Priestly was a person involved with the discovery of the significance of the Oxygen in the air for the preservation of life, and also of the power of plants to take in Carbon Dioxide and give out Oxygen again into the atmosphere.
  4. The presenter illustrated one of Priestley’s experiments whereby Priestley put a mouse under a bell jar, and left it in that sealed container. Priestly saw that the mouse used up the oxygen and swiftly died.
  5. Priestley did another experiment, which the presenter also illustrated, Here a mouse and a green plant were together placed under a similar sealed bell jar. Here, as the mouse used up the oxygen, the plant took in the carbon dioxide and gave oxygen back into the atmosphere. And so the mouse and plant together continued to live and survive in the bell jar.
  6. The two were thus set for a happy if constrained life together in their simple little universe.
  7. However, just as the presenter was moving away from his demonstration, which sought to reproduce Priestley’s apparatus, we saw (behind his back) the little mouse in the bell jar walk gently across to the plant and start to eat it.
  8. The picture captures the danger we are in. We are consuming he elements on our planet which enable it to sustain our life together. And we return to the question; What can we do about climate change?”
  9. There are two ways we can go.
  10. We can sit and simply wait, hoping for some solution simply to turn u Just as some of Jesus friends and disciples might have been hoping for a saviour to turn up and whisk them out of their current political difficulties.
  11. Or we work at it, in ways that will be difficult, involving hardship, and opposition, akin to the path that Jesus chose to walk, and about which he taught his disciples.
  12. Sadly the problem of the ecology of our planet is not simply going to go away if we simply wait for something to change or to turn up. It needs to be addressed, and to address it involves us all in walking a path of discomfort.
  13. Hope comes into the world not from simply waiting, but from a willingness to walk a difficult and uncomfortable path. And to work for such a hope is our calling – it is to follow the path of Jesus
  14. We recall how the passage which we had as our gospel goes on:

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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

  1. The challenge is there.
  2. To be willing to give up some of the enhancements of our current life, in order to save everything. And it does mean “everything”.
  3. It is the path walked by Jesus.
    It is the path we are called to follow.

    AMEN

Creation Sunday – Sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 5th September 2021

Isaiah 35.4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2.1-17; Mark 7.24-37

In the name of God, Creating, Redeeming and Regenerating. Amen.

One of the more unusual pictures to hang in our Cathedral is a depiction of the second half of our Gospel reading this morning, of the healing of the deaf man who has an impediment in his speech. The picture hangs there in the North Aisle. It is an unusual subject matter, depicting a strange story. The man has been taken aside in private, by Jesus, away from the crowd; the picture depicts the intense encounter that occurs, as Jesus reaches out to touch his tongue and bid it to be opened. This is the moment when the man is about to be liberated into speech. A man who has been living in silence, who has been silenced, is about to burst forth in speech. The picture depicts that moment of regeneration, of rebirth.

In the picture, the man has not been taken very far away from the crowd, they are there in the margins of the painting, hanging about, wondering what is about to happen. They are clearly part of the drama of this moment too. The regeneration, the rebirth that is about to happen will ask questions of them too.

As you arrived this morning, you were given a leaflet to mark this Creation Sunday, the start of Creation-time. For those of you online, it can be found on our website, in the section devoted to Creation-time under worship. The leaflet describes St Mary’s as a Regenerative Cathedral – a place of rebirth, through our encounter with Christ. At the end of our service today, in our post-communion prayer, we will pray: We thank you for these gifts in which we are made one in Christ, and drawn into that new creation which is your will for all.

The language of re-birth into a new creation has deep roots in the Christian tradition, but today that regeneration, that finding of a new voice, is in the context of our climate crisis, of the need to find new ways of living that sustain, nourish and enliven the earth.

“​​It is unequivocal.” Those stark three words are the first in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report. The climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities and is unequivocally affecting every corner of the planet’s land, air and sea. The report, produced by hundreds of the world’s top scientists and signed off by all the world’s governments, concludes that it could get far worse if the slim chance remaining to avert heating above 1.5C is not immediately grasped. This is the report that forms the background, the stark and urgent agenda to COP26, the Intergovernmental meeting to be held in Glasgow in November.

It is in the midst of our now old ways of doing things, our forms of life that are crippling our planet, that a re-birth, a new creation, is needed. A re-generation.

I think that language of new creation is important because, as I’ve argued before, this is a spiritual crisis. It’s a crisis because of the urgency needed now to respond, and it’s a spiritual crisis because all the evidence suggests that we are not going to ‘solve’ the crisis simply by instrumental means: that the response can’t simply be about technological fixes. We will certainly need all the powers of human ingenuity and scientific know-how to help move us beyond our carbon- based economy, but that alone is not enough, particularly if we imagine  our lifestyle and way of structuring society can remain untouched. I don’t want to be alarmist, but read the predictions of climate scientists on how our weather systems, and ocean levels, and agriculture might be affected as the average temperature rises. And the knock on effects that will have in different parts of the world, and the potential for conflict, and mass migration, and water shortage, that that might lead to. The challenges are huge, and if we are going to rise to them, we are going to need deep resources of courage and wisdom to respond.

And so this is going to ask a lot of us, individually and corporately. The pandemic has shown – and let us not forget this in the drift back to business as before – that that collective will is possible. And we need to learn the habits of self-discipline, wisdom, concern for others, simplicity of life, generosity of spirit; the gifts that faith seeks to cultivate, and nurture and grow.

Now that may make it all sound a bit earnest. I hope that the season of Creation-time that begins today reminds us that faith begins in something far more simple, and joyful; that faith is rooted in daily thanksgiving for the gift of creation. The gift of life given this day, this moment. Thanksgiving liberates us to recognise the joy of this moment, and the giftedness of it. We often talk about the gift of creation as something for us to look after – the model depicted is that God creates, and then hands over creation to us, that we then steward it. I’m not convinced that that language and way of understanding our role is up to the task of this present moment: it sets us up as managers of something outside (beneath?) us. An instrumental relationship is established from the start. Thanksgiving recognises rather that we are within creation, the daily gift includes and sustains us. We need to feel and imagine the world as God’s gift, the possibility of new creation born ever again in the midst of the old.

If you get the chance, go and look at the picture that hangs in the North Aisle sometime. And ask yourself what you imagine are the first words the man utters? Words of praise, surely, or at least words that tell of his re-birth, of the moment when his tongue was loosened and his speech came back, and he could communicate directly. And look too at the figures who lurk on the margins of the painting, the remnants of the crowd, from whom Jesus has removed the man. They are wondering what is going on; no doubt some are cynical, doubting, wanting the man to be kept in his place, things to remain as they are; others are wondering what is about to happen, are intrigued. How will they react to the moment when he suddenly speaks and addresses them, and the world is changed?

Our gospel this morning, the painting, this season of Creation-time, invite us into imagining and inhabiting the moment when something new is happening. Where do we place ourselves – in the crowd, looking on? Interested perhaps, but unconvinced, uncommitted? Or in the shoes of the man about to be re-born, to discover his voice, to praise his maker, his liberator, the one who draws him into that new creation, which is your will for all? Amen.

 

Pentecost 10 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 1st August 2021

Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; John 6.24-35

Jesus said, ‘The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

Our Gospel reading from John’s Gospel this morning follows on from his telling of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 that we heard last week. The crowd have gone looking for Jesus, this provider of bread, and, in the very characteristic style of John’s Gospel, Jesus reflects, and invites his hearers, then and now, to reflect, on what just happened.

As Paul in his sermon invited us to see last week, this feeding of the 5,000 – where Jesus took bread, gave thanks and shared it so that all were fed – this feeding is the Gospel of John’s Communion meal. In John’s account of the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died, we are told about the foot-washing of the disciples, but there is no sharing of bread or wine. This feeding, much earlier in John’s Gospel, is where Jesus takes bread, and blesses it and shares it. And if we were in any doubt about the significance of that, then today’s Gospel reading, this reflection on what just happened, makes it abundantly clear: ‘The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,’ says Jesus. Sir, give us this bread always, say the crowd. ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

If today’s Gospel offers a reflection on the significance and meaning of the feeding of the 5,000, on John’s Communion meal, then we might best respond to that Gospel by reflecting together too, on what we think is going on when we gather to be fed, week by week. For it is surely the case that our prayer and practice is changed by seeing our communion meal not just as a re-presentation of Jesus’ Last Supper, but of this unlikely feeding of 5,000.

The most radical change is that it immediately places our communion in the context of scarcity. As we heard last week, the feeding happens as the disciples question the availability of food, and express their fear that they will never have enough to feed everyone. In the midst of that anxiety and fear about a scarcity of resources, the disciples, and the crowd, suddenly experience an abundance: that there is more than enough. And in today’s gospel, the crowd and Jesus reflect together on the feeding of the people of Israel in the desert, with bread from heaven. In the desert, the place of scarcity and anxiety, the people have to learn to trust in what will be provided each day. And that will be enough.

And so this meal, and the abundance it offers in place of scarcity, is not about being given something to be hoarded for a future date: it is about encountering what is enough for today, what feeds us today, what we need for today. It is why that moment when Jesus takes the bread, and give thanks for it, is central. The Greek word for that action of giving thanks is of course, Eucharisto, from which we get Eucharist. This is not simply about giving thanks, as a polite response to a gift. It is about recognising that this sharing, this meal, is what transforms our scarcity into abundance; that thanksgiving is what re-orients our world, so where we thought there is never enough for everyone, we suddenly recognise that actually, there is – if we learn to live, not by hoarding, but by faith and thanksgiving in God’s daily bread. Around this table, scarcity is transformed into abundance, not because there is suddenly masses of food, but because we recognise that what we need, God’s good gift for the life of the world, is available here for all. In a world where it is all too easy to be anxious about how there is going to be enough for everyone, particularly in a world where the climate is in crisis, this meal asks us to look again; if we live in thanksgiving for the provision of what we truly need, then we are transformed, and there is enough, more than enough.

For the gift given is, of course, Christ himself. Over my years of Christian faith, I’ve received communion in many different ways: as oatcakes and orange juice; in a loaf of bread and a common cup; as cubes of processed white bread and thimblefuls of grape juice; on a beach, up a mountain, in houses and churches, by a hospital bed. In large crowds, and in the intimacy of 2 people; gathered around an altar, processing in a long line. Even in recent months, we’ve had to get used to receiving it here in one kind only, or simply visually, online. And looking back over 2,000 years of Christian tradition that variety only increases. The point is not a sterile argument about which communion is valid, but about the fact that in each act of communion and thanksgiving, Christ comes to give himself for the life of the world; to transform our scarcity into his abundance. Whenever Christians have gathered, they have taken bread, and blessed it, and shared it – Christ broken and shared for the life of the world. And we do that because he did that – by a lakeside, in an upper room, with an intimate few, and in a massive heaving, pressing crowd. And each time Christ gives of himself, and the new creation that is seen in him comes into being.

And so we give thanks, and break and share the bread, not simply for ourselves, but, as he did, for the life of our world. The transformation we celebrate in every act of communion, in every abundant meal, is not simply of the bread and wine becoming Christ’s body and blood; it is of that transformation also being ours.

Hear us most merciful Father, we pray, and send your Holy Spirit upon us, and upon this bread and this wine, that, overshadowed by your Spirit’s life-giving power, they may be the Body and Blood of your Son, and we may be kindled with the fire of your love and renewed for the service of your kingdom.

That prayer deliberately intertwines the transformation of bread and wine with our transformation; Christ’s giving of himself, with our becoming his body; the sharing of this meal with the kindling of love and the service of Christ’s kingdom. The kingdom where scarcity becomes abundance. It is into that transformation that we are invited by the power of the Spirit each time we gather to share communion.

Christ gives himself, so that we learn that that is enough. What we most truly need is here. And what is here transforms us. Bread is taken, and blessed and broken and shared; and we are gathered, and blessed, and broken and shared. The transformation of bread is both the new creation in Christ and the ongoing transformation of us all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pentecost 6 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 4th July 2021

2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6.1-13

The opening of Mark’s gospel is something of a whirlwind – Jesus is constantly on the move, calling disciples, who immediately drop everything and follow him; healing those who come to him, often in desperation; his fame and renown is spreading. And now, as we heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus returns to his home town. It’s worth noting in passing, the comparison with Luke’s Gospel, where the equivalent moment in Nazareth happens immediately after Jesus’ baptism. In Luke, Jesus is seen preaching in the synagogue; using the prophet Isaiah as almost a manifesto of what is to come. This moment in Nazareth is the launchpad of his ministry. But in Mark, Jesus returns to Nazareth having already established himself, almost as the conquering hero, the local celebrity, returning to a ticker tape welcome. As we’re in Scotland, I shall resist any reference to football, and coming home. But we certainly might expect a warm welcome. Nazareth is after all a small village – everyone knows everyone else. And this son of the village has made a name for himself.

And yet that isn’t how things work out: ‘Where did this man get these things?” they ask after hearing him in the synagogue. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they take offence at him, we’re told. Is this a case of familiarity breeding contempt?

Jesus’ response is curt: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour,” he says. And perhaps most surprisingly we are then told that Jesus could not do any miracles there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them, as you do. He is amazed at his hometown’s unbelief – it is almost because they see him simply as the carpenter, the boy next door, that they do not trust him, have no faith in the possibility and potential found here. And Jesus is left impotent. It is an amazing image of co-operation – of the need of the hero for the people, as much as we all need a hero.

Except that Jesus, particularly in Mark’s Gospel has no interest in being the hero. Jesus has an extraordinary ability to (literally) move people – follow me, and they do; he attracts people’s desire for change, for healing – and then enacts that, as we saw last week, by establishing relationship, connection: the previously unclean, are revealed as loved by God, and restored to relationship with one another. What is at the heart of Jesus’ action, life, is the kingdom that he declares is already in your midst: it is in the kingdom that we are established in relationship, that we are connected, through the breaking down of mistrust, and the building up of the faith that overcomes fear. But we also see in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ seemingly strange desire for secrecy, for what is happening around him not to be broadcast: this is not just about me, he seems to be saying. He has no interest in celebrity status, in being the hero, but instead to point beyond himself, to that in-breaking kingdom, and so involve others in that.

And I suspect that’s where the people of Nazareth refused to play ball. They wanted to bask in the reflected glory of their local celebrity, and Jesus isn’t interested – this is not about how wonderful I am, this is about you and the kingdom in your midst. And to that challenge, they take offence – in place of faith, cynicism, and the cheap shot.

And so we are told he could do little there.

Paul cuts a very different figure: you don’t have to read much of his epistles to guess that there is a strong ambition and personal drive at the heart of Paul. But what redeems that drive is that the need to wrestle with his own ego, to subvert it, is also always present, Our Epistle this morning was a classic example of that wrestling: he is both desperate to prove himself, his visionary encounter with Christ is the equal of any body’s; and yet he knows that that is not what finally matters: at the heart of his faith is the encounter with God’s grace, a ‘grace that is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’

The Christian tradition has often placed pride as the archetypal sin; pride is the valuing and vaulting of self above all else, above God. The need that we feel for affirmation, for power over others, drives our propensity to place our security and comfort, our selves, at the centre of our world. That is a powerful critique of what makes us humans tick. But the danger is that the opposite of pride is often understood to be self-abasement, the total loss of self. But our Gospel points to another way, between pride and the abasement of self, which is too open to abuse. And that middle way is found in a proper understanding of humility.

For humility is the desire to be in relationship, not glory in self-sufficiency. Humility is not about knowing our proper place as it is sometimes characterised, but begins in an acknowledgement of our need beyond what our own self can provide:

‘The humility of Christ is not the moderation of keeping one’s exact place in the scale of being, but rather that of absolute dependence on God and absolute trust in him, with the consequent ability to move mountains.’ H. Richard Niebuhr

Humility seeks, therefore, community, relationship and it begins in trust, the trust that lies at the heart of faith, the trust and faith so sorely lacking in Nazareth. Humility springs from the sense of dependence upon God from which all else flows. It begins in the practice of prayer, and contemplation – the making space within ourselves for God to be God in your life and my life. That does not obliterate the self, but allows the self to trust again in God’s creative power: prayer puts us into a different relationship to God and to others.

For humility is the movement from desire for self-in-opposition-to-others, to desire for self-in-through-and-with-others. Humility does not therefore destroy selfhood but is the necessary underpinning for it to come into its own unique being. Humility is not about the neglect of self, a life-denying martyr complex, but about living the truth that we come to fulfilment in, through and with others.

Jesus responds to the unbelief he encounters in Nazareth by sending the raw, untrained vulnerable disciples out, two by two, to travel light, heal the sick, and proclaim God’s coming kingdom, a kingdom ruled by the power of forgiveness, not coercion. They are to establish connection, to live from trust, overcoming cynicism and fear with a faith in hospitality and the power of forgiveness. Don’t wait for the hero figure coming to rescue us. Get involved, see the kingdom breaking in, join the disciples in being sent out – however inadequate we feel, to heal, offer hope, reveal the power of forgiveness. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Pentecost 5 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday June 27th

Lamentations 3.22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43

‘I do not mean,’ St Paul writes to the church in Corinth, ‘that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need.’

Our long Gospel reading recounts two intertwined healing stories: of the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, and of an unnamed woman, who has been haemorrhaging blood for twelve years. I say they are intertwined, but apart from the way that the story of the woman interrupts the healing of Jairus’ daughter, there seems to be little connection between them. Why, when Mark came to write his gospel 30 odd years after the events he describes, putting together the collection of stories and events that have been told about Jesus; why are these two miracles still entwined together? There is nothing in common between them, apart from an act of healing and restoration at the heart of each. But such healing is seen elsewhere too, so why are they kept together, why is the woman’s moment of interruption retained in the way the story is told?

Perhaps because that is the point – it is the interruption that is remembered. At the heart of our gospel reading is that moment, after the woman, from within the pressing crowd, has reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak; and, despite the need to be somewhere else, he turns and surveys the crowd, and asks, ‘Who touched my cloak?’ I want us to spend a moment imagining what that moment, that interruption, is all about, and what that might mean for us, for us who are gathered in Christ’s company. Perhaps the best way into that interruption is to imagine it from the perspective of the woman herself:

I was desperate. Desperate.

Which is no surprise – twelve long years of blood flowing when it shouldn’t flow; of anxious searching and seeking for a cure, an explanation, an end to it. To lose blood is to feel your life draining away – and that’s how I was: an increasingly empty shell with life drained out.

And that wasn’t the half of it. The blood flowed and so did the chatter, the gossip, the cutting remarks and the cutting off. To bleed makes you unclean you see – not just dirty but polluting, dangerous. Not just my blood, but me – the whole of me, pitied, shunned, because I shouldn’t touch anyone. I got both the open hostility and the pitying look. I could see them thinking, ‘Poor woman’, but wondering why, too, and speculating. It felt almost too much to bear.

Too much because, of course, they were only thinking and speaking my own worst fears, my own dread and self-loathing. Why wouldn’t it stop – what had I done wrong? Why, for twelve years, did I contaminate everything I touched?

I searched for a cure of course. Sought out every doctor and quack I could; was prodded and argued over, offered various unpalatable remedies and dismissed as a hopeless case. But it all came back to the same thing: that I was lost, beyond help; that it was all somehow my fault. And so, I was desperate. And that desperation seemed to define me, til all I could think and hear was the voice of my lamentation and cry.

That’s what took me to see him. He’d got quite a reputation – this wandering healer, who seemed to provoke and inspire in equal measure. They said that people had left everything to follow him. Folk were flocking to him – and I’d tried everything else. I wouldn’t be seen in a large crowd, I thought. And so I went, to see what the fuss was about. And because I was desperate.

And they were flocking alright. I wasn’t the only one desperate. The crowds surged around till you could barely breathe. And people crying out their pain and anguish, their hopes and fears – all seemed to be caught up in this one man. I didn’t have to pretend to be part of the crowd, I was part of that longing to be different, to hear a word of healing, a word of hope.

And then the crowds parted and walking through the midst of them was the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, I think he’s called. He walked tall, as befitted such a man, and the crowds parted. We wondered what he was doing there, but something about him seemed different – broken, or at least on the point of breaking. As he reached Jesus, the dam burst, and he flung himself at Jesus’ feet. I couldn’t hear him, I was too far away for that, but the crowd took up his words and passed them back. The murmurs reached me of a dying daughter, of a desperate man. And Jairus, the President of the Synagogue, never seemed more like me than in that moment.

And then Jesus brought him to his feet and they turned and walked, purpose in every step. And he was coming near to where I stood, and hope against hope suddenly swelled within me. Nothing seemed beyond this man – nothing defeated him. And he was coming near. If I could but touch his cloak, touch his cloak ….

And reaching out, and pushing aside, I did touch, the very fringe. And the bleeding stopped. Not just came to a temporary halt – that happened often enough – but stopped. I felt it in my body – a realignment, a knitting together of what had been apart.

I was rooted to the ground in shock – my arm still outstretched. I was barely aware of Jesus stopping and turning, stopping and looking, searching me out. And it didn’t take him long to find me, rooted as I was, while my body sang its new song. And then suddenly not only his eyes, but the whole crowds’, were on me. Me, who had avoided the inquisitive, angry, pitying stares for so long, now found myself at the centre of attention. And the murmuring began, ‘who does she think she is’, ‘come on, he’s in a hurry, Jairus’ daughter is dying’, ‘oh, it’s that woman again’, ‘she touched him.’ And for a moment I wished I’d never come – for nothing had changed. I was still the object of others’ anger and fear. And I felt myself curling up before their stare.

And then I found his eyes, his stare still on me – but not a stare – a look of … love, no other word will do. And in that love I found myself uncurling and speaking out, able to still the chatter, and tell him what he had done: that twelve years of bleeding were over.

And his eyes never left my face, but his words spoke to me and to them all: ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’

And then I was healed – and something profound happened in the crowd too. My faith? That was the difference – he saw me and not the bleeding, not the desperation and self-loathing. Before that moment, that’s all I was: desperation. But he changed all that. He restored me – to love and hope and relationship. ‘My daughter’ he called me, as no-one had done for so long. And the crowd, who for so long had shunned me, saw me with new eyes – celebrated what had been done in their midst.

I heard that he went on to restore Jairus’ daughter to life – silenced the mockers by bringing her back from the dead. I know something of what that feels like. And all I did was reach out and touch him, reach out and touch him …

‘It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need.’ Amen.