Getting into the pool

It’s stating the obvious but you can’t learn to swim on the side of the pool. Where I learned to swim is now a Weatherspoons pub. It amuses me to think that where I earned my beginners certificate is now a dining room. I recall Mrs. Belk and Mrs. Shapland our stern and despairing instructors.

I reckon those of you who had swimming lessons with school will have similar memories too. It’s one of those formative experiences but it’s a skill that once learnt might just save your life.

And although on dry land we could learn all sorts of theories about swimming. The different strokes, the ways to breathe, the theory of how to do a flip turn, These won’t mean anything unless we get in the pool. Unless we take the risk and push out into the deep and try to swim.

It is possible to study theology, the things of God as if you were on the poolside. You can learn all sorts of academic theories, who said what and when, you could pass exams and though it might be very interesting something is missing.

It’s a bit like having learned the strokes and got changed into your swimming gear only when having looked at the water that you decide to return to the changing room for fear of getting wet.

You cannot swim without getting into the pool. You cannot really know about God unless your prepared to enter a relationship.

Continue reading “Getting into the pool”

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’ .

Continue reading “Risk it. God has, so should we.”

Choral Evensong Sermon

We’re not here to judge. We’re here to love.

One of the things you have to try and learn to do when you chair meetings, is to keep them moving, and not let them get bogged down in minute detail. Of course sometimes that detail is a necessary part of the discussion but for much of the time your job as chair is to keep things moving to keep the meetings gaze firmly on the big picture.

In the reading we heard from Epistle to the Romans this evening, they are it seems stuck in the detail and cannot seem to find a way out. They are arguing over this and that about what food to eat or not and the consequences for eating such food. Paul’s chairman’s letter comes as the chair to try and help them.

Interestingly he doesn’t say to them that what they are discussing is unimportant rather that they have lost sight of the big picture and so their life together has become a stumbling block for others for they have ended up arguing about judgement and how their actions will have eternal consequences.

Listening to Paul’s words you can sense his despair (echoed by church leaders down the ages) as he tries to tell them they are wasting too much time on the wrong questions. They should certainly not be worried about judgement for that is God’s department instead he says they are to focus on building the kingdom of God, a kingdom built on righteousness, peace and joy. Continue reading “Choral Evensong Sermon”

Living the Trinity – Creative Community

Last week in the Gospel for Pentecost Jesus said ‘the spirit will lead you into all truth’. The Holy Trinity, three persons and yet one God which we celebrate today is surely one example of what that means because there is of course no mention of it in the New Testament.

The three persons are there, Father, Son and Holy Spirit but the idea of the Holy Trinity was something that was worked out in the early centuries in the life of the church, in response to differing ideas and truth claims surrounding what we believe about the nature of God.

So there we have it, easy. Well yes and no because if you spend any time reading about the trinity, about “perichoresis” and “ousias” and all that before long your head will start to hurt – in simple terms it’s not easy to get your head round the trinity.

I used to visit a lovely chap as a curate on Walney Island. He never came to church but was widely read and for him the trinity was a great stumbling block “three persons and one God” he would say shaking his head and walking off. I fear my responses weren’t very helpful to him, too many “errms” and “hmmms” but I’ll return to Bill at the end.

I suppose he wanted a neat and tidy answer. Maybe an image like the one on our banner, but though that might be tidy and neat, there is more to the trinity than that.

Instead I’m happier beginning with that great Orthodox Bishop, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. I once heard him speak on the Trinity.

The first thing he did, gazing out to his audience with his wonderfully holy face and a glint in his eye was to say, “the Trinity is a Mystery”.

And for me that is where we begin and end today. A mystery is held before us(1), something we can never fully understand or comprehend and like so many things to do with faith, it’s only when we stand before it; pray it and perhaps most of all live it that it begins, just begins to make sense. Continue reading “Living the Trinity – Creative Community”


11 Corinthians 15.51

Good and Acceptable and Perfect

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’
Romans 12:2

At Christmas we Christians are the party animals. We do Advent, full of expectant waiting and then when Christmas comes we sing our carols with hearty voices.

And yet to many we do seem strange indeed, for we don’t conform to this world that has moved onto Easter already (eggs are in the shops – I saw Hot Cross Buns and Mince Pies side by side in the co-op) consequently, we or at least me, we can seem really miserable.

I shall not forget the look of incredulity as I turned up at B and Q on the 23rd of December hoping to find a cut price tree only to find that they had sold them all off the day before for a pound a tree.

The shop assistant said to me “what would you want a Christmas tree now for, mines been up for ages.” I just went aha and left it at that.

I have determinedly not been conformed to this world which celebrates Christmas earlier and earlier but sometimes I end up feeling a right humbug.

I suppose in some way it is a reminder that being a follower of Jesus Christ is in some way about seeing things differently. Continue reading “Good and Acceptable and Perfect”

What We Want to Hear – What We Need to Hear

You’re all wonderful and amazing. God loves you. It will all be alright in the end. That’s what most of us want to hear. The words are true but are they what we need to hear?

Last Sunday morning I spoke of the role of friends who act as God’s hands, helping mould our lives and part of that friendship is about them saying to us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.

Inevitably hearing what we need involves some kind of challenge or question. It’s not just saying “yes it’s all fine” because sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes we need someone no matter how uncomfortable it might be for us to say “hang on a minute, think about what you’re doing, what you’re saying, this really isn’t ok.”

That is the great merit of Sacramental Confession. It’s a place where we name those things of which we are most ashamed. A time for spiritual honesty.

One of my friends worked with addicts of various kinds and the most important step they take, is to name their problem.

We too, sometimes need to name our sin because that’s what God is interested in redeeming and works with, not who we think we should be, but who we really are.

So whilst we may want to say everything is wonderful really sometimes it isn’t and we need to be honest with ourselves.

Continue reading “What We Want to Hear – What We Need to Hear”

Heart Speaks To Heart

An archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum.

“I’ve just discovered a 3,000 year-old mummy of a man who died of heart attack!” the excited scientist exclaimed. To which the curator replied, “Bring him in. We’ll check it out.”

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. “You were right about the mummy’s age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?” “Easy. There was a piece of paper in his hand that said, ‘10,000 Shekels on Goliath’.”

I wanted to use that to introduce my theme for today which is to talk in three little connected sections about the heart. Not that beating organ that keeps us alive rather the word that in faith goes someway to describing our very essence, who we are, our deepest, truest selves.

And I do so because the heart takes centre stage in both our readings. St. Paul writes ‘The word is near you on your lips and in your heart.’ Then a little later ‘One believes with the heart and so is saved.’ And then in our Gospel Jesus says to the disciples ‘take heart it is I.’

So where to begin?

Continue reading “Heart Speaks To Heart”

He had compassion on them

What made him do it? He’d taken his little boat and found a nice quiet spot. Maybe it was time for a bit of carefree day dreaming rather than the earnest prayer we might usually think of, but his peace didn’t last.

The crowds he’d left behind were there again. All he wanted was a bit of peace of quiet yet there they are like lost sheep. Maybe he was tempted to say “Go away” or “Get lost” but he doesn’t, instead ‘He has compassion on them.’ He sees their need. They are hungry. So he has compassion on them, feeds them and in so doing reveals to them something of the nature of God’s love.

But what is compassion? How might we define it? Well for me, putting on one side precise dictionary definitions it’s something about both see another in need and how that need brings forth from us a change of heart. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Now you’re all much nicer than me but I’m afraid I can think of times when I’ve been arguing about something or other. In the midst of it I can certainly be angry but then often something happens for when I see the distress caused something changes, so that I don’t want to be angry and argue anymore.

For me that’s something about compassion taking over and changing the situation.

Think also for example of how you might once have held very strong opinions on things, like divorce or abortion or race or religion. Maybe once you were clear about what you believed until that is you become emotionally involved in a situation through family, friends and neighbours.

For when you walk alongside someone who is struggling, our compassion for them and therefore our understanding of those kind of situations changes.

Compassion changes things.

Continue reading “He had compassion on them”