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

Matt 25.14-30; 1 Thess 5.1-11

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembrance Sunday – Sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – November 8th 2020

Joshua 24.1-3a, 14-25; 1Thessalonians 4.13-18; Matthew 25.1-13

Wake, O wake!
With tidings thrilling the watchmen all the air are filling:
arise Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! No more delaying,
‘The hour has come’, we hear them saying.
Where are ye all, ye maidens wise?
The Bridegroom comes in sight, raise high your torches bright!
Alleluia! The wedding song swells loud and strong:
go forth and join the festal throng.

Those are the words of the opening verse of Philipp Nicolai’s great hymn; the basis of Bach’s wonderful cantata Wachet Auf, parts of which our choir are busy recording for Advent. It’s a hymn that takes as its inspiration the parable of the ten bridesmaids that we heard this morning. It’s often taken as a parable about the second coming of Christ, a matter of considerable importance and speculation to the early church, who, it is clear, expected that coming imminently. The parable ends, in Matthew’s telling of it after all, with the exhortation: ‘Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day or the hour.’

And yet, the parable is introduced by Jesus, as many parables are, by the phrase: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like this.’ No talk of second comings there, but of the kingdom that elsewhere Jesus has told his disciples is already among them. And the other strange thing about that final exhortation to ‘stay awake,’ is that within the parable all the bridesmaids (foolish and wise) fall asleep. To keep awake is not the issue therefore, rather that to be part of that kingdom which suddenly comes upon us is about being wise rather than foolish. We shouldn’t miss the Old Testament overtones of those words, where folly is about living as if there is no God, no purpose or meaning; and wisdom is understood to be about living within an awareness and awe of God. That foolishness and wisdom are found in the degree of preparedness, of making ready for the celebration that is to come, that will suddenly arrive.

That still begs the question, however, what that preparedness, consists in – what are the flasks of oil, if we are wise, we are asked to make sure we have stocks of? One answer of the Christian tradition is that wisdom is found in the process of remembering: that tradition itself is a school of wisdom; it is by remembering, re-telling and praying the stories of our tradition, that we stock up on wisdom, that we become prepared to see and greet the kingdom as it comes among us.

This is a Sunday when remembering looms large: not just the remembering of our own individual stories, however important those are in constructing our sense of who we are; but our collective, shared remembering: together holding the memory of those who have died in the wars of the last hundred years. Like our personal memories and the process whereby we arrive at them, such remembering is not straightforward: Remembrance Sunday can be an attempt to sanitize (or romanticize) the memories, to put them at the service a superficial patriotism, of ‘our country right or wrong’; but it also springs from a real and visceral need to remember the dead, to refuse to let their memory die also. Remembering is never straightforward, but is vital in shaping who we are, and what we long for.

Remembering is not confined to this Sunday only; it is at the heart of the church: we gather round the stories of the people of Israel, and of Christ and his disciples, re-enacting, re-membering week by week, in word and action, the tradition we are heirs to, and schooled within. In that is our wisdom. That can make the church sound inherently conservative, obsessed with the past, with the memories it inherits and re-tells. But if we characterize memories as the oil in the wise maiden’s lamps, then the point of remembering is so that we can be awake to what is happening. In a world where truth is ever more contested, and fabrications and lies become the common currency, then being anchored in truthful stories that school us in wisdom, in the ability to recognise truth when it comes, becomes ever more important. And, above all, in the Christian tradition, it enables us to be alive to the presence of the bridegroom coming amongst us; like the maidens, to wake up, and greet the coming Christ, the kingdom already amongst us. Without our stories, our common remembering, we would not recognise him; without our re-telling, the bread and wine remain bread and wine; it is the re-membering of the Last Supper which transforms them and us to recognise and receive them as Christ’s body and blood given for the life of the world.

And our remembering of the dead from the wars of the last century, as well as holding them in remembrance, refusing to let their violent death have the final word, also surely deepens our longing for peace, our conviction and desire to do all we are able to mean that the tragedy of war is never necessary again. So our remembering is not simply about looking back, but schooling us in wisdom, for the sake of the future. Christian faith is above all, centred on the memory of Jesus. The memory of his life, death and perhaps above all, his resurrection – that act of God which breaks open the endless cycle of violence, a cycle often dependent on the cherishing and holding of long memories. The resurrection reveals a God who turns our memories of violence and betrayal around, whose forgiveness, received and offered to others, breaks the hold the past can have over us. The church holds and hands on the memory of Jesus, because, in this man, we find our true home and identity; in the light of his memory, our memories are judged, and healed. Memories can both trap us (in nostalgia, in the longing to be somewhere other than here and someone other than who we are), or they can free us (by giving us an identity, a sense of self and a place in the unfolding story of God’s good purposes for God’s creation). Wisdom is found in that freedom.

Philipp Nicolai wrote his great hymn toward the end of the 16th century. He had lived through violent religious controversies – falling out with both Roman Catholics, and Calvinists; and now as the pastor of Unna in Westphalia, he found himself in the midst of the ravages of the plague. In one week in August 1597, he had to bury 170 victims; in total 1300 members of his parish died. The joyous acclamations of the hymn, and its tune, which he also wrote (although it took the genius of Bach to truly draw it out) – that joy may seem at odds with the those tragic circumstances. And yet, this is what faith offers in what otherwise would be unbearable circumstances: a drawing on a deep well of stories, of schooled wisdom, to offer hope and yes, even joy, in the hardest of times. And as we look toward Advent and Christmas, and wonder how we might offer hope and joy in our own hard, difficult times, then we need to look, our gospel suggests, to the oil in our lamps: the wisdom of our tradition, and our remembering; drawing on that deep well to strengthen our hope, and ground our joy. So that we, once more, recognise and greet the presence of Christ in our midst. Amen.

All Saints Day – Sermon preached by the Chaplain, Andy Philip – 1st November 2020

Revelation 7:9–17
1 John 3:1–3
Matthew 5:1–12

How does your family celebrate? My siblings and parents stay not too far away so, pre Covid, we tended to get together as a family for birthdays, big celebrations and over the Christmas and Easter periods. There was always food, there was usually laughter and, if it was a birthday, there was definitely singing of a particular song.

I realise that, in that respect, I’m fortunate. Not everyone has family members who live close enough for such get-togethers. Other people, for various reasons, perhaps opt to celebrate with their chosen family rather than their relatives.

Of course, the current restrictions on visiting other households mean that such celebrations are simply out of the question for everyone at the moment. And even if we were able to gather, singing anything would still be out of the question.

It is therefore all the more significant that our service this weekend is a family celebration of a sort. We might not be given to thinking of All Saints Day in those terms, especially if we normally conceive of saints as only those giants of the faith to whom the church has formally given the title. However, today’s readings, even though they do not use the word ‘saints’, are a good reminder of what the word means.

The reading from Revelation gives us a picture that we could describe as a family gathering in heaven. It’s a gathering with shouting and singing, celebration and thanksgiving. But it’s a gey kenspeckle crowd — there are people ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’; there are angels and elders and the mysterious ‘living creatures’.

Clearly, this isn’t a standard celebration. It seems to be unfettered by time and space or by any ethnic or linguistic barriers, let alone any public health regulations. Nor is it the celebration of a family in the usual sense. It is a chosen family but not in the same way that of a group of friends might be, having banded together around a shared experience or interest: this is a family that, as the Epistle reminds us, is chosen by God:

‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’
(1 John 3:1)

The reading from Revelation, therefore, gives us a family celebration with the pater familias at its heart: at the centre of the picture is God on the throne, with the children of God gathered round, like a family gathered round to celebrate their father on his birthday.

Revelation was written not as a coded guidebook to some distant future but as a comfort for Christians undergoing very real persecution, the kind of persecution that threatens martyrdom. It was written to say ‘God is still in charge’.

Perhaps we are to understand the multitude as what the Te Deum calls ‘the white-robed army of martyrs’. The ranks of this army continue to grow, as the news from Nice this week reminds us. But this great crowd doesn’t have to be read in that way. They are, simply, described as the ones ‘who have come out of the great ordeal’ (Rev 7:14). That is, they are the ones who have stayed the course, who have not given up despite everything that Rome threw at them. They are the ones who have held fast to their hope in Christ, remained secure in their identity as children of God.

For all its ethic, cultural and linguistic diversity, this great multitude must have some family resemblances beyond its fortitude to knit it together and show that these people are spiritual relatives. That is where we come to the Gospel reading. In these short verses, so well-kent,  Jesus lays out what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. It’s a list of the family traits of God’s children, if you like.

Each of these short pronouncements is headed by the word ‘Blessed’. It’s one of those terms many of us struggle to get our heads round. The Greek word used here, makarios, is often translated as simply ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’. If we think of it in those terms, we have a set of statements by Jesus that, not untypically for him, turns all our expectations on their heads: ‘Happy are those who mourn’. Eh? ‘Happy are those who are persecuted’. You kidding me?

But there is more to this word than mere happiness or good fortune. One commentator I read suggests that we read the Beatitudes through the lens of Psalm 1. This is one of three Psalms that focus on the law of the Lord and it famously begins:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked (Ps 1:1, NIV)

Apparently, there are two Hebrew words that we render with the verb ‘bless’, one which means ‘to be on the right way’ and one which means ‘to bow down’. The one used in Psalm 1 is the one that means ‘to be on the right way’.

If we read the Beatitudes in that light, we can see Jesus as saying, ‘You are on the right path when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn, when you are meek, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness’ and so forth. That makes a lot of sense of a puzzling phrase. But it doesn’t soften the challenge of Jesus’s words in the slightest.

No family lives up to its best all the time. We, the family of God, are no exception. We try to follow the path that Jesus lays out for us but we often fail. That’s why the confession and absolution are an essential part of our worship. Nonetheless, that path — and our efforts to follow it, however stumbling they may be — are the family resemblance that binds us together with our siblings in Christ throughout the world and in the world beyond.

To be a saint is, in fact, simply to be one of those people, to be a child of God. Throughout the New Testament, ‘the saints’ simply refers to the church. The saints are the ones who are holy not because they have particularly great faith but because they are set apart, have set themselves apart, for God. They are the ones who hear and heed Jesus’ call to follow the path that he lays out in the Beatitudes and demonstrates through his life, death and resurrection.

We are not facing imminent arrest and execution because of our faith. But we are nonetheless going through a difficult trial as we struggle to navigate the continuing pandemic. Our response to that trial is unlikely to confer on any of us even unofficial sainthood — not being Roman Catholics is a bit of a barrier to the official version! But we can nonetheless be saints as we follow Christ and can join with the saints who have gone before in standing before the throne of God and the Lamb as we worship.

As we celebrate those whose lives and witness have inspired us, let us remember not only the great heroes of faith but those whose quiet faithfulness to the way of Christ has nourished us and continues to nourish us. Let us celebrate too the joy of having one another.

Questions for Reflection/Discussion

  1. Whose life and witness has most inspired your Christian life?
  2. Which of the Beatitudes do you relate to most and which do you find most challenging? Why is this?
  3. How does conceiving of All Saints Day as a ‘family celebration’ feel to you? Is it helpful or a hindrance? Does it change the way you think about the day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 20 – sermon preached online by the Provost, John Conway – 18th October 2020

Exodus 33.12-23; Psalm 99; Matthew 22.15-22

We need to talk about God. In the midst of this pandemic, and the anxieties, frustrations and fears for the future that it throws up, we need to talk about God. In the midst of the extraordinary stories of love and care and compassion that this pandemic also reveals, we need to talk about God.

We need to talk about God so that we can be clear and articulate about what faith means in the midst of the extraordinary events overtaking us. We need to talk about God so we can deepen our faith, and find the resources to build up the solidarity, the sense of community, the will to persevere, the concern for the vulnerable, that will see us through.

The need to talk about God is something that Jesus too invites us to consider. When those in authority, those who had things worked out, in his own day, approached him to trap him in clever questions, they did so by first flattering him, and then trying to find the question that would condemn him: ‘Teacher,’ they said to Jesus, ‘we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?’

We don’t have to get into the complicated politics of Jesus’ own day, the questions of the legitimacy or otherwise of an occupying imperial army, to realise that the question is about the limits of faith – what impact does faith have on the conduct and the shape of our living; our relationship to authority – the emperor in Jesus’ time. Is faith simply something relegated to the private sphere, or something that has an impact on our public behaviour and attitudes – in this case the payment of taxes to an emperor.

Jesus’ answer to the question designed to trap him, is to throw back the question on to those who ask it, and – for those of us hearing it as part of our Gospel reading for today – back on us, to answer for ourselves in our own time and circumstance. ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ The line is not clear cut; authority, what is demanded of us by others, needs to be respected; but so must the demands of faith. Those demands of faith, the outworking of believing in God, may, or may not, be in tension with the claims of authority. But they need to be thought about, decisions made about how we are going to act, the shape our life might take – what allegiance we are going to owe, to whom, and why. We need to talk about God.

The great American Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, writes this:

Entertain this proposition: That God is the map whereby we locate the setting of our life. That God is the water in which we launch our life raft. That God is the real thing, from which and toward which we receive our being and identify ourselves. It follows that the kind of God at work in your life will determine the shape and quality and risk and centre of your existence. It matters who God is.

The question of who God is, certainly mattered to Moses. Our reading from Exodus sees Moses embarking on a long dialogue with God about the meaning and presence of God in his trials and journeyings. By this point Moses is approaching old age; he’s brought the people out of Egypt amidst great signs and wonders; he’s tracked across the desert with them through great hardship and tribulation. And now he’s wondering what it’s all been about; where has God been through it all? ‘Show me your ways,’ he says to God, ‘consider too that this nation is your people.’ And the replies he gets are a repeat of the theological truths he already has heard, he already knows, but that somehow are not enough: ‘You have found favour in my sight,’ repeats God, ‘I know you by name.’

It is a dense dialogue between Moses and God, full of questions and the repeating of assurances that God is present, assurances that fail to satisfy Moses. And then we have a strange exchange that is worth quoting in full:

Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And God said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

‘Show me your glory, I pray,’ asks Moses. And then God talks about being all goodness, about being gracious and merciful. But that fullness of God can never be seen: that glory of God – that fullness of goodness, of graciousness and mercy – will pass by Moses, but he’ll only catch the back of it, the trailings of God’s glory. But that will be enough.

We need to talk about God. But even more we need to pray to be shown God’s glory, those trailings of the fullness of goodness and graciousness and mercy, that are the signs of God’s presence and truth. If we knew the fulness of God; if we could define and say, that’s God, then by definition we would have captured something less than God. God is the one who always exceeds our limits of knowledge and understanding, who is beyond our ken, because the fullness of goodness, of grace and mercy, is beyond us. And yet the trailings of that goodness, the signs of its presence through our world in extraordinary acts of goodness, of grace and mercy, the trailings of God’s presence in people and places and moments that lift our heart and direct us toward God – that is what we need to nourish us in faith, to strengthen us for the long journey that beckons, to tackle together the challenges of a pandemic which strikes above all the vulnerable, and questions our solidarity and love. The fullness of goodness is beyond us, but we can know something of its glory, be caught up in its trailings, and allow that goodness to shape us. To give back to God, the things that are God’s – God’s goodness, and grace, and mercy – to God’s glory. Amen

St Francis – Sermon preached online by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley – 4th October 2020

“The whole point of (St. Francis’) point of view was that it looked out freshly upon a fresh world, that might have been made that morning. Save for the great primal things, the Creation and the Story of Eden, the first Christmas and the first Easter, the world had no history.”

That quotation from GK Chesterton’s biography of St Francis gives us an insight into the radical nature of Franciscan spirituality.  Unlike other founders of religious orders, Francis took a very straightforward approach to spiritual journeying, his core instruction was to Live the Gospel.  He didn’t give a set of spiritual exercises or a Rule covering every aspect of life; he kept it simple.  Live the Gospel.  Approach each day as a new beginning, an opportunity to engage with people, to make a difference for people, to care for God’s people.

The personal journey that Francis went on was one that few of us could emulate.  Not only did he give up his personal wealth and some of his father’s possessions, but he actively sought to engage with people who were ostracised, to reach out to people on the fringes of society and to treat them as sisters and brothers.

Immersion in the battlegrounds of Perugia and the way he dealt with his subsequent imprisonment give us an early indication of the way that God was working within him and the radical nature of his approach to his fellow human beings.  When others condemned, Francis was compassionate.  When others turned away, Francis reached out.  He had a gift for recognising the humanity in the other, a gift for honouring each person and accepting them just as they were.  One of the better known stories about Francis is about him overcoming his fear and disgust of lepers and getting off his horse to kiss a leper and to offer him money.  Subsequently, he explained that encounter as an encounter with Christ.  And one of the cornerstones of the ongoing ministry that Francis and his friars engaged in was within a leper colony.

What Francis did was more than simply to overcome his own prejudices and revulsion, more than doing good for the sake of doing good.  It appears that he found himself compelled to behave in these ways, compelled to honour the people he met; compelled to live the Gospel on a daily basis.

His personal encounters with Christ marked him – both with the physical marks of the stigmata that he bore and with the inner marks of compassion and love.

Let’s look at today’s Scripture from St Matthew, bearing in mind as we do that Francis instructed his friars to live the Gospel.  The first Apostles were sent out with clear instructions both about what they should be doing but also about how they should go about it.  Jesus is telling them not to plan too far ahead.  Don’t make contingency plans; don’t take your emergency rations or that spare £20 note ‘just in case’.  Just set off and engage with the people you meet and the situations you encounter.

As I hear myself saying that, I know that I could easily become quite anxious at the prospect.   I wasn’t a Girl Guide but I’ve probably absorbed the suggestion that at all times we should be prepared.  And yet, here we read that we should do just the opposite; that we should go as we are, that we should engage in the moment, and that if it doesn’t work out we should simply move on and start again.

Now that really is a description of living with trust, being responsive, a description of an approach most of us just aren’t ready for.  We have bills to pay and dependents to take care of.  We have diaries and appointments and commitment – places to be and things to do.   So is there something we can learn from Francis that would help us to live lives that were a little bit closer to that Gospel imperative, allow us to be a little bit more akin to those disciples rather than perhaps realising that the best we manage is to be the disciples we choose to be?   Back to Chesterton: Francis looked out freshly on a fresh world that might have been made that morning.

It seems to me that the first step towards that way of engaging is to lay down each day at the end of that day.  To find a way to give thanks for all that any particular day has brought, to ask God’s forgiveness for our wrong doing in the course of the day and to remind ourselves that tomorrow will be a new day, an opportunity for a new beginning, a day to do some things a bit differently from today and perhaps a day to build on some of what went well today.  In that popular phrase: every day’s a school day.

Let’s just note the beginning of the quotation from Chesterton: Francis looked out.  Francis didn’t just fall out of bed and find himself immersed in his first activity of the day before he’d properly woken up.  Francis took the time to greet the new day, to remind himself that this was a fresh beginning that would bring fresh opportunities and challenges.  This is the flip side of the suggestion I made that we should lay down all that a day has been.  It’s kind of like bookending our days.  At the start of the day we might take a moment to remind ourselves that this is a new day, that whatever yesterday was or tomorrow will be, this is the day we are asked to live.   And this day comes to its end when we take a few moments to absorb all that it has been and brought and to give thanks.

If we are seeking to give thanks for living a little bit more like the first disciples, to give thanks for opportunities to live the Gospel, then we do well to remember that Francis based his living of that Gospel in his actions and attitudes towards others.

The defining feature of his service is that first and foremost he was interested in people who were most disadvantaged, more discriminated against, most excluded or reviled.  To follow in the footsteps of Francis demands us to reach out to people whom we find it impossible to understand, people who have made choices that make no sense to us, people whose lives are unimaginable for us.  And the danger is then that we try to do good to people, rather than getting alongside and finding out what would make a difference for them.

That’s the challenge – but it’s a challenge that we don’t have to accomplish all in one day.  Today’s reminder is that each day is a fresh beginning and brings fresh opportunities.  The Gospel imperative is to get out there and do it.  Offer what you are able and if it’s welcomed, great, and if not, move on.   Day by day, you will learn what makes a difference and what is best laid aside.

We’re unlikely to become modern day versions of Francis but we can be the best versions of ourselves; and that at both the beginning and the end of the day is all that God asks of us.

 

Creation-time 4 – Harvest – Sermon preached online by the Chaplain, Andy Philip – 27th September 2020

Deuteronomy 8:7–18
2 Corinthians 9:6–15
Luke 12:16–30

Nothing is certain — so the well-known saying has it — except death and taxes. The rich man in the parable we have just heard might quibble with that assessment. Whatever he might have thought about taxes — and I don’t imagine it would be anything positive or necessarily anything printable — death seems to have been rather far from his mind. Nothing unusual about that, we might justifiably say. But whatever he did or didn’t think about death or taxes, he seems to have had a remarkable confidence that his harvest and his treasures would see him through the vagaries of the years ahead — if he even considered the possibility of vagaries.

This character, traditionally dubbed the rich fool, is a bit of an absurd figure. And he truly is a fool in the biblical sense. The Psalms and the Book of Proverbs have a lot to say about fools. The word fool isn’t used to imply a lack of intelligence or common sense but is applied to somebody who denies or ignores God. As the psalmist famously proclaims: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps 14:1).

The rich fool is just such a person. It’s not that he openly says or consciously thinks “There is no God” but that he lives without reference to, or reverence for, God. It’s all me, me, me: “my barns” and “my grain” and “my goods” and “I will do this”. He is purely and simply living off the fat of the land and exploiting it for his own gain and pleasure. There is nothing about his family, his workers or his friends. There is no hint that the bumper crop is not all his doing or that, given different circumstances — a change in climatic conditions, for instance — it could have been a bumper failure. There is no hint that he doesn’t have complete control over the future. “You have ample goods laid up for many years,” he congratulates himself.

He does just what we are warned against doing in the reading from Deuteronomy: he forgets the Lord:

Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God […] When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them […] and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God […] Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.
(Deut 8:11–14, 17, 18)

These words describe precisely the trap the rich fool has fallen into. We even see him exalting himself into God’s place in the language he uses when he talks to himself. His address to his soul ironically echoes the Psalms. Think of the beginning of Ps 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits

Those lines echo our Deuteronomy passage, which says:

You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. (8:10)

The rich fool blesses himself instead of God. Truly, he is a model of the person who has forgotten the Lord.

He gets his comeuppance for his selfishness and absurd self-absorption. He isn’t allowed to get away with his plans for exploitation, gain and pleasure. Instead, the very things he ignored — God, death and maybe even inheritance tax — catch up with him. The one whom the rich fool denied denies him the chance to guzzle in his greed. God gets the last laugh and we, the parable’s audience, get to laugh at the man’s foolishness.

But don’t laugh too loud, or don’t laugh without at least a wry chuckle at yourself. For the fool is us. Jesus wants us to recognise our own folly: our own capacity for self-absorption, our own greed and selfishness, our own remarkable capacity to forget the God who has given us all we have.

In that light, it is legitimate to read this passage as a parable of our society, a parable of how we are living in relation to our global neighbours and the planet. Aren’t we, as a society, the ones who have been obsessed with continual economic growth, with pulling down our barns and building bigger ones, with enjoying every possible pleasure and creating new ones to fill our unprecedented amount of leisure time? We have done that at the cost of our neighbours in the developing world, at the cost of the environment and at the cost of the very existence of a vast number of the animal and plant species with which we share this planet, this good land that the Lord has given us. Given the likely cause of Covid 19, we have also done it at the cost of our own health. And we have done it at the cost of our own souls.

How, then, should we act to make sure that we do not join our wealthy farmer friend in his foolishness?

Jesus implies at the end of the parable that we are to be “rich towards God” (Luke 12:21). This is the opposite of forgetting God. It surely starts with giving thanks for what God has given us. But it can’t end there. The rich fool could have sought to sanctify his schemes by giving thanks for what God had given and continued with his programme of “eat, drink, be merry”. He still would not have been free of his self-absorption or been “rich towards God”.

The Epistle for today nudges us in the direction we need. There, we read how God provides us with “every blessing in abundance”, so that we “may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). The harvest is the Lord’s and we are to share it. We are to be not rapacious devourers of the planet’s resources but cheerful givers out of the abundance that God has given us (2 Cor 9:7), giving not only to fellow Christians but to “all others” (2 Cor 9:13). In light of how interconnected our world is, that means making choices that allow others to live — living simply that others may simply live, as it is often put. Not only other people, but other species.

As David Attenborough’s recent programme showed us, that involves some complex choices. It is not simply enough to eat less meat, for instance, if we switch to alternatives that use soya from farms that destroy habitats halfway across the world. But it is part of our calling to grapple with these issues, to switch where we can to more sustainable and more just patterns of living, because caring for the good land the Lord has given us and caring for our neighbours is part of being rich towards God.

Ultimately, being rich towards God is about giving away. Giving away not just material goods but giving ourselves in love. It is then, when our actions — driven by the Holy Spirit and motivated by love — have freed us from the hold our material treasures have over us, that our thanksgiving draws us into a new richness, when we become more deeply aware of how everything we have is a gift.

Questions for reflection or discussion
Do you recognise yourself in the rich fool? How could you change to be less like him?

How can we be cheerful givers to our neighbours in developing countries? How can we allow them to be cheerful givers to us without this becoming a relationship of exploitation?

In what ways do you “bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you”? Does this go beyond words into action? How might it go further?

Creation-time 3 – Sermon preached online by the Bishop of Edinburgh, Rt Rev Dr John Armes – 20th September 2020

Matthew 20.1-16

I don’t suppose many landowners would behave like the man in today’s story. But that’s the point. The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t a place or a realm where people behave normally – according to the usual rules and expectations of the prevailing culture. It isn’t the locus for the ordinary but the extraordinary.

In the Kingdom of Heaven – in a world that works by God’s rules – we find people doing extraordinary things, acting with extraordinary generosity. They don’t calculate gain or loss, they’re not concerned about what the neighbours think, they don’t pay heed to doomsayers or the threats of those whose interests are vested in the status quo. By the standards of both his day and ours, the landowner had more money than sense. Who pays someone for work they haven’t done? And surely, if this were to be the usual pattern wouldn’t it simply encourage everyone to turn up at five o’clock and do one hour’s work rather than springing out of bed at first light to toil through the day?

The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard speaks to us of eternal truths but it’s also very much a story for today. St Augustine would have pointed out that it’s we, Christian believers, who’ve arrived at the last minute to spend our hour in the vineyard before being given exactly the same reward as holy women and men who entered God’s service many centuries ago. He would say that the one denarius each of us receives is sufficient for all we need. If we have enough why would we grumble that others also have enough? In God’s economy, indeed, we do not earn but we are promised eternal life – infinite life – so it’s surely foolish to begrudge infinity to others when there is no limit to the benefits we shall enjoy.

Such is the greater theological truth of this story, if you like, but it’s also a story that has interesting resonances for today. Its inversion of the natural order of things and its challenge to our work ethic is perhaps heard differently in a pandemic world where it has not just been necessary but desirable to pay people to stay at home, to subsidise business owners, to compensate employers, to house the homeless. All this stands in stark contrast to the political ideology, shared by many of us let’s be honest, that idleness should not be rewarded, that people should receive an incentive to work, that one’s ‘worth’ is defined by the size of one’s income.

Haven’t we learned during this time, for example, that the most useful people, the most essential people, aren’t those high up the pay scale? Haven’t we also leaned, of ourselves as well as seeing it in others, that work actually fulfils us – that for most of us inactivity causes all sorts of stresses and strains on our mental health – that we like to be doing things, learning things, joining in things? And, if we don’t get paid for it we’re often willing to do it for nothing. Haven’t we caught a glimpse, a tiny glimmer, of an economic reality that doesn’t demand growth on growth and in which the sharing of wealth promotes health, well-being and creativity? A glimpse, perhaps, of the Kingdom of Heaven where God’s rules apply – and as we’ve looked we’ve wondered whether perhaps it’s not as daft and eccentric as we once thought.

The difficulty is that shortly after we’re born we learn to put on blinkers. Centuries of worldly wisdom crowd in on us, seep into us, and in some part of ourselves we imbibe the idea that those who are poor must suffer for it and those who are rich must be rewarded. Yet, interestingly, the church – in part of its life at any rate – has always subverted these conventions. Its clergy, whose role as shepherds of God’s flock, as those who tend to the deepest spiritual needs of humanity, who share a vision of God’s glory and God’s justice, and as such, I would argue, are doing essential work, vital work of lasting value, aren’t paid a salary but a stipend. And this stipend is calculated on the basis of providing enough to live on rather than rewarding the hours worked (which are many) or the importance of the job done (which, as I say, is huge).

Now whilst the purity of this position has been eroded and qualified over the years, and whilst it’s increasingly difficult to maintain the idea of stipend as against salary – and whilst at times clergy morale is undermined in a culture that equates the level of pay with one’s social status – nevertheless we see here in the life of Christian community evidence of the eccentric economy of the Kingdom of God.

Increasingly others too, quite apart from communities of faith, are wondering whether we haven’t got it wrong. With the emergence of artificial intelligence, the probability that the future can’t promise a 9-5 job for everyone and since there is already plenty of wealth to go around, many are asking whether the time may have come to welcome all this, to reduce working hours, encourage job sharing and pay everyone what’s called a universal basic income.

As I say, recent experience has shown how adaptable we are in terms of working practice. It’s also indicated that people (most people) enjoy being active and that, freed from working long hours, most people can be incredibly resourceful and productive with their time, even in lock-down.

Whether those workers in the vineyard who arrived late did so because they’d slept in or spent the day in the equivalent of the pub, or whether they’d been looking after an elderly relative or child-minding or starting their own small business or learning to play the harp (or any number of other reasons) we’re not told and neither is this the point of the story. Human beings are fallible, they mess up, and because they mess up every economic system they devise is likely to be flawed, universal basic income as well as free-market capitalism. St Augustine is right to remind us that the disproportionate rewards of God’s kingdom are for the next life rather than a utopian possibility for this.

And yet, the story Jesus tells of the employment practices of a rather strange landowner invites us to think about work, about its rewards, about money and status and indeed, about the purpose of life itself. At a time when the unthinkable is a daily occurrence it enables us to see how the values of God’s kingdom might inform and shape our future. This is surely why we pray, ‘Your kingdom come, O God, on earth as in heaven.’

+John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creation-time 1 – sermon preached online by the Provost, John Conway – 6th September 2020

Exodus 12.1-14; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20

The Cathedral soaring around me is a monumental structure. It was very consciously designed and built less than 150 years ago, of course, to look back, and echo, the great gothic medieval Cathedrals of Europe. But it was also built to last, to re-echo long into the future; re-echo a word of praise and beauty, to witness to realities that transcend time. Past, present and future are here all present, in what we might call cathedral time. It is that monumentality, that presence that underpins the Cathedral as a place of prayer: here is the reassurance of permanence; here the immediate cares and anxieties drop away and a sense of perspective is given by that Cathedral time, those realities that transcend time. The Cathedral in its very structure announces that it is here for the long haul.

The date of 2030 is cited by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the last opportunity to avoid global warming above 1.5 degrees centigrade, the maximum ‘safe’ level agreed in the Paris accord of 2015.  If we have not drastically curtailed global warming gas emissions by then, then future life on earth is threatened. Threatened not least by the feedback loops established by global warming within nature itself – where change is amplified by the melting of artic sea ice, for example, that it is then very hard to imagine re-freezing. Under the IPCC’s ‘business as usual’ scenario, sea level will increase by 0.84 metres by 2100, but many scientists predict far higher rises given those feedback loops.

As a coastal city this is grave news for Edinburgh. What will the map of Edinburgh look like in the 2070’s, for instance, as this Cathedral approaches its 200th anniversary? And how about for its 300th or 500th year anniversary?  It seems increasingly likely that half of Edinburgh will be under water within a century or two.  We may all be long gone, but what does that potentially altered map of Edinburgh say about the permanence of this building, a permanence surely offered not just for itself, but as part of our offering to our city. The Cathedral announces that we are in this for the long haul, that the realities that transcend time also will endure through time. Climate change puts a huge question mark against that.

And we live in a part of the world that could be relatively unscathed. If we think Covid in recent months has disrupted our usual patterns, then that is nothing compared to what might be coming. As Paul says in his leter to the Romans, You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

So how do we hold those two perspectives together – the long term, the unanxious presence of this Cathedral; and the sense of crisis in our relationship to the earth and one another that is our current moment and challenge?

Today is the start of creation-time; a month long celebration and reminder that the world is God’s world, not simply ours; that we are because of God’s good gift of life – a gift of life to all creation, life in all its evolved diversity and splendour; a creation of which we are but one part, and on which we, and all humanity, depend. Creation-time begins in the moment when we stop, and in awe and wonder and praise, contemplate the mystery and beauty of that creation.

But we also enter Creation-time at a moment when we know, more than ever before, that God’s creation as we experience it, as it gives life to generations of humans and a profusion of other life, is under peril. Under peril from an unsustainable way of living that treats the earth not as a gift to cherish and hand on to future generations but a resource to exploit for present purposes and gain. You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. Creation-time names our environmental crisis as a spiritual crisis. That doesn’t mean that Christianity has the answer to the crisis in some straight-forward fashion. Rather it is the insight that if we are going to respond to this crisis together then we need to engage with and draw upon the resources and insights that Christianity, and the other great religions, offer, so that we might, together, change. The deep resources represented by the monumentality of this place are desperately needed in the urgent task of responding to a world in peril.

That sense of urgency pervades our first reading from the Book of Exodus. I spoke a fortnight ago about Exodus being the primal narrative of the people of Israel. The heart of that rescue by God, in the story of the Passover, is told in this memorialised form because whatever history lies behind that liberation, it becomes through telling and re-telling, the primordial story of the people of Israel – they are, above all, those whom God has rescued. This is the moment of a new start that can be forever reclaimed as happening now. Our reading tells the people how the Passover meal is to be eaten: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. At the heart of this primal and formational narrative is a perpetual reminder that we are a people on the move, that we are not to get comfortable. The story as old as time, almost, is what brings renewed urgency.

And our Gospel reading, addressing as it does, disputes and dissensions within the church, provides the spiritual resource of honesty. When serious matters are in view – and what could be more serious than the imperilling of life on earth – when disputes arise, work these things out together, says Jesus. The life of mutual forgiveness that Christ calls us into is a life that asks us into costly relationship with others – as we are now realising with all creation, present and future. These are not relationships to be given up on, but worked out in and through the practise of forgiveness. For in this way the God of all creation breaks open our selfish ways with his liberating presence – for where two or three are gathered, I am there, says Christ; where two or three are gathered, I am is there; the God who gave God’s name from the burning bush as I am, is there, is here. Calling us into a different future, so that with urgency and humility we  lift our eyes beyond simply our present concerns and needs, and embrace the purposes of the one who holds all life in being, through all time. To God be the glory and the praise. Amen.