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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARK 8:27-38

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, , and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

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

    AMEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 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.