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.

 

 

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

2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6.1-13

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

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

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

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

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

And so we are told he could do little there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was desperate. Desperate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 4 – Sermon preached by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley. 20th June 2021

Mark 4: 35-41

On that day, he said to them ‘Let us go across to the other side.’

Let us go across to the other side. The invitation is to set off on a journey to another place. That place may be somewhere we know, or it may be somewhere completely new. This morning’s story isn’t about the destination, or about what happens on arrival, it’s about making the journey. As communities around our world, we’re now making journeys – out of lockdowns and restricted living and towards a place that is the other side of pandemic. Not the other side of Covid 19, we now know that we will be living with the virus for the foreseeable future, but the other side of the pandemic situation that has enveloped our world for the past year and a half.

So what does the journey towards the other side of the pandemic look like for us as a church? If we can hear that invitation to get into the boat and go to the other side, what do we need to consider? What do we need to resource us? What can we anticipate? What kind of storms might we encounter?

Let’s think to begin with about where we’re setting off from. We find ourselves in a place that is simultaneously familiar and unsettling. The physical surroundings are more or less as we remember them, but things are different. For those of us who are within the Cathedral building, there are cameras on the pillars, reminding us that there is another part of our worshipping community that joins us in a different kind of way. For those joining us online – over the months what you have seen and heard has changed and developed. There are some obvious changes: we now have a full choir – albeit socially distanced. We are able to give communion to those who are in the building. We are also able to meet outside without our masks and see one another’s faces.

There are some changes we made a while ago that haven’t shifted. We’ve got used to staying in our seats when we share the Peace. We’re used to receiving bread only at Communion time – and for those online to watch as the celebrant receives on our behalf. We keep our distance from one another – shaking hands is a thing of the past.

As we reflect on today’s reality, we can see that we’re already in the boat, because it’s clear that we’re already journeying. We can’t have any certainty about what our destination will be like, although we might have some idea of what might be there. We might guess that it will be a space where we find ways to continue to worship together, to develop our community life together. My own view is that online worship is here to stay – interestingly I read this week that theological training colleges are going to add online worship into their curricula. So our destination will likely be a place where blended worship, forming a worshipping community when we’re not necessarily all in the same physical space, will be a feature.

One of the noticeable developments here over the past 18 months has been the use of our grounds by people within the local community. On sunny days, there are groups of people sitting and socialising – or just enjoying the opportunity to be outdoors in the warmth. Even on less inviting days, the lawns are used – not just by dog walkers, but also by people doing various forms of exercise.
We’re talking to choirs and dance classes about whether we can offer safe space for them to resume their activities. That increasing use of our outdoor space is an illustration of the way that we can be a resource within our city, and not just for those who come inside the building and engage with the acts of worship. From the beginning of next month, there will be a pop-up café on the south lawn. Another way to offer something, a way to invite people into the space that we have stewardship of; an invitation to come and share and use and enjoy that space. An invitation offered freely – an invitation offered out of our understanding of God’s freely given invitation to us.

And I guess some might say: that’s all very well and good, but what’s happening within the Cathedral – are we inviting people to join us, to worship with us, to become an active part of our community. We’re a church, not a public park. I think that the answer to that and similar questions lies in the question the disciples asked in that boat: who then is this? That’s the question that I would like the people who use our grounds and who wander into our buildings to ask.
Who then is this that inspires this community to behave in a generous and gracious way? Who then is this that people seek to follow? What are his ways and his truths? What might he be saying today?

We share the answers to those questions in a range of ways. We share the answers in what people experience when they encounter us – both as individuals and as spaces to encounter God. The film company that was in the Cathedral at the beginning of this month commented on more than one occasion on how well cared for they found this building. They understood that it matters to us to ensure that our buildings are properly maintained – not just because that’s a prudent thing to do, but because in doing so we say something about what they mean to us, what they say about the God in whose name they exist.

And that care and attention extends to the whole environment for which we have responsibility. It matters that the outside of our buildings says something about who we are. It matters that we have plants at the West End and grounds that are maintained.  We might think about our buildings – and the boat in this morning’s Gospel – as places of safety. Places to find security and comfort in the presence of Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t call us into safe and comfortable places for long. The journey of faith is a journey of challenge and exploration. It can be a journey that is risky. Our particular boat, this post-pandemic boat, has set sail but we don’t yet know what the other side is going to look like. What we do know is that we are being called into a space that is not quite the one we’re leaving. It may be very similar, it may be shockingly different – that’s not for us to know today. For today, we need to know that the boat is the place for us to be, that Jesus has asked us to go with him to the other side, and that there is no need to be afraid.

If we can find ways to see this as an adventure that we’ve embarked upon together, an opportunity to grow as individuals and as a community, an opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation to journey with him – who knows where we will find ourselves. And in making the journey, perhaps we can witness to the incarnate God who invites us to take a risk and to respond to his call.

Pentecost 2 – sermon preached by the Chaplain, Andy Philip – Sunday 6th June 2021

What kind of a house do you live in? I’m not asking whether your home is a flat, a villa, a semi or something else. I’m not interested in whether your dwelling is neatly organised, a tiny bit messy or a total coup — or whether what we’d see on Zoom calls reflects the rest of the room! Nor am I concerned with whether it’s a stylishly furnished pad or an eclectic jumble or whether you stocked it from Ikea, John Lewis or the charity shops. No, I’m interested in something deeper.

What kind of a house do you live in? What is the character of the relationships it holds? What is the direction in which your interactions point? Is it a house full of gripes and recriminations or full of love, forgiveness and healing?

Ultimately, these questions point us towards the heart of today’s readings from Genesis and the Gospel of Mark. In essence, they ask: what sort of people are we? What sort of a person are you? Not what sort of a person you think you are or you want to be or be seen as but what kind of a person you actually are. Where do your allegiances lie? When it comes down to it, what do your words and actions show?

Our reading from Genesis shows that oh-so-human tendency to shift the blame for our actions on to others. Regardless of whether we find it comforting or distressing to be told that this trait has been there from the very beginning, there is a lot of baggage in the interpretation of this passage of Scripture.

Not the least of this baggage is the interpretation that tries to focus the blame for sin on Eve and, through her, on all women throughout all history to the present. That understanding, surely, just falls into the same mire as Adam. It misses subtle but crucial points in the dialogue, primarily that Adam blames God: “the woman you gave to be with, she gave me fruit”. Adam fractures his two most intimate relationships at once: he blames Eve and, even more so, he blames God for his own failure to follow God’s command.

Eve, however, is less evasive: she puts the blame on the serpent but doesn’t say anything about God having made it, as she could have done. Given the way that parallelism is used in the Hebrew Scriptures, I think it’s quite telling that she doesn’t mirror Adam’s evasion. Moreover, in admitting that she was tricked, she perhaps admits more fault in herself than Adam has the guts to do.

This tendency to blame others for our own actions is an attempt to find a way out of our own responsibility. If we’re not to blame, we don’t have any work to do; we don’t have to change. We don’t have to repent. Falling into this pattern is one of the most destructive things we can do to ourselves and our relationships because it twists our actions, motives and sense of self out of shape.

The Gospel reading shows this impulse at work in a different way: both Jesus’ family and the Jerusalem scribes try to avoid their responsibility to listen, to change, to repent by blaming Jesus’ disruptive actions on insanity or Satan instead of allowing themselves to see and admit that God is at work in what he is doing.

It is telling that these groups seem to be outside the house where Jesus is. That is, they are distant from Jesus, from the presence and action of God in Jesus. That distance doesn’t help them to see what is really going on.

On the other hand, they are only doing what’s expected of them. Jesus’ family is trying to keep him safe from himself and perhaps to keep their own reputation intact. The scribes are trying to defend the tradition against this maverick who eats, as chapter 2 of the Gospel tells us, with tax collectors — in other words, collaborators in the Roman oppression — and sinners. The tradition and the family are the spaces in which God was understood to be at work. But the fault of those outside the house is assume that God cannot be at work beyond those spaces and that any good done outwith them must come from an unhealthy or even evil source.

Whereas Adam attributed to God the work of the serpent, the scribes attribute to Satan the work of God. The scribes and Adam both end up outside the house, turning reality on its head. But, whereas Adam and Eve are banished from Eden, Jesus calls the scribes to him. He invites them into his presence to teach them. He does not exclude them but gives them the opportunity to understand, to see that God is at work in him and in the motley crew of misfits gathered round him.

Yes, God is at work on the margins. Yes, God is at work outside the boundaries of what is respectable. But God desires as much as ever to welcome in those who struggle to see beyond those boundaries. For, the traditional boundaries, such as those of family relations, are burst open by the coming of God’s Kingdom, as Jesus makes plain in his response to the arrival of his family.

So, what kind of house do you live in? Or, to put it another way, what kind of heart, what kind of spirit do you have?

  • Are you, like the scribes in this passage, so focused on trying to serve God in the way with which you’re familiar that, when God breaks those boundaries, you end up not only rejecting God but painting yourself into an absurd corner you can’t escape?
  • Does God’s unruliness make you feel uncertain and scared, like Jesus’ family perhaps was?
  • Or are you open to the surprising ways that God works on the margins, outside the boundaries, beyond the pale? Are you inside the house with Jesus or at least clamouring at the back to push your way through to where you can see him?

This is the challenge of the Gospel for today. And it is a challenge that rings out in each of our own lives as much as it does in the wider community. Are we open to God working on the margins, outside the boundaries, of what we find acceptable not just about others but about ourselves? For that is where God longs to bring healing and wholeness and that, in my experience, is where our most profound encounters with God can be born. Encounters that can help to shape us into people who bring God’s wholeness and healing to those around them.

To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God.

 

Trinity Sunday – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 30th May

Isaiah 6.1-8; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17

A prayer of St Anselm of Canterbury:

Teach me, O God, to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you,
for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself.
Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking;
let me find you in love, and love you in finding. …
For I do not seek to understand that I may believe,
but I believe in order to understand.
For this also I believe, — that unless I believed, I should not understand.

It is wonderful to be gathering here in person together in worship. The last few weeks, since our choir returned at Easter, has been a strange, disembodied experience for us here at the Cathedral: to worship on Sunday mornings behind closed doors; joined, we knew, by people online – as we are today – but struggling, at this end anyway, to feel connected, joined with the Body of Christ, which is God’s faithful people, in worship, and in breaking the bread.

Today is Trinity Sunday, when the focus of our prayer and our thinking is on God, and that feels right as we begin to gather in person once again, after this interruption, this gash in our common life; this time of deep pain and anxiety and yet also of collective stock-taking; re-appraising of what matters. We gather once more in worship; and stand, like Isaiah, as we heard in our first reading, before the throne of God, lost in wonder, and preparing ourselves to be sent out.

The root of the word worship tells us that the object of our worship is that to which we give worth. If this last year and more has been a time of reappraisal, of re-connecting, often in their absence, with what truly matters, then worship takes us to the heart if it: for whether we are conscious of it or not, all humans are involved in worship, to the giving of worth to some thing, or things, to that which shapes our life. The sharp question that Trinity Sunday poses is, to what do you give ultimate worth, what shapes your life, my life? Family and loved ones, money, nation, the pursuit and wielding of power; the job we feel called to do or have to do; ourselves and our comfort and security – these are all possible shapers of the life we lead. And none, in and of themselves is necessarily wrong, quite the opposite in fact. To talk of God, however, in this context, is to place a question mark by each of these things; for the danger, our faith tradition insists, is that each of these things to which we give worth, can, all too easily, become idols – the recipients of ultimate worth, unquestionable, that to which anything and everything else can be sacrificed. Family is loved to the exclusion of others; money or power sought for their own sake, for the thrill that each brings; the self pampered because that is all that matters. To gather here in worship, to believe that God, in all God’s mystery and mercy, is the one to whom our worship is finally due, is to resist the pull of such idolatry. Or to put it more positively, it is to declare that our humanity is too precious to be offered to anything less than the mystery which gives shape to all that is. God is that to which our worship, and the shaping of our lives, is directed. The living of our life is the gift given back to the giver; it is the participation in the life of God who is in all, and through all, and transforms all.

And so the Trinity, a way of describing the God who creates us in love, comes alongside us in love, and connects and transforms us in love; the Trinity names how that shaping of our life might take place, the process which begins to work on us as we offer our worship to God. In our Gospel reading, Jesus offers the thought to Nicodemus that we need to be born from above. That analogy might make us look back –wonder at what point that birthing took place sometime in the past. There may well have been a significant moment for you when that birthing into the life of the Spirit became conscious, but surely it is also an ongoing process – a shaping, by the Spirit, in the midst of idols that forever claim too much, of that life we were given biologically in our mother’s womb.

I began with the famous prayer of St Anselm: a prayer that articulates the sense that faith and understanding are tied up together – are inseparable. Following the analogy of science, we often think that to believe in certain things, we must first be provided with the evidence for them and so understand them, and then we will believe in them. But Anselm’s prayer articulates that faith in God doesn’t operate like that. Faith and understanding, in the case of God, are the other way round. It is when we make the leap of faith, allow our worship of God to begin to shape us, that we begin to understand the depth of the mystery that is God.

And the reason for that is that God is no-thing. God is not a thing like everything else that we demand evidence for. God is no-thing, because God always eludes our conceptual grasp. So faith does not flow from proof, but rather is that within us which senses that God is. We trust: trust that life, despite all that it throws at us, has the possibility of making sense; that chaos and randomness and self assertion are not the final realities – that there is a reality which transcends them, stands over and beyond the will to power, reveals the things to which we are tempted to give ultimate worth, as idols. We trust that God is.

Again, it is very appropriate that we are invited to ponder these things on the Sunday when we gather back with our choir. Because music, in many ways, provides the best analogy for this process of faith preceding understanding. It is very hard to describe what music is in a way that does justice to the experience. You can talk about the process of producing a variety of sounds in the throat, or you can introduce people to the complicated notation of notes on staves that  and sets down that sound production. It’s also possible to sit and admire the technical skills involved in a piece of music being produced by others. But none of these is the experience of music, of music taking wing as we are caught up in it, swept up by the sounds made, the technical skills involved, but no longer focusing on those; instead we find it speaking to us, and for us, carrying us to a place beyond us.

And the journey of faith, of being shaped by offering our worship to God, is like that: learning to say ‘God is love’ is inseparable from the process by which we are taught what true love is by being loved truly, and so loving a little more fully ourselves.

Teach me, O God, to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you,
for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself.
Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking;
let me find you in love, and love you in finding. …  Amen.

Pentecost – Sermon preached online by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

‘How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’.

We hear and see and taste and smell each in our own unique way, emerging from our own life experiences and personal make up. Babies learn how to make sense of what they encounter by looking and touching and tasting – and as we journey through our lives, we continue to gather information that helps us to process what our brains encounter. We learn that things that look a particular way have a certain texture; that things that don’t look inviting probably don’t taste so good; that people from different cultures use their mouths differently and are able to make different sounds as they speak and sing. Our native language is more than just the use of a particular alphabet or phraseology; our native language connects with who we are physically and physiologically. Some languages are expressive, romantic; some languages are functional and sound harsh to other ears; some have sounds that people from other cultures are simply incapable of imitating. Some people communicate by signs and gestures – there may be no sound.  Those differences in how we use our ears and mouths are true of our other senses as well. That may be less about cultural differences and perhaps a little more about lived experience. Our native language is about more than words.

Think for a moment about looking with other people at a work of art. As an example, here’s a Turner painting from the National Gallery. I wonder what catches your attention. Do you scan the landscape for familiar buildings or is your eye drawn to the people in the foreground? Knowing it’s a Turner, do you check out the sky, wondering what the Edinburgh weather was like that day? And if you were to come back to it tomorrow, would you focus on the same things or would your eye be drawn towards something different? What happens when someone points out something that they have just noticed? The gallery notes tell me that the building to the east of Regent Bridge is a Masons’ shed – does that little bit of information help you to see the painting differently? Art speaks to us in its own voice – and we respond with our own voice.

Of course, it’s not just our visual sense that takes in information in ways that are particular to us. Our sense of smell is a good example of personal response to the same stimulus. One person’s beautiful aroma is another person’s nightmare scent. A good example of that is the smell of a wet dog – you either love it or hate it. And the answer is probably rooted in experiences you’ve had in your life. Look again at the painting – what smells might it evoke for you? Can you imagine how that scene might sound? What would it feel like to be there, to be one of those people that Turner painted?

So here we are at Pentecost, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit – each hearing in their own native language. Each engaging and responding from a place of lived experience. For the disciples, a lived experience of the presence of God in the human form of Jesus Christ; and then they found themselves gifted with a new way to engage with God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Imagine yourself now into that scene from Acts. What might you see and hear and smell and feel?

And now imagine hearing one of the disciples speaking in a language that is familiar to you, speaking in English, communicating in a way that you can pick out and understand. Allow yourself to be reminded that the Holy Spirit is God’s gift for God’s people.

We can be quick to think that the Holy Spirit is only about holy moments; that we pray for the Holy Spirit to bless us at particular moments in our liturgy, but that it’s not prominent in our day to day lives. What it we reframe that thinking and see the Spirit as multi-faceted, see the Spirit as a pathway to and from God that resonates for us in different ways at different times. What if our experience of the Holy Spirit can be shaped by our lived experience; what if an encounter with that Holy Spirit is available to us a lot more of the time if we only shift our awareness?

We already think and speak about our encounters with God the Creator as being multi-faceted. We might recognise the hand of God in the landscape of the Highlands; we might feel close to God when we’re walking in the Pentlands; we might hear God with us when we’re praying alone; we might feel that God is present when we gather to worship. This morning, I’d like to consider that our encounters with the Holy Spirit are similarly multi-faceted and are rooted within our lived experience of engaging within our cultural context.

We hear, each of us, in our own native language. We hear more and more clearly when we listen. We hear more and more clearly when we dig a bit deeper to broaden our understanding of what our native language might be. As soon as we remember that language is about much more than words, our perspective changes. In a place like this, that’s perhaps especially apparent as we listen to the language of music and liturgy and are surrounded by visual stimuli. Within our church community, we perhaps hear even more when we begin to share with other people.

In the same way that sharing what we saw within the painting broadened our experience, so sharing what we hear and see and feel when we encounter God deepens our own experience and has the potential to impact on those who listen to us. We’re not always good at discussing our experiences of God; they can feel private, personal, so fleeting that we don’t know whether to mention them. But if we create opportunities to take that risk, to offer a word or an image or a feeling, maybe, just maybe, someone who is listening will hear in their native language.

As we make plans to gather together again, I wonder whether there may be people within this worshipping community who would be willing to take that kind of risk. People who would like to gather as a small group – or groups – that would offer the space to access and share something of each person’s native language, each person’s unique response, each person’s lived experience. This would be a different way to pray together, an opportunity to focus on our own journeying and deepening. An opportunity to actively walk alongside, to share what might be an emerging language for all of us.

Whether we intentionally go forward with others, or commit to being a little more aware day by day, the gift of the Spirit journeys with us and for us. I pray that with our ears and our eyes, with our voices and our senses we will each recognise and honour that Spirit.

Easter 7 – Sermon preached online by the Chaplain, Andy Philip – Sunday 16th May 2021

What does it mean to be made holy? Perhaps when you think of being made holy, you imagine the saints of old, their lives dedicated to God and an almost sickening level of goodness that you could never hope to attain. Perhaps you think of holy places, sites of pilgrimage or places where you feel closer to God because of the prayers that have been said there for hundreds of years. Perhaps it calls to mind holy objects, such as the communion vessels that have been set aside to hold the bread and wine we use for the Eucharist.

What all these have in common is that they are common things — cups and plates, buildings and landscape, people — set apart for God in some way. For, in essence, to be holy is simply that: to be set apart for God.

It would be tempting to think of this as analogous to setting something aside for special — like the best crockery, a party dress or a Sunday suit. There is something in that, because there can be no more special or higher purpose than being set apart for God. In another sense, however, it is completely the wrong analogy because being set apart for God has nothing to do with being brought out only on certain days or special occasions. On the contrary, it is absolutely and thoroughly about day-to-day living — but day-to-day living in the fullness of God and that brings glory to God.

Being set apart for God is at the heart of our Gospel reading this week. Jesus speaks of how his disciples have been given to him by God the Father. That is, they have been divinely set apart, set apart by God the Father to be given to God the Son to bring glory to both. The disciples, in other words, are a gift — a gift to Christ and, through Christ, a gift to the world.

In verse 19, Jesus also speaks of how he sets himself apart:

“for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

We might wonder why Jesus needs to sanctify himself. After all, wasn’t his a life entirely set apart for God? The Passion translation puts this verse in an interesting and helpful way:

“now I dedicate myself to them as a holy sacrifice so that they will live as fully dedicated to God and be made holy by your truth.”

Jesus eyes are clearly on the cross in this verse. For him, ultimately, being set apart for God entails going to the cross, facing all the horror and violence that the world could throw at him and turning it on its head, disarming the violence of the world by not allowing it to have the last word. But this is also him giving himself — gifting himself — for the disciples, for the church, for the world.

I couldn’t read that translation of verse 19 without thinking of our Eucharistic prayer:

Made one with him, we offer you these gifts
and with them ourselves,
a single, holy, living sacrifice.

It is a profound moment in our liturgy that has profound echoes of today’s reading. Jesus, in this prayer, offers himself in sacrifice. And we, in the prayer we say each Eucharist, offer ourselves to God in the bread and wine that we have brought and that we ask should become for us the body and blood of Christ. In this action, therefore, we become one with Christ in his sacrifice. In the bread and wine that we have set apart for God, we are set apart for God, are sanctified, are made holy.

What does it mean to be made holy, to be sanctified, to be set apart for God? What does it mean for our day-to-day living? From what Jesus says in the passage, one thing it clearly means is to be set in opposition to the world:

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (verse 14)

It would be too easy to use a verse like this to justify a retreat from society, a retreat from our obligation to care for all our human neighbours and even our nonhuman neighbours, a retreat from our call to care not only for all living things but for the earth that sustains them. Indeed, that is the way some people read such verses but it strikes me that such an understanding is completely at odds with the self-giving of Jesus in his life and death.

I spoke a couple of times before Easter of how, in the Gospel of John, that phrase “the world” often refers to the system of violence and oppression, death and domination in which we are all enmeshed. This, not the earth that God has given us to sustain the gift of life, is the world to which we do not belong.

It is important to keep that perspective in mind as we mark Christian Aid week this Sunday. It is not that we give to our global neighbours simply because it’s a nice thing to do or even because it is generous. We give because it is an expression of the love of Christ at work in us. We give because we are set apart for God and God requires us to care for all. We give because it is holy work.

This year, Christian Aid is focusing on the effects of climate change on people in the developing world. In parts of Kenya, for example, droughts last year were followed by relentless rainfall which damaged crops that had struggled to grow. Many of the farmers do not have reliable water sources and are without means to capture and hold rainwater. They are finding that staple crops like maize and beans are being damaged and destroyed by the more extreme conditions they face. The solution — building a dam — is not complex but it takes resources. Resources that the farmers do not have but we do.

For Florence, a widow and farmer, the building of a dam just outside her village means not only that she no longer has to walk hours to collect water, but that she can grow tomatoes and onions and chillies to feed her children, that she can keep bees and sell the honey to make a living. Where once her existence was full of struggle, she is now full of life, love and laughter. This, too, is a holy thing, a gift. And, because the dam was funded by donations from people like us, this gift is an act of resistance to the death and oppression built into our consumerist system. This gift strikes a blow for life. And striking a blow for life is one of the most holy things that we can do.

Easter 6 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 9th May

Acts 10.44-48; 1 John 5.1-6; John 15.9-17

Jesus said:

‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. … I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. … I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.’

I have called you friends.

Last week the Vice Provost movingly reflected on what it might mean for each of us, and the Cathedral, to abide in God’s love. This week I want us to think about what it might mean to find ourselves as friends of Christ, and in that friendship, friends of one another. I have called you friends.

In the farewell discourse that we heard in our Gospel today, Jesus places this image of friendship at the heart of the new community made possible in him. We often concentrate on the words ‘no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ That moving testimony of the power of friendship is of course important, and many in the course of history have borne witness to it, but it’s also true that we may find it hard to relate to that statement ourselves, as the calling to lay down one’s life comes rarely, or rarely that starkly or literally. And yet, as friends is how Jesus characterises all who follow him.

When thinking about friendship, we might use the word love, but I suspect more often we would talk about liking someone, we’re friends because we like them. One of the most interesting theologians writing today, James Alison, in his book, On Being Liked, reflects on the difference between loving and liking, particularly in the context where the word love can be over-used, or actually end up meaning something else:

The word ‘like’, he writes, is rather more difficult to twist into a lie than the word ‘love’, because we know when someone likes us. We can tell because they enjoy being with us, alongside us, want to share our time and company. What I would like to suggest is that if our understanding of being loved does not include being liked, or at least being prepared to learn to be liked, then there’s a good chance that we’re talking about the sort of love that can slip a double bind over us, that is really saying to us ‘My love for you means that I will like you if you become someone else.’

Alison suggests that seeing ourselves as friends of Christ, as being liked by Christ, helps avoid the danger of thinking that the love God has for us, is love conditional on us becoming someone other than who we are. But, Jesus says, I have called you friends.

C. S. Lewis wrote this about friendship: Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself … The point that Lewis is making is that friendship is a relationship rooted in freedom, not one bound by duty, or office, or function. We choose to be friends with someone. Friends allow you ‘to be’; friendship is based on affection and respect; it is joyful, at its best calling forth a mutual delight. It is also rooted in trust: the worst thing to happen in friendship is betrayal.

Friendship is about reciprocity. It’s another reason why it’s helpful to imagine ourselves as being friends of Christ, liked by God, rather than simply loved by God. Because, unlike love, there is no sense of charity about friendship; it’s not about being done to, but about something created together, and that is its strength.

Aristotle said, ‘Without friends no one would choose to live even though he possessed all other goods.’ That’s a statement that has echoes of the pearl of great price: friendship as something allied to the kingdom, which puts everything else into perspective, something nothing material can bring you.

And the church has at its heart that most basic activity of friends: a meal shared  together. On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples do not recognise the Risen Christ, but find themselves making friends with him, inviting him to share a meal with him, and then recognising him in the moment when their new-found friend and guest suddenly becomes the host and breaks the bread.

In that moment the disciples learn anew that they are indeed friends of Christ. But this is not something to hold to themselves, instead that friendship forms a new community, the Church. And we are called into that same friendship too.

Now that can be testing, because we also think of friendship as being spontaneous – like attracts like. Friendship can be about the clique of the insiders. Our reading from Acts this morning concerns that pivotal moment in the early Church, where Peter realises the circle of Christ’s friendship, given in the gift of the Holy Spirit, is much wider than he had realised. And that that calls him into new friendships, new relationships in that gift of the Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is crucial – the spirit of freedom that takes away our fear (the fear of those who are unlike us), and open us up to others. And so the early Church grows, and we grow, as, in our joyful life together, we offer friendship, discover friendship, with the unloved, the unlikely.

That placing of friendship at the heart of who we are may seem naïve, or of little consequence. And yet, if we take it seriously, even as we relish the joy of it, we also realise the centrality of relationships of trust and mutuality to human joy and flourishing.  And that is not just true personally, but in the ways we structure society. The friendship found here needs to transcend and overcome the divisions which are all too obvious; it needs to challenge the story that we all basically out for ourselves and what we can get. For Christ has called us friends, and in that friendship is our life. Amen.