Risk it. God has, so should we.

The other day I came across a cartoon. It depicted a vicar stood by a font, holding a child and surrounded by the family. High above them, sat a lifeguard looking down. The caption read ‘He’s the result of our risk assessment survey.’

What comes to mind when you think about the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Perhaps when you launched a new business?
Perhaps when you made that charity parachute jump?
Perhaps when you set out to cross Selby Road?
These are all risks in one sense, however is not the greatest risk of our lives to love.

Hopefully we are born into this life knowing love from our first breath. The love of our parents, family and friends and this love shapes who we are and how we see the world. There’s nothing quite like the love a parent has for a child, and a child has for a parent.

But even this love isn’t risk free. Parents don’t live for ever and to have a child is to be well acquainted with risk, sometimes tragically so.

This parental love isn’t the only love we know though. We choose to love others too, friends, husbands and wives and partners.

Thank God we do, it is right and good to love another person. It’s what we’re here for but it comes with risk.
We risk that love not being returned.
We risk being vulnerable as we open our hearts to another.
We risk being hurt, when a relationship ends or when a loved one dies.

So for me the greatest risk we take in this life is to love. Yet this is a risk that’s worth taking, for without love we as St Paul wrote are ‘nothing’ .

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Unwrapping the Truth

Jesus said ‘Sanctify them in truth, your word is truth.’ The word truth is a word that we find frequently in the Gospel of St. John. Let me give you a few more examples than the words we have just heard in our Gospel this morning.

In chapter 1, we read that Jesus is ‘full of grace and truth’(1). In chapter four that we are to worship ‘in spirit and truth’(2). That Jesus testified to the ‘truth’ in chapter five(3). That the ‘truth will make you free’ in chapter eight(4). In chapter fourteen that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth the life’(5).
That we will be led ‘into all truth’ in chapter sixteen(6) and so it goes on.

The contrast with the other three Gospels couldn’t be greater. In Matthew’s Gospel the word truth is never heard. In Mark once and in Luke we hear it twice. So we could say that the fourth Gospel is one obsessed with talking about truth.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that when Jesus comes before a rather bewildered Pilate he asks ‘What is truth?’(7)

It’s this question I want to explore a bit this morning, as we ponder the words we’ve heard in our Gospel when Jesus prays that his followers may be sanctified ‘in truth’.

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1 John 1.18
2 John 4.23
3 John 5.33
4 John 8.23
5 John 14.6
6 John 16:13
7 John 18:37

Many stories told. Many still to tell.

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Kirkgate Market has had a makeover. Over the last few days it will have been a hive of activity. Turkeys will have, not literally of course, flown out of the butchers. Enough fruit and veg purchased to feed an army. Amidst all the kerfuffle, some may have paused to notice some words painted on a wall.

The Kirkgate Market logo stands in the middle, on one side of it there are these words ‘Many stories told’ and on the other ‘Many still to tell.’

Many stories told. Many still to tell. Those words have stayed with me since I first saw them earlier in the year for they could equally be applied to Christmas.

What stories told accompany our Christmas?

Like the one when Dad went out on Christmas Eve to buy a Christmas Tree only to find them all sold out, and came back with what could be described as a Christmas branch.

Or the Christmas when the snow came down meaning that cars had to be left some way from the family home and walks made over snowy and icy roads to get home.

Or the time when plans were changed when an outbreak of illness meant that there were rather more at your house that you’d planned. These are some of mine, you will have your own.

Many stories told. What stories to tell from Christmas 2017 will seep into our family history?

We don’t know yet but something will happen. And the words we shall use to tell these stories will matter to us, for they become part of our story.

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The Spirit of Truth will lead you into all Truth

In a few minutes we shall say the Nicene Creed. In these carefully fashioned words from the fourth century we, together with millions around the world express something of what we believe.

They are words which witness to something Jesus said in our Gospel ‘I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.’

The creed, unlike the Ten Commandments, was not dictated to Mr Nicene up a mountain to be written on tablets of stone.

Instead in the centuries following Christ’s life and death, resurrection and ascension his followers strive to articulate what they believe about him and how that shaped their understanding of the nature of God.

So for hundreds of years there was discussion and dialogue, discernment and dissent. The truth was tested, some ideas and concepts discussed and then disregarded. Then in 325 in Turkey, at the city of Nicaea, Bishops, theologians and leaders gathered.

What emerged from their time together was a creed that bears the name of where it was formulated, a creed which has become the touchstone of our faith. A creed we say almost every week, part of that creed describes that which we believe and celebrate today, the Holy Trinity.

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Grace Abounds!

The crowds gathered. Will there be enough seats? Will there be enough service sheets? Can everyone see? These are some of the questions around when we host our monthly baptism service at 12 noon. Hundreds of people come, a moment to celebrate, except that if I’m honest they’re hard work.

Its hard keeping that many people engaged and trying to be serious alongside the celebration.

Consequently, I can often go home disheartened and drained in a way it feels as though the sacrament is being abused. And yet there is more, as an email I received last week reminded me.

Prior to last month’s service, an enthusiastic photographer spoke to me before the service asking for some guidance about what was and was not appropriate. We had a chat and I asked if he could email me some of the photos because they would be useful to us for publicity and so on.

I’d forgotten about the request until an email came with some photos attached, one of which is one of my favourite ever photos. In the foreground I’m holding the Riley-James. In the background is a row of smiling joyful faces, beaming at the child and maybe even me.

That photo has served as a little reminder to me that though I might sometimes feel a bit indifferent about baptisms, God’s grace is still at work and that that grace will be revealed to us in all sorts of people and events.

It’s a photo I shall treasure for the rest of my days and is certainly one to turn too if I feel a bit grumpy and thinking it’s a waste of time.

Perhaps Jesus needed moments like that too. We might like to think of Jesus being meek and mild, all calm and collected but the reality I suspect was rather different. It must have been frustrating to be surrounded by followers who for much of the time just don’t get it.

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Purveyors of Hope

Every so often when it’s a sunny day and incense has been part of our Eucharist, as it was this time last week, a wonderful things happens.

As the smoke of the incense is met with the bright light of the day, mediated through the windows around us, then shafts of light magically appear. These shafts or beams of light are beautiful and in some way speak to us of the life of faith.

For though we know there are times when this life can seem harsh and difficult, something young Jacob, his parents Matthew and Katie together with the rest of the family have been reminded these last few weeks and months.

Amidst these difficult times, I know there have also been shafts or beams of light, glimpses of hope, little clues that there is more. Something I want to return to a bit later.

Mary whom we encounter in our Gospel this morning knew well the harshness of life. On Friday she had seen Jesus die. The power of evil and the darkness that surrounds it seems to have won.

We find her next ‘Early on the first day of the week’ at Jesus’ tomb, bewildered and distraught for ‘the stone had been removed from the tomb’. A kind man talks to her and it’s when he mentions her name, she knows. She has ‘seen the Lord’.

As darkness fell last night at our Easter Vigil though the wind blew Bishop Paul lit the paschal candle from a small fire. He then brought that light into the church proclaiming ‘The Light of Christ’.

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Christ the King – Terror and Truth

Christ is the King, O friends rejoice!

Brothers and sisters with one voice.

Let all men know he is your choice.

These words of Bishop George Bell seem an appropriate place to begin this sermon thinking about Christ the King.

And I want to explore a little what that choice might look like for us and its consequences for how we see the world around us. Particularly in these days following those horrific terrorist attacks in Paris nine days ago.

The readings this morning offer us;

Firstly a vision of the Messiah King in the Old Testament as Daniel dreams of the future.

And secondly an encounter with that king who is before Pilate a short time before his death.

In that memorable scene, Pilate is trying to work out who is this man before him. He asks legitimate questions. The answers though are frustrating for Jesus speaks elusively of kingdoms ‘not of this world’ and that he is here to ‘testify to the truth’.

A bewildered Pilate ends the reading by almost inevitably asking ‘what is truth?’

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Holy Hands

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ hands looked like? I don’t think I had until last week. I was sat in Leeds Station waiting for a train and found myself thinking about this sermon, looking at peoples’ hands.

So as I looked around, I saw children’s hands, holding onto their parent. Hands grasping baggage; holiday or business. Lovers holding hands and there was even a gentleman with a prosthetic hand.   And I had been thinking about hands for three reasons.

Firstly the post communion prayer from last week that had been in my mind since we prayed it last week ‘strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that have taken holy things’.

Secondly because of that demand at the end of the Gospel, when those who have followed Jesus, heard his teaching on the bread of heaven and say to him ‘Give us this bread always.’ The bread Jesus talked about was himself and we when we come here we open our hands to receive him.

And lastly because of that connection between strengthening our hands for service, receiving Christ and the theme of that first reading from St. Paul where he writes of growing up and of ministry used in the service of Christ to build up his body.

Put together, they seem to be telling me that we are invited to see our hands as holy.

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