Epiphany 3. Sermon preached by the Vice Provost at Palmerston Place Church for the week of prayer for Christian Unity

A couple of days before Christmas I had an unwelcome phone call. It transpired that I’d been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid 19. The question was: are you at home? When I said yes, the response was: then stay there. No last trip to the supermarket; no last gasp of fresh air. Stay put for 10 days. We’re usually encouraged to plan ahead, to be prepared for at least the next few days, and to be self-sufficient wherever possible. And none of that was possible in that moment. With the answering of a phone call, everything changed.

This morning’s Gospel reading is about lives that were suddenly changed. There’s a simple word that’s repeated that is perhaps easy to overlook. Immediately. Jesus called Simon and Andrew and immediately they left their nets. And then he saw James and John and immediately he called them. We’re in Mark’s gospel which moves at a cracking pace and that movement is right at the heart of this reading. You can imagine an almost breathless reading of this passage – before we’ve processed one piece of information, the next is in front of us.
Jesus appears in people’s lives and there is an instant reaction, a response without hesitation. Whatever plans might have been around are simply yesterday’s news – and the focus and direction of travel have changed. That immediacy, that engagement without looking back to think, bypasses any cognitive reflection; there’s no time for that. This is the situation, and this is where your focus needs to be. There will be time to reflect and process later, but today’s task is just to act.

Over the past year all of our lives have changed more than once with very little notice. Lockdowns are understandably announced with almost no advance notice, no time for one last encounter that might be the vector for a new infection. The instructions are that we are asked to behave differently with immediate effect; to make sacrifices without any soul searching because that is what our society needs us to do.

We’re used to having more agency over our lives than that. I suspect that Simon and Andrew and James and John were used to having more agency over their lives, but the call was compelling, and they went. And, of course for us, the call to keep the rules, to make the necessary sacrifices is compelling. It’s the right thing to do.

The week of prayer for Christian Unity began in 1908 and is marked with varying degrees of enthusiasm by churches across the world. In our two congregations, it’s one of those dates that is in the diary as a standing item, a date that we don’t have to consider whether or not to engage with – we just do it. Not because it’s something we don’t want to think about, but because we know it’s the right thing to do; it’s one of the ways that we respond to the call of Jesus. And for us this week, that call centres on a reminder that we have far more in common than that which separates us. We may have different expressions of worship, different hymns and ways of praying – but they are all to the same end. They are all of no consequence in themselves but have a value because they are about our relationships with God, our desire to respond.

Many of us were very moved by the inauguration of Joe Biden and, in particular, by the poem that was written and read by Amanda Gorman. I want to quote just a few lines from that poem:

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

In a world that has been fractured in many different ways and on different continents, the need for a clear message of hope, a message that emphasises common goals not divisions, has never been stronger.
That need for harmony was expressed visually at Biden’s inauguration. The significant women all wore purple as an expression of the coming together of red and blue, the need for discourse rather than disruption. Our communities need us to convey that message. Our local communities need us to witness to the new life that will surely emerge. Our communities need us to model a way of being church, a way of being active members of the community, a way of creating space to heal, space to grieve. And there is no better way to witness to that than to stand together; to speak together; to have a common message and invitation.

I was delighted during the last lockdown, during the time when we were able to have our building open for personal prayer, that some members of Palmerston Place Church volunteered to welcome visitors into the Cathedral. It became apparent that there was a real appetite for people to venture in and to take a moment in whatever way was best for them. Many people lit a candle; some wrote in the book of condolences; some added to our prayer tree and some prayed as they walked the labyrinth.

What was important was that together we were able to offer that hospitality, to be a place where ‘even as we hurt we hoped’. One day, our lives will change again. One day we will be allowed to mix with family and friends.
One day we will be allowed to meet in our church buildings, to see people’s faces, to go to the theatre or the cinema or on holiday. One day. However, I suspect that when that day comes, many of us will be cautious. Many of us will find it hard to revert to our previous patterns of life, to what we once called normal. And I guess that most of us will find a way to something that is a new normal. We’ll work out what is most important to us, where we want to spend our time and our energy.

Simon and Andrew, James and John, left their boats and stepped into a life that became their new normal. They trusted Jesus enough to choose to invest their time and energy in following him. As we live with hurt and look forward in hope, this morning is a reminder that we may not know the shape and form of the new normal, but that we do know that when the time is right, Jesus will call us there. And I hope that we won’t hesitate, that we will follow.
We know that by working together, journeying together, we are strengthened, our witness is more significant, our message is clearer.

We’re not the same, those disciples weren’t all the same, but they were able to come together and to model something new. That’s the opportunity that is available to us if we are only able to find ways to work together and to simply turn our faces in the direction of the call and respond.

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

How many Magi were there? Look at our Crib in front of the altar and there are 3. Look at some of the Christmas cards you received or sent and you’ll find 3. Go to a Syriac church and there may be as many as 12. The Magi only appear in Matthew’s Gospel and if you look carefully at the text you’ll see that he actually doesn’t tell us how many there are. The traditional 3 is based on the assumption that one person brought each of the three gifts. Look again at those cards or other depictions and you’ll see that they’re all men. But there’s no reason to make that assumption either. All that we’re actually told in the story is that some visitors came from the East bearing gifts.

So let’s think about who they were and why we’re hearing about them at all. This morning’s Gospel gives us the scene where Matthew begins to lay the groundwork for what is to come. The visitors arrive with their symbolic gifts and, in so doing, tell us something about the child in front of them. They tell us who he is and, in the manner of a good whodunnit, lay clues for the reader to unpack.
So when that sign is written over the Cross on Good Friday, there’s an echo of something that we came across right at the beginning of the story.

The Magi represent people who aren’t the primary audience for this Gospel. It’s generally assumed that Matthew was writing for a community of Jewish converts – people who would know the Hebrew Scriptures but who would now count themselves amongst those who followed Jesus Christ and knew him as Messiah. So, for those early readers of Matthew, the Magi are, first and foremost, people who are not like them. People who perhaps looked a bit different; maybe they had different cultural norms; different ways of dressing; different accents or turns of phrase. Right at the start of his Gospel, in the opening chapters, Matthew is forcing his readers to look at the stranger, at the person they may have made all sorts of assumptions about. And he puts that stranger right at the centre of the good news, right at the heart of the revelation that this baby was going to change the face of history, was going to change the story of humankind.

Last week we read Luke’s Gospel and the revelation to the faithful – to Anna and Simeon. Matthew doesn’t tell that story, his revelation is to those who hadn’t spent their lives waiting and praying, to those who were seen as other.

Let’s think a bit about who the Magi might represent for us, who they tell us something about in contemporary society. Think again about those Christmas cards and one of the things you might see is that the Magi aren’t all white skinned. There may well be black and brown faces, faces that don’t look like the Holy Family in most depictions of the nativity and don’t look like the shepherds and angels either. Look at their clothing – no everyday tunics for them but rich colourful robes, jewels and baubles. These are people who’ve journeyed, people who appear to be a bit exotic. They’re different from Matthew’s audience, but they’re also different from one another. If we were writing the story for a 21st century audience, how would we portray them? Would they be intrepid explorers or asylum seekers? Students on a gap year or members of a cult? Scientists or artists? Or all of these?
What they are actually representing for us is diversity. They tell us not just that the Good News is also for the Gentiles, they tell us that the Good News is for all people whatever they look like, however they sound, whatever they wear, whatever their education. The Good News doesn’t discriminate. The visit of the Magi is a clear indication that the Incarnation isn’t just for the existing members of a community, or for those who have dedicated their lives to seeking and waiting. The Incarnation is for all of humanity in all of its shapes and sizes. It’s for the people who look and behave like us – and for those who don’t. Not only is the Incarnation for those who are very different from us they’re not even required to become like us. They are simply required to be themselves.

Within the church, that’s something that can come as a bit of a shock. We understand the concept of being open and welcoming to everyone who comes through our doors, and we try very hard to manage that. We want people to feel comfortable. But whether we want some of those people to stay just the way they are is altogether a different question.

What most of us usually want is to feel comfortable and to feel that we fit in – one of the reasons we find people who are different from us difficult is because we ourselves want to fit in, want to feel that we belong. We make all sorts of judgements on a daily basis to help us achieve that goal. We choose where we shop, where we go on holiday, where we go for a night out (when that’s allowed) according to an internal compass that helps us work out where we will feel most comfortable, where we fit. Effectively, we create a comfort zone for ourselves.

In normal times, Christmas is a comfort zone time of the year. We have our family routines and traditions that help us to celebrate the joy of the Incarnation. This year hasn’t been like that and I wonder how many of us have been able to find that comfort zone, to filter out, even for a few hours, the international crisis that is our context. In the midst of all of that, St Matthew’s Magi have a message that may be more important this year than in previous years. The Magi are a reminder that whoever we are, whatever our situation, our context, our challenges, the Incarnation is for us.
Wherever we’ve come from – either physically or metaphorically – and wherever we’re journeying to, the Christ child is here in our midst and sharing our lives. Whatever our spiritual lives have been like over the past year, whether we’ve worshipped in church or on-line; whether we’ve been faithful in prayer or distracted by anxiety; whether we’ve kept the good intentions that we had when we began the year… all of that is less important than the clear message that God knows us and accepts us just as we are.

That doesn’t mean that we can sit back and do nothing. What the Magi did was they turned up. And what God asks of us is that we turn up. Turn up for the quiet few minutes of prayer; turn up for the worship that is accessed through your computer; turn up for the time you allocated to read or listen to music or meditate or whatever you find most helpful. But do it – make the journey that you need to make. The Incarnate Christ is here for you and for me – for the people like us and the people we struggle to comprehend. Gift or no gift, all are welcome.

 

 

 

Advent 4 – Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee. Gabriel had been rather busy, he’s a pretty significant character in Luke’s telling of the story. In the previous section of this chapter of Luke, we read about Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and Elizabeth, bringing them news about an impending birth and giving them an instruction about the naming of their child. And here he is again, bringing news about another, even more significant birth.

Traditionally, angels are messengers, messengers from God – arriving without any warning and often bringing unexpected news. Gabriel came with very personal messages – he wasn’t broadcasting to a community, or sharing general information. His messages were targeted and precise. And they took the recipients by complete surprise. The surprise doesn’t seem to have been about the physical being of Gabriel, however that manifested, but about what he had to say. We’re not told that Mary was perplexed by his presence, but by his words. She pondered what kind of greeting this might be. So Luke is clearly telling us that this is about listening, rather than about seeing.
It’s not for me to speculate, perhaps, but I suspect that most of us won’t experience a visit from Gabriel – but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a message for us. So how do we hear what God has to say to each one of us? Where is that angelic voice for those of us who won’t go down in history, or Scripture, but who are still called by God to listen and to respond.

God communicates with us in all sorts of ways – through Holy Scripture, through the ordinary, everyday people we encounter, through the arts – poetry, painting, music. Thinking about the content that Gabriel communicated, he brought one clear message. It wasn’t complicated; it didn’t need preparation or anything to be worked out before something happened. He came and said: this is the situation – and this is what God requires of you. When we think about hearing God’s word for us, we can often be looking or hoping for a plan – for an idea of what might happen several steps down the road. We’re often hoping for a big word, a significant message. We want to look into the future, to imagine where we might be in a few years time.
But look back at Luke’s gospel and what we see is that all that was imparted was one single piece of information and, of course, what followed was life changing – and, indeed, world changing, but the future wasn’t laid out, just the next step was articulated. At the heart of the response to the angel is an ability to trust, to be obedient – and to have the courage to stick with that regardless of how improbable things appear to be.

God’s word for us may come in many forms. It seems obvious to say that might be in the context of worship and prayer. That could be during a service, whether in person or online, or in personal prayer time. There are things we can do to make it more likely, to create a space for ourselves that is more open, more receptive. For instance, if we’re in church, we stand for the Gospel reading. One of the reasons to do that is that we’re doing something different with our bodies – we make a movement that takes us into a different physical space, and by doing so we’re automatically shifting our attention. When we stand we breathe differently, our bodies are more open, and that may mean that our attention is also more open.
And what we’re standing to do is to listen. The words may be in front of you, but the core task is to listen. Listen for a word or a phrase that resonates. Listen for the moment when something internal shifts. Listen for what is sometimes called the movement of the Spirit.

Our liturgy, the framework within which the service is shaped and formed, includes very many words. Those words can wash over you – and sometimes that’s what we need them to do. At other times, there may be a word or a phrase that is just the thing you need to hear today. It may be a phrase you have heard hundreds of times; it may be a newly written prayer that suddenly catches your attention. The temptation is to rationalise and to see those moments as interesting, to catch them cognitively and then move on to the next thing. I’m suggesting that you allow yourself to see them as significant. As angel moments when a message is perhaps being brought to you.

Of course, angel moments don’t only happen in church. Angelic voices come to us in all sorts of situations – and almost always when we least expect them. I’m not thinking here about what we often describe as angelic acts, however important they are, but about messages. About the thing someone says – whether or not it’s someone you know – that just lodges in your mind and begins to bother you. That thought or suggestion or thing you read that doesn’t go away. The nudge that can feel a bit like a scab that demands attention.

We can have angelic message moments when we engage with the arts – one of the great losses for our world over the past 10 months has been the silencing of arts performances, and the limited access there has been to galleries and exhibitions. The line of a poem or the phrase in an aria; the emotional response to a piece of music or a painting. These are the moments that we rush from to our own detriment. These are the moments that have the potential to open things up, rather than shut them down. And they may well be moments that touch into something that we would rather not know or hear.
Making ourselves open to those angelic voices doesn’t necessarily come easily to us. Making ourselves more open is a bodily thing as well as a listening thing. We’re more receptive when we listen with our whole selves, when we pay attention with our whole selves.

We may well know that if we act on what we have heard or felt, something will shift. And that may feel scary; that may feel dangerous or counter cultural. We may wonder about how we would be perceived; whether people we know would think differently about us; whether we would suddenly be labelled in a way that was uncomfortable.

Look at how Zechariah and Mary responded. Neither of them took the easy option. They each had the confidence and the courage to say yes. To go with what was happening and to trust that wherever it took them, they were doing God’s will.

What does it then need for us to find the courage to say yes. Having recognised a message that could perhaps be from God, we’re still left with a choice.
That choice may be easier when we remind ourselves that we’re not breaking new ground; we’re simply following in the footsteps of those who have heard and responded in the past. And the two examples we have in Luke’s gospel are of very different people – an older man and a young woman. Those two examples perhaps give us the confidence to dare to believe that it could be us that God needs; it could be us who have been given a message and have the choice about whether or not to respond. It could be us who are called by God to have courage and to take a risk.

May we have the strength to make ourselves open to hearing and trusting – and then to acting.

Advent 1 – sermon preached in the Cathedral by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

The spiritual exercises of St Ignatius are one of the gifts from the Jesuits to the wider church. Included in those exercises is the Contemplation on the Incarnation. Ignatius was very keen on imaginative prayer and in this exercise he invites us to imagine the three persons of the Trinity looking down on the earth and contemplating what is going on. Ignatius suggests that they see: men and women of different sizes, shapes and colours; rich and poor; old and young. People speaking different languages. Some being born; others dying; some running and playing, others sick and suffering. Some laughing, others crying. Some screaming and shouting, others praying and singing. And it is into this complex and colourful scene that Jesus will be born.

Let’s imagine that the persons of the Trinity are looking at the earth just now. They will see much that is familiar – people living in different places and speaking different languages; people being born and others dying; people cooking and eating and growing food and making things. But wait, things don’t look just as might be anticipated. There seem to be a lot of people who aren’t going out to work.
Those who do go out are all wearing face coverings. The places people used to go after work aren’t open. The world looks familiar and yet different.

Do you remember back in March and April how we all commented on the pleasure of walking in streets that were almost free of traffic. We noticed the air quality; we had time to observe the changing of the seasons. Working from home had some advantages – without commuting time, the days seemed longer.

But as we continue our observation, we begin to see the other impacts of this pandemic. Not just the enormous loss of life; not just the impact on our frontline healthcare professionals; not even the massive impact on our economy – all of those are important, and will have lasting consequences. But let’s begin to look at what has happened to individuals. To those people who live alone. To those people who have underlying health conditions.
To people who live far away from their loved ones. To people in residential care. We can see people becoming more and more isolated, more separated from the community around them.
And we’re reminded of the importance of the connections that we make with one another; the importance of gathering, of spending time in the same physical space as other people. One of the things we might note is how important this building has been for people – even when we weren’t able to gather 50 people in this space, the fact that we were able to record our services made a difference. People were able to see the different parts of the building, to remember the acoustic and the colours, the space and the architecture. It was possible to feel a bit more grounded when everything else was in a state of complete flux. It is into that state of flux, that changed world where uncertainty has become our norm, it’s into that world that we will welcome our Saviour.

This liturgical year, we read the narrative of the Incarnation and engage with the Scriptural stories through the lens of Mark’s Gospel. Now Mark is the Gospel writer who doesn’t mess about; none of the fluffy Christmas card imagery for him – for Mark, the focus is on who this Jesus is.
And on this first Sunday in Advent we’re not starting at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, but towards its end. This morning’s question isn’t about how Jesus came into the world – rather it begins to tease out the why question. We’re offered an extraordinary contrast between the darkness and despair of before and the glory and fullness of the after. We’re reflecting on the Incarnation which is not about the baby Jesus coming into a settled world but about incarnate Jesus coming into a world that was dark and troubled.

We live in a world where people are desperate to hear that something will change. We’re in a time when there is an acute need for signs of hope. We can see that in our communities, where people can’t wait to put up their Christmas decorations, can’t wait to bring a bit of cheer into their lives. And the decorations will undoubtedly lift people’s spirits for a while.

Lifting spirits and bringing real hope are two very different things. If we can find a way to hear and respond to the hope that is offered in that Ignatian contemplation, something more fundamental might change. In that exercise, the three persons of the Trinity observe and reflect and then make a decision that the time is right for the second person to dwell on earth. We’re actually being asked to reflect on God’s response to our plight and to the plight of our world. It’s an exercise that assumes God’s involvement with and care for all of God’s creation.

This morning’s Gospel gives a clue about how we might begin to know that it’s true. We’re encouraged by Mark to notice the smallest of signs, and to trust that the first small sign will be followed by a second and a third.

If we rush into a secular Christmas, we miss the darkness and the despair that is inherent in the story of humanity. We miss the struggles and the questions and the anxieties. We miss the opportunities to notice those incremental changes, those fleeting moments when something shifts.
We miss the cycles of life that are crucial to the health of our natural world.

If we go back to our observation with the Holy Trinity and just listen, we’ll hear a lot of people speaking about waiting. Waiting for results; waiting for things to change; waiting for information; waiting for the moment when they can do whatever it is they’re missing. We have been in a season of waiting for several months. And now, we’re in this liturgical season of waiting. We know, because we’ve heard these narratives over and over again, that something mind blowing happened and continues to happen in our world; we know that the Christmas message of hope will bubble up again this year as it did last year and will do next year. But that’s not where we are yet.

Ursula Fanthorpe captures something in her well known poem BC:AD

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After

That moment, that movement is a few weeks down the track. Just now, liturgically, we’re in the before time; we’re in that place where we wait and we anticipate. And we need to live through these moments in order to find ourselves in the moment when everything happens – the moment when light floods the darkness, when in the midst of whatever else is going on in our lives and our world, we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

Our celebrations this year will be like none we have ever known. Restrictions at home; restrictions at church. Pantomimes cancelled. Carol services online. That’s the reality of this particular Before and After.

The reminder is that whatever the Before and After are like, the Christ child will come into our midst. We will find ways to hope, ways to love, ways to glorify God. And in so doing we will have the Advent and Christmas that is for this time.

Pentecost 24 – Sermon preached by Professor Paul Foster – 15th November 2020

Matt 25.14-30; 1 Thess 5.1-11

 

On the day I write this sermon we have just received news that appears to signal a break-through with the development of a vaccine for covid-19. The announcements from the leaders of our nation appeared not to be triumphalist, but better characterised as hopeful and relieved. At last there was some hope. However, that hope was tempered with a degree of caution. We were told that doctors are “standing ready”, and that while indications are positive testing is ongoing and the clinical safety trials are still being conducted. Matt Hancock the Secretary for Health urged people to be patient reminding us in his own words that “we just don’t know when the vaccine might me ready.” So we are in that strange in-between period. It is too soon to conduct life as we want it to be. The promise of a vaccine might lead some to give up restraint and to behave more recklessly. Yet in this interim period the thing that is required is to exercise self-control and to continue going about our socially-distant tasks as best we can.

Our readings today are about the in-between period. The gospel reading, known as the parable of the talents, relates the behaviour of servants between the departure and the return of the master of the house. In the reading from 1 Thessalonians, Paul instructs the fledgling community of Christ-believers how they should live in the interim period while expectantly awaiting the return of the Lord.

We are probably all familiar with the parable of the talents – three servants entrusted with different amounts of money which they are instructed to use to generate a profit on behalf of their master while he is away. They receive differentiated amounts according to their abilities. This is a shrewd master. He entrusts more money to those he considers adept at making money. The first two slaves generate a hundred percent profit. By contrast, the third slave returns the money untouched, with the excuse that he knows his master is a hard man. The master has not lost anything, yet he is furious. Berating the third slave as wicked and lazy, he strips him of the single talent and gives it to the slave who made the most money. The basis of the anger of the master is that the slave has not even attempted to make anything of the opportunity given to him. He simply has not tried. During our period of lockdown we have been given new opportunities and time to learn new skills. We are probably all better at digital communication than we ever imagined we would be, and at least in my case ever really wanted to be. However, the reality is that it probably has not been quite as difficult as we anticipated. Those of us who have been receiving payment from our employers have hopefully striven to do meaningful work albeit in new ways and by learning new skills. Some of course have not been fortunate. Many have been made redundant without the opportunity to develop new ways of working.

However, what our parable decries is not the person who has had no opportunity, but the individual that despite being resourced and encouraged choses to do nothing. In the vivid language that creates the stark binary fates depicted in the parable the two good servants are commended: ‘well done good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master.” By contrast, the fate of the unproductive slave is graphic and final – the worthless slave is cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. With this image the conclusion of the parable moves away from the setting of a first-century Eastern Mediterranean household comprising of a master and his servants, to a depiction of the final fate. In stereotypical apocalyptic language the outer place is represent and dark and full of grief and torment. The message of the parable is clear – do not end up in that place. While the master is away be productive, go about the master’s business to the best of your ability. Each of us is to use the abilities or talents provided and not to be lazy.

Towards the end of the parable we read the pithy maxim, “to everyone who has shall more be given … but from the one who does not have even what he does have shall be taken away.” I believe to every single one of us in this place much has been entrusted. Even by the unmerited fortune of being born into or living in a society free from war, with the provision of education, health care, freedom of religious expression and so on, we have the luxury of living relatively free lives – even during a period of lockdown. So how have we spent our time during the lockdown? Have we watch too many episodes of Judge Rinder, or binged on Netflix, or have we used the time productively in the service of the Master. To each of us to whom much has been entrusted, much will be required. Will we hear the commendation of “well done good and faithful servant … enter into my rest.” Or might there be other words waiting for us.

Paul writes to a newly formed community of believers in Thessalonica, (modern Saloniki). This may well be the earliest of Paul’s letters preserved among his surviving writings. He has motivated the community to remain faithful by informing them that the Lord will return for them. In this regard, Paul would be very happy to recite with us that line in the creed that states, “he will come again in glory.” However, he has to correct a misunderstanding about what the coming of the Lord means for believers. In the previous chapter, it appears that some have “downed tools” because they have heard that Jesus is coming back soon. We can only imagine that they reasoned to themselves that if the Lord was about to return, then the best thing they could do was wait and not worry about the mundane activities of daily life. I am reminded of two contrasting attitudes expressed about the return of the Lord. A reporter asked a political leader in a country that has recently had an election (I am sure you cannot imagine where I mean) how as a professing Christian he could condone such destructive treatment of the environment. The politician replied that he believed that the second-coming of Christ was not far away, so it did not really matter what one did with the earth since there would be a new heaven and new earth. The only response to that view is a profound shaking of our collective heads, and despair that the gospel imperatives can be so badly understood. The second response was not from a contemporary politician, but from a person called Martin Luther. He was asked what he would do today, if he knew the Lord was returning tomorrow. Luther paused, he thought, and he replied, “then I would plant a tree.” That appears to be the response of a good and faithful servant.

In the face of the excited fervour of the Thessalonian believers to the promise of the return of the Lord, Paul tells them, “to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” He reminds them that the day of the Lord, like the return of the master, will be at an unexpected hour and will arrive like a thief in the night. His advice is to hold that as a quiet confidence, without either retreating into inaction or engaging in wanton behaviour. The Thessalonians are, in Paul’s words, to draw confidence from knowing that “God has destined us … for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The behaviour that is to emanate from such knowledge is twofold. First, Paul says that in regard to wider society, the Thessalonians are to go about their lives and business in a manner that is exemplary. It is almost to be the case that those outside the community of faith would not know that these believers were eagerly awaiting the return of Christ. Second, in regard to those who are part of the community of faith, Paul states that knowledge of Christ’s return is a basis for encouraging one another.

At the moment we are living through an interim period of waiting for a vaccine that will release us from the limitations imposed on us by the current pandemic. In many ways, as Christian believers, we should be better equipped to live though a liminial or in-between period than most. The Christian life is one of provisional anticipation. Yet, the message of Paul and the message of Jesus himself in the parable is the same. Hope for that better future when we shall see the Lord face-to-face is never a reason to cease a life of service to others. In fact it is the basis for encouraging one another and for striving to help the broken, the down-trodden, the rejected, and the unloved so they may share the healing love of Jesus. Do we believe that “Christ will return in glory” as we state when we recite the creed? I believe we do. What that means is living the best lives we can in the here and now, in the knowledge that the Lord whom we serve without him seeing in the present, in the same Lord whom we will worship and adore when we see him face-to-face. For our Lord is the one to whom belongs all might, majesty, dominion and power, both now in this world and in the unending age to come. Amen.

Pentecost 21 – sermon preached online by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

I turned on the radio the other day and a familiar, and for me much loved song was playing – Woody Guthrie’s ‘This land is your land, this land is my land’. Guthrie wrote the song in 1940 as a response to Irving Berlin’s ‘God bless America’. Guthrie was deeply aware of the inequalities within American life, the real struggles that were a daily reality for the many whilst the few lived a very comfortable and insular lifestyle and he was offended by what seemed to him to be Berlin’s blinkered sense of how America was experienced for most of its people. It’s a song about injustice, recognising that for those who were not able to live the American dream, America wasn’t the land of milk and honey.

In this morning’s reading from the book Deuteronomy, we reach the end of Moses’ life. Over recent weeks we’ve journeyed with him – from the bulrushes and the access to a privileged life that he gained when he was discovered there, through to his growing understanding of the injustice inherent in the way his people were treated and his subsequent leadership during the Exodus.
In this morning’s reading, Moses looks out over the promised land, the land that he will never reach and yet which represents a promise that has shaped his life. More than 3000 years later, people continue to look out over land that they will never reach or never inhabit. People look out over land that they once inhabited and have left either because of conflict with neighbours or because the land has become uninhabitable as a result of changes in the climate. And people continue to live with inequality of opportunity simply as a result of where they were born. That inequality of opportunity has been amplified by the global pandemic; it’s becoming clear that more affluent, more sparsely populated areas are less affected. That people whose life expectancy was already below average are more likely to suffer severe symptoms or to die. It’s also become clear that there are parts of the world where a global pandemic is a secondary concern; places where the severity of daily conflict is the only show in town.

I confess that until recently I knew nothing about the situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagoro Karabkh. I was asked to do something that required me to research a little about that conflict – and I discovered that members of the Armenian Apostolic Church look out over land that is disputed and which, for them is part of their promised land. And I know that there are many other conflicts that I know nothing about, many other regions where communities are unable to live peaceably alongside one another; many other parts of the world where land is disputed and blood will continue to be shed.

There was a time, before the days of globalised markets and cheap travel when it was easier to see those conflicts as happening somewhere else, amongst people we’ll never meet and whose cultures we don’t understand. That doesn’t really wash any more. Conflicts are brought into our living rooms; their impact on the production of food and manufactured goods is seen on our supermarket shelves.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear about what is required of those who seek to follow him; after you have exercised your responsibilities to your God, then you turn to what is required of you in your day to day life and it’s just one commandment: love your neighbour as yourself.

Love your neighbour as yourself – that sounds like a very straightforward way of dealing with the kinds of territorial disputes I was describing; we can imagine how it might be a way of beginning to address the privilege gap that is at the heart of the inequalities in our Western societies; we may even begin to see that it could be an approach that would impact on the pandemic.

But how? If only it were a simple as that sounds. Love your neighbour as yourself. Clearly the starting place is to love one self. And for many reasons, that isn’t easy, especially for those of us who have been brought up in polite British society. We can be very good at putting ourselves down, at seeing ourselves as perhaps less than we are, rather than as more than we are.
Think about how we tend to respond if someone pays us a compliment. Either we brush it aside or we try to make a joke about it. Few of us are good at just saying thank you and actually believing that we did something well, perhaps exceptionally well. Or we find ways to diminish the things that we do well – that’s an easy task; anyone could have done that…. We don’t find it easy to value ourselves so how can we possibly find it easy to love ourselves? It would be fair, I think, to suggest that at best we have a critical expression of love for ourselves.

Now I don’t think that Jesus is suggesting a critical expression of love for our neighbour. I think that he is referring to something more akin to God’s unconditional love for us. In our eucharistic liturgy we hear the words: we love because God loved us first.
God’s love is unconditional and open ended. It doesn’t presume anything and it doesn’t ask anything. We may well not be worthy, and yet we are still the recipients of that love.If this land is both your land and my land, we both need to see it differently. This land can only be both yours and mine if at least 2 things change: we need to find a way to trust and respect one another and to believe that we are each driven by something more than a purely selfish motivation. I know there are theories that would suggest that selfish motivation has been important in the survival of the species, but there is a difference between a big picture selfish motivation and a narrow self- centred motivation.

A globalised world has brought a lot of welcome change into our lives. It’s left us better informed and better connected. And I suggest it’s brought some new responsibilities.It’s no longer good enough for us to look out wherever the eye can see and suggest this land is yours and mine; we now need to look further afield, look towards the lands that we can’t see with our own eyes, that we may never see with our own eyes and to find a way to suggest that ‘this land is made for you and me’.

In a global economy, this land is indeed your land and my land. The choices I make impact on your land and on your choices. Jesus is calling me to think about you, whoever you are, about your land, wherever that is and to do so through that lens of respect and trust, that lens of love for you and as a result, for me.

Creation-time 2, Sermon preached online by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

I remember having a children’s bible with an illustration of this morning’s story from the book of the Exodus. The waters were raging, people were falling, chariots were on their sides, broken wheels littered the foreground. It was a dramatic and intense image that drew me into the scene and has stayed with me.

There’s a resonance with some of the recent images we’ve seen in the press, devastating images of people being washed up by the sea. None of us forgets that iconic image of the small Syrian boy washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean; it’s hard to unsee the images of overcrowded unsafe dinghies transporting people across the Channel. Those stories stay with us.

The imagery isn’t the only way in which I think that the parting of the Red Sea speaks into our contemporary context. The story of the Exodus is the story of a people who had been oppressed and de-humanised and who were seeking a better life for themselves, for their children and their children’s children. It’s a story of weak and strong; a story about the use and abuse of power; a story about privilege and scarcity; about slavery and freedom.
And of course, it’s a story about salvation – about endings and beginnings, about our belief that however bleak things are, there is the potential for transformation, that things really could be different.

When we think about the film coverage we see of people on dinghies, or of the people whose lives have been devastated this week by the fires in their refugee camp, or the Rohingya who watched from across the water as their villages were burned, or any of the other examples we could think about, we see, in very simple terms, a group of people who are oppressed by a more powerful group of people. Now there are lots of complex reasons for those dynamics to arise and I don’t want to go too far down that route. But I do want to pause and think for a moment about the ways that the story of the oppressed people who built the pyramids and sought to escape from their masters is not so different from many of the stories that we might hear today. All of these stories include themes about status and the ability to self-determine, about fundamental economic differences that shape the lives and life chances of those who are affected and about the right to religious freedom.
And that’s true whether the people we hear and read about could be seen as the winners or the losers or perhaps, like those Egyptians who were the victims in this story, they are actually both.

We don’t need to look too far to see examples of the impact of long-term oppression on communities of people; to see that people who have been de-humanised over a number of generations, or people who have lost hope, finding themselves unable to see a better future for the next generations, begin to contemplate responses that are extreme and potentially dangerous. It’s been said many times that you don’t put your children into a tiny overcrowded boat unless you think that the alternative is even more dangerous. People take these risks because they are seeking a place and a life that is a bit safer and a bit more secure, they are seeking salvation.

It’s also the case that we don’t have to look too far to see the development of a sense of entitlement amongst certain groups of people and the desire to identify difference that allows them to feel superior. Those people may not be actively seeking change, they may believe they have been saved, but we may perceive things differently.

The story of the Exodus is the story of the salvation of the people of Israel; they were led out of Egypt into a place that offered a bit more safety and a bit more security. Of course, as we know, the story doesn’t end there. This is a story about one of many new beginnings; one of many new opportunities; one of many chances to turn to God and to find ways to trust.

The story is a good reminder that salvation isn’t a once and for all moment in our lives, or in the life of our world. It’s an ongoing process of co-creation with God; a process of listening and risk taking and following and consolidating and then doing all of that again, and again. The people were saved from lives of slavery, were saved from destruction as a community but that wasn’t a magic wand that meant nothing more would happen. Good and bad things continued to happen, and still continue to happen. The parting of the Red Sea – whether or not it was an actual historic event – is an illustration of God, God’s people and God’s created world coming together to work in partnership.

As we think about the ways in which we are both oppressors and the oppressed, both the privileged and those who are struggling, this story is a reminder that we can both save others, and be saved ourselves, if and when we work in that kind of partnership. The natural disasters that we see erupting in all parts of our world are not isolated events that happen randomly. They are the direct result of decisions that have been taken over many generations, decisions that now leave our planet in a precarious state. In our state of privilege, we can make decisions that impact positively or negatively on the likelihood of further devastating tsunamis and fires and floods. In our state of vulnerability, we can pray that others will make decisions that are in the best interests of people they don’t know and will never encounter.

And where is God in all of this? God continues to offer to us that same opportunity to be saved, to find a life that is safer, more secure, more sustainable. But God isn’t going to do that for us while we sit back and wait. It will only happen if we work with God, if we become co-creators of a more sustainable more respectful, more balanced and equal world.

Perhaps one of the reminders from this story is that oppression is not God’s way. St Paul alludes to this in the verses we heard from the letter to the Romans: why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or why do you despise your brother or sister? He could perhaps have asked, why do you oppress your brother or sister?

We all want to live in a better world, a less troubled world, a more God centred world. If we are to find a route out of our current situation, to exodus this scenario and move into a new beginning, we need to play our part. God is offering us a road to salvation; we are called to play our part in the co-creation of that place of salvation.

Sermon preached online by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley for Patronal Festival

Some of you know that I’ve just moved house. One of the many things I unearthed in the preparation for my move was a Rosary. Now the fact that I unearthed it tells you that it’s not something that has been in regular use. I think it would be fair to say that it’s been occasionally used. I actually quite like the concept of using prayer beads, having something tactile to help me focus on prayer, but if I’m honest it’s never become a regular habit for me. However I do like the words that are prayed with the Rosary, known as the Hail Mary.

The words that form the traditional Rosary prayer come directly from Scripture. Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. The words of the angel Gabriel, the direct blessing of a young woman whose life was about to change. She is full of grace and the Lord is with her. So it’s an intimation of her existing situation and a pointer towards the future. If the Lord is with her, we can conclude that the Lord will continue to be with her. And then the words of her cousin Elizabeth: blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

So Mary’s place in our history is established and then confirmed – established by Gabriel and confirmed by Elizabeth. And then the final sentence is an additional confirmation – holy Mary mother of God, it’s also a reminder that her role as a mother is what will now define her. Mary is full of grace, God is with her and she’s holy. We’re reminded of the ways in which she has been blessed and then we get an indication of who she will become.

In a Cathedral that’s dedicated to Mary, her story is hugely important to us. Our Incarnational theology is absolutely clear – Jesus was fully human. It’s fundamental to our understanding that his mother was also fully human. So although we’re told little about her, we can speculate that she was a bit like us: sometimes she had sore feet, sometimes she was hungry, sometimes she was too tired to care, sometimes she was filled with joy and pride, sometimes she was fearful. She was a fully human woman who shared much of the experience of being human that we know about. For her, as for any of us who have children, becoming a mother changed her.

Whatever her priorities had been, there was a small human who was totally dependent on her. And we read in the Gospels that she and Joseph nurtured him until he was old enough to stand up and speak in the synagogue. And then she leaves the centre stage, making a few cameo appearances, until things take a dramatic turn and she appears at the foot of the cross. It seems to me that she had a very normal experience of parenthood. Babies and young children are totally dependent and then young people go their own way, make their own mistakes, find opportunities to work out who they are, seek ways to make their own mark in the world. And this child made a very particular mark, this child changed the world. Simeon’s words must have resonated on many occasions as Mary observed her child fulfilling the ministry for which he had been born.

And through it all, Mary was there in the background. Watching, listening, feeling that mixture of pride and concern that is a feature of parenthood. She learned what she could change and influence and when she needed to step out of the way and allow a situation to unfold.
She knew, perhaps better than any of us ever knows, that she didn’t have the power to change the story, to unwind the final scenes.

I’m standing here in St Mary’s Cathedral, the mother church of our Diocese. This cathedral is dedicated to the mother of Jesus, committed to honouring who she was and to learning from her as we work out who we are and what we can and can’t change.

As a place of worship we would hope to offer a space where people are touched by grace, are blessed and have an encounter with all that is holy. That’s what we would like people to find here, but it’s a starting place not an end point. Few of us would question the impact of being in a space like this, but it’s also important to recognise that we are grounded in the real world. In the same way that we did a bit of a reality check about Mary, recognising the impact of day to day living, a living building like this is impacted by the years, changed by the different ways that it has been used, and is constantly evolving and hopefully becoming something even more than it was.

So I want to think a bit about who we are, rather than what we are like. You’ll all have done those groupwork exercises where you’re encouraged to use your imagination to expand your thinking. If I were to ask: if the Cathedral were a tree, what would it be? Would it be a majestic beech or a well established oak or a random Buddleia? Offering shelter and inspiration, reminding us of something bigger than itself or growing where it was planted and finding its place within the area?

Historically, one of the ways that we were pointed towards an understanding of who Mary was, is contained within our artistic heritage. I’m not thinking about the pious looking young woman who all too often dominates religious settings, but the significant works of art that attempt to show something deeper and more human, something of a woman who was filled with grace and was holy and chosen and at the same time was a mother and a wife and fully functioning human being.

These are not portraits, they are works of devotional imagination, works that seek to witness to something beyond themselves, something that’s more about heart than head. They tell us what Mary was like and they invite us imagine who she was.

When we think about being a Cathedral in this city and this Diocese, we also need to reflect on what we are like and to imagine who we are and who we might become. Thinking about the Cathedral through an artist’s lens, what might we attempt to portray? The starting place will clearly be the majestic and imposing presence that we have at the West End of our city. We may want to add in a sense of the fragility and vulnerability. And what would we want to say about ourselves as we go deeper? How does the heart respond to what the head perceives?

No one of us has all the answers to these questions, no one of us has the authority to state categorically who we are and what it means to be us. But together that is a journey we can embark upon. Together we can find ways to encounter grace and holiness, both for ourselves and for our Cathedral.

Pentecost 8 Sermon preached online by Marion Chatterley, Vice Provost

Words from the letter to the Romans:
If God is for us, who is against us?

This week, in particular, that feels like a really helpful question. It’s one that we can hang onto, especially at a time like this when we are collectively trying to find our feet again, trying to gain some kind of equilibrium. So let’s try to explore that question. If God is for us, who is against us?

It’s easy to identify an enemy ‘out there’, an anonymous presence that is out to sabotage all that might be good in our lives, all that might give us life and joy. We hear a certain international politician speaking about the ‘bad people’ – people who are in some way different to us, people who have malevolent intentions. The bad people. But those bad people are also God’s people. Those so called bad people were created and formed, as we were, by a loving and benevolent God who only wishes well for all of humanity.

The knowledge that God wishes well for all of humanity is spelled out by Paul in the letter to the Romans as he tries to encourage a bigger, more expansive understanding of the nature of God.
Paul is writing about a God who is not just for the chosen people of Israel, but is the God whom he encountered anew on the Damascus Road, the God for whom Paul discovered a revitalised love and devotion. He shares his theology in order that his readers might know that God more fully and find ways to follow him more closely. He shares his own experience of knowing God more deeply as a result of following the teaching and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us that ‘those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son’.

Don’t be distracted here by Calvinist ideas of double predestination where some are chosen to be saved and some to be damned. That’s not what Paul is speaking about. Paul’s predestination in this epistle is referring to the relationship between God and God’s people – it’s about God’s yearning for people to respond to the freely offered love of God, to respond and therefore to grow and to journey towards God rather than away from God.

Read in context, the meaning is generous rather than condemnatory – God foreknew that some people would find it easier than others to respond to his love for them. Some commentators suggest that the word translated here as foreknew could be interpreted as foreloved. Before the beginning of time God loved and God continues to share that love. Our calling is to respond. No-one is beyond the love of God; no-one is incapable of loving God, but we have free will and respond as we are able and as we are motivated. Responding to God’s love draws us into the Body of Christ, draws us into that relationship and response that was modelled by Jesus and that is the legacy we seek to honour.

This theme is illustrated in today’s Gospel parables. The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast that transforms the flour into something that is life sustaining. It’s like the treasure that was hidden in a field. The joy of finding that treasure isn’t to hold onto it, to sit and gaze and revel in it. No, the joy actually is about a more expansive gesture, a more holistic response. The person who found the treasure went out and sold his worldly goods in order to buy the field.

The person who found the treasure recognised that there was something else, something bigger and fuller and even more joyful. Something that was available to him for the asking. It wasn’t without cost, but it wasn’t unachievable. And that is a good illustration of the nature of God’s love for us and our call to respond. Our response is never without cost, it’s rarely without some kind of effort but it is available for the asking.

If God is for us, who is against us? God is for us as God offers each one of us that unbounded, unlimited love. Whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, nothing separates us from the love of God. Nothing, that is, except ourselves. We make choices, we make decisions, we form priorities. Each time we make a movement in our lives, we take ourselves towards or away from God. We can focus on responding to God and turning ourselves God-ward, seeking to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Or we can turn away from all that would give us life with God and try to do things our way.

If God is for us, who is against us? I suggest that the answer to that question is ourselves. The bad people aren’t out there – they’re in here.
The God facing and the God rejecting parts of ourselves cohabit. They present us with choices and temptations. Sometimes we’re drawn with little effort towards God; sometimes we’re lured with barely a backward glance away from God. And often we’re not sure which way we’re going and we find it hard to discern God’s will.

Let’s remind ourselves of what we’ve read in this morning’s epistle though – we are predestined to be loved by God. All God asks is that we find a way to respond. And that would all be very simple if we lived in a neutral space with no distractions or influences or temptations. But that’s not our reality. We know that there are negative influences in our lives and in our world. We see that being played out on the international stage, in more local situations and in some of the detail of our own lives. And those negative influences can present themselves in a very appealing and seductive way. We can find it hard to resist. What might strengthen our resolve and our intention is to remind ourselves that we are predestined to be loved by God; and that in loving and being loved we are aligning ourselves with Jesus Christ, we are living the Gospel life that has been promised to us.
If we really trust and believe that God is for us, then we give weight to the God facing internal narrative. We give weight to the God loving, life giving forces that urge us on. And if we really trust and believe, we are better able to identify and turn away from the negative and life sapping distractions that come our way. Each time we turn from negativity and towards God, we teach ourselves that this is something we can do, it’s a bit like muscle memory – and we make it just a little bit easier to do it the next time and the time after that.

As children of God, predestined to love and be loved, we can say with confidence, God is for us.

Pentecost 4- Sermon preached online by Marion Chatterley, Vice Provost

Romans 6: 12-23;  Matthew 10: 40-42

… you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.

Recent weeks have forced us to think about the reality of the slave trade; forced us into recognising the many ways that our most beautiful cities have benefitted from the proceeds of that trade. Perhaps some of us have also spent time thinking about what it meant to be enslaved. How people coped with the cruelty and the uncertainty and the loss of personhood. What must it have been like to know that you were a possession; that you could be bought and sold on a whim; that there was no area of your life over which you were in a position to make choices. People were violated in many ways – they were branded, sometimes with the mark of their owner, sometimes with the mark of a company. And of course we also know that when slaves were freed, that wasn’t necessarily into a better life. It might have been better to be enslaved and relatively safe than freed and struggling to survive.

In this morning’s passage of Scripture, St Paul forces us to think differently about enslavement. He finds a way to turn things on their head, to suggest that the atrocities of enslavement to a human master are the absolute opposite of the rewards that come from enslavement to God. He reclaims the idea of enslavement – finding something that gives life and dignity in the very midst of something that denies life and dignity.

St Paul seems to be clear in this passage – we don’t choose to be enslaved, or not, but we choose to what we might be enslaved. That sounds straightforward, but experience may suggest to us that it’s not really that simple – it’s not a binary choice but perhaps a spectrum within which we make choices and decisions and at the same time face temptations and challenges.

For instance, people who are living with addictions can feel that they have become enslaved to the substance or behaviour that dominates their life. What starts as a choice becomes a necessity about which there may be little choice – at least without support and guidance. We can be lured into becoming slaves to a particular way of living or looking or spending time; find ourselves convinced, often by social pressure, that there are rewards to be had.
And that may be true, but it’s also true that as soon as we cross the line into enslavement, something else is happening. There’s a very fine line between enslavement that we find rewarding – even when those rewards aren’t necessarily healthy for us – and entrapment, where we find it difficult to see a way out.

Equally, we can find ourselves enslaved to ideologies. There are many examples of the ways that a commitment to a particular way of seeing or understanding things can go from being a rational result of thought and reflection to an uncritical acceptance of a larger canon of ideas and principles.

Enslaving ourselves in any of these ways limits us. It limits our potential to be critical thinkers; it limits our interactions with other people – how do we challenge our thinking if we only ever meet people who think like us? How do we grow as people if all of our energies are put into maintaining a particular stance? And it limits our engagement with God. How do we hear that still, small voice if our starting place is that we’re right?

And of course some of what is tricky is that as human beings we don’t really like change. Once we find a pattern of working or socialising or family life, we like the routine; on the whole we like to know what to expect, how to cope with particular situations. In some ways enslavement suits us.

Perhaps St Paul recognised that fact – enslavement suits us. We are creatures of habit and routine and we like what we know we like. We find a security and comfort in the patterns of our own enslaved behaviour – even when we grumble about them.

So how then might we think about a healthy form of enslavement, a way to be enslaved to our relationship with our God that is nurturing and life giving because of its nature, not despite that nature. What might we find that would give us life and dignity, that would enable us to grow, to take risks, to embrace change?

One of the surprising joys of lockdown has been that putting our pattern of morning and evening prayer online has enabled a number of people to join us on a regular basis.
Those services frame the days – we begin and end in prayer, and everything stops for those times of prayer. It’s a completely rigid routine, one might argue that its inflexibility is of itself enslaving – and yet the feedback would suggest that something else is happening. That pattern and rhythm enables freedom and creativity within the rest of the day. And there isn’t a decision to be made about what to do or when to do it – that’s, to some extent where the freedom comes, you just pitch up and engage with what is in front of you. Just do it.

For many of us, our weeks up until lockdown were marked by particular activities one of which was church at a particular time on a Sunday. That might have sometimes felt like one of those demands that is inflexible and burdensome – and yet we know that people are feeling rudderless without it. One of the fundamentals of Benedictine spirituality is the concept of stability – the whole question of where we put down our roots and how we then nourish them. Many people’s stability has been formed by that Sunday routine, their spiritual nourishment and nurture has been firmly rooted within their regular commitment.
One of the other pieces of learning over recent weeks has been that we don’t actually need to be in church. We might prefer to be there; we might find something different happens when we are there; and the physical building of the church is where we gather to form community and to make connections. And yet, it’s clear that none of that has stopped over recent weeks. The foundations that were created within our church building have enabled something to happen in ways that we could never have imagined. Our enslavement to the stability that comes from the physical church has been the catalyst for a new freedom that has emerged outwith the stones and mortar.

Slavery is a shameful part of our history and its legacy is something that we live with. It seems that St Paul is suggesting that finding ourselves enslaved to patterns of behaviour is also something that we live with. I pray that as we move towards freedom from our lockdown we will continue to find healthy patterns of enslavement that will nurture and sustain us as we relearn how to be free.