Sunday, 31 May 2015

Dynamic Trinity: labelling experience of God

If you were asked to draw a picture of God, what would it look like?  How do you imagine God when you pray or think about the eternal and the divine?  This week’s pew sheet bulletin has an image on the back depicting God as three: an old man and a young man (both with beards), and a dove.  Images of God and religious figures have been controversial over recent years with the cartoonists in Holland and France and their satirical depictions which were seen by many Muslims as being an attack on their faith.  Islam doesn’t as such ban images of Muhammad, but there is a prohibition against idolatry, and that is shared with all the Abrahamic faiths, Christianity included.  The reason for this is quite simple.  God is bigger than any image we can create and the act of creating one can limit how we see God.  There is also the danger that we worship the image and forget what it is supposed to point to: the sign replaces the destination.  For us there is no ban on images and statues as such, and there is a distinction between works of art and idols, but there is always a danger that the boundary can be crossed.

If one of the objections to creating idols is that we box God in and limit what by definition is beyond our imagination, then we also need to be careful with the words we use.  These can be equally problematic.  Words are spoken symbols we use to convey thoughts, understandings and meaning.  They are shaped by our culture, by the things we think it is important to say and communicate, by all the experiences that have shaped how we understand the world.  In the mix of this is how we perceive revelation, God making known the deepest self of the divine.  Because we feel we can relate to this, we want to use personal language, but that immediately gets us into deep water.  As soon as we plump for ‘he’ we have ruled out half of the population and that is before we get into the complexities of what gender is really like from the inside.  So today, Trinity Sunday, the day we celebrate our doctrine of God, comes with this enormous health warning.  It is a definition based on how we have perceived revelation and that is limited, at best as through a glass dimly, as St Paul put it in his great hymn to love (1 Corinthians 13).  Rather than serving to box God in, it would be better to see the Trinity as a door way through which we can glimpse the eternal, indeed come to know the eternal.

The word ‘revelation’ is itself a slippery word.  It has to be tested over time and in our experience, alongside all the other things that we know, so that we can check that what we think we have received stacks up.  That is how we check out that revelation has its origin in truth rather than fantasy – over time, in our experience, standing it alongside the other things we know.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not the easiest one to explain.  It sounds like we have put God under the microscope and been able to quantify and label all of the constituent parts.  It would be a profound heresy to assume that we were able to do that.  To claim to have God sown up is a form of arrogance that should leave us breathless for its audacity.  So what we have in the Trinity is three ways that religious experience has come to know God tested over time and standing it alongside the other things we know.  For this the shorthand labels of Father, Son and Holy Spirit apply.  Behind these is everything that we proclaim and understand.  So this will be a very quick summary.

‘Father’ stands for the ultimate source of everything.  The one who stands behind the created matter; who is the origin and goal for everything that there is.  I’ve already hinted that calling this ‘Father’ has its problems, through its gender limiting associations.  But of course the idea of God being Father brings a relationship of parent to child, and that can be problematic for many too.  There is a sense that through this person or persons we can trace our ancestry, our origin.  In the case of God as Father, it is the source of everything.  Another way of describing this is to see it as the God who is distant, beyond, other and who holds the ground of our being.  It also brings a special intimacy, a love that brings into being and guides through this love.

Before our brains explode at all of this, there is a fundamental principle in the Christian faith.  We can only know anything about God because God choses to make himself known.  God in creating with a purpose is present and among us.  We can reach out to God because the creating love makes itself known.  We see this supremely in the person of Jesus Christ.  Again another confusing term comes to us, namely describing him as God’s son.  It sounds like someone who is other than God, created by God and distinct from God.  But being part of the Trinity means he is not distinct and other, rather he reveals to us something unique about the character of God.  We see in Jesus everything we need to know about God.  We are still working out exactly what we have seen in him, not least his radical message of transformational love, calling us to follow him in service, love, sacrificial living, prayer and forgiveness.  At different times of history some aspects of this seem to be more prominent than at others.  Supremely he reveals to us the purpose of God in his death and resurrection.  There the power and victory of God, the confidence we can have in God is revealed beyond measure.  When we are wondering the profound philosophy, the mystery of the universe, we are given a person to relate to, to follow and be inspired by.  We are not people of a book; we are people of the person of Jesus Christ.

Inspiration comes in another form too.  Last week we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  God’s presence continues to pour out and that dynamic energy moves to make things happen.  It moves us, it moves the world, it brings surprises.  Fresh vision is brought to enable us to adapt and change, to grow and be fruitful.  Life is organic and fluid; it is not static.  That is why we have birth and death.   If it was static we would not need birth, growth and would experience no change.  We would have no need for the Holy Spirit.

So while we can’t draw a picture of God, we can note how we experience God in terms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  These are shorthand for everything we think and know.  And they are distinctively Christian.  Not all religions are saying the same thing.  We may feel that there is much we can learn from those of other traditions, but for us this statement about who God is and how we have seen God is foundational for us.  The terms Father, Son and Holy Spirit open up to us the mystery of God, always beyond what we can comprehend, so never to be boxed in, but still making enough visible to us so that we can be inspired to live as Jesus taught us, guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Dynamic Trinity, 
from you we derive our being, 
through you we are brought into your loving embrace, 
and in you we are inspired to live; 
now and always.  Amen.

Sermon preached at All Saints' Church, Paston, Peterborough, Sunday 31st May 2015

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Ireland, same-sex unions & Pentecost

Yesterday the Republic of Ireland voted in a referendum to allow same-sex marriages.  The remarkable aspect here is that it was a public referendum and there was a clear message that the people want this to be allowed to happen.  In a country where this would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, there has clearly been a radical social change.  I have long since realised that when you ask people you get a very different answer to what you think you will get before hand, not least because the majority are often silent and quietly make their minds up away from the noise and clamour of those who like to tell everyone what 'everyone thinks'.  I wish we had had a referendum here on this, because it would have provided greater legitimacy to the change and also it would have offered space for a better debate than we had.  That said the arguments deployed were very similar and the majority of the people clearly found those against didn't cut it for them.

In response there have comments from churchmen that they need to reconnect with the young.  I'm not sure if this means that they feel the need to change their view so that it is more in line with the public mood or find better ways of communicating what stands in opposition to the public consciousness.  Many will see this as a matter of justice and equality, which it is.  How we see justice has to be based on something.  That clearly has to be more than the teaching of a particular church.  More is required.

The best definition of justice I know comes form the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury, St Anselm.  He was brought into a dispute after the Norman conquest between the monks at Canterbury and the new Archbishop, Lanfranc.  A Saxon Archbishop, Alphage, had been murdered by the Danes because he refused to allow the city to pay a crippling ransom for him.  Lanfranc thought this didn't constitute a sufficient reason to regard him as a saint, so deleted him from the calendar of holy days.  The monks, in uproar, appealed to the visiting Anselm.  His response was that Alphege died for justice, since justice is truth in action, he therefore died for truth.  He was reinstated in the calendar.

Truth is itself a slippery phrase, but it needs assessing by some standard.  Since the 16th century,  after Richard Hooker, Anglicans have had at their disposal three pillars for assessing truth: Scripture, Tradition and Reason (reflection on experience and other knowledge).  Scripture gives us the story of faith that provides the frame through which we interpret the meaning of life.  Tradition gives us the story of that faith over time and ensures that we have a sense of how we got to be where we are, in thought and insight.  Reason is how we make sense of everything else that we know, from science, the arts and our experience of life.  All of this has to be put into the mix and how we see truth is the product that comes out at the other end.  When we put this into practice, we live justice.  Truth will find it is justified by experience and be backed up.  Falsehood will crumble and not be sustained.

Attitudes to sexuality have changed dramatically over recent decades.  This is not surprising because we have come to see that people do not choose who they love or who they are attracted to.   We understand its complexity in ways we once did not.  How we see this will determine how we assess what is truth and therefore what is just.  The people of Ireland have decided that they do not see a conflict between what they believe and same-sex relationships.  The idea that the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church can tell them what constitutes truth has clearly been left behind, otherwise they would have voted in a very different way.

The Holy Spirit leads us into truth.  It disturbs and challenges.  It brings to light things which we have not seen before.  We can only interpret its stirrings in light with what we can see as being possible and some things seem to take a long time to break through, and a more liberal attitude to sexuality would seem to be one of those areas.  If truth is static we would have no use for the Holy Spirit.  Everything would be clear and all we would need to do is follow the Maker's instructions.  But that is not the way Scripture describes God's revelation.  Insights emerge and change; it is more relational than concrete.  In relationship we change as we grow and share, experience and reflect.

The arguments for and against same-sex marriages have been rehearsed many times.  My thought here is how the change in public mood can fit with how we understand what is true and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into truth and urges change where it is needed.  It is grounded in how we understand and perceive, even evaluate, truth, which is itself based in the interaction between scripture, tradition and reason.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Justus: a patron for the disappointed

Coping with disappointment is never easy.  Once we’ve set our heart on something to be dashed at the final moment takes a bit of time to recover from.  Anyone who has been for a job interview and not been appointed knows this and the more we invest in thinking ourselves into the post, which at some levels we have to do otherwise we are not taken seriously, the further we have to fall.  On Friday I was involved in interviewing for a new Rector for a vacant parish and clearly only one candidate could be appointed.  This week we learnt that the Crown Nominations Commission has not been able to agree on a candidate to present as the next Bishop of Oxford.  That means that a number of clergy have been interviewed and no one has been invited to take it on.  Various politicians are having to come to terms with their name not being the top of the ballot last week.  So disappointment is in the air.

Our first reading (Acts 1:15-17, 21-end) gave us the selection of Matthias to replace Judas as an apostle in the church.  Judas was one of the disciples closest to Jesus but betrayed him.  The apostles, as some of them came to be known after the resurrection, decide they have to fill the vacancy and the lot falls on Matthias.  Justus is not selected.  We don’t know anything else about Matthias after this.  We don’t hear anything of Justus either, he’s not even given a day in the calendar, but he is still interesting, in fact I find him more interesting than Matthias.  He’d be a good candidate for patron saint of the disappointed.

Both candidates were well qualified.  They had both accompanied the other disciples as Jesus had ‘gone in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from them’.  One of these is to be a witness with them of the resurrection.  So they had a choice and had to come up with an open and transparent appointment process, in this case drawing lots, which it has to be said does save time.  We now have job descriptions, person specifications based on the vision and direction the particular vacancy has identified, and candidates are assessed on how they present against this criteria.

What we are aiming at is finding someone who will be the right person for a particular vacancy at this time to lead it in the direction it needs to go in.  We don’t know of course whether Justus was disappointed, or actually relieved not to be chosen.  After all, the top jobs only look attractive from the outside.  From the inside they can look very different.  And this is the key to evaluating how we deal with disappointment.  Somewhere in all of the processes there is a faith and trust that God’s providence holds us.  Sometimes the appointment panel sees things we might not have seen and save us from what would become a very serious mistake for us and everyone else.  Sometimes they just get it wrong.  We’ve all seen that at times.  There is the joke of the bishop who calls on a priest and one of the young children in the house asks the bishop if he can explain something to him.  The bishop is keen to encourage the youngster, so agrees.  The child asks, my mum can’t understand how a fool like you became a bishop!  Of course that would never have been said by my children not least because we had a clear rule, what was said at the kitchen table stayed at the kitchen table!  Even when the selection process does not go well, we have to trust that with God all things can work for good and be a moment of grace, of gift, rather than doom and despair.

The first Christian writers, which include the gospel writers, were writing to churches that were facing persecution and significant trials.  This is no less the case with John’s gospel.  They were under Roman occupation and justice could be summarily executed, so life was precarious.  So when our gospel reading refers to the world hating them and asks for protection from evil (John 17:14), it is not merely a figure of speech.  Christian hope is not just for when things go well.  It is also for when things do not go straight.  After a disastrous uprising by Jewish freedom fighters in AD70, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple when it was brutally and decisively crushed by the Romans, hopes and dreams of liberation lay shattered along with the bodies.

But, God can and does circumvent our mistakes.  I find there is a punch line to the appointment of Matthias.  He is chosen as an apostle, but we hear nothing of him.  He may have done his job, been an effective witness of the resurrection.  Meanwhile, though, a young Pharisee called Saul was getting angry at the church’s rise and the spread of the gospel.  He was inspired to persecute them but in so doing something of their message worked inside his mind.  So on a journey to Damascus to round up more of their number he was struck down by a blinding light and as a result became the champion of the faith.  In one of his letters he described himself as an apostle, though he matched none of the criteria set out in the person specification in our first reading.  He is second generation, not first generation, because he was not a witness to the actual events.  Yet he becomes the champion of the faith and is responsible for its spread along the Mediterranean coast.  He may not have been the official choice, but that did not put him beyond the grace, the gift, the choosing of God.

We have to organize our life, we have to plan.  As we set up structures to achieve certain ends, we place boundaries around what we expect to see happen.  These days between the Ascension on Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday are days we look to the coming Holy Spirit.  We look for God’s surprises and punch lines to give the story a twist and send it off in a new direction, where we may not have expected it to go.  God has a wonderful sense of humour and we see this not least in whom he calls to be his witnesses and to lead, to inspire and to navigate the new course.  Each of us has a role to play because each of us is called to be a witness to this hope, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in his Ascension, where his contact details are also revealed.  Even if not selected, for whatever purpose, each of us is still held in the purpose of God and we can receive this purpose as a sign of grace, a gift too.  In that gift we grow, flourish and celebrate the purpose of God’s love which holds and moves us.  There are surprises, but God’s providence can be relied on and be trusted.  Even when it doesn’t go straight for us God’s loving purpose holds us and the Holy Spirit brings surprises to revitalize and refresh hope.

So today we remember Justus who wasn’t chosen and all who experience disappointment but nonetheless know they are held by the grace, the gift of God’s love and purpose.

Sermon preached at Peterborough Parish Church & Marholm Church, Sunday 17th May 2015

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Abiding: being shaped to live Christ's hope

Every now and then a major event coincides with one or two other dates in the calendar and these provide an interesting backdrop or context in which to view that event.  Thursday’s General Election and the results being announced on Friday is one such occurrence.  There were shocks and surprises on Friday.  Some will have caused delight and some horror or regret.  Whatever your political views a number of dedicated and wise politicians lost their seats.  We now have a government with a majority, though there are competing convictions within it and Parliament will be a lively place.  The Labour Party needs to re-form its leadership, which is no bad thing – I’ve thought they needed a new front bench for a while.  As ever, I can see the Church of England needing to exercise a watching brief and remind the government, as we always do, of its primary responsibility, which is justice.  And that is apposite in this year of Magna Carta.

But Friday was also the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the end of the Second World War.  Writing an introduction for the Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial for Friday, I found myself reflecting on what had happened then and over the previous 48 hours.   We gathered to remember all who died during the Second World War and to give thanks for the peace in Europe which has ensued for 70 years since.  We gave thanks that we could chose our government through free elections (as we had just done) and that there is an honoured place secured for official opposition, for peaceful protest and free speech.  We stood still shocked by the atrocities of the Holocaust and with sorrow for all who mourn or continue to carry the scars of warfare.  In hope, with justice and for peace our task was to dedicate ourselves anew to pursuing and maintaining the Common Good, where all can flourish and be honoured.  VE Day reminded us what government is for and that they are accountable to the people who elect them, not just those who vote for them.

Today is the beginning of Christian Aid Week.  This places our focus on the poorest people in the world, for whom running water, easily accessible fuel and food in the cupboards is not taken for granted.  The world is full of inequalities and by virtue of living in this country we are among the richest people on the planet.  Forget billionaires, they are a distraction; we have access to a standard of living beyond the imaginations of so many.  The presence of Christian Aid Week, at the beginning of a new government term of office, is a poignant challenge to our priorities and our focus, the scope of our concern and compassion.  It challenges the selfishness which seems to characterize so much of our political debate.  We ignore aid and the issues of global justice at our peril, so there is a self-interest aspect to it all the same.  But it is also important because it is about justice and that is what should characterize us and be the primary goal of government.  The Old Testament prophets were extremely critical of the leaders who failed to uphold justice.

So the freedoms and responsibilities which we celebrated on Friday with VE Day and the cry and obligation for justice which we mark today with Christian Aid Week, point to the character which is to guide and shape our approach.  This came out of our gospel reading, with that wonderfully old-fashioned sounding word ‘abide’ (John15:9-17).  The call from Jesus to his disciples, to his followers, to you and me, is to abide in his love.  This is where we are to dwell.  Not visit, not take on as an optional extra to enhance something else, but we are to live there.  And love is gracious, kind, generous, hospitable, open, compassionate, concerned for what makes us flourish, it is not irritable or rude, forgives, welcomes, embraces with acceptance and patience.  It is filled with hope and not hatred, with faith rather than fear.  It trusts in God’s providence and hold that in the words of Mother Julian of Norwich, whose day we kept on Friday too, ‘all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’. 

We have a calling, as followers of Jesus, to make a difference, to be a difference.  That difference is that we abide in the love of God in Christ and live it.  Easy words to say, but they have to become all consuming and all embracing.  When we want a mission strategy, it is actually very simple: abide in Christ’s love.  Do that and we will change the world as our second reading put it (1 John 5:1-6); people will be drawn to the living water that flows from his grace made visible.  The world will be changed because it will find its priorities are reshaped to truly reflect all that is captured by that term ‘the common good’. 

So much of our grasping and acquiring, the dreams of yet more riches for ourselves, are to do with not being content in who we are.  When we abide in the love of Christ, we find that we are filled with a peace the satiates, that fills that deep hunger that is restless.  This is what St Augustine referred to in his famous prayer about our hearts being restless till they find their rest in God.  It is what the Book of Common Prayer refers to in the alternative absolution for Evensong which prays that we will have a ‘quiet mind’.  Not one troubled by anxiety about our worth or value, our place or one that is disturbed by guilt and feeling worthless.  Abiding in love is to know that this love is our home and where we belong.  It embraces us and calls us the beloved.  No longer are we called ‘servants’, but we are called ‘friends’.  This is because truth has been revealed in Christ Jesus and by being truly in his presence, being present in the moment and in the hope, we have a confidence that trusts that all is well, even when it may not look like it.  We know, deep within our hearts, that the Christ who rose from the dead has the victory over the worst that this life and world can throw at us, even death.

This is what inspires me and keeps me buoyant.  I know that I need it refreshing and renewing; I need to be renewed in it and that only comes through being still in prayer, being present and attentive so that love can work within and cleanse the grime of disgruntlement and all that makes us jaded; the myriad of assaults that batter us and raise those doubts about whether God really does have the upper hand, which can grind us down.  That is why each day needs to begin and end with prayer, with thanksgiving and if that sounds hard for your routine, the Lord’s Prayer carries everything that you need to pray and that takes less than 30 seconds to say, even at a moderately reflective speed.  It praises God, it longs for God’s Kingdom and dedicates our will to God’s will, it asks for food, for bread, for forgiveness for ourselves and others, and to be able to stand firm, to abide, when the going gets tough.  All finished off with a final phrase of praise and it takes less than 30 seconds to say.  It is also a prayer that reconnects people with the hope of Christ.  I used it with a man in advanced stages of dementia on Thursday and another slipping in and out of consciousness as he lay in his bed.  It brought to both of them a moment when they connected with the faith that held them, the place their deepest selves abide.  I’m always struck by how there is a flicker of recognition even in those who don’t respond much to anything else. When I use it with the bereaved it often releases the tears of grief mixed with those of hope.  In that simple prayer we have a tool for abiding that is formational, inspiring, and holding.

Jesus called on his disciples, whom he then called friends, to abide in his love.  When we do that we are shaped to live his hope and that changes our priorities towards those of God’s justice and peace for everyone, especially the world’s poorest.  It makes us generous, people characterized by love.  All of this is fed each day through the simplest of prayers, but not without it.  Love is where we are to abide, to be where we live and to be where we are embraced.  In turn it is the face we are to offer to the world.  This simple message is the radical justice through which we will assess our new government and if necessary call them back to.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 10th May 2015

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Supererogation, the election and where our hope lies

We are approaching the homeward straight and the policy offers have been coming thick and fast as Thursday’s General Election vote comes in sight.  Despite the TV debates and local hustings, there is still quite a bit of fog around, and that makes me wonder what they are not saying.  It is not surprising that many like me are still undecided; it is just not clear what the parties really stand for.  And I feel rather uninspired.

Listening to Radio 4 on Wednesday there was a report on first time voters in Manchester. One man was not disinterested or disengaged; he had never been engaged with politics.  The debates came from an alien world to him, neither speaking to him or in any way engaging with him.  A young woman was similarly unclear and sounded like a teenager in panic mode when she can’t grasp the maths homework.  Before we laugh, what I heard was someone who just did not understand what our politicians are talking about.  I’ve heard some saying that they don’t understand how voting works, or who we are voting for and that is not surprising when the media present us with presidential style leadership debates and none of them are standing in this constituency and in the case of Nicola Sturgeon, she isn’t standing at all.

Decide though we must.  This week was the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s suicide in his bunker on 30th April in 1945 and this coming Friday brings us the anniversary of VE Day.  We may have problems with democracy at times, but the alternative is truly horrendous and we mustn’t forget it.  The common good is the good of all, everyone, including those we disagree with, and especially those some would like to turn into scapegoats for every ill we care to project onto them.  That is politics at its worst and most worrying.  Personality politics that is self-serving and self-aggrandizing becomes evil and oppressive for everyone else.

It wasn’t about politics but our first reading (Acts8:26-40) gave us a government official who was confused and needed help to understand what he was reading.  “How can I understand unless someone guides me?”  There were parallels here with the young, confused first time voters.  It took Phillip to sit alongside him and start explaining the back-story so that he could see where the amazing and startling event of Jesus Christ’s resurrection fitted into the picture.  What does it mean to be human, when we star gaze in awe and wonder?  What does it mean to know that we mess it up and there is nothing we can do to repair the gap between the creator and the created if God doesn’t do it for us?  That's a rough summary of what he said to him.  We are not the authors of our own salvation, that is the lie of our age, and it is the lie that was confronted in the 1940s.  It is also the lie which our Anglican tradition identifies in the 39 Articles of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer, and I am grateful to the Dean for pointing out on Tuesday evening what has become my word of the week ‘supererogation’.  No, this is not an unpleasant medical procedure or a large-scale watering device for market gardeners, supererogation is a wonderful word that talks of going the extra mile, going beyond the call of duty.  In the context of the 39 Articles, though, (no 14) it is that we cannot achieve our own salvation, however hard we try, we need the grace and mercy of God.  In fact to think we can is an arrogance, which becomes dangerous.  Faith in politicians is always somewhat limited and that has been the case since the time of the Psalmists who warned about putting faith in princes and the power of horses.

This brings me to another anniversary, that of the execution of the brilliant German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer on 9th April 1945, in the dying days of the Nazi regime.  I studied him over 30 years ago, and so I went to St Martin-in-the-Fields in London a week ago to hear our own Natalie Watson as part of a panel discussion on him and brush up my Bonhoeffer.  During the discussion one of the other contributors Jane Williams, wife of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury and a theologian in her own right, spoke of Bonhoeffer’s belief that prayer is the foundation of everything that we have and are.  Without it we have nothing to offer the world, without being grafted and rooted in the vine of our Gospel reading (John 15:1-8) we have nothing to offer the world.  This is because the church is not the means of salvation itself.  Political parties and programmes are not the means of salvation, though both can make it feel like hell at times.  God is the source and goal of everything and without being rooted in and fed by God we are lost.  There is no substitute but many imposters.  When we are looking for hope and lasting salvation we will only find it in God.

Now that gets quite perilous if we think that there will be a programme for economic and political renewal that will drop out of the pages of the Bible, history warns us about that too, and such programmes are transitory in their nature.  But it is our deep faith that the Holy Spirit moves over time guiding and shaping, inspiring justice.  That justice runs through as the central core of the Bible.  When we stray, when our leaders stray, it is there to call us back.  In the words of our second reading (1 John4:7-21), or at least the gist of it, love takes root and becomes for us the fruitful course to take.  Justice is truth in action and we will only stand a hope of finding out what that looks like if we are regularly being renewed in the fountain of truth and hope, God, in prayer.  It is part of this cathedral’s vision that we will root everything in prayer and don’t underestimate what that means.  It is radical and it changes us.  It is also not about just putting on another service – there are great Father Ted parodies of that.  But it relies on us opening our hearts to the living God who will guides us when we are confused, inspire us when we are jaded and change us when we are wrong.

When we are confronted with people who are either disillusioned or have never been engaged, be it with politics or spiritual faith, the challenge comes to speak in words that they do understand; to be genuine and authentic, to speak, like Phillip, with a vision that is alive with real faith and hope.  For the Christian church that has to be rooted in prayer; in a vision of the source of life and hope.  That vision must be rooted in a sense of where we fit in the eyes of the eternal and not think that rests on or revolves round us.  That is a route to evil and is rooted in an evil.  The anniversaries this week should remind us what the alternative to voting is and so however much we may find some of them wanting, choose we must on Thursday for the common good, for justice, grounded in the love of God in Christ.  Beware false saviours and notions that we can be the agents of this in our own strength, the dangers of supererogation.  Every human effort falls short and we all need to be called back to the love and justice of God.  For us, prayer, being grafted and rooted in the vine that is Christ, is ultimately the only hope we have.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Cathedral, Sunday 3rd May 2015