Sunday, July 20, 2014

Swords into ploughshares - thoughts for Cathedral Praise 20th July 2014

The end of the summer term...Time for primary school children to take a bag with them to school specially so they can bring home the trophies of the year. Those who are parents will probably remember the trauma of being confronted by a child who is proudly displaying an artefact they've made at school...and realising that you have literally NO idea what it is...Those who are too young to have experienced this from a parental viewpoint may remember the frustration of those
It's lovely – what is it?” questions...
so....I know I'm taking a risk by asking you tell me what you think this is.

OK – It's a nail. Not one that has ever been used to hold things together – because it was only made last week...and yes, I AM the one who made it & I'm quite proud of it, there!
But it's also a story
A story that began amid the violence of war, as the Krupps factory in Essen turned out guns and ammunition which was used in anger by the Axis forces against the allies...but was also the target of repeated allied air raids.
A place that, like Coventry, represents the human capacity both to hurt and to be hurt by others...but also, like Coventry, a place that decided not to be defined by the negatives of the past...

I know a tiny bit about Essen now, because last weekend I met the youth group from the Kreuzkirche there.
As CCN partners they had come to Coventry to show us their particular take on the Bible passage we've just heard, for they've embarked on a project they call “metalworking for peace”.
I'd like to believe that the metal they use is recycled from a harsher use – like the trees of life that artists in Mozambique build from decommissioned guns – but actually, that doesn't really matter.
What matters is that these young people have determined that their community shall be known not for its skill in making weapons of war but for its commitment to justice and peace.
And what's more they invite others to join in with the work.
My great grandfather was a blacksmith in Gravesend, Kent at the start of the 20th century...something I only remembered mid way through the process of wielding a hammer as instructed, as the hot metal emerged from the furnace to be shaped into something that could, if I can team up with 2 other people, one day be part of a cross of nails.
I suspect he would not be very proud of his descendent – because I was pretty useless, really.
First I didn't use enough force, then I applied force in the wrong place – though thankfully not to my fingers, nor anyone else's either...
Even with lots of help the process was surprisingly hard work.
And noisy
Very very noisy

There was no possibility of any stealth transformation taking place.... no secret reshaping...
It was all too easy to get things wrong – specially as the process went on, and we began to shape the metal rod so that it could be snapped off at the right length to match the medieval nails which were our inspiration.

More than once, my embryonic nail had to be returned to the heat of the forge, so that it could be bent back into something close to the right shape again.
Transformation doesn't just happen, even when you have a whole team of people focussed on it.
But finally it was time to fix the shape by plunging it into cold water...with a terrifying hiss....and the metal that had been red hot only moments before was dropped into my waiting palm...
and there it was.

My own illustration of the process that sees swords turned into ploughshares.

But of course, weapons cannot of themselves hurt anyone...
It is people who do that, and in a week of mounting violence in Israel Palestine, in Iraq, and while we wait to hear what really happened to bring down flight MH17 over Ukraine, the dreadful inclination of humanity to wound and destroy seems particularly oppressive.
Wherever we turn, there is fresh evidence that we've learned the lessons of cruelty, hatred and fear that have shaped the course of human history for too many generations.
All those sins for which we ask forgiveness whenever we pray the Litany of Reconciliation...because we STILL carry on allowing them scope in our lives and our world.
As one of the Collects truly says “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves”

But that's where another work of transformation comes in...a work of transformation that brings hope from despair...a work to which Isaiah looked as he wrote of God's future breaking in to our present.
Because – his words are for us...
They point to something that may not be fully realised in our time...but something which we are part of. is our invitation.
Let US go up to the mountain of the that God may teach US his ways.
Let us allow him to reshape our lives, to turn those habits of fear and hatred into ways of being that are founded on love, grace and gratitude...
It won't be easy...or instantaneous
It wont, I'm afraid, always be comfortable...
"Who may abide the day of his coming...for he is like a refiner's fire"
I don't imagine that, had that metal rod had any feelings, it would have enjoyed the process of being forged...heat, hammer blows, more heat...
Sometimes, that kind of pressure can seem to be our dominant experience of God's power at work in our lives...because, you see, we're not being called to be simply nice kind people...nor even people with a wonderful story of hope to share.
We are being radically reshaped – and that may involve experiences that feel very much like loss.
The route to holiness is demanding, challenging, costly...and at times it may feel as if we're not getting anywhere.
My nail, for all the work I lavished on it, looks dull, crude, incomplete - and nothing like the shiney cross of nails I aspire to...
and I'm a work in progress too, with all the rough edges and unfinished business that implies.
But I'm en route to something better...I AM "in progress" and I'm aiming to be someone quite different one day.
That is the path that we're all invited to walk on, for we are being changed, little by little, so that we can be nothing less than the Body of Christ...signs of His Kingdom, where humanity shall study war no more.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An LGBT Video Testimony

I've been blogging for - goodness - 10 years now! That's a long time, in the quicksilver world of the internet, where things change from minute to minute, communities form and dissolve, intense connections are forged, then forgotten. I guess in some ways I found my voice here, as "GoodinParts". 
Certainly I've found friends whom I'd never have met otherwise.
I've never been much use at dissembling, so people know who I am - and where I minister - and that sometimes means I have to be rather cautious.

But if people know who I am, they also know my passion for a fully inclusive church, a place where everyone can be certain of a loving welcome, just as they are...because, of course, that's how God welcomes us.

Practically, this means that I've been part of "Inclusive Church" since the beginning, that I've struggled as the message that my beloved C of E proclaims from the housetops seems to speak too often not of loving acceptance but of fear and exclusion. It also means that someone sent me a link to this, asking me to review it here. 
Quite honestly, I can't think that any words of mine will have more impact than the video itself. 
I think it's beautiful...
Beautiful both in message and in execution
Because, at the end of the day, the story of someone discovering just how much God loves them is always worth hearing.

The Sower and the seed - address for Cathedral Praise, 13th July 2014

Reading the gospels,  there are so many times when I wish I’d been there...on the edge of the crowd would have been be one of the 12, fantastic.
To have really got to know this extraordinary man, to discover what made him laugh, or cry, whether he preferred lakeside or mountain-top, fish or vegetables…I wish I had been there, part of the story. But there are other times when my envy of the disciples is balanced by sympathy with their predicament ….They get it wrong so often and hearing that they’ve failed again, I’m kind of relieved that I don’t have to face the disappointment in Jesus’s voice, as he realises that we've missed the point once more. Because, his teachings really aren’t clear sometimes, are they!

Let’s think about the story we’ve just heard …the Parable of the Sower, we call it.
Not quite sure why, actually – because though of course the initiative of the story lies very much with man who sets out to sow the seed, we tend to focus far more on the different soils in which the seed lands.
After all, that’s the part of the story that Jesus explores at some length with his disciples…According to the commentaries, the sower’s approach to his task is completely standard for 1st century Palestine. The crowd gathered by the lake would know that any arable farmer would set to work without preparation. He would broadcast seeds and only then plough soil. As the plough cut into the earth, clumps of thistles and weeds would disappear, and stony patches concealed beneath the undergrowth emerge…and the path where the sower walks would not, of course, be ploughed at all. But from the patch of ground as a whole, there is a hope of harvest of some kind...
Great! Good story. Good illustration…but of what?

Jesus seems to think it’s obvious….and that’s where I’m suddenly very very glad that I’m not part of the crowd. I'd feel so stupid
Let anyone with ears listen.
Are you listening, Kathryn?
What did I just say???
Cue shuffling feet...embarrassed looks...because honestly, I’m not sure.
That’s the trouble with parables.
When introducing Scripture to children, it’s tempting to say that Jesus taught in parables to make it easier for people to understand the huge and abstract concepts of the kingdom of God. Parables provide hooks on which we can hang concepts that are beyond our everyday the words of the old definition...A parable, is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
But the trouble is that parables don’t always have an exact one to one equivalent meaning….
If they are a code, well, sometimes the key isn't immediately obvious. They aren't always easy at all.
Never mind.
Let's go back to the story.
The image of the prodigal sower, just chucking the precious seed to the four winds regardless is really attractive. It might seem a tad irresponsible but it’s his seed, and clearly he has full confidence in the harvest…
It's a wonderful illustration of God's reckless grace....
That could be something to hang onto.
But it's not quite enough...It sort of prompts a “So what?” question
I guess in the original story we're intended to think of the sower as Jesus, scattering words of hope, love and transformation whether people are ready to hear them or not.
He's preaching to a crowd so huge that he has to take refuge in a boat to avoid being crushed as they surge forward to hear more...and we have no idea what they did with the words of life that were offered to them that day. Some people may have been changed in an instant...Some may have wandered off, bored...Some may have reflected on his words for many years before finally coming to a decision, for or against the gospel.
We don't know...

If you judge labour by results, it does sound as if this famous sower is not actually much good at his job.
Three-quarters of the seed – 75% - lands in obviously
unpromising places....on paths, in the bramble patch, among the stones
What a waste!
That precious seed squandered where there is no hope of a decent return...
Is that the best use of resources?
Are there measurable, successful outcomes to this enterprise?
I don't think that either farming experts or management consultants would think the sower was doing too well...for the ratio of return to investment seems pretty useless in some quarters, though there are signs of promise in that “30, 60, 100 fold”.
So – what are we to make of that.
It might be tempting to smile and congratulate ourselves on being GOOD soil...We are here because we've heard God speak, even if we're not always certain exactly what He said....We're trying to live with at least one foot in the Kingdom. Maybe, on a good day, we think we're even bearing fruit for God.
Hooray for us!

But there's still a bit of a problem...a problem caused by the Great Commission...
Of course, this is our story – the gospel is ALWAYS our story - ..but it's not one in which we can just wait passively, content to be the soil
We're living in the age of the Spirit, and Jesus calls us to be his witnesses throughout the whole earth.
And that means, that we- you and me- are now cast in the role of the sower, charged with sharing the word of the kingdom.

So...what are we to do?

Well – SOW of course.

It's our turn...our turn to sow the seed, to squander the gifts of the kingdom,to share God's good news not just with a receptive audience but with those who will obviously ignore it, or reject it or even be openly hostile to it.
It may not be that telling them the good news in as many words is always the best approach...but we do have to make absolutely sure that they are aware of it, one way or another.
We're not told to be successful...
We can't actually control the soil (maybe that's up to God)...
All we have to do is to Keep. On. Sowing.

The danger is that we'll get discouraged - will say to ourselves, well, it's just not worth it..... the last time the birds descended...the place was overrun with brambles...nothing came of our efforts. Forget it...
If that's the case, then we need to listen to another voice...the one that says
Yes, but this time might be different. God never gives up on how can we give up on one another?”
If a gardener announced
I sowed some seed last year; no point in doing it again this year” – we wouldn't think much of him...even if last year's efforts didn't appear to lead to a glorious display.
If discipleship is a process, then sharing faith isn't always going to be a one-off either.
So just keep going.
Look back along the route that brought you to this point in your faith. For most of us, there will have been many twists and turns..
Though you may have encountered God in an amazing Damascus road experience, you may equally have found yourself moving towards Him, almost without noticing, as the words of friends, the life of a faith community, the silent gospel of love at work began to have an impact.
And what was true for you will be true for others as well.
Seeds can take a long time germinating...and it's not up to us to judge the quality of the soil.
We're just called to keep on sowing, no matter what, because in the end it is God himself who brings home the harvest.

Let anyone with ears listen Amen.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Ten years ago...

We all woke early at Holland House, Cropthorne.
The previous night had felt quite strange, as my cohort of not-yet-revs returned to the retreat house, having watched those a year ahead of us (and oh SO much wiser and more grown up) kneel before our new bishop to be ordained priest. Together we had been on the most amazing journey, led by the then Director of Ministry, who both spoke of and demonstrated what lay ahead for us....he seemed to embody all my highest aspirations in priesthood and I was both encouraged and daunted.
Meeting +Michael, just days after his enthronement, I had voiced some of those fears, and been assured
"Ordination WORKS".
For the first time of many I discovered he was right.

But first there was the self-conscious breakfast in clericals, next the anxiety that we should happen on a fatal car smash between retreat and Cathedral and risk either fraudulently offering sacraments with no authority behind us, or seem heartless as we shot past down the M5.
Oh, and the ordination knickers!
Yes, really!!
A whole vat dyed red at our last WEMTC residential, a secret reminder of solidarity with our fellow students being made deacon in Bristol, Hereford or Worcester. It was good to have something to giggle at, on that day of high seriousness...

Listening to the words of the ordinal, it was hard not to panic...How could I, how could any of us, hope to do this?..but  then the liturgy acknowledged this
"Because you cannot bear this weight alone, pray earnestly..."
Now it was our turn to kneel as choir and congregation sung
"Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire...."
and the Litany, including all our names
"For Geoffrey, Emma, Jenny, Linda, Sheila, Kathryn, Timothy, Sarah, Brian, Jacqueline, Mick, Charles...let us pray to the Lord" "Lord, have mercy".
The bishop's hands on my head, a realisation that, on this Independence Day, I was more fully and obviously dependent than ever before - and that this was absolutely alright.

The joy of offering the chalice to so many friends who had, quite wonderfully, somehow managed to be there
The thrill of walking out together, - NOT a formal procession but bishop and clergy setting out to get on with mission and ministry, said +M at our rehearsal,- as wave on wave of applause carried us into the brilliant sunshine.

And yes, he was right.
Ordination does work, and so much has, by God's grace, flowed from the day on which I made such a public declaration of dependence.
I am truly and startlingly blessed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The value of getting things wrong

This weekend our Cathedral, like many others across the country, has been on its best behaviour as we have welcomed the friends and families, parishioners, past, present and future and a more clergy than you could shake a stick at (unless, of course, you are an awesome, multi-gifted verger, who can shake a stick, or at least a verge, at any and everyone) for two wonderful ordination services, for priests yesterday and deacons today.
This is scene setting only, as it was VERY important for everyone present that things ran smoothly and, despite gremlins in the sound system this morning, that's exactly what happened.
And 14 new priests and deacons emerged from the Cathedral to serve God and his Church, - and behold, it was very good.

But last weekend, when so much went WRONG, was equally helpful - if only for the learn-pigeon Canon Pastor.
Let me tell you about it
First of all, because of back-to-back gala dinners in the Cathedral, the 8.00 am Holy Communion service was diverted to our friends at Holy Trinity, just up the hill...and because this is the Cathedral's month, I went with it, complete with an abridged-version of the sermon I had prepared on the Common Worship lections for the 10.30 Cathedral Eucharist.
Except that Holy Trinity use the BCP readings - so I had to produce an instant thought-for-the day...which, thankfully, was relatively straightforward.

Fast forward to the Cathedral Eucharist, where the Deacon decided to abbreviate the gospel, omitting the portion on which my sermon was based. Never mind. The full text is printed in "Cathedral Matters" so no harm done & on the whole the sermon seems to have gone down OK.

Home for late lunch, and snooze in the garden - relying on the return of OH from a supermarket dash to rouse me well before I needed to leave for Evensong. Except, his trip lasted way longer than expected and I woke, aghast, with 10 minutes to get myself to the Cathedral, robed and ready.
Made it, by the skin of my teeth, though without proper footwear or collar (oh, the blessings of choir dress, which hides a multitude of sins)...and was beginning to relax and think "I can do this Cathedral lark" or something similarly inappropriate, when we reached the "Final Suffrages" - the set of responses which close Choral Evensong here. 
The organist gave me a note. "Strange" thought I "That doesn't sound like a "D"...More like the "A" that has been the intonation note all through the service...But I don't have perfect pitch. I'm probably just loopy..." So I sang the phrase on the page in front of me, still unhappy about the pitch - it felt way too least a 5th...
No response at all from the choir.
I looked desperately at the director of music, who looked equally desperately back.
I couldn't make any sense of what has happened. I know I sang the notes on the page...but clearly Something was VERY WRONG.
After what felt like a couple of centuries, the Director of Music sang the plainsong intonation - and the choir responded - with plainsong. 
NOT the responses I had in front of me at all. 

Later I discovered that I had not taken leave of my senses. 
The note that sounded like an "A" WAS indeed an "A"...
I had been given the wrong music for the Final Suffrages...because, when Evensong is sung without the gentlemen, the choristers always do plainsong, regardless of which Responses they've used earlier.
Not my fault after all - though I have seldom felt such a complete and utter idiot!

But, coming in to work the following day, I realised that I was now far more relaxed, less worried about getting things right. 
Because, of course, I had got all sorts of things very publicy wrong - and nobody had died, the Cathedral had not imploded, and God was and is still God!
Hugely liberating!
Of course I will do all I can to manage the intricacies of Cathedral worship - and indeed Cathedral politics - according to the customs of the place...but it will never be perfect, and actually that doesn't matter.
Intention is all - and mine is to give God my best efforts in everything.
That's what really matters.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Both sides now

One way and another, for the past 15 years or so I've spent the last weekend in June attending ordinations.
Most of these have been in Gloucester Cathedral, as you'd expect for one whose public ministry emerged in that diocese, - though I've also managed Hereford, Winchester and St Paul's too along the way. Every time, the service has been splendid - beautifully put-together, with words, music and symbols all combining to underline the power of the sacrament and the awesome reality of a group of people committing themselves to the ministry of God's Church. I've always appreciated the way the Cathedral "stages" the event, in such a way that those coming to celebrate the ordination of friends or family have been convinced that it was really quite effortless, just part of what a Cathedral does - and that the Cathedral would carry the whole proceedings, come what may. 

Several times at Gloucester I've found myself with a job or two - for new priests and deacons are always involved in Communion, as are their training incumbents. I've never quite known what I was doing - whether I was really in the right place or what I would do if my chalice ran out before the line of communicants - but have comforted myself with the thought that there were always Cathedral clergy, as well as an army of servers and vergers, on hand to rescue me if things went wrong.

Now, suddenly, I'm one of those clergy - and, though I was deacon of the rite I was all too aware of just how little I really know and how very dependent I am on the expertise of others! As the Cathedral geared up for the weekend, the Precentor's office, where I have a desk, was the hub for all sorts of comings and goings as he and the Director of Music, organist, Head Verger, Head Server, Church Wardens and more planned and revised and planned some more til all was as good as it could be. And it was very very good - most particularly the way the team swung into action to ensure that little things (and not so little - the failure of the radio mic system springs to mind) would not interrupt the proceedings but all would be done not just decently and in order, but with devotion and delight as well.

And the good news for me was that, though I now know exactly how swanlike the proceedings really are (calm on the surface, paddling like crazy beneath), there was no sense of de-mystification, no "Wizard of Oz" moment when knowing the workings spoiled the wonder. Instead, I found myself moved almost to tears by the privilege of reading Matthew 16 to those about to be ordained priest.
"On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven".
For me, reading those words in that context - and conscious of the ways that the "power of the keys" has been transformative in my own life and my own ministry, the words were electric and I would not have wished myself anywhere else in the world. 

Today's deaconings were overflowing with joy. 
The congregation were so full of conviction as they responded to the bishop's question
"Is it your will that these candidates be ordained deacon"
it was impossible not to smile broadly - and there really was no need to try.

A wonderful weekend - and a privilege to be part of it.
Maybe by next year I'll know enough to be useful!

Friday, June 27, 2014

1 month in - a few inconclusive thoughts in a time of change.

Today being 27th June, it is exactly one calendar month since I started my new job at Coventry - as I had 3 days of orientation before my installation/collation on 31st May.
The past couple of weeks have felt quite different - as if I'm actually beginning to do things that might be useful to other people, rather than being found (or finding myself) things to do to help me learn the new context - or, worse still, to keep me amused! They've also felt markedly busier...instead of automatically heading for my bike the moment Evening Prayer is over, I've returned to my desk on more than a couple of evenings - though thus far I've not brought work home (unless you count sermon prep).It's interesting the difference that not living over the shop has made. On the whole, once I'm home, I switch off - and, because I'm still finding the learning process quite exhausting, I tend to spend my evenings in vegetative non-contemplation. At the moment I don't feel responsible for the community I serve in quite the same way as I did as a parish priest...I'm wildly in love with the Cathedral & indeed with the whole city - but I don't carry it around and worry about it as I did in the parish. This may be simply because I haven't quite picked it up yet (though +Christopher did indeed give me the cure of souls at my collation, and I don't remember saying "No thanks!") It may be because there are colleagues with whom to share the angst. Or it may be that the poor Dean has the special privilege of worrying about the Cathedral and its communities day and night, and thus I don't have to.

Whatever - I'm not complaining!

During the past couple of weeks I've started to do some visiting - some housebound members of the congregation, some sterling souls who have been heavily involved in the life of the place for many years - and while I've asked them what it is that they most love about the Cathedral, and what one thing they would like to change (different answers to both questions from practically everyone), many of them have asked me what has struck me most in these early weeks.
And of course, there are many many answers to this.

I'm constantly struck by the amazing privilege of praying in that space every day.
I can't decide whether I prefer Morning Prayer, in the circle close to the West Screen, where we are bathed in light filtered through John Piper's incredible window
Or Evening Prayer in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and the glittering angel has a resonance close to that of Orthodox ikons
Or is it best of all to stand in the ruins, confronting the charred cross but with the sky open above me...
I just don't know. 
All I know is that it is good to be here - and that each and every Choral Evensong feels like the most tremendous present from God...something I have loved all my life, that I'm now part of on a regular basis - and I get to call this WORK!

I'm struck, too, by the sheer unexpectedness of life. Whatever my diary may say at the start of a day, I can be confident that there will be a whole host of unplanned encounters...symbolised for me by an "ordinary" Tuesday Evening Prayer, at which the congregation grew from 2 to 48 during the course of the Office as a whole pilgrim group from Hong Kong wound their way up the nave to join us in the Lady Chapel.

But above all I'm struck by the multitude of people who give of their time and energy to the work of the place. 
I was taken on with the brief of "Nurturing the Cathedral community as a reconciled and reconciling people" but there are so many Cathedral communities..
The congregation who gather for the Eucharist on a Sunday morning, that is the most visible expression of our life of worship
The smaller congregation that find God in the beauty of Choral Evensong and those who are drawn to the informality of Cathedral Praise - not to mention those who appear to share in the Office.
The Cathedral choirs - men, girls, boys, - who offer their talents every week - and those who find time to step in and enable the choristers to take the occasional break
The welcomers, stewards, guides and lay chaplains
The vergers - both full time, asssitant and honorary - whose patience and calm in the face of even the most idiotic of rookie canons is truly impressive
The servers
Those who sew, wash, iron, press...
Those who keep track of the archives
Those who clean, polish, weed, shore up & sand down
The assorted staff who ensure that music happens, schools are welcomed, special events take place, the world knows that we are here AND can buy a souvenir of their visit
And that's just the people I could think of without effort...I'm still so new that there will be many others I've not even registered yet...
The Cathedral Community is more varied and diverse than I would ever have imagined...If I were to try and draw a Venn diagram, it would be complex, multi-foliate...

It seems clear to me that I am called equally to love and serve each and every grouping and I dream of a space in which they could all become aware and appreciative of each other...

So I guess that it is that complexity of Cathedral life that strikes me most
and is probably why I'm so consistently tired at the moment.
But it's a good tired...and exploring the life of the organism that is both my spiritual home and my place of employment for the present is endlessly intriguing, enthralling and rewarding.
I'm blessed to be here!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Motherhood and apple pie" - a sermon for Trinity 1A at Coventry Cathedral

It's sometimes said that one of the hardest parts of living in a post-Christian society is the number of people who THINK they know exactly what our faith is about.
Take, for example, the way certain sections of the media tend to equate “Christian values” with “Family values”.
Safe, cosy, completely unobjectionable,both are seen as a kind of short-hand, much like “Motherhood and apple pie”.
Love them, or loathe them – in the public imagination Christian values are most definitely NEVER challenging.

Except, of course, that we know better.

We know our attempts, whether whole-hearted or faltering, to live lives shaped by Christ's teachings rarely make things easier in the short term.

We know that a faith that looks towards things as they could be is rarely good news for things as they are...Our very existence should speak of challenge and change – and that's not something that makes for a smooth journey.

And we can't say we weren't warned.

Really, it's quite extraordinary how many people miss this aspect of Christianity...
because the gospels are full of it, even if you gloss over the end of the Jesus story. Certainly, he himself makes it very clear, again and again.
Just listen – if you're feeling brave.

I have not come to bring peace but a sword
I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother...”

What price family values here?
What are we to do with this picture of conflict and complexity – in a place dedicated to peace and reconciliation?
Motherhood and apple pie? I don't really think so.

It's frankly terrifying stuff – perhaps almost more so for those of us who have never experienced any kind of persecution for our faith.
We ask ourselves whether we'd have the courage of our convictions...whether we might after all turn out to be fair-weather Christians...
Perhaps the gospel is too challenging for us after all.
We rather like the life we have – it's familiar, comfortable, largely manageable – and we would much prefer to carry all the baggage that we have so lovingly accumulated – family, friends, and material possessions – rather than surrender them, leaving our hands free to take up the cross.

And this is supposed to be good news???

Actually, I rather think it is. Here in Coventry, I know that many of you will have had direct experience of meeting brothers and sisters who've lived this – and you'll recognise their rather different perspective. For me, my first encounter with a real live persecuted Christian was a complete eye opener...putting an end to any assumption that “Christian values” and “Family values” belonged together, but also showing me the unexpected joy of those who HAVE on one level lost their life for Christ's sake. It was on my 1st visit to India, when I found myself sitting at table with Andrew, an Indian Christian working for Scriputre Union across the 3 dioceses of Karnataka North, South and Central. His family was originally dalit, untouchable – and despite the outlawing of the caste system, that legacy endures - but Andrew's grandfather converted to Christianity, following what amounted to a miracle. He was employed by a British tea planter, a Christian who held daily prayers for his staff...but grandfather, a devout Hindu, was not convinced. Then one day he had an accident, breaking his treatment was some days journey away, and by the time he arrived gangrene had set in and amputation seemed inevitable. Surgery was planned for the following day, and he lay in the ward, in great pain and utter desolation...He noticed a picture of Jesus, which he recognised from his employer's home...and in some desperation prayed "I am in too much pain. If you are indeed a god, act." That night his pain did not keep him awake, and instead he slept deeply and dreamed vividly of two men in white who came to him and assured him that Jesus had indeed healed his leg. In the morning, the gangrene had gone, the broken bone was whole and, not surprisingly, grandfather converted to Christianity on the spot. Healed and restored – a whole new life began – but in embracing it, he lost all that had gone before, for he was outlawed from his own family, forbidden to return to the place where he'd been born, pelted with stones and refuse by work mates and relatives. Even now, when his grandson Andrew returns to his home village, he is ostracised – by those very outcasts who might have been expected to show solidarity no matter what.
But, he says, it is worth it, for he has found an open door, an escape route from the confines of the eternal cycle of karma to freedom and dignity as a child of God – and for Andrew, that's worth any amount of abuse. Following Christ has helped him to find himself...his vocation...his purpose in this life and beyond.

Good news after all, then!

But where does that leave us?

Do we have to pick a fight with the rest of our family? .

Well no – probably not! But we DO have to be certain that we know where our priorities lie.
The call to discipleship is an absolute – not one to follow on the days when we haven't got much on, when it fits in with our personal timetable.
You see the message is that nothing – NOTHING – is as important as acknowledging Christ as Lord...and sometimes this may even seem to be at odds with our calling to peace and reconciliation.
You'll know already that reconciliation has nothing to do with papering over cracks or denying difficulties.
Reconciliation goes hand in hand with truth: it is never achieved through superficial compromise.
Where difficulties exist they must be named and faced...and for us, trying to live as citizens of the Kingdom will often mean difficulties as we strive to speak up for the oppressed and challenge injustice.
We may find ourselves in situations we would never choose, places of deep, enduring pain – but we stand there as signs of hope and liberation.

Those aren't easy, empty words...and their inherent challenge would surely startle those who see our faith as a bland expression of kindness without meaning.
I almost wish that our faith was more “motherhood and apple pie”, more hallmark cards less gospel imperative

So here's the rub.
I want to take it seriously...I want to have the courage to put Christ first in all let go of everything else - but as Jesus tells his disciples...
Whoever loves father or mother...son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”
I'm pretty certain I'm not worthy of him.
Not because I've got a set of disordered priorities – though that's probably true too – but because, actually, we're NONE of us worthy of him.

Which brings us back to good news after all
We stand or fall not on our own worthiness but on His unlimited grace....

So do not be afraid . We have His word for it that you are worth more than many sparrows!