Epiphany 2. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

Isaiah 62: 1-5; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11

I wonder what kind of response you have to receiving an invitation to a wedding or other big party event? Do you get excited and immediately get the date into your diary? Are you someone who goes through your wardrobe and begins to plan what to wear? Or are you one of those people whose anxiety levels are raised and who wonders whether it would be ok to decline the invitation? Perhaps you like the idea until it gets a bit nearer to the day when you start to look for excuses to change your mind. Do you need to know who else might be there? Or does it feel that there is no option but to accept?

And what about the guests at the wedding feast at Cana. Were they a mix of people who were up for a good night out and those who were checking the time, wondering how soon they could politely leave? We’re led to believe that there were plenty of the former – after all the wine had run out. Perhaps people were starting to think about going home – the wine was finished, maybe they were beginning to feel a bit weary. And then Jesus and his mother come into the story and the next thing we know is that the glasses were replenished with wine that was far superior – and the party was given a new lease of life.
If you’d been there and were thinking about leaving, perhaps you’d have stopped and thought again. Would you have been tempted by that glass of quality wine? Would the changed atmosphere have drawn you back into party mood? Would you have noticed the late arrivals whose actions changed the whole event?

We’ve spent a couple of years wondering when it’ll be time to leave the situation that we find ourselves embroiled in – when we can go home and sleep it all off and wake up in a world that feels a bit more familiar. It’s not felt much like a party, at least for most of us, and there wasn’t an option to decline the invitation, but we’ve certainly reached the point of weariness.

For some of us, there have been elements that we’ve enjoyed. Working from home has turned out to have a silver lining for a lot of people; there has been time and space to re-evaluate our priorities and many people are making different lifestyle choices as a result; societal views about what is important appear to have shifted to some extent.  Of course, for many people it has been a truly awful time – a time of isolation and fear; a time when life really has ground to a halt.

And that has all been true in a particular way within our church communities. There have been surprising benefits alongside the really difficult challenges. I’m not suggesting that we in the churches have been more impacted than other areas of life, but that the impact has perhaps been felt more acutely within our collective life. There are lots of places where people haven’t been able to gather in the usual way – theatres; cinemas; sports events – but those are places where the gathered community is different each time. In church, there is a core community that is the church – we are fundamentally about people not places. The focus is always on the gathering, on the formation of the Body of Christ in a particular place and time. Even when we are worshipping in this mixed mode of in person and online – our emphasis is on becoming community, becoming something more than the sum of our parts.

In the same way that a party is about the gathering and the fellowship, about spending time with other people in a particular way, so worship is about gathering and fellowship and a particular shared purpose and focus. That has been challenging when we haven’t been able to see one another properly – even when we are in the same building, we’re wearing masks and keeping our distance. But we have been able to read Scripture together, to reflect together, to pray together, to worship together.

One thing that is true about church is that wherever we are, and however weary we may feel, Jesus turns up. He may not always turn up in the way that we had anticipated, but Scripture reminds us that it’s only necessary for two or three to gather together, two or three with a shared desire to encounter God. Each and every act of worship has the potential to be the wedding feast, to be the event at which something miraculous happens and our outlook is transformed.

One of the features of a wedding feast is that everyone is served the same food, in the same space. There isn’t an elite who are treated differently; the bridal party eat the same meal and drink the same wine. A wedding party is perhaps one of the better examples within our society of an opportunity for an experience of equality; there isn’t a them and us. And we are told in this morning’s Gospel that it was at just such an egalitarian gathering that Jesus performed his first miracle. At an event where everyone who attended had access to the new wine; an event where everyone who attended shared the experience of being surprised by the man from Nazareth.

And that is why this story about tables laden with wine points towards something good, something that we want to know more about. The bride and bridegroom may have been the first to be told that something extraordinary had happened, but they didn’t keep the gift for themselves. There was suddenly an abundance of wine, much more than the gathered assembly was able to drink and it was for everyone. Poured out simply because it was available.

Jesus made a difference for everyone who was there; young and old, rich and poor, believer and unbeliever. For those who were at the top table and for those who were ready to leave. The new wine bringing with it a new understanding of God’s generous and abundant love for everyone. It was genuinely a gift, with no strings attached.

And that is what Jesus offers to us. In our weariness and in our newly discovered joys; in our isolation and in our opportunities to gather; when we feel important and when we feel insignificant, Jesus meets us where we are and brings us an abundant gift that has the potential to transform. A gift to remind us that God doesn’t make differences between people – that we are loved and honoured equally; that we are all invited to God’s party. The wine that symbolises this new life is freely and generously and abundantly offered.

The invitation to God’s party is issued to each and every one of us – we choose whether and when to accept.

Christmas 2. 2nd January 2022. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley.

Jeremiah 31: 7-14; John 1: 10-18

The first reading this morning is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah – the prophet whom we know as the one who always has a half empty glass, who appears to only be able to see doom and gloom. His name has become a shorthand for the pessimistic people we come across; those people we can be quick to label as Jeremiahs, and then equally quick to dismiss because they aren’t saying the things that we would like to hear.

Jeremiah is one of the Hebrew Bible’s major prophets. Not only is this book a significant piece of writing but he is thought to have authored, or co-authored, the books of Kings and Lamentations. In the first chapter of this book, we are told that God put his word into Jeremiah’s mouth. The word, that was then communicated by Jeremiah; the word that the people didn’t always want to hear; the word that didn’t always sit easily; the word that held them to account, reminding them of the times when they had chosen to turn away from God. The word that reminded them of their collective responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their community.

In many ways, we’re not terribly different from the people of Israel. We find ourselves looking for the shepherd to point us in the right direction, to help us stay on the right path, we’re wanting someone to tell us that things are going to be different. We want the problems, and the solutions, to be someone else’s responsibility.

We find our tribe and, to a large extent, we stick with it. By and large, that’s what had been happening with the exiled people of Israel. They stuck together, trusting – at least some of the time – that one day things would be different. They stuck together in adversity, presumably encouraging one another that one day they would find the promised land, that one day the persecution and endless travelling would stop. I wonder whether people had effectively stopped listening to Jeremiah – assuming they would know what he was going to say, the warnings that they had heard many times before. But this morning we’re reminded that, like most of us, Jeremiah wasn’t actually 1 dimensional. He has something different to say in this morning’s reading, his focus has changed.
What we read this morning is from a section of the book known as the Book of Comfort, or Book of Consolation. The voice we heard this morning isn’t the voice we assume we will hear, this morning’s verses bring a message of hope, a promise of change. Even Jeremiah, in the midst of thousands of gloomy words, heard God saying something different, responding to the prayers and hopes of the people.

The message is for the remnant of Israel – it’s not aimed at the great and the good, the kings or the leaders of the people. This is about change and hope for those who have survived, regardless of the shape they are in. It’s a message for the blind and lame, for those who are weeping and in need of consolation. It’s a promise to God’s people regardless of who they are and how unimportant they might consider themselves to be.

There’s a resonance with the Scripture that we have heard over the past couple of weeks. The story of the Incarnation, the gift of God’s own son to redeem troubled humanity.  The clear message of Christmas is that Jesus came as a vulnerable child, born into a hostile world where the rich and powerful used and abused their power; born into a world where people continued to devalue the humanity of others. He was born into a people who were still looking for the voice that they could trust, the voice that people would feel able to rally behind and to bring real change into their lives.

I wonder how much has changed. Our world is one where people are looking for the voice that will bring real change into their lives. Our world is one where power is abused, where the most vulnerable people are neglected, where the humanity of others isn’t always valued. Just think about some of the news stories over recent weeks. Desperate people drowning; children failed by the people who should have been caring for them; women frightened to be out alone; people in hiding because the Governments they worked for haven’t done what was necessary to ensure their safety. We wring our hands and tell ourselves and one another what a bad situation it all is. We can be quick to become those stereotypical Jeremiahs.

This morning, though, we’re reminded that Jeremiah had more to say than we imagine; more to say than perhaps his people were ready to hear. And we’re reminded that God continues to have more to say. The word was made flesh… the word that was put into Jeremiah’s mouth is now made flesh, the incarnate word has come into our world and dwelt among the people of first century Palestine as it continues to dwell among us. The word becomes something more than words; something more than guidance or advice – it takes on human flesh and becomes both words and actions. We don’t just hear what God has to say, we see and experience the ways of God in the incarnate son.

This is the God who becomes fully human, who lives and breathes and laughs and cries. It’s the full incarnation of the God whom we glimpse in Jeremiah’s book of comfort. And at the same time, it’s the incarnation of the God who uses Jeremiah to remind the people of the right way to live.

The baby in the manger may well be soft and cuddly. We’ve sung the sentimental carols that welcome the vulnerable child. But that child’s purpose is to show us the nature of God; to guide and shepherd us onto a path that just might change the shape of human interactions. That child grew into the man who brought us the wherewithal to turn mourning into joy, to bring comfort to all of God’s people.

Our world is one that is desperately seeking that comfort. Our world is one within which some people have turned so far from the ways of God that they commit atrocious acts of violence and cruelty. Our world is one where a narrative of doom and gloom is very easy to find.

Within that context, our task is to bring an alternative narrative; to offer a different take, to hold onto the message of hope that we have heard. Hope for a different future. Hope for a change of direction. Hope that God’s word might be heard and received in all the world.

It’s not easy to go against the crowd, to be the outlier whose perspective is counter cultural, but if the church doesn’t take on that role, then what is it doing? What would it be for?

And the church isn’t some authority figure out there putting words into our mouths, the church is only you and me – we are the only ones who can grapple for those words of comfort and hope and who might just find the courage to share them.

We are no more one dimensional than Jeremiah – we just may need to remind ourselves of that from time to time.

 

 

 

Advent 4. 19th December 2021. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley.

Do you remember back to the heady days of the summer when we were beginning to look forward to Christmas celebrations? The conversations about the catching up that we would all be doing; the plans to party – even for those of us who might not normally be party animals. There was anxiety about whether Santa would be able to fulfil all of his requests – international transport of goods was becoming difficult and the supermarket shelves were a bit depleted. The first Christmas adverts came onto the TV and they promised the best and most enjoyable Christmas ever. And then things began to change and we began to wonder whether life would be quite so open – but the possibilities still seemed greater than we’d become used to. And gradually, week by week it seems, our horizons have narrowed and our aspirations have been curtailed. It’s easy to feel miserable about all of that; to catalogue a list of ‘if onlys’ and to drift into a narrative of ‘making the best of it’. To some extent, that is the situation, but perhaps there’s a little bit more to reflect on.

I read a poem this week that really resonated for me.

Annunciation by the Welsh poet, Gwynneth Lewis.

When first he painted the Virgin the friar filled
the space around her with angels’ bright wings,
scalloped and plated, with skies of gold,

heavy with matter. He thought that he knew
that heaven was everywhere. He grew
older, wiser and found that he drew

more homely rooms with pots and beds,
but lavished his art on soft furnishings
and the turn of the waiting angel’s wings

(still gorgeous with colour and precious dust).
Much later, he sensed that his God had withdrawn,
was spacious. On smaller frescoes he painted less,

let wall be wall, but drew in each lawn
the finer detail of sorrel and weeds.
Still later, he found his devotion drawn

to nothing – shadows hinted at hidden rooms,
at improbable arches, while angel’s news
shattered the Virgin, who became a view

As open as virtue, her collapsing planes
easy and vacant as the evening breeze
that had brought a plain angel to his grateful knees.

 

Gwynneth Lewis’ reflections on the process of painting the Annunciation seem to speak right into the heart of where we find ourselves. We all, or almost all, find that despite ourselves, despite our very best intentions and resolutions, we are sucked into more busyness at this time of year than we might think is good for us. Even those among us who don’t send cards; who don’t decorate a large tree; who don’t leave it till the 23rd to remember that we need a gift for a particular person – even if you are that person (for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not) there is a bit more to do at this time of year – even if that is only to make sure you have enough milk and cat food to see you through while the shops are closed.

And there’s a temptation to make a bit of a virtue out of the busyness. So many people to think about; much mandatory jolliness and perhaps even a bit of silliness. There’s something about the energy that’s around that many of us enjoy and that kind of carries us through. There’s perhaps also something about the familiarity that serves us – the box of decorations that is a box of memories; the cards from people we rarely see but hold in our hearts; the first mince pie and glass of mulled wine. And, as I told the choristers this week, the first time we hear a favourite Christmas piece of music – which for me, incidentally, is Jesus Christ the apple tree. We tend to have quite a fixed idea of what makes Christmas for us. And then a global pandemic comes along and at least some of those things are no longer possible. The danger is that we then tell ourselves that this is somehow a lesser event; that we are making do; that next year we’ll have a real Christmas again.

The poem speaks about losing the busyness in the imagery; losing all that surrounds the central message; losing everything that isn’t crucial and stripping back to how it felt; how it made the artist feel.

If we strip back to how it feels; how it makes the listener feel; how it makes the one who says a prayer feel; how it makes the believer feel, can we find a way to connect with what Lewis describes as the shadows hinting at something more, the easiness of the evening breeze?

What is left for us in this pared back Christmas season? Once we let go of the trappings and trimmings, the big picture stuff, what do we find lurking? What might we catch just out of the corner of our eye? What’s that sound that we just caught that might have been a rustle in the trees?

There’s a gift in what we have, that isn’t the gift in what might have been, but has its own intrinsic value. There’s a gift in the solo voice for today’s music – the poignancy of a single voice drifting into and through this space. Completely different from the experience of worship that is supported by the choir, but no less of a worship experience.

There’s a gift in smaller gatherings. Being able to communicate with one another in a different way because we’re not part of a large group, not competing to be heard in a noisy space. There’s a joy in dressing up, but there’s also a gift in having a duvet day – snuggling up in your pyjamas to eat chocolate and watch box sets.

The big, grand Christmas services, the services that mark out a place like this, they tell out the story of a God who is awesome. A God whose love for humanity is overwhelming. A God whom we greet with shouts of adoration. A God whom we find in the colours and the socialising and the shared expressions of joy.

But that isn’t the whole story about God. The God we are more likely to encounter in the shape of our worship and our celebrations this year is the God who is present in the simplicity of Rob’s solo voice. The God who pitches up when just 2 or 3 are gathered. The God who we might just notice in the more spacious days or the quieter moments.

The God who calls us into a different kind of response, an unexpected response, a response that just might help us to have a more expansive understanding of who God is – and of who we are.

Mary and Elizabeth were just two women, sharing together the wonder and excitement and anticipation. Two women caught up in the experience they were living, ordinary women who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. They responded from a place of openness and wonder, a place of trust and belief. A place with space for God to be God and for them to be the people God needed them to be. No fuss; no trappings, just openness and the fleeting touch of an angel.

When first he painted the Virgin the friar filled
the space around her with angels’ bright wings,
scalloped and plated, with skies of gold,

heavy with matter. He thought that he knew
that heaven was everywhere. He grew
older, wiser and found that he drew
more homely rooms with pots and beds,
but lavished his art on soft furnishings
and the turn of the waiting angel’s wings

(still gorgeous with colour and precious dust).
Much later, he sensed that his God had withdrawn,
was spacious. On smaller frescoes he painted less,
let wall be wall, but drew in each lawn
the finer detail of sorrel and weeds.
Still later, he found his devotion drawn

to nothing – shadows hinted at hidden rooms,
at improbable arches, while angel’s news
shattered the Virgin, who became a view

As open as virtue, her collapsing planes
easy and vacant as the evening breeze
that had brought a plain angel to his grateful knees.

 

Advent 1, 28th November 2021. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

I don’t know about any of you, but I was a bit surprised to wake up this morning and find myself at Advent Sunday. Yes, of course, I knew in my head that’s where we are in the year – not least because I had to prepare this sermon – but I didn’t feel quite ready for it to be Advent yet again. I wonder whether that’s in part because we have lived through so much turmoil and change over the past couple of years. Our whole sense of how we inhabit our world and how we go about our lives has changed dramatically. We think twice about travelling; rather than filling our diaries with social engagements, we cautiously consider whether we might dare to do one or two things in the course of a month – making some kind of risk assessment in order to do so. There is so much new vocabulary – LFTs and PCRs are now acronyms that trip off our tongues. Two years ago most of us had no idea what either of them was. We’re having to revise or perhaps learn the Greek alphabet in order to keep up with the emerging variants.
There is sometimes a narrative that life has been on hold for the past year. But I’m not so sure that is true. Life has been challenging and unpredictable and subject to more restrictions, but it’s not stopped.

Life’s major events have continued to pepper the months. Babies have been born; couples have married; loved ones have been diagnosed with medical conditions – some have died. Children have started at schools and universities; people have started new jobs. Others have retired. Some jobs have come to an end. And in the midst of it all, we’ve continued to question and wonder – when will this all end; what will happen next; will things get worse before they get better. The public health messaging has encouraged us to be fearful, in order to ensure that we take the pandemic seriously. Other people are potentially vectors of infection and we are, rightly, encouraged to be wary of them.

Alongside our newly learned ability to live in pandemic times, we’ve also lived in a country that hosted the COP talks this year. Our understanding of the imminent pressures around climate change has been heightened – none of us could now imagine that doing nothing is an option. We are already experiencing changes in our weather systems; we’re seeing the impact on other parts of our world. And we are afraid.

The second verse from this morning’s Gospel reading could have been written for contemporary times and it doesn’t mince its words:
‘People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world’. (Lk 21: 26)

Well, there’s a reminder, if we need one, that fear about the future isn’t something new. From the very earliest of times, humanity has lived with the anxiety that disaster is just around the corner. If we think about the history told in the Hebrew Bible,  we read story after story of persecution; of nations fighting over land or resources; woes are catalogued, tribulations are spelled out. The narrative serves as a constant reminder that danger and threat are never far away.

If you were to read the newspaper headlines on any day over the past year or so, you would believe that things have never been so serious, that humankind has never been so threatened. And, of course, there are very good reasons for us to be concerned, even frightened. Very good reasons for us to take seriously the threats to our planet and our future.

But one of the things that we know about fear is that it is disabling. It stops us in our tracks and makes it almost impossible to have a rational or measured response to what is in front of us. We have a visceral response to fear that is biologically very helpful, but societally less helpful.

And that is where the New Testament writers have something to bring to the table. However frightened they are, however alarming their world may feel, they are driven by the belief that there will be unimaginable change within their lifetimes. There’s a real urgency in their writing – this morning we read: your redemption is drawing near. Something significant is about to happen.

Luke was encouraging his readers to see beyond their fear, to see beyond their immediate experience and to trust that things can and will change. Jesus says: when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads. Stand up and raise your heads. Fear makes people cowed and turned into themselves. Jesus encourages confidence, not fear. Jesus helps us to look beyond the immediate threat, to shift focus.

Acknowledge the fear for what it is, but know that it’s not the final answer. It’s not what defines you, it’s not what defines God’s people. It’s not the driving force in our world – and it’s not a force for positive change. Fear is a force for stagnation; it encourages people to hunker down, to lower their eyes, to make themselves small.

Change and movement come when we manage to find a place of hope. When we manage to lift our gaze to see beyond ourselves, beyond our immediate situation or environment and to catch a glimmer of light in the midst of the darkness. Change comes when we focus on that which is of God, when we look beyond the immediate towards the promises of the kingdom.

We are at a point in the evolution of our communities where we can either be disabled by fear or inspired by hope. Being hopeful, having a forward looking focus isn’t the same thing as being reckless. Of course we need to take the actions that we know mitigate against the threats that we face. So we need to continue to wear our masks and sanitise our hands. We need to continue to look for ways to reduce our use of fossil fuels and to waste fewer of the earth’s resources. We need to find ways to take care of the most vulnerable people within our world.  We can do those things whilst simultaneously moving our attention towards what comes next.

Within the church we don’t inhabit a place of stagnation. Our church year forces us to move from one season to another, from one focus to another. It stops us from getting too comfortable – or too uncomfortable, stops us allowing fear to completely disable us. Today, we are called by the church to begin, again, the story of our salvation. To begin again the story of God’s direct intervention into the life of our world. Over these few short weeks we will be retelling the story, re-experiencing the wonder and the joy. Journeying, yet again, to that stable in Bethlehem. And this morning, the preparations begin.

Laying the ground; retelling the stories that remind us of God’s promises to humankind; retelling the stories of hope and gift and redemption. Lifting our eyes and hoping to catch just a glimpse of God’s promise to us.

 

 

 

Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 2021. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost.

Lest we forget…

That line, from Rudyard Kipling’s poem Recessional, serves as a sharp prompt at this time of year.  There are the familiar, perhaps over familiar, words that speak into our very souls, ‘they shall not grow old as we that are left grow old…’ words that we will hear in just a few minutes – and then this stark reminder of why it’s still important.  Lest we forget.

This is the first verse of Kipling’s poem:

God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The poem isn’t war poetry, it was written 20 years before the start of the first World War, it’s actually a reflection on the Empire.  And the reader is being encouraged to remember that the world is God’s – that we have authority over our created world only as creatures of our God; that God’s hand is in and over all, and that we are God’s servants.

Lest we forget.  Lest we forget the sacrifice; lest we forget the price that individuals and communities paid; lest we forget the impact.

Our focus today is mostly on the World Wars of the twentieth century, but they turned out not to be the wars to end all wars.  Our world has continued to be scarred by conflict; young lives continue to be lost; young people continue to be scarred.

I want to tell you about someone I know.  I’ll call him George.  George was born in the early 1960s in a working family in Edinburgh.  He didn’t enjoy school and left as soon as he could.  He’d seen the recruiting posters for the army – sign up and learn a trade.  Sign up and see the world.  Sign up and have permission to leave home and enjoy yourself.  And so he did.

And he had a few years that were great fun.  He enjoyed the training and the camaraderie.  He joined the paras.  He lived in various places and felt that he was getting exactly what he had signed up for – and they paid him as well.  And then we went to war in the Falklands and George’s battalion was called up.  He and his mates found themselves on Goose Green.  George was beside his closest friend when he was blown up.  George was injured.

Fast forward 39 years and George still hears the sound of artillery; George feels the force of the blast that killed his mate.  George has physical scars that have healed over; he has internal scars that will never heal.  George doesn’t have the option of forgetting – the trauma is etched on his brain and he suffers.

We are privileged – we have the option to forget, or at least not to think about war.  We see conflict on our TV screens, we read about atrocities that are committed; someone, somewhere counts the deaths.  And tomorrow we may remember, and we may forget.

But George and those who fought with him in the Falklands, those who fought in Iraq and in Afghanistan and Ireland, those whose loved ones were massacred in Sarajevo and in Rwanda and in all the other conflicts that have erupted in recent years – they will never forget.   Each one of them lives with the scars that were inflicted.

The scars of war present in a whole range of ways.  I grew up in a city that had been scarred by war.  Whole streets had been destroyed.  Many street corners were simply rubble; a city filled with reminders.  By now, of course, all of those bombed sites have been built upon.  The new houses replace the old; the new shopping centres fill the gappy streets.  And new opportunities have emerged.  The recently bombed out cities that we see on our TV screens are at their lowest point at the moment, but there is the opportunity for new life to emerge – even in those places.

Let’s go back to Kipling and his reminder that the world is God’s – and all that is in it.  That we are God’s created people seeking, as we pray each week, to do God’s will.  Your will be done.

Your will be done.  The will of God is that all of humanity should be honoured and respected. The will of God is that our created world should be honoured and respected.  And war fundamentally disrespects.  It scars the land; it scars the ecosystem, it scars humanity.  And those scars are carried by those who have direct experience and by their descendants.

I’m not naïve enough to believe if we only all pray hard enough, people will stop hating one another and all conflict and war will cease.   Our vergers pointed out to me this week that there is a plaque in the North Aisle commemorating a soldier who died fighting in Afghanistan in 1879.  And that part of our world is still being destroyed, new scars are being created as we speak.

What I do believe though, is that healing is possible; that scars fade and sometimes become almost invisible.  And I believe that happens when the humanity of those who have suffered most is honoured.  Wars create stateless people; wars create bereaved people; wars create refugees and displaced people.  Not one of them has chosen their situation – longer term, there aren’t any winners, only losers.

Each one is a sister or a brother, carrying scars that I pray I will never have.  Carrying trauma and damage that, at best, they will learn to manage.

We don’t live in the midst of conflict, but we live in the midst of the impact of conflict.   And we choose whether or not we reach out to support and care for the refugees and the migrants; whether we have compassion for those whose misery originated in places far away, but whose fundamental humanity is no different from our own.   That may be seen as a political matter, but I want to suggest that it’s a humanitarian matter – that it’s a Gospel imperative.

Lest we forget – lest we forget those who gave their freedom in order that we might have ours; lest we forget those who live amongst us with the direct scars of conflict; lest we forget those whose scars are hidden; lest we forget that the impact of war reaches well beyond the boundaries of the battlefield; that the impact of war is with us and remains with us and changes us and our planet.

Let’s not forget.

 

Pentecost 24. Sermon preached on by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley. 7th November 2021

1 Kings 17: 8-16; Hebrews 9: 24-28; Mark 12: 38-44

Two of our three readings this morning feature a widow.  In biblical times – and well beyond then – women who had been widowed found themselves in a very vulnerable position.  They had no obvious means of support; they weren’t able to be financially independent; they were possibly perceived as a burden by members of their extended family; unless they had a male child, the future held nothing that was likely to change their situation.   In both of this morning’s stories, the widow represents the most marginalised and isolated members of the community, people with little personal agency.

The thing about widows is that they are people whose status within society has changed – they are outsiders who were once insiders.  They know what it is to be accepted and acceptable and then for that to change.

And the change is dramatic – from having a voice, having a place at the table, a purpose and a focus, to scrabbling round in order to survive.  We are thinking about women who have no value or agency in their own right, but who are only included in society in relation to a man who in some way has responsibility for them.  When the man goes, so does the status.

We know that there are places where, in the 21st century, women’s lives are restricted unless they have the permission and oversight of a male.  Invisibility, second class status, these are not things of the past; they are the ongoing experience of women, young and older, in many parts of our world.

Of course, that experience of not being seen or heard is not restricted to women.  Some of the most interesting interviews that I have heard from the COP attendees have been from people representing the smallest and most vulnerable island communities.  They are people who are doing, indeed who have already done, all that they can, and they are now pleading with the richer, more powerful nations, asking them to take seriously their responsibilities.  They may normally have little personal agency, and yet, they speak with voices that carry significant weight; voices that it is hard to dismiss,  voices that prick our consciences and demand that we see things through a wider lens.

These are people who challenge our ideas and perhaps assumptions about who is vulnerable.  We tend, I think, to imagine that vulnerability is about people with particular needs, whether that is to do with their health or their background or their living situation.  We focus on people who are clearly more vulnerable than we perceive ourselves to be, people to whom we might be able to offer a helping hand in one way or another.  Those people in positions of leadership within, for instance, Pacific Islands, don’t have those stereotypical vulnerabilities, but it doesn’t make them any less vulnerable.  They are within the international structures and simultaneously finding that those structures don’t really serve them.

Not noticed; not important – values turned on their head.  Those who thought they had agency have less than they imagined; those who were ignored now demand the attention and the ears of the world.

That seems to me to be a bit of a summary of what Jesus was teaching in today’s Gospel story.  The story is remembered for its second half, the widow’s mite  – I want to begin by focussing on the first couple of verses which begin:

Jesus said, beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…

Jesus is giving a clear message that when we look at people, we see how they present, not who they are.  There are those people who swan around in their swanky clothes and who put their energies into how they are perceived and how they are greeted.  Jesus is reminding us that those things are unimportant.  Those are not the values of the Kingdom; those are not the values that bring us closer to God.  The designer clothing or the flashy jewellery might make people feel as though they will be respected and therefore help them to feel better about themselves, but those are not the things of God.

It’s easy, if you have surplus money, to give some of it away – to a favourite charity or to the church or to a loved one.  Giving from a plentiful resource doesn’t require too much heart searching – the generosity of the wealthy philanthropist is wonderful and gratefully received, but is unlikely to impact on their day to day choices.

However, the generosity of the widow, the generosity of the marginalised person who has little and is constantly aware of what they have and the choices they need to make – that is a different kind of generosity.  That’s about sacrificial giving; that’s about faithful giving, about giving back with gratitude.

Thinking back to the COP and the marginalised peoples whose plight is most severe, they are the people for whom our sacrificial giving could make the biggest difference.  And those of us who have more than we need, those of us who are called by Jesus to care less about how we’re perceived and more about what we are able and willing to give – we are the ones who can make a difference.

The strongest voices advocating significant change within our communities and our civic structures are those of young people.   They are the ones who are calling out the hypocrisy; they are the ones who have lost patience with blah, blah and who are demanding that something happens.  Young people – those whose voices are often ignored.  Those who, like the widows, don’t normally have agency or authority.  And yet, they are speaking with authority.  They are telling it how it is.  They are not ready to settle for easy giving, for change that comes at little cost.  They know that what is needed is sacrificial change – and that the change needs to be made not by those who are most vulnerable and most affected, but by those who, at the moment, perceive themselves to be less vulnerable and less immediately affected.

They know that they need to beware of those who walk around in fancy robes and like to be greeted with respect.  They know that to be window dressing – game playing that our world no longer has the capacity to entertain.  They know that unless we, as national and international communities, take seriously this morning’s teaching, a sustainable future will be an even more distant dream.

We are the people who are still in a position to make choices.  We are the people who have the opportunity give sacrificially.  And we will do that when we find ways to give, not from that which we won’t miss, but to make those changes that we would prefer not to make.  We need to make sacrifices whilst we still have options; we need to make them from a place of love and respect for humanity, for our planet and for our God.

Pentecost 20. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley. 10th October 2021

Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 4: 12-16; Mark 10: 17-31

This morning’s Gospel reading begins and ends with journeying. Jesus was setting out on a journey when the rich young man came running up to ask him a question. And the passage ends with Peter speaking about following Jesus. We begin with an actual journey and end with a metaphorical journey. Inbetween these two points are some rather tricky questions and ideas. What must I do to inherit eternal life? I wonder whether that is really the question that’s being asked – or is the question a shorthand for something that you and I might be more likely to ask? I guess he’s asking: will I go to heaven? That’s a question I used to be asked regularly and what I quickly learned was that it was a kind of shorthand for a different question which was something like: what must I do to live a better life? Where am I going wrong? What must I do to better serve my God? What does it mean for me to take up my cross and follow Jesus?

The first answer Jesus gives to the rich young man – keep the commandments – seems to be a bit too obvious for our questioner – you can imagine him thinking ‘well yes, I know all of that’.
And so he asks, but what more? What more – what else is required of me? Give me a task or some clarity about direction, give me a challenge so that I’ll know when I’ve achieved it. It seems that the young man is thinking that these commandments aren’t too difficult to keep – they form the framework for decent living. It’s relatively easy to obey a commandment not to murder or to steal; a straightforward moral compass defines that line. But this is someone who wants more; who needs more; who wants to prove, perhaps to himself, that he’s serious about living a Godly life. And I think that’s true of most of us too. It’s not a struggle to live within the parameters that our society considers to be the markers of a civilised nation. We know that causing harm to others is wrong; that taking what doesn’t belong to us is wrong. It’s the desire to go a bit deeper in our spiritual journeying, the sense that we want to be a bit more committed to our journey with God that pushes us into asking, with the rich young man, what more?

And Jesus gives the questioner a real challenge. Go, sell all that you have. Let’s think a little about what that might actually mean. Jesus doesn’t say to him: Go, sell all of your material possessions; he doesn’t suggest that it might be time to declutter and get rid of the things he doesn’t use any more, he says sell what you own. This young man would have owned more than nice clothes and horses and chariots; more than property and land; he would also, as a rich and prosperous person, almost certainly have owned slaves. So, go sell all that you own, was a very big ask. He could perhaps imagine selling the clothes he didn’t wear any more; imagine selling horses and uninhabited houses; selling land that he didn’t live on or use. But Jesus is asking for much more than that. Sell all that you have. Sell your possessions and your investments. Sell all that you own – sell your slaves.  What Jesus is suggesting is that he has a complete change in his lifestyle and way of being in the world. Sell all that you have, if what you have is not only lots of things but also people to serve you and to make your life easy, sell all that you have really means turn your entire life around.

Give up your comfortable lifestyle – and more.
Learn to look after yourself, to manage all those day to day tasks with which you have probably never concerned yourself. Start a new life.

There are plenty examples, both in our contemporary world and in Biblical stories of people who set out to start a new life. This is the time of year when young people leave home for the first time to become students; the time of year when this year’s graduates become working people; children start school or start at a new school; newly ordained people begin their life in ministry. For all of those people there is something of a journey involved. That might be a physical journey to a different place but it’s also a psychological journey into a different sense of who they are and how they fit into the world.

The bronze sculptures at the High Altar illustrate a story that resonates with these thoughts. Naomi and Ruth were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. After Naomi’s son and Ruth’s husband died, they would not have been expected to stay in contact.  Cultural norms dictated that Ruth should travel back to her own people and Naomi would do her best to find her way in the world. But Ruth refused to leave the woman who had become her close friend. She committed to journeying with Naomi, both to a place where they could live and towards the God in whom they shared their faith.

If we were to ask, what must Naomi and Ruth do to live a better life, to reserve their place in heaven, the answer might be something about the quality of relationship between them, the care that they showed one for another, the confidence each gave to the other that they would not be left alone. It’s something about engaging with more than what might suit me or make me feel better about myself, and more about what I might do that helps someone else to feel better about themselves.

The more that seems to be at the heart of the question about how to live isn’t about more rule keeping, it’s about more generous giving, giving of self in order to make an impact for someone else.
The rich young man was told to divest himself of his worldly goods – and then to give the money to the poor. So he was being directed to make changes to his life that would have a beneficial and immediate impact on the lives of other people.

What can we do to have that kind of impact – for ourselves and for others? The Naomi and Ruth sculptures remind us that it’s about more than how we use our money, however useful or important that might be. It’s about giving something of ourselves, finding ways to sacrifice what might be more comfortable or more appealing and seeing a bigger picture. It’s about making a difference in other people’s lives and finding that one consequence is that we make a difference for ourselves.

Our journeys with Jesus require us to discern, time and again, what we are called to do; who we are called to be; how we are required to behave. Only then will we have some idea of what it means to live our best lives, lives that are pleasing to the people we try to honour and through them to our God.

Pentecost 14, 29th August 2021. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; James 1: 17-27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

Words from the letter of James: ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress’

We can’t help but despair at the distress that is in our world at the moment, at the increasing number of people being made widows and orphans, bereaved parents and distressed friends; observing people’s helplessness as their former colleagues and neighbours are left with little reason for hope.  It’s very hard to watch people’s pain unfolding in front of us, hard to imagine what people are going through – and yet at the same time we can’t quite turn away because there is enough resonance with our own humanity for us to feel something from deep within our beings.  The tragedy that is happening in Afghanistan is happening in a place that most of us will never visit; it’s happening to people that most of us will never meet – but that doesn’t make it something that is nothing to do with us.  Orphans and widows and deeply traumatised people will emerge from this conflict, and its impact will be felt for many, many years.

We’re beginning to understand that the impact of trauma is passed on through the generations.  There’s very interesting research at the moment into epigenetics which is an area of study into the way that our genes respond to situations without fundamental change being made to our DNA.  For instance, there has been a study into the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors which suggests that there are distinctive responses to traumatic events that aren’t learned, but are inherited.

The newly traumatised people of Afghanistan are, sadly, the latest in a long list of peoples who have experienced significant trauma and who have been forced to become refugees in other places.  Our Scottish communities are made up of people who have fled Bosnia and Syria; Rwanda and Sri Lanka – and many other places.  They include the children of slaves; the descendants of those who were cleared off the land in the Scottish highlands, the Irish who crossed the water during the potato famine.  And there are many more.  Perhaps your family history tells a story of escape from oppression or changed circumstances or some other kind of trauma.

Whatever our heritage and the intergenerational baggage that we carry, this morning we find ourselves, either physically or online, gathering to pray together, to sing together (despite the masks) and to share with one another, in order to form something that is greater than any one or two of us alone.  What does it mean to gather as one body – both in this place and online?  None of us changes physically but our experience tells us that something profound happens.   Being online doesn’t give us the same experience as being in the building, and yet, we know that when joining virtually is what’s available to us, many of us manage to imagine ourselves into the space, to feel that we have for this short time become a part of something that defies description and is very much more than the sum of its parts.

I don’t really understand what happens when some people are engaging in a way that might have been seen as passive observation, but I know from my own experience, and from feedback, that something more profound is going on.  One way to name it might be to say that the Holy Spirit catches our prayers and our intentions and holds them in a kind of web.

I think this is perhaps well illustrated by the Last Supper busts that are on our High Altar.  Each bust is constructed from broken pieces – no china was deliberately broken to make this art, they were all pieces that had already been damaged.  Those pieces of china were gifted and gathered and then lovingly pieced together.  The technique is called Kintsugi – a Japanese technique that mixes gold powder with lacquer to create a material that bonds, whilst having its own beauty and integrity.  If you look at the pieces – and there is one on your order of service (and hopefully on your screen) you’ll see that the gold creates a kind of web.  It’s holding together the eclectic mix of pieces which suddenly no longer seem to be random, but are a part of something much more significant than themselves.

We can perhaps imagine that each of us is represented by one of the fragments of china – and we are held by that gold mesh, held in a way that is hard to understand and that allows us to become something that none of us could achieve alone.  The form of the china hasn’t changed, but it has become something other than itself.

Those broken pieces represent, for me, our broken selves.  We come into God’s presence just as we are.  We bring our own stories and our histories, our concerns and our thanksgivings.  Some of our edges are perhaps a bit sharp and others have been smoothed over; some of our glaze may be a bit faded, some may be as new.  None of that is the important thing – what’s important is that the pieces are held by that golden thread, held in what I am suggesting is the love and grace of God.

Held in the love and grace of God.  Look again at the china heads and think for a moment about what is on the inside of those busts.  The outside of one of them is white – the patterned china is on the inside, so what we see is a more uniform piece, but we know it has hidden depths.  The other pieces may be plain on the inside but they will include all sorts of makers’ marks, perhaps little stains that didn’t wash off; maybe some of them have tiny shards of gold leaf that fell off during the making process.  What you see is some of what you get, but it’s not the entire story.

As we prepare, within our communities, to welcome and integrate new refugees, it will be important that we see them as more than their brokenness.  Those shards of china were worthless and not particularly beautiful when they were stored in boxes.  But thanks to the gifts of the artist, they have become something that has value – for what they are, for what they say, for how they engage with us.  That broken china has become priceless.  That didn’t happen immediately, and it didn’t happen without considerable input – of time and love and effort and expertise.  Our new neighbours will need similar attention if they are to flourish.

And it’s important for us, as well as for them, that they flourish.  Their culture isn’t ours.  Their religion may not be ours.  Their customs may seem strange to us.  But these are people who are formed in the image of God.  We can’t change their history, or ours; we can’t fix their country, but we can hold them in that golden thread of love and grace – and trust that God will do the rest.

As we become more aware of that love and grace, perhaps we can call on it to resource us to actively practice a religion that is undefiled: that cares for orphans and widows, cares for dispossessed people and their loved ones, truly engages with those who are distressed and shares, with them, the message of hope that underpins all that we are and all that we become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentecost 8. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley. 18th July 2021

Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Jesus has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul – or whoever was writing in his name – is naming the divisions that existed between those who were circumcised, that is those of Jewish heritage, and those who weren’t. It’s a good reminder to us that divisions between people – whatever their basis, are nothing new. From the earliest days of the church, people formed tribal groupings, made something of their differences.

I’m interested this morning in exploring that metaphor about a dividing wall. A wall creates a substantial barrier. You can’t see through a wall. You may not be able to see over it. It muffles sound so that what you hear through it can easily be misinterpreted. You can’t be sure what’s happening on the other side of a wall. People might be happy or sad; angry or relaxed; frightened or frightening. So when we can’t see people who are the other side of the wall, we are left to imagine who they are and what they are like – and that gives plenty opportunity for our imaginations to run away with us.  In the imagination of certain people in power, a wall offers protection. We see that in Israel and in the last president of the United States. Walls that were erected to keep some people out, to pick off those who aren’t like us. And do those walls offer safety or do they threaten safety?

We know, and are constantly reminded, that people can be very wary of anyone who appears to be different from them. I don’t know whether we are hard wired in some way to look for difference, as a tool for self-protection. I guess that at a time in human evolution when people lived within their tribes with limited access to travel, anyone who arrived from elsewhere was potentially a threat. We now live in multi-cultural communities, with -at least in normal times – easy access to anywhere within our world. Is there perhaps some kind of an evolutionary hangover that we need to manage?

In the letter to the Ephesians, the divisions aren’t between people who look different, or who come from different places; they are divisions between the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. The epistle puts it this way: you are no longer strangers and aliens…
No longer strangers and aliens. No longer people who we can imagine are different from us. No longer people on the other side of a brick wall but people whose faces we can see; people who walk the same roads, have the same concerns and worship the same God. Once we begin to notice what we have in common, what is not in common becomes less significant, less dominant. Once we’re on the same side of the wall, we can hear one another; see one another; begin to understand one another.

That’s true within our society and it’s true of the churches – when we stop to listen to one another, to respect one another – we discover that there is little that divides us and much that unites us. And what about within our communities, and within our church communities. What is it that causes us to create divisions, to look for what we don’t recognise, rather than what is very familiar? This isn’t about popularity, or being friends with everyone; it’s about seeing the Christ in other people, recognising that which is sacred within them and hoping that they can recognise and encounter the sacred within us.

Our Gospel reading touches on that same theme – the disciples found that they were in demand not because of who they were, but because of the hope for transformation that they brought. So can we think for a moment about the walls that we erect, the barriers that we create that allow us to hide and prevent us from taking the risk of sharing that message of hope for transformation. Taking the risk is infinitely easier if we can see the person in front of us, can read their body language and gauge their response. We find it easier to reach out to the people who are in front of us, to take a tentative step towards them in the hope that they won’t step away.

We could all rehearse the excuses we use to maintain barriers – there are probably as many as there are people within this building. We all know what we ourselves do, the behaviours that we excuse in ourselves when we might not be quite so generous to others. And we also know that we are called to follow the Christ who not only made no differences between people, but in whom we are promised that place of reconciliation and healing and hope.

There is actually nothing we can do that changes the behaviour and attitudes of other people. Change can only begin with us. Reconciliation and healing begin with us. Risk taking begins with us. But what we discover is that when we can find ways to reach out; when we can find ways to be open to Christ in our lives, working with and through us, then there is the space for something to shift. The wall may not be down, but there may be a couple of missing bricks through which we can see and communicate. There may be some loose stones that we can remove in order to better make contact and listen. And listening is at the heart of what will eventually make a difference. When we listen to other people’s stories, when we hear about their journeys, when we honour them for who they are and how they are, then we are beginning to live that life of discipleship. Then we are beginning to lay the ground for mutual respect and sharing, for everyone concerned to learn and to grow.

 

As we listen to people’s stories, recognising the resonance with our own and perhaps finding ourselves fascinated by the differences, we begin to see that what each of us brings strengthens and enhances what the other brings. We begin to really see that collectively we are more than the sum of our parts. And then, and only then, can we honestly begin to be the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we are able to move beyond hoping for transformation to acting on our longing for transformation. We are able to support one another to make small changes that collectively are noticeable. We are able to suggest and encourage and to dare to dream.

We might dream that one day the walls between us will be smashed; that one day we will have no need for places to hide, for artificial ways to imagine we are keeping ourselves safe – because we will let go of our fear. Our fear of the other. Fear of the stranger. Fear of the alien. In God there is no room for fear – God is love and we who know God know love. And love is the way, and the only way, to secure a future within which there are no strangers or aliens.

Pentecost 7. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley.

Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 14-29

Egged on by her mother, Herodias, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist. And it was delivered to her on a plate. It really is a bit of an unsavoury story – personally, I would prefer not to conjure up too detailed an image of the head on the silver platter, it’s very easy to make oneself feel quite queasy. And the reward was given as a result of a young girl dancing for a group of men – our safeguarding team might have something to say about that. But the basic story appears not to be disputed – either within the Gospels or from contemporaneous writing. Josephus records as a matter of fact that John the Baptist was beheaded. Even for the bloodthirsty Roman society of the time, this isn’t an everyday story.

What was it about John that caused him to inspire such extreme emotions? Let’s try to unpick a little about who he was and how he managed to generate those reactions. This was about something more than a man who was a bit of a nuisance, or who was annoying, this was about someone who, for whatever reasons had become a threat; someone who had become a thorn in the flesh and who, at the same time, couldn’t just be dismissed out of hand.
We read today that Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man. Herod liked to listen to him. So Herod’s relationship with John was complex. He liked to listen to him, but he didn’t always like what he heard. The early Gospel reports of John describe him as rather an unkempt and unappealing character – sharing his truth regardless of what people thought.

John seems to have been one of those characters who simultaneously attracts and repels. And we can recognise those traits – there are people whom we have all come across who draw us into their message, who have a magnetic presence and yet who at the same time cause us to look for the nearest route to escape. Those complex responses may be because we would prefer not to hear whatever it is that the person has to say – either to us or to the wider world; perhaps because their method of delivery makes it difficult for us to accept what they are telling; perhaps because they are just someone who seems so different from us that we find it difficult to relate their message to our own day to day living and decision making.

And then there are those charismatic characters who draw us in but leave us feeling uncertain about whether or not to really trust what they are saying. Those people who have an attractive and compelling personality, who seem to be talking a lot of sense – at least in the beginning – but who somehow have a dangerous edge.

Today is St Benedict’s Day and that first century monk can perhaps help us to navigate a way through these tensions. Right at the beginning of his Rule, Benedict says: listen with the ear of your heart. He’s suggesting to his monks and followers that they listen in a holistic way. If we just listen with our ears and process in our heads, we have a partial engagement with what we’re hearing. If we listen with the ears of our hearts, we’re engaging with a process of deeper discernment, allowing ourselves to respond intellectually and emotionally and spiritually to whatever we come across.

So rather than having an immediate and perhaps impulsive response to being told that something is good – or not good – Benedict is encouraging us to pause, to take the time to consider what we’ve heard and to check out whether or not it is of God.  And that is really the test. Is this something from God, and therefore, even if it’s something that doesn’t appeal to me, something that it would be right to do or explore? Or is this something that appeals to me and might make me feel good, at least for a short time, but is contra to what I understand to be God’s will? And how on earth do we discern the difference between these things?

Herod did know something about discernment- we’ve noted that he knew that John was righteous and holy. I wonder how he knew that. We gather that kind of information from a wide lens kind of observation. We will often have a gut instinct about someone – for instance if we encounter someone whom we feel that we might not be able to trust. We might have a physical response to that person, maybe raised hairs or an increased heart rate, and we are likely to attend to those feelings, at the very least to be a bit wary.

One of the ways we discern the nature of other people is by observing their motivation for engaging, or not engaging, with other people. We might notice those people who appear to give selflessly.  People who put themselves out for neighbours or friends; people who, when we are having a rough time, are the ones who stick around and offer to help in ways that make a difference. People who are generous in their offers of hospitality, who are flexible and accommodating. These are traits that we find attractive and which resonate with our understanding of what God might be asking of us.

If we see people in action, if we experience their way of being in the world, then we are much more likely to be in a position to see – and to hear them – with the eyes and ears of our hearts. To be able to take that rounded view, to consider a range of information.

So coming back to John. He was a rather unusual character, but he doesn’t appear to have had any self centred or selfish ambition. He endured all sorts of hardship, didn’t make himself popular, spoke truth regardless of the response.
Herod was right to see him as a man of God. And when we encounter charismatic people – either in the flesh, or even on some kind of a screen, they may at first sight be a little unusual or even intimidating. They may dress differently or have unusual ideas about diet. What they have to say might be inspired by God – and we owe it to them and to ourselves to check that out.

Benedict might offer some help here – towards the end of his Rule he says this: No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves but, instead, what they judge better for someone else. I think that it’s much easier for us to discern what might be better for someone else, simply because our personal desires don’t get in the way. So when we hear those challenging and potentially prophetic voices, let’s allow ourselves to measure their words and ideas against what might be better for other people. What might be better on a bigger stage. What might be better from a holistic perspective, trying to get past the clever words that can be so seductive and potentially destructive and finding ways to listen with the ears of our hearts.

We all sometimes need to be challenged; we all need to be encouraged to check out our decision making; we need to be reminded that we have a responsibility to others in all that we do. That’s an element of our Christian calling – that’s how we take seriously our promise to follow Jesus.