Pentecost 2023

Acts 2:1-21             Psalm 104:26-36              1 Cor 12:1-13         John 20:19-23

Sometimes I read something so brilliant, so perfect, that I want to share more than just the essence of what the writer says. Sometimes I want to share whole chunks of their thoughts, just as they say them. This morning’s sermon is, in large parts, down to the wonderful work of Barbara Brown-Taylor and I thank God and her for many of these words…

Take a breath. Take a breath.

Do you know that the word ‘conspire’ means to breathe together.

So take a breath again…and know we have just launched our own conspiracy!

Knowing this seems to make sense of why the newly risen Jesus would come and appear to his terrified disciples and breathe on them, and say, ‘as the father has sent me, so I send you…receive the holy spirit’.

Keep hold of that thought – of the link between breath and conspiracy and the Holy Spirit. Keep hold of it as you keep breathing through these next few minutes. Keep hold of that thought as you hear this…

BBT writes, ‘If you have studied earth science, then you know that our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air that ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning company comes along every hundred years to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating, which means that every time any of us breathes we breathe star dust left over from the creation of the earth.

We breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya and air that has turned yellow with sulfur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo…

Every time we breathe, we take in what was once some baby’s first breath, or some dying person’s last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us into the next person, or tree, or blue-tailed skink, who uses it to live.

And she goes on to say, ‘When Jesus let go of his last breath – that breath hovered in the air in front of him for a moment and then it was set loose on earth. It was such pungent breath – so full of passion, so full of life – that it did not simply dissipate as so many breaths do. It grew, in strength and in volume, until it was a mighty wind, which God sent spinning through an upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath, and it worked’.

Today we celebrate Pentecost – the day when a holy hurricane turned lives upside down, forever, and the church burst into flames, burst into life, to bring good news to people everywhere, in words and phrases they could understand; to show everyone, whoever they were, that God was for them – for us – for all people. And it came in fire and words and power and in breath. Everyone was filled with God’s own breath.

And as they breathed God in, so they were changed on the inside.

And as they breathed God out, so the world was beginning to change around them.

Nervous, clumsy people, who always said the wrong thing, suddenly became bold and confident and eloquent. Grieving people became full of hope and joy and lost people found a sense of direction. And when they opened their mouths to speak, Jesus’ voice came out. They healed the sick and spoke darkness into light. And nothing had happened – no additional training or anything like that – they had simply dared to breathe in God…and then breathe God out again. And it turned them into a force that changed the whole world; the same force that propelled us here today, whether we know it or not.

Listen to the way BBT puts it… ‘The Holy Spirit entered them the same way it had entered Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for the same reason. It was time for God to be born again – not in one body this time but in a body of believers who would receive the breath of life from their Lord and pass it on, using their own bodies to distribute the gift’.

That is what we are celebrating here today*. And that’s why today is a specially good day for a baptism! Because in baptism we are doing that too.

In a few moments, baby Ada will be anointed with holy oil – the symbol of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit we are all breathing. Then she will be washed in holy water, in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And she will be given the gift of fire – a flame lit from our holy fire here in church – as a reminder that God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all, and as a challenge to go from this place, full of the Holy Spirit, and take God’s light to all the world – to make the world a lighter and brighter place, simply by being in it.

Today we celebrate the first mass outpouring of God’s Spirit at Pentecost and today baby Ada has her own personal Pentecost in and through her holy baptism, and we all get to share in it – get to catch bits of it.

So, as we do that, I encourage you to notice your breath. And know it is God. And as you breathe God in, may you know beyond all knowing that you are completely loved. And as you breathe God out, may you know that even your very breath has power to change the world. And in Ada’s moment of baptism, may your breath be for her – aimed at her, as a prayer for her future, that she too may know she is loved, always, and may this little person one day go on to be a true force for good in this world. Amen.

*At this point I had to divert from the script because the baby was unable to be baptised today, due to Covid. Instead of completing the sermon as written, I invited people to come to the altar rail for anointing with holy oil, for a fresh outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

A family friendly talk for Mother’s Day

Our Mother’s Day service was a family service and our sermon was interactive. I printed out each letter of MOTHERS DAY on individual sheets of paper and 10 volunteers held each one, rearranging the letters to form the words in bold-underlined below.

Today is Mother’s Day – a day we can remember our mums and those who have been like mums to us – our sisters, step mums, aunts, grandparents, godparents, carers, and many others…

Some people’s mums are the best; they smell like sweet soap and make the perfect apple pie and never get mad. They smother you from head to toe in kisses and keep the cupboards always full of chocolate.

But for some people, Mother’s Day is one the hardest day of the year because their mum wasn’t perfect, and life was much more ordinary than that. much more complicated, more muddled, more normal…or maybe something worse

And some of us will find a day like today really sad, because our mum isn’t with us and we miss her because she has died, or lives far away, or we feel sad because we would have loved to have been a mama and we aren’t one.

Today’s bible readings had something to say about all of these things, even though they didn’t mention mums and were written a long, long time before Mother’s Day ever became a thing.

The first reading that Jacques read to us, promised us that we are all God’s children – so God is like our mother, a perfect one. One who loves us always, with all her heart.

And our gospel reading promised that we will not be left on our own. I will not leave you orphaned, Jesus said. That means we will always have a parent, right beside us, all of our days on earth, and we will be safe and loved and cared for.

And wherever we are, whoever is nearby or far away, God – our divine mother – our holy mum – will always be a place of refuge, a home for us to go to, every single day until…

Someday we will be together, forever, in heaven, face to face. Amen.

And this is all amazingly good news. Because we are loved more than we can ever imagine, and we always have our Heavenly Mama cheering us on and helping us out. So, the only bad thing about all of this is that I can’t get the word hamster into the story… haha!

Fun fact: some other words that could have been included in the talk are…









The Gospel according to Belinda Carlisle

Acts 7: 55-60      Ps 31:1-5, 17-18       1 Peter 2:11-25             John 14: 1-14

Every Monday morning I read the bible readings for the following Sunday so they can be percolating in my brain as the week goes on. Sometimes they trip me up, like those pesky disciples on that flippin’ road to Emmaus a couple of weeks ago. Other times they catch me unawares and unexpectedly, and occasionally they feel like something of a security blanket. The familiar words from John’s gospel, we heard just now, have fallen into that last category.

Yesterday I was in the Supreme Court Gardens in the city, in the rain, with Mareena Purslowe Funeral Directors, speaking at their memorial event for Mother’s Day. And I echoed these words for those that gathered there… In my father’s house – in heaven – Jesus says – there are many rooms…and I am going there to get them ready, and then I will come back and take you there so that where I am, there you may be also.

And because of this – I reassured them – even in our deepest sadness, we can have hope…because we can dare to believe that the place where they have gone is perfect – that our loved ones are free from pain and sadness and confusion. And one day we will be together again.

On Thursday I was at the funeral of a beloved friend and colleague, Belinda, who had died of cancer, aged just 51. Although she hadn’t chosen these particular words for her service we inevitably reflected on her sure and certain place in heaven. She knew, and we know, that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for her and that, from that hospital bed, in her final moments, he came and took her to himself so that where He was, so Belinda would be also.

I know these words so well. I use them over and over at funerals, every single time. They are one of the few bible passages I can quote off by heart; they are so firmly in my head and soul.

So it was interesting that, whilst sitting in the doctors waiting room on Wednesday afternoon, I was visited – via the sound system there – by the 20th century prophet, Belinda Carlisle; that American singer from the 1980s who taught us the very important lesson that, in fact, Heaven is a place on Earth.

They say in heaven, love comes first – she sang – we’ll make heaven a place on earth. Ooh, Heaven is a place on earth

And so it is that I’m looking at these familiar words from John’s gospel from both sides. Yes, we do believe that in our Father’s house there are many rooms – many dwelling places – and we believe that we will be taken there when we die and that we will be with our God, forever, and that the place we are going to is full of light and life and all good things. And, in heaven, love comes first.

But why should we wait? Why would we spend all this life, all these 9 or more decades, just marking time, taking up space, idly waiting for the day when everything will be better – waiting for the day we die – where we will be surrounded by perfection or holiness or extravagant beauty, or whatever other words we want to prescribe to it? Why would we wait when we could be living that life now?!

You know the way to the place where I am going – Jesus says. It is me, he says. I am the way. You know how to get there!

Friends, Jesus was speaking to his disciples before he died. Before he had defeated death and cleared the way to this new world where death no longer has the last word. But we are resurrection people! The time of waiting is over. The work has been done. We can live in the fullness of these promises right now.

And don’t we always pray ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’?

Do we believe that is possible?

What does God’s Kingdom look like on earth?

And what are we doing to become the answer to that prayer?

As well as food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless…

As well as clothing for the naked and company for the lonely…

Perhaps it is also a church, doing her bit to love this planet and to live lightly on it.

Perhaps it is a place that throws open its doors and says come and eat here – you are welcome – all are welcome.

Heaven on earth looks like freedom for the slave and safe refuge for those experiencing violence in their own homes, and then keeping on working until it becomes a place where slavery is abolished, and relationships are flourishing.

Heaven on earth has open borders and access to education for all.

And at this table, and in this collar, all are invited, and nobody is excluded, regardless of academic achievement or how they identify or who they love.

Yes, Jesus is going to prepare a place for us. But isn’t it always true that we should be emulating what Jesus teaches? Doesn’t it then follow that we should be preparing a place for others – for our children and grandchildren, for the outcast and the stranger and the asylum seeker and those who are in any kind of need. And that place should be here on earth, rather than a pie-in-the-sky promise for when they die.

Love comes first, Belinda Carlisle sang. We’ll make heaven a place on earth.

That 1980s hit was gimmicky, with an annoyingly catchy tune, terrible hair, and dreadful eye makeup. But she was onto something.

Jesus’ final challenge in this morning’s gospel passage was for his disciples to ask for anything in his name, and his heavenly parent would give it to them, with the corresponding promise that we would do even greater things than he had done. So are we prepared to ask for heaven to be built on earth? And then do the even greater thing of being the ones that help to build it. Amen.

A road to Emmaus

Acts 2:14a, 36-41                 Ps 116:1-4, 12-19            1 Peter 1:13-25  Luke 24:13-35

I have spent so much time with these disciples on this road this week! I have walked with them and listened to them and wondered about them. They have been with me as I’ve worked and as I swam. They’ve been with me when I laid awake in the night and when I slept. And, as is sometimes the case, the more time I spent with them, the less I understand their story. I began the week going ‘oh the road to Emmaus! I love this one!’ and have reached Sunday going ‘I don’t think I get it!’

So, we join them on the first Easter Sunday, and these two disciples are going to Emmaus, a village seven miles from Jerusalem, and they’re talking about all the things that have happened. And as they are walking, Jesus himself came near and went with them. They don’t know it is him, because ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’ and he asks them what they are talking about. They stood still, looking sad, and can’t understand how this man doesn’t know what’s been happening these past few days.

And then they say the saddest three words of the human heart – ‘we had hoped’, they say. We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. We had hoped that what he taught us was true. We had hoped this was the new way and the beginning of life. We had hoped for so much but now he’s dead and we are disappointed and sad. We had hope, but now it is gone.

And the women have told us he is alive, but we went to see, and saw nothing. And the unknown traveller calls them foolish and slow of heart and takes them on a guided tour of scripture. From the exodus, through the prophets, he interprets what had happened, to them. And they feel something, but they don’t know what. And still they don’t understand.

And I have more questions than answers.

I wonder, why were their eyes kept from recognising him?! And what did the risen Jesus look like?

Mary didn’t recognise him – she thought he was the gardener. But then he spoke her name, and she knew him, so his voice must have been familiar. Thomas knew it was him as soon as he saw him – he said he needed to put his finger in the holes and his hands in his side, but as soon as he saw him, he knew.

But these disciples don’t recognise him even though he walked with them – with holes in his hands and feet – and spoke with them. They didn’t recognise what he looked like, nor what he sounded like. Why couldn’t they tell it was him?!

And then they reach Emmaus and Jesus goes to walk on ahead, but they ask him to stay, so he went into the house. And I imagine they are still chatting and still looking at him – do they not notice the marks in his hands? Do they really not know who this stranger is? But they feel something in their hearts; something other than the deep weight of grief that has been theirs all week. There’s something else there; what is it?

And they prepare the dinner.

They bake bread – that takes time – the flour and the water and the kneading and the baking of it and all this time they still don’t know who he is. Really?!

And then, they sit down to eat, and their scripture-teaching visitor takes this freshly baked bread in his scar-marked hands, and he blesses it and breaks it and gives it to them. And suddenly it is as if their eyes are opened, and they recognise him… and THEN HE VANISHES!! He was there and then he isn’t, and their response is to say to each other ‘I thought something was up’, or rather, ‘I thought my heart was burning while he was talking to us’. Well, I’ll say!!

And they get up and run the 7 miles back to where their other friends are and tell them they met this man on the road who turned out to be Jesus and they know it because of the breaking of the bread.

And again, I have more questions than answers.

How did they not know who he was? How did they not hear his voice and recognise him, or see his hands and feet and not ask? What did he look like? What did he sound like? Did grief really blind them to that extent? Wasn’t it obvious before the breaking of the bread?

And then I realised how foolish I am and how slow of heart – just like those disciples.

How often is it that we encounter the risen Lord and have no idea either? How often are we given a glorious gift from the creator…but fail to notice? Isn’t it a foundational belief of our faith that God is with us always, until the end of time, and yet we might walk with God for days or weeks at a time and never even realise it?

And isn’t that why we gather here together, around this holy meal, around the breaking of the bread, so that we remember? Because how foolish we all are, how slow of heart humanity is! We need all of our senses to be engaged in order that we might have a fighting chance of hearing or seeing or receiving the message of love that God is communicating to us over and over, all of the time.

Sometimes, like Mary on that first dawn, we might hear our Lord’s voice and know it.

Sometimes, we might be sat in our room and be aware of the presence of God with us. But those times are rare, really. And that is why we have the gift of this bread and wine, which becomes for us the very presence of the risen Lord, because sometimes we need to see and touch and smell and hold and eat. It is real and tangible and present, so that we can recognise the one we are trying to follow, trying to know and love, but are often blind and deaf to.

So, as pilgrims on the road, we don’t always know or notice that Christ is right beside us. As fellow travellers who meet together here, we don’t always believe the testimony of others. Sometimes we need our own encounter, something that makes our hearts burn within us, something more than explanation of scripture, something more than words. So God gave us the mass.

Take and eat, God said, this is my body – drink this, it is my blood.

Every time that we do this, may we pause long enough to feel our hearts burn within us. May we know we have encountered the risen Christ – that this gospel message is true – and, every time, like these Emmaus pilgirms, may we get up from here and go and tell others: Jesus is Risen and he has been made known to me in the breaking of the bread. Come and see. Alleluia.


A Homily at Wollaston Theological College

19th April, 2023

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Objectively, this verse is the most famous of all Jesus’ quotes.

Probably the most popular bible verse in the world.

And a verse that elicits more than 2 million internet searches month upon month.

And a passage that a preacher is hard pressed to pass over, when it crops up in the gospel reading for the day – especially when she is standing before a group of budding theologians. But pass over it, I will, because I don’t like it much. I don’t like the ease with which it can be taken out of context and used as an exclusionary way of saying ‘I am in’ and ‘you are out’. Because it isn’t the whole message. And because that reading from Acts is so exciting and intriguing

The high priest and the Sadducees are FURIOUS. They had managed to kill Jesus but his message of outrageous love, unconditional grace, and his uncomfortable speaking of truth to power, was still bursting out all over the place. This wasn’t working out how they intended at ALL! So, they’ve arrested this renegade gang of Jesus-followers and thrown them into prison.

That group of repentant tax collectors and fisher-folk and street sleepers are locked up for passing on this God-man’s message and would you look at that! Their Jesus – the one who was no respecter of locked doors – sends his angels to do his bidding. And this angel comes, unlocks the doors, and says ‘go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life’. The day breaks and they enter the temple and go on with their teaching.

The high priests, the elders of Israel, the chief priest, the captain of the prison and the temple police all hot foot it over to the prison. The doors are still locked, but nobody is inside. And someone says, ‘the men you put in prison are in the temple teaching the people’. And they were afraid.

They were afraid. I bet they were! Things are way out of control! That crucifixion really should’ve put paid to the problem and instead it has made things a lot worse. Before there was only one crazy-ass radical preacher man, but now there is 11 and more and they are multiplying and spreading, and the message cannot be contained. And even locked prison cells can’t keep them secured.

And what is it that they are teaching? The angel was very specific. He told them to teach the whole message (not just John 3:16, by the way, but all of it).

What is the whole message?

It is a message of love – God SO loved the world and all its people – all of them – every single one – that God gave. God gave all of God’s self as an incredible act of love. God gave life in place of death, saving grace in place of condemnation; light in place of darkness; truth in place of evil; and unconditional welcome in place of exclusion.

And the ruling powers didn’t like it much. They didn’t like it because corruption needs darkness to be able to function. Power needs the threat of death if it is going to control.  And society needs to be able to say some are in and others are out if it is going to entirely serve itself. So when love and life and light and grace abound – and that is the WHOLE message – nothing more and nothing less – when that message is taught; when it is encountered and known and believed; it is too pure, too real, too much, too revealing and it is terrifying.

Those followers of Jesus believed it so much they were prepared to go to prison for it. And they were prepared to keep on telling people about it when they were released. They were not prepared to be silenced. They couldn’t be silenced. And almost all of them followed their leader to a martyr’s death. And, friends, what that gospel demanded of them, it demands of us. It really does.

Following Jesus is not for the faint hearted. It’s not an easy life that gives us a shiny gold ticket for heaven. It is costly – it demands everything of us – but it is utterly compelling. Because we have seen something already of that life and light and love. We have known something of that truth and grace and freedom from condemnation. At least, we think we have, because that’s why we have said a tentative yes to this call to ordination and beyond.

The whole message demands our whole life; the bits we love and the bits we have condemned. It requires all of us; the bits we like to show off in the light and the bits we prefer to keep hidden in the darkness. The bits of us that are holy and the evil bits. Those true parts and the false parts. God wants it all – because we can’t share the whole message without allowing God to make us whole too. Those disciples had to go through betrayal, abandonment, denial, as well as redemption, healing and restoration.

So will we allow God to do God’s deep work of transformation on us?

Will we willingly step out from the darkness into the light – warts and all?

Because as the angel asked those first disciples, so we are also being asked – tell the whole message, that many may believe and that all may have life. Amen.

A Sermon for Good Friday

Good Friday 2023 – John 19: 14 ff

I don’t like boxes much. Especially when they contain theology.

As a child, the Good Friday box contained an angry God who needed to be placated, and that could only ever be done through the death of his Son. The box contained adult words like sacrifice and blood and atonement and substitute. And I knew I was bad and could only be good because of whatever it was that was in that box.

As a young adult, the box held a vengeful wrathful God that I was uncomfortable with. I found him a bit embarrassing – all this talk about there needing to be a death so the debts could be paid – it got in the way of Good News, and wasn’t appealing, so I sealed the box more tightly and tried to ignore it; instead looked ahead to Easter Sunday, not wanting to spend any time looking at the contents of this day, at all.

As an older adult, who left the church in shame and confusion, I tentatively lifted the lid on those boxes, and many others that I had gathered along the way. All kinds of things tumbled out of them – words and phrases and feelings and pain. And I realised I understood way less than I ever thought I had. My lack of understanding became my guilty secret. It was authentic, at least, but it couldn’t be enough. Could it?

As a student of theology and then an ordained person, I began meeting others; those who wrote about what they believed and preached it and those who were daring to lift lids on boxes and didn’t seem ashamed of what had been buried there.

And then I met disciples and other Jesus followers; those who had shouted crucify, to avoid answers to questions like ‘weren’t you with this man?’. I saw those who had given kisses of betrayal and said, ‘this is the one’.

And those disciples are great company on this day, as we hear again those taunts – crucify him – and as we hear the mockery of ‘the king of the Jews’. As we hear the soldiers casting lots for the blood-soaked tunic, and the sobs of the weeping of the women. We can sit with those confused, distraught would-be followers as they see Jesus thirst, and know somehow that it is a thirst for righteousness and a new kingdom, not for sour wine on some pock-marked sponge on a filthy stick.

And as we hear our saviour say ‘it is finished’, as we watch God die, we don’t know much, if anything, but may we know beyond all knowing that whatever is in those bloody boxes is not even a fraction of what happened there that day. May we know that whatever it is we have been told and constructed is nothing compared to what actually went on in flesh and blood, and in the heavens above and the earth below; that as those words ‘it is finished’ came out in spit that mixed with air, and in blood that seeped into soil, so something significant happened.

Something significant happened. And we can never grasp it and never understand it. But for the love of God we will keep on trying.

Because that cross, in its bloodied, brutal, glory, is surrounded by boxes.

Open Boxes, without any lids, with questions and uncertainty tumbling out.

Boxes with lids nailed down, with theology and surety firmly held inside.

And the base of that cross goes down into the ground, way further than we know

And the top of the cross reaches taller and higher

And the cross beam stretches wider and broader than we can ever imagine

And as that cross goes deeper and wider and taller and broader, so must we keep digging deeper and reaching higher and stretching wider in our encounter with the crucified lord. Not rushing ahead to Sunday, but spending time here – as uncomfortable as it is, as painful as it might feel, as uncertain and tentative as it feels – we need to wait here, surrounded by these boxes of questions and theories.

And as we wait, something is already beginning to happen. Something is already changing in the highest heavens and the deepest depths.

May we wait. May we never stop waiting.

In our waiting may we wonder. May we dig deeper and reach higher and stretch wider. May we burn the boxes of our theories and understanding and may we simply wait here, at the foot of the cross, in the presence of our crucified Lord, not knowing what is happening, but trusting that even Friday can be Good. Amen.

A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

If I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Each Maundy Thursday we hear this gospel passage, and we do what we can to re-enact it in some symbolic way. Similarly, when ordaining deacons, the bishop instructs them to wash the feet of the people they are called to serve in their ministry.  It’s clear, isn’t it? Wash one another’s feet. Do as I have done to you.

Very simple.

And so, each year at the soup kitchen in my last parish, which conveniently opened on a Thursday, we washed the feet of our unhoused, addicted guests. We took bowls of hot soapy water, fluffy towels, and a stash of new, warm socks, for our guests to take in exchange for whatever they were wearing on their feet. 

On the first year, I set the station up, with the bishop’s chair, right on the chancel steps, and people watched with interest.  They began to wander up, tentatively, to see what was happening and some agreed to have their feet washed.  And as I washed, I explained about Maundy Thursday and that this is when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

And then in came Paul.  And I don’t remember seeing Paul before, but he staggered down the aisle in a pretty bad state.  Paul smelt strongly of alcohol, rolling tobacco, and other unpleasant things.  His eyes weren’t focussing too well and his speech was slurred.  He made his way to the chancel steps, and shouted at me to tell him what I was doing.  I told him I was washing feet for Maundy Thursday and giving away new socks and he said he wanted that, so I invited him to sit down. I asked him his name and began to take his shoes and socks off.

Now, for us, who have been in church for holy week before, if we are going to offer to have our feet washed, we might prepare for it, might we?  We come in clean socks, with washed feet, maybe even a pedicure!  Well, it turns out Paul had no such knowledge of this ritual and to say he had done no such preparation is putting it mildly.  His socks were filthy and wet, and his feet were worse. 

I peeled them off and discovered his big toe was badly burned. The night before he had passed out, so drunk, that he hadn’t been aware the gas fire was burning his skin and it was raw and sore. The dressing he had on it needed some attention, but I set about washing his feet as best I could. 

This great idea of foot washing no longer seemed so great.  This charge from Jesus, and the bishop, was certainly not glamorous, nor was it easy.  And as I washed Paul’s feet, I talked to him. 

He told me his partner had left him the night before and fled to a refuge because he had beaten her, so badly.  He was remorseful – a bit – but mostly he was annoyed at being left, and he had drank his feelings, all night, out of anger and hurt.  And I continued to wash, and truthfully, I wanted to squeeze his poorly toe at various things he said. The way he spoke was vile; his opinion of women was gross and his capacity to take any responsibility for the state he was in was nil. Honestly, I was disgusted really, and I was so cross that I was there on my knees in front of him, doing this thing Jesus asks of us. 

Paul didn’t have an amazing conversion experience.  He still came, each week, in various stages of drunkenness, eventually reunited with his partner.  And I sometimes think of him and wonder if he is still alive. I wonder if he remembers having his feet washed; if he remembers how honest he was in that conversation about his anger and his struggles with his violence and his addictions.  I wonder if anyone ever washed his feet before, and told him it was because Jesus had told his followers to do the same, as an act of love. And I wonder if he knows he is worth loving.

As I washed Paul’s feet, and spoke to him each week, my attitude was often so wrong, but Jesus kept on breaking in, as he always does.  And love was somehow there. Sometimes hard to spot and certainly hard to feel, but always there.

Paul is worth loving, worthy of loving, because we have been loved by Christ and have been commanded to pass that on.  And I absolutely know that, in washing the burned and filthy feet of a man who had beaten his partner in an alcohol-fuelled rage, Jesus grew more love inside me and taught me that loving people is sometimes hideously inconvenient; it can smell bad and mess with my head and core values, but it is the command.  And that it was a tangible, outward expression of something beautiful to Paul; something he may have never known before.  And it was from God, because it wasn’t from me.

Wash one another’s feet. Do as I have done to you, Jesus says. And do it out of love for one another; whatever it costs and whatever it takes.  Love indiscriminately and outrageously.  Love when it hurts and when it makes you mad. When it is inconvenient and makes no sense. Love when it gets in the way of what you think is right and wrong. Love like Christ; when it gets you beaten, unfairly tried and killed.  Love when everyone else has stopped.  This is Christ’s commandment; do as I have done to you. Love as I have loved you. 

By this will people know you are my disciples if you have love for one another. Amen.

What is your life’s purpose?

Ezekiel 37:1-14                 Psalm 130               Romans 8:6-11                 John 11

Many years ago, I was sat eating Sunday dinner with my priest friend and she was musing over the roast potatoes; ‘Every person must have one thing they are prepared to stand up in court for, go to prison for, even die for’, she said. ‘And if we all knew what that one thing was, and did it, the world would be a different place’. She was wondering in the abstract, because she didn’t know what her life’s purpose was, but those words have stuck with me and I often go back to them.

There must be one thing you are prepared to stand up in court for, go to prison for, even to die for.

I was reminded of that, again, on Friday, on the feast day of St Oscar Romero.

Oscar Romero was the archbishop of San Salvador – a quiet, contemplative man who stood up for the rights of the poor and marginalised during the civil war. Romero spoke out against the kidnapping, torture and murder of his people. His commitment to stand up for others ultimately led to his own assassination, while he was saying mass.

For Romero, it was not possible for love to be theoretical. It was not possible for it to be silent or weak. For Romero, love involved resistance and sacrifice, speaking out. His love of the poor, his active care for the oppressed was wahat he was prepared to stand up in court for, go to prison for, even die for. For Romero, loving the poor was his life’s purpose and it cost him his whole life.

And in this morning’s gospel, we see Jesus and his love for his friend Lazarus.

Lazarus was ill so his sisters sent a message to Jesus asking him to come. Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but he didn’t rush to them. He stayed two days longer in the place where he was. After this he said to the disciples ‘let us go to Judea again’. The disciples know that they have recently fled from there because the Jews were about to stone Jesus. Clearly, they aren’t keen on returning any time soon, but Jesus loves his friend, and he loves his sisters and he is prepared to risk death to go and see them.

As is often the case, there is some confusion and a good deal of misunderstanding but, this time, it is Thomas who gets it. And Thomas says to his fellow disciples, ‘let us also go, that we may die with him’. Thomas understands. He knows his Lord. He knows that Jesus’ love triumphs over all things – even over the fear of death.

So, they go and they find Lazarus is dead, and has been in the tomb for 4 days already. Jewish tradition believed the soul stayed around the body for three days after death, but Lazarus is past that – he is dead in body and in soul. And that is when Jesus shows up. Only once his friend is well and truly dead.

And he stands at the place of death, right at the mouth of that tomb, and he commands Lazarus to come out. He speaks directly to death, stares it right in the eye and says ‘I am the resurrection and the Life and you are done here’ and he tells death to be gone…and Lazarus comes out. He comes out, shrouded in the trappings of death and Jesus sets him free from that too; ‘unbind him and let him go’ he says, and many of the Jews who were there believed in him.

That is an awesome story. Lazarus was dead and now he is alive. He was bound but now he is free. The crowd were mourning but now they are celebrating. Jesus has done it all – he has brought life where there was death, and light where there was darkness. Everything is changed, reversed, resurrected.

But remember Thomas’ words in verse 16; ‘let us also go, that we may die with him’.

Everything is changed. The scene at the cave tomb is incredible – the professional mourners are beginning to leave, the funeral food is now catering for a party, the sisters are embracing their brother and pulling the cloth wrappings from him and death has been sent away empty-handed. All aspects of life are there. But in this action, Jesus has just signed his own death warrant. He has literally just put the final nail into his own hands. The next verse says, ‘some went to the pharisees and told them what Jesus had done…and from that day on they plotted to kill Jesus’.

Jesus knew, that by going to Judea to raise Lazarus from the death, his own death was being hastened. But he also knew his life’s purpose. He knew what he was prepared to stand up in court for, go to prison for, even die for.  He knew his purpose was – his purpose is – love.

Love that tells death it doesn’t get the final word.

Love that brings life where there was once only death.

Love that unbinds others and sets them free.

Love that brings light to the darkness of the tomb.

And when we – when humanity is faced with that kind of love we are so exposed, so unravelled, so uncertain, we try to kill it.

Prior to love and life like that, the only certainty was that we are born and we die. But this love, the love of Christ, challenges even that certainty. Death is no longer certain. Love and life now wins.

Thomas had a glimpse of that, and was prepared to go with his Lord, even if it cost him his life. Jesus knew his life’s purpose and was prepared to go to the tomb of his friend to reverse death and fulfil it, even though he knew it would ultimately cost him his life.

Oscar Romero knew his purpose too and held true to it, even to the point of death.

How about us? What about you? What are we prepared to stand up in court for, go to prison for, even die for? Amen.  

The healing of a man born blind: a guided meditation

1 Samuel 16:1-13                 Psalm 23                    Ephesians 5:8-14                  John 9:1-41

Our gospel readings this Lent are super long; they are stories within stories. There is so much packed into each one, it feels impossible to try and find just one message to take away with you. I wonder if sometimes it is worth spending time immersed in the text, looking around it from the inside, somehow. So come with me, if you will, to this dusty street in Jerusalem and hear what the Spirit is saying. I invite you to close your eyes – as strange as that may feel – to see what your senses encounter.

Imagine you are this nameless blind man, sitting on the side of the road, in the heat of the day. You know this space; you have sat there every day for as long as you can remember. You know how it feels, underneath you. You know every sound of every person who passes, every scent of every market trader, each person’s tone. You know the time of day by where the sun hits your skin, and the season by the warmth of it. You’ve never seen it, of course. But you know it better than anyone who has.

And you know, recently, there has been a new person doing the rounds, with his group of friends. He’s been causing quite a stir – just hours ago there were raised voices, outrageous claims. He seems to be saying he is God, that he has seen Abraham. The pharisees are livid. Rocks were raised and thrown and dropped, and they’ve lost him. There’s confusion, chaos and then silence. Tensions have been rising, for good and for bad. Could he be a prophet? Could he maybe even be God? You would love to see him. You would love to see. Him.

And then footsteps, as always. People walking. Its busy here – you’re more likely to get money if you sit here; more likely to eat, maybe even take something home, so footsteps are good, even if they mean the occasional kick. And then the footsteps stop, several sets, and they are right in front of you. People are standing right in front of you. You hear local voices, ‘Rabbi, who sinned? This man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’ and you want to disappear – not this again. Not the blame thing. Yes, of course, one of us must be bad – either me, or my parents. It must be someone’s fault, right? Someone was wrong? Wrong. You’re wrong.

‘Neither this man, nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so God’s works might be revealed in him’. What? He is talking to his friends. He hasn’t spoken to you. He hasn’t even asked your name or what you want. He’s the same as everyone else. He talks about you, not to you. He is the same as everyone else.  And then he spat. He spits.

He drips saliva onto the ground in front of you, over and over, to turn dust into mud. Saliva, dust, mud, mixed, and smeared onto your face, disgusting – covers over your eyes and tells you to go to Siloam. He sends you to the place that is sent, and you wash your face – you wash because you are covered in dust, spit and mud. You wash, and you open your eyes, and you see. You see? The sun is not just warm it is bright – it burns your eyes, and you shield them with your hands that you’ve never seen before, but you can see them now. You can see your skin and the water and the people. All the people. They are watching you. You can see!

And you don’t know what you looked like before, because you are seeing yourself for the first time, but it seems they are too!

‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’

Yes it is, no its not, nobody is quite sure.

You tell them it is you – some believe, some aren’t quite sure.

And all you know is that this man, the one they call Jesus, spoke and spat and smeared and sent you. And now you can see.

Once you were in darkness – you were always in darkness – and now you are in the light. Though you were blind, now you see.

The pharisees don’t get it. Your parents don’t get it. You don’t get it; you don’t understand, you don’t know what happened, you didn’t ask for it, but everything has changed. Darkness becomes light. Darkness becomes life. The mud didn’t do it. The water didn’t do it. Jesus did it. He must be a prophet. He must be God.

And your blindness had kept you out of the temple. You couldn’t enter because you couldn’t see. You would never be ritually pure enough to enter the temple. But now you are clean so you take your first step in. And everyone is questioning, everyone wants to know what happened.

But nobody will listen to you. Everyone is angry. You don’t know why they are angry but you can see it in their faces – what you could once only hear in their voice, now you see in their eyes. And their anger grows with every word you say and every new thing you see, and they grab you and shove you. And as they shout so their words spit on you but this time, spit is hurt, not healing. And they throw you out. Still kept out.

And then you see the man. The one you heard speak and spit and smear and send. You see him. And he tells you he is God. First, he opened your eyes and then he opens your heart. First you saw him. Then you worshipped him.

He came to bring light to dark places. Life to dark places. Light and life to those living in darkness and he tells you I am the Light of the World, and you know it is the truth. And you know his work is now your work.

And as it was for that nameless blind man, so it is for us.

As Jesus said to him, so he says to us; I am the light of the world and I have come to bring light and life to those who are fumbling around in the darkness.

His work is our work.

In this place, in Beaconsfield, we are to shine as a light in the world, to shine with the light of the world.  To be a beacon to those in darkness and despair around us. To bring light to dark places – even if we don’t know their name. Even if they don’t ask. To be a light, to bring people home.

And, in the words of the 21st century poet-prophet Amanda Gorman:

For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it.

If only we are brave enough to be it!

May Beaconsfield be known as a place of light, as a people of light.

May we be brave enough to see it and brave enough to be it. Amen.

Some things are hard to understand…

Genesis 12:1-4        Psalm 121       Romans 4:1-4, 13-17            John 3:1-17

Some things are really hard to understand, aren’t they?…like, I was never any good at physics. And I have no idea how to fold a fitted sheet. People cleverer than me might be able to answer my questions about those things, but it’s still hard for me to understand. And in this morning’s gospel reading, Nicodemus found things hard to understand too…

‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God because no one can do the signs you do unless they have been in the presence of God’, he says. And then Jesus says, ‘no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above’. Which doesn’t really help. And Nicodemus says, ‘you what? How can anyone be born after having grown old?!’.  It’s really hard for him to understand. And Jesus’ answer doesn’t make it much clearer… ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit…you must be born from above’.

Some things are hard to understand.

But every now and then, something, or someone comes along, and they say or do something that makes things easier to understand. They give you a tip or explanation that makes sense, or at least makes it easier to remember.

By the time I was 12, I knew I would never be a physician. I liked the Bunsen burners in chemistry and I was fascinated by the human body in biology but physics and I were never going to get on. And so, in the early morning hours on the day of my physics test, I found myself crying over my revision. I just didn’t understand. I snuck into my mum’s bed and had a good worry about it. She looked at my schoolbook and began to teach me physics. Before breakfast. And I remember her tips. We were doing electronics and she said ‘when you wire a plug the bRown wire goes to the right – because it has an R in it – and the bLue wire goes to the left. Hey presto. I could do physics – enough to scrape through that test anyway. Sometimes we need a visual aid or some way of remembering.

And Nicodemus didn’t have one, not in this passage anyway (he got it in the end because he was right there at the crucifixion – but not in this passage). But for us, today, we have a very clear visual aid, a perfect way of remembering and understanding what Jesus is talking about. And that is shown to us, right here, in the tiny, perfect person of little baby Navy Rain.

You see, last July, Navy was born. She was born of the flesh – I expect Hayley can particularly vouch for that. But today, 8 months later, this little person will be born all over again (don’t worry Hayley, you don’t have to go through it again!). Today baby Navy will be born of the Spirit – she will be born from above. Nicodemus had it wrong – he thought that being born a second time must’ve meant returning to the mother’s womb – but that’s not it at all. This morning, Navy will be born for the second time, in and through the waters of baptism. She is our reminder, our lesson, our perfect visual aid of what Jesus was talking about.

And for all of us who have been baptised, we have each been born twice too – once of the flesh and then of the spirit. And, as I always say, we only baptise once because once is enough, enough for a whole lifetime – enough for a new lifetime. But because we worship a God of absolute abundance, God is always waiting to pour out more love, more life, more grace on each of God’s children. So, yes, one rebirth is enough, but also, we have the invitation and offer of rebirth in every single moment of every single day.

Every time we come together, we can be reborn, refreshed and renewed by the Spirit.

Every time we make our confession and receive God’s forgiveness we are reborn, made clean, refreshed and renewed by the Spirit.

Every time we come to this altar rail and receive the body and blood of Christ in our holy meal, we are made new, reborn, given new life, more life, from above.

Stuart and Hayley gave life to baby Navy. Hayley literally birthed her. And it doesn’t get more fleshy than that. And that was a gift. A true, amazing and wonderful gift. A gift from God, and Navy’s family and friends have brought her to church today to thank God for that gift. But God just keeps on giving gifts, because God is like that! Today’s gift for Navy is new life, through Baptism. And as it is for her, so it is for us. We are offered that gift of life – every single one of us, all are welcome, nobody is left out. And whether we were baptised a hundred years ago, or whether we haven’t made it to those waters yet, we each have the same invitation from God that Navy, in her own 8 month kind of way, is saying yes to.

And the invitation never runs out. We are always and eternally invited, in God’s act of great love, to new life and renewed hope. We are always invited to see the Kingdom of God and be the Kingdom of God and live in it and build it for those around us.

A few moments from now, we will see Baby Navy splash her way into her second birth – we will witness her new birth-day (I expect Hayley is particularly glad we weren’t all at her first one!). May this precious moment be a constant reminder to us – something that helps us understand – the holy invitation to be born of the flesh and of the spirit. And in and through it may we see the kingdom of God. Amen.