Jesus Feeds the Crowd
Ripon Cathedral
John 6 1-21
The Eighth Sunday After Trinity
29th July 2012

One of the themes running through St John's gospel is the abundance, you could say the superabundance, of God's power, displayed through Jesus. In this gospel, there is an excess of everything. In Chapter 2, we had an excess of wine at the wedding in Cana. In Chapter 4, we had an excess of water at the well in Samaria - a supply of living water that will last for ever. In both these cases, we start with a dearth. A hopeless situation - there is not enough. But Jesus produces more than could possibly be needed. And here, in today's gospel story, He does it again with bread and fish. The little story of Jesus walking on the water which comes after the feeding of the crowd only serves to emphasize the deeply mysterious power over nature which Jesus possessed.

Did you wonder, on Thursday, if the opening ceremony of the Olympics was going to be a bit of a flop? Bejing's opening ceremony was so memorable! Could we Brits pullit off? The media were emphasizing all the things that had gone wrong. Doubt was beginning to take hold. Surely we couldn't manage to give the world something as spectacular as China had done?

But, under inspired directing, people had come together, artists of all kinds, even, it seems, Her Majesty. And they did it! 'British and brilliant,' many have said. 'Baffling and brilliant,' some of our overseas visitors have said! But everyone who saw it is going to remember it!

Was this the kind of miracle that Jesus performed on the shores of the Lake of Galilee? He had gone away from the crowds to rest. But they followed Him...9 miles round the edge of the lake. There Jesus was, sitting in a quiet spot above the lake, talking to His disciples, when gradually droves of people began to appear and gather on a grassy plain below. And Jesus can see that they are hot and tired; beginning to wilt for lack of food. He asks Philip who was from Bethsaida Julias and might have been expected to have some local knowledge, 'Where can we get some food?' Philip thinks He's crazy, 'There's no way we can pay for enough food for all these people, jesus.'

Andrew is not so easily discouraged. He brings the only food he can find to Jesus' attention - the boy with his meagre picnic. So what happened next? Was it the blessing of the food - the prayer of gratitude over the poor fish and abrley loaves that multiplied the bread and fish? Was it Jesus blessing the produced the miracle? Or was it the example of the blessing, the breaking and the sharing that inspired everyone who had brought a little food to share what they had with others? And it became just like a Yorkshire 'do' - there was so much to spare that each of the diciples went home with a basket of leftovers.

In this miracle, Jesus shows us that God acts powerfully in our lives on so many levels if we have eyes to see it.

Firstly, in this story, you have the offering. Unlike Philip who says, 'This is ridiculous, nothing can be done!' Andrew encourages the boy to offer what he has to Jesus in hope. When we offer ourselves to God along with the meagre resources we have to face any situation, that is when real possibilities begin to open up.

Then you have the blessing. 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who causets to come forth from the earth bread.' Ancient words. There is a profound psychological aspect to blessing God for what you have. The act of blessing opens up the heart to gratitude, thankfulness, appreciation. It roots out resentment, mean-spiritedness, a selfish hanging on to things. Blessing is at the heart of every individual, every community finding the resources they need to live well and learning not to hold everything to themsleves. Learning to be a resource for others beyond their own community.

Then there's the dividing and the sharing. Jesus had to take what the boy had from him...and that is always painful. We all instinctively feel that we could do so much more with our resources if we keep everything for ourselves. And yet, the division, the breaking up of what we have leads to sharing and abundance for all.

This story is the story of the eucharist, isn't it? It calls us to live eucharist-shaped lives
  • to offer ourselves and what we have to God
  • to bless God, always to thank Him for His generosity
  • do divide what we have, even when to do that is challenging or painful
  • to rejoice when we see the abundance that our sharing can produce.

A eucharist-shaped life, to offer, to bless, to break, to share.

This truly is a miracle in which the whole crowd participate; it is a miracle that shows the power of Jesus to  reach into every life and bring forth abundant good.

There's a very public sting in the tail of this story. They crowd are so impressed with Jesus' power that they begin to plot to make Him king. He has to slip away to avoid being manipulated against His purposes. People will try to seize power wherever they see it and use it for their own political or personal ends. The energy that is created among those who follows God's ways can, this story reminds us, so easily be pervetred and used for selfish or even evil ends. And that is why the eucharist-shaped life is also suffused with humilty and penitence. As Jesus gave the crowds the slip and retreated to commune with His Father, so we, too, need to find our places of sober reflection and attentive listening to the voice of God.

Is this perhaps the purpose of the author of John's gospel in placing the story of Jesus' walking on the water at the end of this passage? To remind us that the true source of all the power which God displays among His people is the person of Jesus Christ and the relationship each one of us has with Him?


Eternal Life
Ripon Cathedral
1 John 5.9-13 and John 17 1-19
Easter 7 (The Sunday After Ascension)

'I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life.' 1 John 5.13
'Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.' John 17.3

The whole of the gospels, pretty much, is the story of the disciples getting to know Jesus. At first they think He is a great teacher. Then they begin to see that He has power over diseases and even over nature itself. Then it begins to dawn on them, He is the Messiah, the special human being chosen by God to bring political freedom to the nation. But then they realise all is not going to be straight forward - this Messiah will suffer. He will go to the cross. After Jseus' death, they meet the risen Lord and realise slowly, over a number of days, that He has defied death. And finally, on the mountain where Jesus ascends, they begin to grasp the truth. This Jesus is not merely human, He is divine: He is God.

I don't know about you, but I quite enjoy watching the national IQ tests when they are on TV. I like the logic questions but I always feel that I could do with more time to answer - I feel I can find the answer but I need longer to get there. The disciples were a bit like that when it came to recognising Jesus as the Son of God - it took them a long time to get there! They knew Him...and yet they didn't quite know Him.

Today's readings tell us that to know Jesus Christ is eternal life. Perhaps we ought to think, for a moment, what eternal means. 'Going on for ever and ever' is the usual definition, isn't it? I've occasionally wondered if you can get bored in Heaven if it goes on for ever and ever,  just more of  the same. Huckleberry Finn had that problem.

'Miss Watson said to Huckleberry Finn, 'Why don't you try to behave?' Then she told me all about the bad place and I said that I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean any harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres, all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. She said it was very wicked to say what I said. She said she wouldn't say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind that I wouldn't try for it. But I never said so because it would only make trouble and wouldn't do no good. Now she had got a start, she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day with a harp and sing for ever and ever. So it didn't think much of it, but I never said so.'

Infact, the Greek word for eternal used in the New Testament is not so much about duration as about quality. It means supreme quality of life. There is only one being to whose life it can properly be applied, and that is God. Perhaps fullness of life is a better translation. To enter into eternal life is nothing other than to begin to experience, in the here and now, the joy, the peace, the holiness of the life of God; and to possess the hope of more to come. Here, on earth, in this life, we get glimpses of eternal life, glimmers of eternity. And Jesus tells His disciples that these moments and the hope of what is to come stem from knowing God. Notice, He doesn't say, 'knowing about God', theoretically or intellectually. He says knowing God, having a personal relationship with God, being intimate with Him as we might be with our nearest and dearest.

But because God is God and we are mere mortals that seems almost impossible to us. Like trying to put two elements that have nothing in common together. The whole of John 17 hints at how the gulf between God and humans is overcome.. It is through our unity with Christ. Jesus is here preparing His disciples for the sending of the Holy Spirit into their lives. This is the revolutionary message of Christianity...that God sends His Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Christ to live in us. That spark of divine life which is each of us and urges us to search for truth, to do the right thing, to seek God's will, not our own, to love, to confess when we are wrong and to work for God's kingdom. We don't do these things simply because Jesus tells us that we should. We do them because God's Spirit whispers to us from within. To become mature, a child has to reach the point where they stop doing things because 'teacher says' and starts doing things because they want to do those things for themselves. The coming of the Holy Spirit marks the true maturing of relationship with God. With the Spirit comes real knowledge of God, true intimacy of relationship with God, the desire to be all God wants us to be.

As we look towards Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, let us end with a prayer.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present and fillest all things,
Treasury of all good and giver of life,
Come and dwell in us,
Cleanse us from all unrighteousness
And, of thy goodness, save our souls
And bring us to eternal life.


Plough Sunday
St Andrew's Kirkby Malzeard
2 Corinthians 9.6-15; Mark 4.3-9

There was a young lady who wanted to get married, so she asked her father for a dowry. 'Well, daughter,' he said, 'I haven't got much but I'd like to see you marry a farmer. I reckon I could set you up with a fine plough.' So the young lady advertised through a dating agency. 'Good looking young lady with excellent cooking skills, experience of farm life and owning a fine plough seeks eligible bachelor for marriage. Further details and phot available on request.' A few days later, she received this letter. 'Dear Madam, I read your advert with interest. I,too, would like to meet an eligible young lady such as yourself. I look forward to meeting you and getting to know you. PS. Please send photo of plough.'

Yes, the plough is right at the heart of things, isn't it? Without the yearly ploughing of the fields to prepare the soil which nourishes growth, we would not eat. Some city-based children and even adults may think that food is grown on supermarket shelves, but if the cyle of ploughing and sowing and reaping ceased, they would soon learn differently!It's not too extravagant a claim to say that our civilization is built on the ability of farmers to plough the land. Governments and markets may find strange ways of remunerating farmers and distributing what they produce, but that does not alter the fundamental worth of what they do, or the fact that without the toil of farmers all over the world, our civilsation would collapse.

Some verses from John Masefield's The Everlasting Mercy

O Christ, who holds the open gate
O Christ, who drives the furrow straight
O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
of holy white birds flying after.
Lo, all my heart's field's red and torn,
And thou wilt bring the young green corn,
The young green corn divinely springing,
The young green corn for ever singing.

And when the field is fresh and fair
Thy blessed feet will glitter there,
And we will walk the weeded field
And tell the golden harvest's yield,
The corn that makes the holy bread
By which the sould of man is fed,
The holy bread, the food unproced,
Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

So today, we are here to celebrate the work of our farming communities and to pray together as another year opens up before us. But it's easy to romanitcize the wortk of the farmer. Notions of 'time to stand and stare' and that kind of thing. Reality is the weather - too wet to plough, sodden earth, bills to meet, low prices. Reality is guessing prices in advance and deciding on the optimum stocking levels. Reality is keeping up with the ever changings requirements of DEFRA and looking on anxiously as the markets flutcuate.

Two things that may encourage us, then.

Firstly, Jesus' parable of the sower. Jesus is sitting in a boat off the shore of Lake Galilee when He looks up and sees a farmer at work on the hillside above Him. And He sees in that scene a connection between earth and heaven. In the ordinary, everyday labour of the farmer, Jesus could see signs of the ways of God. As William Temple put it, 'Jesus taught men to see the operation of God in the rising of the sun, the falling of the rain, the growth of the plant' -  and the cooperation of the farmer?

Sir Christopher Wren was buried in St Paul's cathedral, the great cathedral he had designed and supervised the building of. On his tombstone, in Latin, it says 'If you wish to see his monument, look around you.' Jesus might have said, 'If you wish to see God's work, look around you at the yearly cycle of ploughing and sowing and harevesting.'

The work of the farmer is closely bound up with the work of God in sustaining the created order and in bringing plenty where there seems to be little or nothing.

Secondly, to encourage us, St Paul builds on that message of Jesus.  He's writing to a group of Christians at Corinth, asking them to help a hard pressed group of Christians in Macedonia. Sometimes, I think we imaging the churches of the new Testament as large, successful groups. They weren't. They were small and they struggled. 30 people here, perhaps 60 or 70 there, often finding it hard to make a living because Christians were barred from many of the professions and trades before the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. They struggled. They knew all about stress. And what do we find St paul telling them?

Do everything cheerfully! Give yourself to your work with relish! Sow bountifully, give generously. 'God will supply you with an overflowing measure of every grace so that, in all things and at all times you have a sufficiency.' Paul's message was one of trust in God and sharing gladly with our neighbour. Together, we prepare the ground for God to supply what is needed. And we live in hope.

May God bless you at your ploughing and preparing of the ground this year and bring to these communities a good harvest. 'Take pride in your plough and bless it because it blesses you.'



The Naming and Circumcision of Christ; the First Sunday After Christmas
Ripon Cathedral
Numbers 6.22-end; Galatians 4.4-7; Luke 2.15-21

There was a little lad who was taking part in his first nativity play. He was dressed as a shepherd andhe had a lamb tucked under his arm. He was supposed to lay his lamb at the foot of the manger and say, 'Lord Jesus, we worship you.' But as he walked acorss the stage, a look of terror came over his face. he had forgotten hoe carefully rehearsed words! However, he was a resourceful little lad so he said the words he had heard said over his baby brother's pram so many time, 'Oh, isn't he like his father?'

He could not have summed up the birth of Jesus and its meaning more succinctly. many preachers have tried and failed to get to the meaning of the incarnation more clearly. In the birth of the Christ child, we see God come among us. Jesus points to the Father and shows us waht God is like. The titles given by the angel - Son of ther Most High, Son of God, Immanuel, God-with-us speak of the divinity of this child. But He needed a name - not a title - a human name by which everyone who met Him would know Him. And so, on this, His eighth day, He was given the name provided by the angel in Joseph's dream - Jesus. Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means 'Jehovah is salvation.' The angel tells Joseph that He is to be called by this name because He will grow into 'the saviour who will save God's people from their sins.'

So, today, we celebrate an ancient custom, circumcision, which embedded Jesus in the history of His nation and its relationship with God. And we celebrate a naming.

Naming is terribly important, isn't it? Whan any baby is born, the first thing you ask is, 'Is it a boy or a girl?' Then you ask, 'What is he or she going to be called?' You can't really begin to get to know a person until you know their name. Withou a name, it's difficult to engage properly with someone. Knowing a name can give you power. Children don't listen to the teacher who says' 'You over there come her!' But they listen to the teacher who says, 'George, sit down!' or 'Mary, come here!' We all respond better when someone has taken the trouble to learn our name.

When God wants to establish a covenant relationship with Moses, a tital won't do. 'The God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob' seems a little remote. So God tells Moses His name, 'I am who I am'. An enigmatic name, perhaps, but a name, nevertheless. Once Moses knows God's name, he begins to build his own relationship with God, a relationship not merely based on hearsay and what he has been told about the God of his ancestors. name, identity and relationship are inextricably intertwined.

On this new Year's day, as we look forward to the year ahead of us with hope and, no doubt, full of good intentions, we might take a little time to identify and name some of those hopes and resolutions and even, perhaps the fears. Because, naming gives us power to engage not only with people but with situations. To identify and name before God our hopes and anxieties - the things we would like to be able to deal with and make happen and the things we fear hold us back - this is a very powerful thing to do. To name in pareyr a feeling or an insight or an idea we have brought to birth is a very liberating and empowering thing to do. It brings us to the truth of the matter and enables us to move forward. It brings the life of God into the situation.

To eveoke the name of God to help us is also a very power-filled thing to do. Moses and Aaron and the priests of the Old Testament are commanded to pronounce God's name as a blessing on the people. There is power in the name of Jesus that disturbs even the demons in the New Testament stories of healing. The names of God are not to be taken in vain or mocked or misused but are to be used as powerful channels of blessing and to be called upon in times of special need.

Notice, however, the context in which Jesus' name is given. It is given as part of the ceremony of circumcision, part of the age-old discipline of the people of Israel. Notice that in our Old Testament reading, Moses and Aaron are told to use God's name to bring blessing on the people in the context of instructions for how to dedicate one's whole life to God. The special power that comes through naming and especially through the knowedge and use of God's name has to worked out in a life that is lived God-wards. Jesus Himself was prepared to enter into the discipline. As the writer of the espitle to the Galatians tells us, wer, too, are invited to enter into that discipline and to find in ti the freedom to call on God as 'Father' - an intimate relationship in which we name God as the source of our life and our well-being and our redemption.

I have often used the words of the Aaronic blessing with someone who is very ill or close to death. 'May the Lord bless you and take care of you, may the Lord be kind and gracious to you, may the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace.' And so often, I have witnessed the simplicity of peace they bring to the person concerned and to those with them.

And the Lord said, 'If you pronounce my name as a blessing on the people, I will bless them.' And Jesus said, 'Indeed, anything you ask in my name I will do so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.'


A Service of Thanksgiving for the East Midlands
Ministerial Training Course
Derby Cathedral 25th June 2011

Joshua 4.1-9; John 17. 15-23

It's not often you hear something really heart-warming on the radio. This week, on Classic FM, a young man phoned in to say that he was driving home, for the last time, from university with the car packed up, full of his stuff.
'I've loved every minute of my time at university,' he said, 'I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Could you play something really joyful?'

Now, I don't know if you would say that you've loved every minute of your time with EMMTC! We might even, perhaps hope that students and staff have been a bit more challenged than that; occasionally taken outside your comfort zones by the theological enterprise and by ministerial formation. And especially by the demands of a life of prayer and proclamation.

But I hope that, like the young man on the radio, at some level, all of you who have been associated with EMMTC over the years hold in your hearts a deep snes of gratitude. Thank frul ness for the friendships formed, the things learned, vision enlarged and for the part that EMMTC has played in the bigger journeys of your lives and ministry - the things which you never dreamed you'd do before EMMTC became a aprt of your life.

The young man on Classic FM was transparent: he was grateful and he wanted to share his gratitude with everyone who would listen, to spread his joy.

In the Jewish tradition, God is blessed and thanks are given in all circumstances - over food, land descendents, future hope - even when there is little to be hopeful about. There's a deep psychological point to this culture of thankfulness. You can't be truly thankful to God or to another person, and, at the same time, hold bitterness or resentment in your heart.

So, today, we are thankful. I'm thank for for a wonderful curate, trained on EMMTC, who taught me about how ministry comes in many shapes. She lived out her call to demonstrate that very different ministries can be blended together in a parish to the benefit of all - different contexts and perspectives brought to bear on the work of the people of God in a locality. I'm grateful for the inclusivity of EMMTC, for its ecumenical determination, for the high standard of its teaching (evidenced by excellent inspection reports) and for the realism its alumni often bring to life/ministry and prayer balance. You will all have your own causes for gratitude - remain faithful to them, whatever they are, whoever they have connected you to.

Were you struck by the story of Joshua commanding the 12 men to bring stones from the river Jordan and place them in the camp? 'Bring them,' he says, 'from that most sacred spot in the river bed where the feet of the priests who have carried the ark have been planted. Yahweh's very presence has passed over these stones- life comes from them!

What is happening here? The people of Israel are passing through the Jordan to the Promised Land. Mosesis not long dead and Yahweh is giving a sacred sign that He will be with the people as they reach the goal of their 40 year pilgrimage through the desert. Chapter 3, verse 10 'Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you.' Yahweh and Joshua are creating for the people a means of dynamic remembering. 'Take these stones,' Joshua says, ' from the very place where God was. The place where you saw evidence of His presence among you - from the bed of the river - and set them up for a memorial to the wonderful works of Yahweh. Bring these reminders of the past into the camp, into our present as we stand poised to enter our future. Again, in the Jewish tradition, dynamic remembering is at the heart of relationship with God. At the Sabbath, at the Passover, again and again the story of God's works and ways in the past is told. In the retelling the people are shaped into people who anticipate, expect that God will be at work among them in the future. So, dynamic remembering of the past for the sake of the future. A way of saying to God, 'Look, God, we have treasured memories of what you did in the past. Please do more of these kinds of things in the future!'

So, let our remembering of EMMTC be dynamic! Pick up you river bed boulders. They may be smooth and a pleasure to carry or they may be cumbersome and not very easy to shoulder. But bring with you those things you traesure and those things which perhaps still remain incomplete, puzzling or creatively unquiet as yet. P)lant them as dynamic memorials in your new country, wherever that is, and don't forget to return to your treasured boulders' stories from time to time. If you allow them to continue to have influence over your ministry, they will also help to shape God's future for you and for the church and for the region.

It's important that as individuals we engage in this dynamic remembering. It's also important that the insights of EMMTC as an educating body are not lost, but carried forward into the worl of the Regional Training Partnership at this very challenging time in theological education. EMMTC, as we have heard, has championed good adult education, has worked consistently in partnership with others in theological education and has welcomed the insights of many theological traditions, believing that this brings richness to the church. Today, as symbols are handed to Bishop Humphrey, the chair of the RTP, later in the service, we hand on ways of praying and working and thinking that will continue to be needed as a part of the unfolding story of discipleship and theological education in the East Midlands.

So, gratitude, dynamic remembering and lastly, a share in Christ's glory. John 17 records the very last words of prayer spoken by Jesus with His disciples in John's version of the story of the crucifixion. Jesus parys, 'Father, I have given them the glory which you gave me that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me so that their unity with us and with each other may stand consumate and complete.'

What is this glory that Christ has given us a share in? Well, Jesus, in John's gospel, speaks a number of times of His crucifixion and 'glorification'. The glory in which we share is nothing other than a share in the shaping of God's purposes in the world through the cross.Our share of glory is our loyalty to the cross as being at the heart of what it is to minister. So we share in Christ's sufferings and in His obedience to the Father as we also await resurrection life now and in the future. This is the glory to which we are called and which we see already.

Jesus' glory lay in the fact that, from the way He lived His life, those He met began to recognize His special relationship with the Father. More than that, they began to be drawn in to Jesus relationship with the Father. People saw that no one could live as He did or speak the truth as He did unless He was of God...unless He was God. As with Jesus, our glory lies in the times and places that people see in our lives a glimmer of God's Spirit at work.

As with Jesus, this is nowhere more true than at moments of ending and beginning, parting and leave taking, laying down of authority and duty and taking up of new paths and challenges. These are the 'thin places' where glory catches us unawares and God often speaks powerfully to us and through us.

Today, all of of us who have loved and cared about EMMTC stand in one of those 'thin places'
  • gratitude tinged with sadness
  • memories which are the well springs of future hope for ministry and life
  • a powerful sense of something ending and yet, the story continuing in suprising ways.
Glory is about sorrow and ending. Glory is about being found by a new way as God reaches out to us in this moment. Glory is believing that we remain in Christ and He in the Father; Christ in us and we in unity with God's purposes.


Inspiring Hope
Ripon and Leeds Diocesan Conference
Holy Spirit Eucharist 9th June 2011

John 14. 8-17

What an inspiring conference this has been! Rich in stories, ideas and images. A bit like this morning's Gospel which comes from one of the Farewll Discourses associated with the Last Supper. What's Jesus doing here? He's planting the seeds of hope in His disciples. He's giving them, on this final, earthly evening, those things (teachings, images, prophetic actions, metaphors) which, after the cross and resurrection, will not only help them make sense of what has happened, but will sustain them in living the future life of the Kingdom.

That's one way that hope works - it's something passed between people. My mother, when she was very ill one day, suddenly waved her hands in the air and said 'I wish I knew where that blackbird is going'. I was about to reassure her that there were no blackbirds in her room , but I realised she was, in  fact, talking about her death and her longing to know what lay beyond. And so we used the image of the blackbird to talk about heaven. After she died, I was out shopping, one day, when  a blackbird hopped up within a few feet of me, looked at me and then flew off very purposefully, soaring over the rooftops. I recalled the conversation Mum and I had had and her words took on a new and more profound meaning. I was sustained and comforted by her hope and caught up into her yearning  for God and for heaven - for what she had not yet seen.

Jesus' words were intended not just for the present inspiration of His followers, but for their future use, and ours, that they and we might be caught up into the dynamic of Trinitarian life. Jesus was teaching within the great Jewish tradition of anamnesis - dynamic remembering. This involves bringing the things that already exist, that are already true out into the open in the present (in narrative form) for the sake of allowing them to shape the future. Jesus is both explaining the Trinity and creating Trinitarian life as He discourses with His disciples. Along with the narratives of Jesus' baptism, this is one of the most Trinitarian passages in the New Testament. It reveals the mutual indwelling of the Father, Son and Spirit and, also, their relationship with the believer - with us.

You can empathise with Philip's longing, can't you? 'Just give us a clear vision of God, Jesus, something we can be sure about!' You can empathise with Jesus' frustration with Philip, '\Good grief, man, have you been with me all this time and yet not grasped that the power at work in me reveals what the Father is like?' And, from this exchange, issue three world changing promises.
  • The Spirit of Truth will come and indwell each believer, make a home with him or her, abide in each one of us. (First promise.)
  • So, consequently, those who believe will do greater works even than esus had done in His earthly ministry. (Second promise.)
  • And those who believe will be guided by the Spirit to pray in Jesus' name so that, when they do this, what they ask will come to be. (Third promise.) 
Wow! Do you believe that? Are you willing for the adventure of discovering what this means? This is, I believe, one of the most revolutionary things ever spoken, ever written down. These promoises are at the heart of what it means to be church; they inaugurate the birth pains of the new creation in the old world. As with every birth, the fruits of these promises, brought to reality in the lives of believers, are beautiful and costly and precious, both to God and to the world, which needs them.

I've been very struck by something a number of our speakers have reminded us about. There is one hope issuing from the death and resurrrection of Christ and the coming of the Spirit; a unity of hope for all people and for the created order. This is Romans 8 territory - 'the whole creation waiting in eager longing for what we do not see...while the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses'. Paul here describes a counter-cultural way of living that is based on the expectation that God's purposes are being worked out, not the expactation that we can improve things by our own vision and work. And so, we cannot feed our own individual hopes and, at the same time, destroy the hope of others. False hope leads straight to individualism, selfishness and sin. True hope calls us out to work for justice and to challenge injustice.

Perhaps there's a question we could ask ourselves. Does what we are doing or saying destroy the hope of others? Or are we working and resting in the one hope that groans and yearns for justice - and even shows a mercy that goes beyond justice too? What about our relationships in our communites, our offices, our churches, our diocese, our schools and what about the effects of our choices and actions nationally and internationally? In Bishop Stephen Cotterell's words, 'Do we have a vision of life that is guided by the promises of God for all people?' 'Find people of peace and work with them.' And, as Elaine Storkey advised us, 'Assume people are people of peace until it's proven otherwise.'

My mother's favourite hymn was a rather obscure one from Congregational Praise. It's based on the parting words of Pastor John Robinson to the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620; words spoken into the birth of a new nation with all the struggles and oppressions and opportunities that lay ahead.

'We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach on mind,
To notions of our sect or day,
Crude, partial and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred;
|The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from \his Word.

O Father, Son and Spirit send
Us increase from above.
Enlarge, expand our Chirst filled souls
To comprehend thy love.
And make us all to know
With nobler powers confered,
The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His word.'

'You will do greater things than these..'
'Whatever you ask in my name I will do...'
'The Spirit of Truth abides in you and will be with you.'

The Spirit is the Paraclete - the one who, literally 'is called in'. We call people in to help us with the things we can't do or be ourselves. The Spirit is called in to support us in our weaknesses, to help us overcome our infirmities, to intercede through us, to inspire us, to help us understand God's purposes. This is a sermon|I invite you to finish for yourself. Perhaps you might keep silence now and invite the Spirit of God to come. May the Spirit be poured into our hearts and minds and bodies so that God's future may take shape in us and be called forth in the world and in the places where He has put us.


Envy; Genesis 4.1-13
St James Wetherby (as part of a series on the Deadly Sins)

Envy is a terrible thing.

I don't know if any of you saw a TV programme on Friday night in which Diarmid McCulloch was looking at English parish churches?  On the wall of one church, in Suffolk, there was a medieval fresco which showed a tree. On each of the branches of this tree sat a representative of one of the deadly sins. There was Envy in his green robe, clutching his heart. At the bottom of the tree, two horrid looking demons were sawing away - felling the tree which was set to fall into the very pit of hell. A humourous warning for all to see!

In some ways, if you can rank sins in order of 'badness' - and I'm not convinced you can - envy ought to be pretty high on the list. It causes people to commit other sins. Envy leads to anger and lying and evasion and meanness and violence and retaliation and as we see in our OT story, even murder.

You can imagine how Cain felt, can't you? He had, presumably, worked hard and done his duty in bringing his offering to God. The story doesn't tell us why, but God prefered Abel's offering to Cain's (perhaps it was offered in a better spirit?) If ever there was a recipe for envy between brothers, to accpet one's offeing and cricitze another's must be it. It was God's perogative, but you can just feel Cain's outrage that his brother had been recognised and he had not, can't you?

So Cain's envy was caused by God apparently favouring Abel. You'll notice, however, later in the story, that God is even handed - He is generous and understanding toward Cain's plight. This perhaps suggests that Cain's response of  envy overflowing into furious jealousy was ill considered.

Sometimes envy is caused by another person's actions (often the case with sibling envy.) At other times envy can grow up in our hearts through a feeling that other people have more, or better things than we have, other people have what they appear to want or need while we have not, other people have more intangible things such as support or friendship or understanding or opportunity that we do enjoy. And once that feeling starts, it's hard to get rid of it, isn't it? A typical feature of envy is that it becomes a bit obsessive. Everything seems to remind us that the object of our envy has that something we wish we had or we think we are entitled to. Perhaps a promotion at work, perhaps a word of recognition for what they have done, perhaps a new baby in the family.

The next stage of the process is often bitterness. We begin to make snide remarks or think mean thoughts and before we know it, we are doing hurtful or damaging things - ignoring the person, putting them down in front of others, maybe actively harming them if the opportunity arises, taking the chance to say something that causes them miss out on an opportunity, perhaps. It might get as afr writing someone a luke warm reference for a job. It might not get as far as murder, as it did in Cain's case, but it can get quite unpleasant, even if we do hide what we are doing from others and from ourselves as much as possible.

Envy, once it starts, is very difficult to let go of. It's not like a sudden burst of anger when, quite quickly, you know you've done wrong, you can admit it and move on. Envy gets its claws into you and then, every which way you move, they seem to sink deeper and deeper. It is certainly one of those attitudes it's best not to start with! So, can we avoid it? Perhaps there are some things we can do.

Firstly, being humble and having a proper view of what is due to ourselves. Actually, nothing is owing to us. Everything we have comes through the free grace of God. We can be thankful for who we are and what we do have. Adopt thankfulness as a habit. Thankful people are usually full of joy and not envious or complaining. In the Jewish tradition, God is thanked for everything in all circumstances - blessing of God abounds over food, land, children, time. This is psychologically very liberating. We cannot truly thank someone and yet hold bitterness in our hearts toward the.

Secondly, we might practise the discipline of being glad for others. Sharing in their joys and triumphs. You know how it is, you so wanted to win the cup for that golf tournament or take first position in that exam and someone else got it! The discipline of going and congratulating them and saying 'well done!' is half the battle. If we focus our attention on their pleasure and how that spills over to embrace others it protects against bitterness in our hearts.

Thirdly, we might practise the discipline of simplicity, cultivating an attitude of not wanting things. Teaching ourselves to be content with what we have whether that is little of much. learning to accept oursleves as we are and, through prayer, increasing our knowledge that God loves and treasures the person He has created in us. You'll notice, in Cain and Abel's story, even though Cain had behaved appallingly, God still cares for him and protects him by putting His mark on Cain and warning against others doing him harm.

What is our particular downfall? Do we crave material things? A better house or car, nicer holidays, the opportunity to buy things we like? Or do we crave honour? Recognition at work, praise, being noticed and chosen or voted into office? Do we like to be known as the best, the kindest? Perhaps some of these things started from the best of altruistic motives and then the situations became overly competitive? Or is our prevailing attitude that life has been unfair to us? Do we envy other people's family, popularity, cleverness, graciousness and social ease, health.

The discipline of simplicity teaches us that we don't need more than we have been given and that we can focus on what we have, knowing that God loves us as we are. The discipline of simplicity invites us to spend some time becoing conscious of this every day and dwelling in that place of realisation. Where we know that we are on the brink of falling into envy, we might talk to God about it - be honest and admit that a particualr person makes us extremely envious. Begin to try to stop ourselves obsessively wanting whatever it is they have and we haven't (or we have and they haven't!)

Envy is very ugly to see and very painful and isolating for the sufferer. If Cain had been able to be glad for Abel that his offering had been accepted and to think, 'I did my best, next year it might be different', if he had talked to or shouted at God about what he felt, his anger might not have got out of hand.

It's a strange thing about God's kingdom - the more we value others, the more we turn our face and our attention to appreciate them sincerely, the more we find our true value before God.

Ripon Cathedral
Amos 9.5-end
Choral Evensong with Schola Liturgica, Netherlands, 20th February 2011

Those of us, myself included, who have been campaigning to prevent the government selling off swathes of forestry estate have had a good week! The government has listened and done a U turn! They are now not going to precipitate the laregst change in land ownership in the UK since 1945.

If, like me, you were brought up with Margaret Thatcher's 'the lady's not for turning', you don't expect politicians to change their mind, so this has been an unexpectedly welcome sign that governments can and do react to public opinion.

And what a week it has been in the Middle East; people, governments and dictators churning and lurching unpredictably this way and that. I was working in the Czech Republic shortly after what was called the Velvet Revolution. It was widely said, there, that the Communist government had quite simply lost, not so much the confidence of the people, as the power to make any difference at all to what people thought and did. Nobody any longer care what the government might do to them - the regimes of the eastern block had, in a sense, become irrelevant to their people. And a great deal of this was said to be as a result of the power of the then burgeoning internet (this was 1996). The Communist governments lost control of information.

Are we seeing something similar in the Middle East - more violent, certainly; equally disorientating, producing a vacuum of power to be filled by what? We don't yet know.

Our Old Testament lesson, from the prophet Amos, doesn't seem out of place for a week like this. 'I will shake the people like corn in a sieve, I will shake them among the nations to remove the worthless.' Amos was prophesying in the eighth century BC, at a time of apparent prosperity and religious pietyt, between wars and exiles. But he saw that the prosperity of Israel was confined to a wealthy upper strata of society and that it fed on injustice and oppression of the poor. Religious observance was insincere and did nothing to hencourage leaders speak out or act against the exploitation of the weak. With passion, vivdness and some courage, Amos preached an uncongenial message - that God would punish insincerity and exploitation; that He would overturn those who sought to silence the people who did speak out against injustice.

Amos famously called for 'justice to flow like a stream' and hinted that perhaps God would be merciful to those who survived the overturning of the nation. In the very last verses of the whole book (read tonight) we have a picture of the all-powerful nature of God, 'The sovereign Lord touches the earth and it quakes.'. And we have a strong image of politcal unheaval bearing fruit, as revolution is resolved, 'When the ploughman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed...'then 'the mountains shall drip with sweet wine. The fortunes of the people will be restored.'

There is a great deal in Amos's message about the human cost of political turmoil - about the killing and the waste of life. And so that phrase, 'I will restore the fortunes of the people' contains a paradox. In Hebrew the word is 'shebuth', 'turn a turning', but 'shebith' closely resemble 'shebith', the word for captivity. Moving in and out of captivity and making a new beginning, politcally, are so closely related that they can almost be expressed in the same breath.

How true! Think of the Eastern block after 1989, myanmar and Sri Lanka today, South Africatwo decades ago, Eurotpe after 1945. It not possible to separate the narrative of captivity and loss and the narrative of injustice and suffering from the narratives of restoration.

Well, it would be a brave person who would predict the outcome of the turmoil in Egypty, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Morocco tonight. But we can be sure that we are witnessing something that will ultimately impact greatly on the power relationships between the nations and between the world's regions. The true significance may take decades to emerge. I believe that we have not yet seen the full extent of the significance of Europe's having exported her post 1939 porblems to the Middle East. This week's riots and the ensuing changes in government will add to the sieve-shaking of European, American, Arabic and Semitic cultures who think fundamentally differently and who find it difficult to hear one another and appreciated one another's values.

Amos probably retired to in Tekoa and watched and meditated over the re-establishment of a new, much smaleer and weaker Israel. Infact, he almost certainly died before much restoration was effected. But his message was remebered as having the ring of truth about it.

Leonard Berstein, in the Chichester Psalms sets psalm 23 to a tranquil, pastoral melody sung by a boy soprano and choir, 'I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.' This melody is rudely cut across by a violent, angular melody. The shouting choir declares, 'Why do the nations so furiously rage and the peoples imagine a vain thing...the rulers take counsel together against the Lord?' (Psalm 2) Both realities are profoundly true. We can only watch and pray and hope. We can only commit ourselves to work for peace and justice as God leads us deeper into the paradox.

Amos's message was that justice and the power of God will prevail but at great cost as history moves towards its consumation. More than ever, we need to meditate on the closing chapter of Revelation with its image of the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

Wetherby St James; The Seven Deadly Sins; Envy
Genesis 4.1-14
Sunday 20th February 2011

Induction of the Revd Stan Haworth, Area Dean of Richmond, as Rector of  Albrough St John, Melsonby and Forcett
Joshua 3.1-8 and 14-end: Hebrews 1.1-12
Choral Evensong, Sunday 9th January 2011

Do you believe in angels? Angels are God's messengers.They appear throughout the Bible, bringing news from God, intervening to protect people, asking for a person's co-operation in bringing God's purposes about.They are said to surround God in Heaven and there are hosts of them (millions!)

The principal ones are Raphael, Uriel, Phanuel, Gabriel (who brings God's messages to humans) and Michael (the archangel who presides over the destiny of God's ancient people, Israel.)

Today, and in the distant past, in Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities many people have stories of what they believe to be encounters with angels. Stories of people appearing, unexpectedly, to help or to deliver a message and then disapearing, never to be seen again. Or stories of an unaccountable feeling that they should avoid a place, or stop traveling or driving - only to discover that this has saved them from some disaster.

Angels - they are well grounded in scripture.

Then, do you believe in prophets? People who, in every age, seem to be able to speak out with particular authority. People who seem able to see what is coming and spot the truth of a situation? I suppose, in modern times , many would say that Winston Churchill was prophetic in his warnings about the second World War. And what about Martin Luther King? Or Gandhi, in India, or Kwame Nkruma in West Africa or Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa? Prophets often lead by their actions which draw attention to their message - Gandhi's fasts, Sentamou cutting up his dog collar until Mugabe ceases to hold in power in Zimbabwe. There were a whole string of prophets in Old Testament times and John the baptist was the last in this line.

But, if I asked everyone here, tonight, to give their opinion about angels and prophets, we would probably have nearly as many answers as people.

The message that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews had was startling!

He's really addressing the question of how we know what God is like. How do we know when God is present among us?  In Joshua's time, the people carried a box around - the Ark of the Coveneant - which was the place where they believed God's presence came to rest on earth. That was rather literal, and also, rather a beautiful symbol. The Ark was carried around wherever the people were and so, God came, from time to time, to be in very middle of all His people, to encourage or chastise them.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is saying that, since the coming of Christ, we have one sure way of knowing who God is and what He is like. Yes, we might look to angels or prophets and ancient symbols, but the most potent way of seeing God is to look at Christ. In Christ, we see God. How does the author of Hebrews put it?

'He has spoken to us as One who is a Son, destined to enter into the possession of all things, by whose agency He made the universe; He was the very effulgence of God's glory, the exact expression of God's essence.'

Since the coming of Christ, there is one person we need to observe to learn about God and that is Jesus Christ. There is one person we need to follow to find God, and that is Jesus Christ. There is one person we need to pray to and to ask to pray with us and that is Jesus Christ. There is one person whose Spirit will enable us to do the work of God, and that is the Spirit of the risen Christ Jesus. There are all sorts of other aids to finding God in the shape of angels and prophets and saints and symbols but all that is necessary is to know Christ and Him crucified and risen.

In Christ's ministry, we get a picture of what matters to God
  • healing and forgiveness and reconciliation
  • power to overcome temptation
  • the overturning and challenging of the power structures of the world
  • feeding the hungry
  • freedom from exploitation and oppression for all
  • merciful dealings with all
  • loving kindness
It's the Magnificat, isn't it? It's the text Jesus read at the beginning of His ministry, in the synagogue in Nazareth. It's the Beatitudes. These, and Jesus' actions and parables, show us what matters to God.

And the church should show the way in the world. People should be able to look to the church and see glimmers of Christ, hints of God at work in the world.

Tonight, we come to give thanks for, and to celebrate the ministry of the churches here at Melsonby, Aldbrough and Forcett and in the villages around. The message of our readings is that, to make a difference, you need only to focus on Christ, Himself, to put Him at the centre of all you do, to be faithful in prayer and in listening to Him. And, of course, it is your priest, Stan, who helps you do this.

John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, wrote a book, The Life and Work of A Priest and. in it, he gives some clues as to what the ministry of a priest is about. He describes the priest as 'A spiritual explorer, someone passionately directed towards God.' Some one who 'helps people explore the landscape of faith'. Someone who 'identifies with the community and shares the journey with the people.' Someone who 'challenges - a friendly irritant'. (Jesus was an irritant at many times in His communities.) But, above all, someone who points people to Christ.

And so should we all be, together, people who point one another gently towards Christ, who points us towards God.


Christmas; Luke 2.1-20; John 1.1-14
Preached at All Saints Staveley, Ripon Cathedral, St John's Sharow

It's difficult to imagine going up to London, to Buckingham Palace, and finding the Queen standing outside at the bus stop, waiting for a no 22. But that's exactly what the people of Oslo used to see. During an oil crisis, the then king, Olav V, used to stand outside his palace, skiis in hand, to catch the tram up to the ski slopes, like any other citizen. He had his body guard with him but felt that, if the rest of the city was being asked to leave their cars at home to save energy, he should show the way. A great Swedish monarch used to say, 'I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live,' and, much to the consternation of his security peope, he used to disappear, incognito, into the streets of the city.

Jesus left His rightful place with God to come and share the life we live, claiming no special privilege or advantage.

What happened at His birth was, in many ways, symbolic of what happens wherever the life of God engages with the life of humans, with human society.

Firstly, there was no room for him in the inn. That was 2,000 years ago. Today, it would seem, there is no room for Christ in Christmas. I've been in several shops, this year, where Christmas has been renamed, 'Winterval'; to several acts of worship where Christ has not been mentioned at all; and there is a campaign 'to take Christ out of Christmas'. It is up to us, the followers of Christ, to make sure that He is in our hearts, our homes, our conversations, our prayers; in our thinking and doing and celebrating. 'For as many as received Him, as many as believed in Him, He gave power to become children of God.'

Incarnation, the coming of God into the world, takes two things. It takes God to come and it takes us to recognize and receive Him. To become empowered by Him in our daily lives, to make sure there is room for Him in society - at home, at work, in our neighbourhoods.

Secondly, there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night who said, 'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place that the Lord has made known to us.' Always, there are a few who are ready to welcome God. The shepherds were ordinary men, getting on with their daily work just as farmers across the area have been doing, with some extra difficulty, in this year's snow - ensuring their animals have water and food. They stopped what they were doing, put the pusuit of their livelihood on hold for an interval and responded to the message of the angels. That message contained an invitation, not a demand, and the shepherds responded to that invitation with directness and simplicity as they rushed down to Bethlehem to see whether there was anything in this story of a baby which the angels had told them.

Often, the simpler our lives, the more direct and sincere our daily dependence on God, the more possible it is to respond when God asks something of us. And the the better able we are, for the pausing, to return to our everyday taks 'glorifying and praising God,' rather than grumbling and anxious about many things.

Thirdly, Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. When God enters our lives, it is not something whose significance we can easily grasp or understand straight away. It is part of a lifetime's journey. Mary was just at the beginning of that journey. We need, as she did, to allow the things God has given us or shown us to stay with us, to take root, to begin, slowly, to change the way we understand and see things. As Mary pondered, she grew in her conviction that this child that God had given her was unique. And she grew, at the same time, in courage, so that wherever His birth and life would lead her, she would follow and give her support and her love.

In Christ, God came mong us, not so that we would remember Him once a year, not so that we would worship Him on Sundays, but that we might ponder God's love for us everyday of our lives. Mary was going to need the strength that this would bring her very soon. Not long after the sheherds left, the visit of the Magi brought jealousy to Herod, slaughter to Bethlehem, and exile into Egypt for the holy family. Life was then, and is now, brutal and difficult and full of problems. The coming of the Christ child did not alter that fact then and does not do so today.

But true worship of the Christ child and the daily pondering of God's love give us strength to live our lives hopefully and victoriously in the darkness of the world. 'But the light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world...and from His fulness we have received grace upon grace.'

Let's go home today, like the shepherd, glorifying and praising God. No resentment , pettiness or bitterness in our hearts. Let's make sure that every day there is room for Christ in our hearts and homes and places of work. In this neighbourhood. And let's, tomorrow and every other day, follow the example of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen, forgiving those who throw unwanted stones at us and speaking loyally about our regard for Christ when required to do so.

What shall we offer thee, O Christ,
Who for our sakes appeared on earth, a man?
Every creature made by thee offers thanks,
The angels offer thee a hymn,
The heavens, a star,
The magi, gifts,
The shepherds, wonder,
The earth its cave,
The wilderness, a manger;
What can we do but offer thee our lives,
And in our hearts enthrone thee,
Welcoming thy Spirit, as did the Virgin,
And walking thy way upon this earth? Amen.
Eastern Orthodox Prayer