Today we celebrate the ministry of the whole people of God.
That may seem a strange way of putting today’s theme.
You may say you thought today was about celebrating the ministry of women…..
And yes, we do. We certainly do celebrate the ministry of women. We celebrate the role played by women in preaching and leading worship as we commemorate both the 25th anniversary this year of the ordination of women and the 50th anniversary of the first women lay readers.
But I want to say the REAL celebration is about the ministry of the WHOLE of the Church, the Body of Christ.
To deny the potential ministry of women – to deny the potential of HALF of the human race – was to deny the full potential fruitfulness of the Body of Christ.
Let me explain…
Christ, fully human and fully divine, came to redeem the whole of humanity through HIS humanity, giving us the church as his Body to enable life in its fullness. That is the essence of it: As we pray in the Christmastide collect: ‘Christ came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity’. The church, as the Body of Christ, is the means by which we start to share in the divine life.
So how as a church we operate as the Body of Christ (what we permit and what we do not) is crucial.
To deny the fullness of Christian vocation to half the human race is to limit the full humanity of Christ in the Church. When only half the human race are permitted to play their full part, the Body of Christ is impaired.
So this is not just about women – though it is about women – it is about all of us. The fullness of life the Christ came to bring is achieved in the Church through the fullest possible participation of ALL the people of God.
In the past we have not just denied women the fullness of participation in the life of the Church.
We have also denied to all of us the full expression of Christ’s humanity in the church.
Now there may be good theological reasons for that denial.
But be very careful that we are clear they are theological reasons not merely cultural reasons.
As we look back over Christian history I am afraid humans have been adept at finding theological reasons to bolster their cultural assumptions.
The centuries of Christian justification of slavery for instance.
The cultural assumptions about denying women authority in the church were justified theologically. Women in Church of England were, for instance, not permitted to be members of the new PCCs when they were introduced in 1897.
For the first 100 years of Reader ministry half the human race was excluded. Introduced in the Church of England in 1867, it was only in 1967 that women were permitted to train as readers. Perhaps, as we celebrate the last 50 years, we should mourn the waste of the previous 100.
We’ve got beyond that surely? Or have we? Do we still use scripture (and the tradition of the church) to bolster our cultural attitudes?
Take 1 Timothy 2:12 where Paul says he doesn’t “permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” A modern American Baptist, relying on a literal application of the text, says quite categorically ‘if the elders allow a woman to preach, they permit what God forbids’.
Is Paul God? Or is Paul talking in the context of his time? You will be familiar with these arguments about how scripture is read.
This southern Baptist is using scripture to bolster his cultural pre-conceptions just as southern Christians used to use scripture to bolster their view of the God-given nature of slavery.
Easy to spot the errors of others. For ourselves, how should we ‘ear the word and understand it, that we might bear fruit 100 fold’, not just seek validation for our own cultural preconceptions from scripture?
As for the ordination of women, The Church of England accepts – and I believe – that people can in good conscience on theological grounds hold that women should not be ordained priest or bishop. Such an objection need not be a matter of culture and we are called in charity to worship and work together.
Yet, in my own case, when I had the first intuition that God might be calling me to priesthood I was opposed to women’s ordination. Confusion as you might expect. It’s a longer story that we’ve time for but it took me about 18 months to understand, in prayer, that my objection was about me seeking to exclude myself from Christ’s apostolate, not anything God-given about a male apostolate.
That was right for me – what God wanted of me doesn’t imply that everyone else who opposes women’s ordination is wrong. BUT my case does show, I think, that cultural conditioning can run very deep in our sub-conscious.
We have to be VERY VERY careful that the reason any sector of the human race
be it disabled people or people of colour,
be it gay people or women
we have to be very careful whenever any marginalised group are denied a role in the church is only for good theological reason, and not for cultural (or practical) reasons.
Jesus, in his earthly ministry was beyond the culture of his time. It is clear he drew on the discipleship of women and men, choosing, in his resurrection, to place women as the first witnesses.
Can we truly follow the carpenter of Nazareth in his radical ways?
The risen Christ transcends all our puny ways. The Body of Christ, the church, must do the same. St Paul is clear: in Christ ‘there is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ [Gal 3:23]
And, when that is done, the participation of the whole people of God reflects the fullness of life in Christ.
For when women’s vocation to serve is culturally constricted, the fullness of the body of Christ in the church is denied
When the capacity of people of non-British ethnicity is denied, the fullness of the body of Christ in the church is denied
When the disabled are marginalised, the fullness of the body of Christ in the church is denied.
We are called all to be one in Christ Jesus.
So today we celebrate the role of women AND the role of men – we celebrate that our church now reflects the fullness of the humanity of Christ in his Body the Church.
And I personally give thanks for those who did, doggedly, promote a counter-cultural, Christ-centred understanding of the nature of humanity in Christ to enable women to share their wisdom in the Spirit and to respond to God’s call to ordination as priest. In a way, the likes of me stand on the shoulders of giants and I give thanks for those giants’ shoulders today.
But it’s not me – or women generally who benefit.
We ALL benefit when the whole of the Body of Christ reflects the fullness of Christ in his humanity and in his divinity. The humanity and the divinity which is the GLORY of the God we worship. And to him be the glory, now and always. Amen
The names of the victims of the Manchester Arena attack begin to be disclosed, photographs of their faces are shared. We know the name of the suicide killer, and of others who are suspected of some involvement, including the killer’s father and brother. We are told that there is likely to be a terrorist cell connected with them, and that troops will be on duty outside public buildings that might be vulnerable, including York Minster. The voices of the shocked and affected are heard from prayer vigils and public gatherings. Flags fly at half-mast and the nation keeps a minute’s silence.
And what do we do? We meet in this ancient Cathedral, where prayer has been valid for centuries, through history’s ups and downs, through times of political and social turbulence and relative calm, and we celebrate the Ascension of the risen Christ.
We have sung,
“O Christ our hope, our heart’s desire,
Redemption’s only spring,
Creator of the world art tough,
Its saviour and its king.”
What are we to make of all this?
I wonder, how do we think of Christ’s ascension? After forty days of resurrection appearances, he goes off to heaven to be seated at the right-hand of God. Is this a well-earned retirement with enhanced benefits after an intense and costly ministry? One wonders how much of a rest heaven is for the ascended Christ. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (1:15ff) tells us that Christ rules there above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers and lords – having a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next.
Has Christ retired from the world? Has he given up on the world and decided to reign in heaven because doing so on earth seems like an impossibility? And so he promises the Spirit, to be a comforter?
When evil raises its ugly head, as it did in Manchester earlier this week – as it has in London and Nice and Paris and many other places in similar terrorist attacks, as it has consistently throughout the history of humanity – since Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, as it were – then it is tempting for those who feel they know God to conclude that he has retired from the job of ruling over earth as well as heaven, or at least taken a retreat.
Isn’t this what Jesus himself was tempted to think on the cross? “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me.” Thus he employed the words of the psalmist that would have been recited in heart-felt fashion by hundreds – thousands – over the centuries. And won’t the families of the Manchester Arena victims be thinking exactly the same – even if not in those precise words – right now. And yet we say, “let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
The stained-glass window in the south transept of this Cathedral is one image that suggests that Christ has fled. Feet are seen disappearing into the sky. But the Ascension surely isn’t about Christ’s retreat from a failed ministry and the impossible demands of an ever-rebellious world. Don’t we come and celebrate this evening (on this, one of the great four feast days of the year – the others being Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) because we believe that the resurrection and the ascension together speak about Christ’s determination to reign in the world as he does in heaven? The Ascension expresses the truth that Christ – the Sprit of Christ – is to be everywhere – on earth as well as in heaven. And that ever-present Spirt will come at Pentecost.
Can you imagine what it does to you to feel that God has forsaken you, or that he is totally absent? Perhaps you couldn’t imagine. Or perhaps you can imagine it all too well. From time to time I have had to sit with people who feel utterly let down by God, who feel that he has abandoned them to their sufferings while he is living it up somewhere else in glorious, exalted splendour.
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
The darkness and the fear resulting from a sense of God’s absence can be utterly paralysing.
Presumably, it must be something like this that the disciples feared when Jesus, according to St. John 17, assured them that they would not be left comfortless. It must have been something like this that they felt on Holy Saturday when their friend had been so cruelly put to death.
To be distant from God must surely be the definition of hell. St. John of the Cross (a 16th century Spanish Carmelite, a mystic and teacher of the faith) wrote of the dark night of the soul. The nearer the mystic gets to the trophy of the living God, the more possible it is for him to feel utterly distant and frighteningly isolated. Again, think of Christ on the cross; he had never been nearer to God, it just didn’t feel like that. And so it can sometimes be for us who are mere mortals on the path of Christian pilgrimage. So it can be for those who find themselves in an intense tragic darkness into which evil forces have dragged them. It feels as though God has fled, abandoned them to a wicked world. And yet the truth is that Almighty God, the one who knows what it is like to have a child cruelly snatched from life, this God is nearer to them than they could ever imagine.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of our risen Lord. We affirm our faith, from an imperfect and sometimes-cruel world, that in the End Christ will be triumphant. He will reign on earth as he does in heaven. The forces of evil will not prevail against him.
And knowing the end of the world’s story, we begin to recognise his heavenly reign even when evil attempts its worse. The outpouring of love and sympathy since Monday evening gives us an insight. The dedication of the emergency services; the determination of bereaved parents not to allow the terrorists to conquer their spirits; the countless prayers said and candles lit. In these acts and responses, the eyes of faith recognise the light of heaven shining in the darkness. On this feast day, we assert that it always will. And in the End, Christ will be victorious.
Good morning/afternoon everyone. For those who may not know me, my name is Andrew Kitchingman and I have been Canon Treasurer of Ripon Cathedral since my installation this January. I am a chartered accountant by profession with a 30-year career in the City of London now behind me. It is a huge honour to represent the Cathedral as a member of Chapter and equally a great responsibility to manage and improve the finances here during what is a difficult time for English cathedrals.
But first, I would like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Philip Arundel. Philip served for 6 years as Canon Treasurer and achieved many things. Most importantly, he inherited a cathedral severely in deficit and had to take strong control of costs. Over his period of office and under his leadership, Chapter succeeded in reducing our annual deficit from approaching £0.25m to, last year, less than £50k on unrestricted funds, for which we owe him a huge debt of thanks.
You will note however that I said we are still in deficit, so I thought I would explain to you what the income and expenditure of the cathedral was in 2016 and how they are made up. Slides showing this pictorially are on display for you to review over coffee afterwards and there are plentiful copies of the report and accounts to take away.
The total income and expenditure of the Cathedral are now almost in balance at approximately £1.2m per annum.
Almost 40% of our income came from donations and legacies, for which we have much to thank you for. A further 32% came from grants from the Church centrally and other awarding bodies. Investment income generated 12%, 10% came from trading and events and the balance was from fees paid to use the Cathedral.
On expenditure almost half our costs, nearly £600k per annum, are spent on repairing, maintaining and operating the cathedral and surrounding precincts and 40% represents the total cost of ministry here.
But the key number to take away here is that the deficit on unrestricted funds in 2016 was £43k. This was better than the budgeted £60k, but still represented a further reduction in our reserves. The Church of England is very concerned about the financial health of its cathedrals and has most recently established a working group to address the challenges faced. Its leader, the Right Reverend Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney, said on his appointment that, and I quote, “cathedrals are facing a new scale and depth of challenge in their bid to stay afloat”. There have already been well-publicised financial crises at Durham, Peterborough and Guildford and this is most definitely not going to happen at Ripon.
I say all of this not to generate gloom or panic but to provide a context in which we at Ripon must balance our books and ensure that sufficient resources are in place for the short, medium and long term wellbeing of this cathedral that we love so much. We look forward from a much better starting position than many but we have no shortage of challenges to finance.
Firstly, we need to crack this short-term issue of balancing the books. A budget was set for this year, predicting a deficit of just under £20k, so better again than 2016 but still reducing our reserves. In the first quarter, the loss was £4k, so we are on track but must not be complacent. Why can we not work a bit harder and get us into a financial surplus? On the expenditure side of the equation, I am confident that costs are now close to being as low as possible and our auditors, Euraudit have also given us a good bill of health on financial controls and procedures. We are very careful in how we invest your money. If we are to beat the brackets then, so to speak, we must increase our income wherever possible.
So how do we go about this? Currently just 9 of the 42 cathedrals charge for entry, though Bishop Newman expects that to rise. Some are free to enter but charge instead for special exhibitions, Durham is an example of this.
Chapter has no present intention to implement either of these charging initiatives but if we are to live without such income and within our means, then we need to persuade those entering the cathedral for services or as tourists to give more. You may be surprised to hear that in 2016, over 98,000 visitors entered the cathedral and gave on average 78p each. They would spend 3 times that on a coffee at Starbucks! 50p more each and we would have been in surplus last year.
We host, through RCDC, a significant number of events each year in and around the Cathedral, including a wedding and spring fair, the Dean’s banquet and, most recently the beer festival. In 2016 the team did a tremendous job, running 17 events and generating gross revenues of over £250k, a record result. We are always looking for ways to generate more revenue from events but my sense is that we are operating at close to event capacity already.
You, the members and worshippers are, quite naturally, our first port of call in generating income for this, your cathedral. In 2016, worshippers present and past were generous and gave collectively £467k in donations and legacies. Some of this came from one-off donations (including legacies), some from the pew slips at services and the balance of £97k from the planned giving scheme, led for us by Liz Thomas. This latter scheme is one that I am keen to promote more strongly to one and all here; it’s an efficient way to give, it allows the cathedral to have greater clarity in its budgeting and thirdly, it allows us to claim as much as possible back from the Chancellor through Gift Aid. That can only be a good thing!
We currently have 136 members of the congregation, about 40% of the total worshippers across all services, in the planned giving scheme and Liz Thomas and I would be delighted to speak to those others of you not currently giving in this way. Please also, if you are already on planned giving, give some thought to the level of your giving, perhaps you have not increased the sum for some time? By the way, there is no minimum amount to join the planned giving scheme, every pound counts.
In this regard, I was deeply struck and affected by Archbishop Welby’s book for Lent this year, ‘De-throning Mammon’. When I say deeply struck, what I mean by that is that I read it through at one sitting and then read it twice again by Easter Sunday. What I realised on reflection, is that I was living my own life pretty much in the way he described, budgeting for all of the financial priorities in my family life and then giving a proportion of the balance to the church. Welby made a strong case for a thorough review of my priorities for, as it is quite clear to me, my faith and this place are indeed a major priority in my life. I have begun that re-balancing.
It is for us all as individuals to set our own priorities and to give what we can. I am convinced, however, that Ripon Cathedral will not thrive as it should unless we, its members, are willing to support it more than we are currently doing.
Turning to the medium and longer term, we have a number of programmes in place which seek to make this place a better-endowed cathedral, able to do much more in delivering God’s kingdom on earth. Are you aware of the wonderful initiatives run by RCDC, our development campaign? You could sponsor a chorister, join the Patrons or Custodians and enjoy special events to thank you for your support. Our music trust, RCMT and the Dean’s excellent initiative, Ripon Cathedral Revealed both seek to re-set the agenda here in Ripon. Please look to support one or all of these so that, in time, we will have a more strongly endowed cathedral, better able to support you and all who come here to enjoy the great treasures accumulated over 1,300 years.
Thank you very much for your support and your attention. With your help, we can consign the deficits and the brackets to the history books and look forward to a sustained period of operating surpluses with all the attendant benefits that such financial health will deliver.
Please do what you can. The Dean and I look forward to talking to you after this service. We have all the details!
Give me again the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your gracious Spirit. Psalm 51:7
Last Sunday was a special celebration but also a sad one as our dear Bishop James starts his new phase of ‘retirement’. With him and around him one knew and captured something of the Joy of salvation which is ours – the Gospel treasure we share. I had the privilege of working closely with him just of a weekend on Mission on the streets of Darlington – you knew he was living what he preached – he has an energy about him yet he is quite an introvert. Despite years of ministry he was still upbeat – remarkable in itself! Being in his presence you knew you were with someone who took prayer seriously. A little mischievously I asked him to sign my Bible joking because of his celebrity status – what he wrote was no real surprise but struck me to the core none-the-less because I knew this was foundational to who he was and what he lived: Christ the Living Word be your all in all.
I had been thinking what it means for some time to know with St Paul that ‘in him (in Christ) we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17:28
What does it mean to have Christ as our all in all?
How do we realise the reality that in Christ we live and move and have our being?
Paul draws us to remember – to recall – to draw to mind when we were outside of our inheritance , strangers to the promises of the covenant and without God and without hope.
This is contrasted with what we now have in Christ.
Remember you were at one time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near ..’ Eph 2:12 & 13
We have been brought near, for he is our Peace. Both Jews and Gentiles are brought together in Christ having access in one Spirit to the Father.
This changed status now means we are no longer strangers and aliens but citizens and saints, members of the household of God.
So how does this Truth change the way we think about God and how we regard ourselves and others?
What does it mean to be ‘in Christ.’ How do we become more ‘at one ‘ with Him who comes near?
Well we know that yes prayer is key – we need to pray as individuals and in community. Pray as if our whole life depends on it – pray our socks off!
Don’t we need some grand scheme? Some strategy? Is it really that simple?
To be in Christ is to pray and pray most earnestly and urgently. To spend time in His Presence, to be, to receive, to rest, to listen, to act..
But to get to this point of praying allowing Christ to be our all in all often includes a few times when we are thrown off course, our plans ‘go west’ and our agenda gets amended and we have to allow God to come near and speak into our situations.
Let us consider for a moment the Apostle Paul and his own walk to allowing Christ to be his all in all. I thought of his previous life, the devotion and zeal for God that led to him slaughtering Christians for heresy.
- Artists often depict the scene as does the painting 16th Cent by Francesco Parmigianino with Saul thrown off his horse, the animal towering above him prancing around in a frenzied state as Saul/Paul blinded on the roadside is shown listening to the voice of Jesus. Yet actually the text only refers to Saul falling to the ground; As Sister Wendy Beckett points out it was unlikely that Saul could have afforded a horse as it was the steed of the wealthy.
Sometimes like Saul/Paul we are stopped in our tracks and although painful and confusion can lead to an amazing discovery of self and moving towards greater freedom.
- Saul/Paul seems to instantly accept the voice of Christ and the need to be transformed but maybe this was only part of the long journey of realisation – maybe the witnesses of the Saints also ‘spoke’ of the need ‘see’ the realities of God at work.
- Sometimes ‘our way’ has to be overthrown, our solutions, our way of going on and we have to fall off the horse of our own making; to see again a new way of being. A refusal to be distracted and scattered, the need to be attentive and obedient to our calling to make Christ our all in all.
So it is this experience of God that is foundational for Paul to say ‘in him we live and move and have our being’.
Seeing and Hearing
- It seems there is always this need for re-adjustment and alignment with God as we face each new situation on a daily basis.
- For Ezra and Nehemiah the challenge was getting God’s people to recommit themselves to what it meant to be a people of faith in their own day. They were without a Temple so worship had to be resumed even before the building of the new Temple was complete. The new community returning from exile had to forge its own spiritual legacy; to learn again the discipline of the faith and what it meant to be a ‘holy people.’
- Walls came down – but out of the rubble walls were rebuilt. Priest and Governor, Ezra and Nehemiah realised the community of faith could implode and as well as physical rebuilding of the new Temple foundational practices of worship, prayer, fasting, social justice and sensitivity to the Spirit had to be reinstated. Not despairing at the aftermath of exile but looking to build on foundations of past with a new dynamic for the future.
- In first century Ephesus Paul chose to focus too on ways to live out faith in a pluralistic culture – to live out a new creative life with an allegiance not to Rome and Caesar but to the kingdom of heaven and its God.
- He talks of walls flattened that divide and of the coming together of previously diverse peoples.
- Paul gives us a vision of being built into a growing and flowing living Temple with Christ as the cornerstone and the dwelling of God within
- If the Gospel had to mean anything it had to make sense in Ephesus. His whole letter is not about retreat but to live a life worthy of our calling – a sort of rallying cry for spiritual athleticism.
Allowing Christ to be our all in all. Allowing Christ to come near, to live in Christ and be equipped for challenges that come our way.
I notice the trend in North Yorkshire for triathlons probably influenced by the Brownlow brothers- on our way here the other Sun I noticed a Warrior event at Ripley Castle for all aspiring athletes to test out their strength and stamina with everything thrown at them including plenty of mud, fire, obstacles and water to transverse across and through. How set are we to fully engage and be in Christ: letting our lives be gathered up with Christ (ch 2), taking up access to grace (ch 3), allowing our gifts of ministry to flow from the ascension of Christ (ch 4), seeking to transform social situations through imitating Christ (ch 5) and drawing all that is needed to accomplish this from Christ (ch 6).
Our challenge from a Carmelite Nun I like to think of as a Spiritual Warrior of our time:
‘we must gather sticks and build the pile which only God can set on fire.’ Sister Ruth Burrows ‘To Believe in Jesus’
- Sister Ruth Burrows was commissioned by Rowan Williams to write a book on how to know God for his own life was changed by reading her earlier book 40 years ago. She stresses that Prayer is essentially God’s work. Our part is to give time, do our best to keep attention, surrender ourselves as best we can. Then we can be sure that God works….when we really grasp that prayer is God’s business not ours we will never talk of failure.
- In Love Unknown she simple reasserts that if we believe God is utterly self- communicating , burning with desire to love us into perfect fulfilment and happiness surely our fundamental attitude must be to let him do it, be receptive and not try to control the situation ourselves.
- In To Believe in Jesus she laments a bit that people do not draw enough on Prayer at how little the power of prayer is taken seriously and just what is available to us, she explains how we avoid really listening and wholeheartedly seeking after the things of God – she like Paul challenges us to develop our skills of spiritual athleticism:
- Yet if we choose to step out in Christ realising faith is pure gift and stake our lives on it, this instinct will grow in us, this freedom of acting be a measure of closeness to Christ.
- Prayer is the way we grasp the mediator ship of Christ and know what faith IN Jesus means, and when acquired how this grows and flows.
‘Prayer is not just one function in life, not even the most important, it is life itself.’
Ruth Burrows To Believe in Jesus
Or put another way :We are truly living and truly human when our whole life is prayer. Ruth Burrows
Let us encourage one another to build on these disciplines we have inherited, what is happening here is to be truly celebrated as worship and community life is indeed life-giving and authentic. but we can still seek to build on these foundations, rally around one another in loving, prayerful support, share our joys and sorrows, hold each other up In Christ so that in Ripon and beyond it will be seen and heard, known and felt that the Gospel dynamic is being lived out in lives transformed because Christ the Living Word is indeed our all in all.
Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of opening the Sights and Sounds of Ripon. I suppose that could be a confusing statement if you didn’t know that the Sounds and Sights of Ripon is an annual event, organised by the My Neighbourhood team of the District Council. So, this is Harrogate Borough Council and Ripon’s community working together to celebrate and promote some of the attractions and positive dimensions of this ancient city through the My Neighbourhood initiative.
The Cathedral, Museums, Town Hall, Library, Market Square and Spa Gardens were all on show. As were many of the groups that are working to enhance the lives of local people: Police, Fire and Ambulance services; the Council for Voluntary Services; the organisation working to support victims of domestic and sexual abuse (IDAS); the group recruiting volunteers to sustain the library facility… and so on. In a sense, the heritage and charm of the city were visible for all to see, as were groups and activities that betrayed some of the positive values and characteristics of this community.
It is true for communities as much as for individuals, surely, that the essence of what we are is visible for all to see. Where there is goodness and beauty and light, they are visible. Where there are habits that could be judged to be morally ugly and dark, the reality becomes clear for all to see.
A community that is at one with itself, that is united and seeking to work together for the good of all will be seen to flourish. One that is divided by people at enmity with each other will fall. Or as Jesus puts it in this morning’s gospel, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.”
It was good to hear the positive comments yesterday that celebrated the Cathedral’s participation in this city event. We were seen to be united and supportive rather than aloof and separate. This was all because we had our bells ringing, the south west tower open for tours, children’s trails and craft activities and the ever-popular pop up café.
These activities relate to what we are doing in this 8am Prayer Book Communion, and with the later services at 9.30, 10.30, 12.30, 3.30 and 5.30, and with the worship that takes place in this Cathedral every day of the year. What we are as a worshipping community (or communities) needs to find expression in what we are as a serving community – within the city, across this vast rural region, and throughout the diocese.
At the beginning of our Epistle, Ephesians 5:1ff, we heard from St. Paul, “Be ye followers of God, as dear Children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…” The Epistle to the Ephesians is a wonderful letter, “The Queen of the Epistles.” The first three of its six chapters tell of the good news of the Gospel of Christ. For example, Ephesians 1:7, in the New Revised Standard Version, says, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood.” And at the end of Chapter 3, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Sublime!
The final three chapters then apply the good news of the gospel to the lives of those who would accept it – to disciples, Christians such as us.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” (Eph 4:1) And this morning, we are instructed that this includes walking in love, “as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us.” Surely, the sights and sounds of the Church should make it clear to the world, to those who would look on from a distance and to those who would visit, that we do walk and talk and live and show the love of God – which we have received so lavishly. This should influence how we are together – as the church community. It should make a difference to how we live day-by-day. People do notice!
“Walk in love, as Christ hath also loved us, and hath given himself for us…” In this season of Lent, as we move towards Passiontide and Holy Week, it is worth remembering that it does all depend on love. Creation itself was an act of divine love. God not giving up on Adam and Eve – and us! was and is an act of steadfast love. Christ’s suffering and death was an act of self-sacrificing love.
The worship and service of the Church – at their best – are acts of reciprocal love.
As I heard time and again yesterday, the city is delighted when the Cathedral is engaged and involved, when it is seen to care and connect. The world, then, does notice the sights and sounds of the Church. And what it should see and hear are reflections of the love of God. “Be ye followers of God, as dear Children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…”
Isaiah 62:1-5, I Cor 12:1-11. John 2:1-11
Whilst I was at Theological College I shared a house with some fellow students; on the kitchen wall was a postcard which listed ‘10 things that prove Jesus was an OK bloke’. One of them was ‘He turned water into Chardonnay’. Now I’ve met people who give the impression that Christians never enjoy themselves; that Jesus should have done the reverse at Cana and turned all the wine into water, but that is far from the truth of our faith. So what can we learn from the events at Cana?
The story itself is, I think, well known, so I am not going to repeat it here. However a brief comment on the water jars will set the rest of what I want to say in context.
The jars would have stood at the entrance to the house and each guest would have washed hands, faces and feet in them when they arrived. Now those six jars are big ones; each held about 20 to 30 gallons or, to be even more up to date, between 70 and 100 litres. That’s at least 100 bottles of wine in each of the six jars that Jesus provides. And, as we learn when the steward tries it, this is not cheap plonk but a good vintage wine. Truly evidence of a ‘good bloke’!!
That is what happened but the real question for us is what did it mean? John is quite clear about that; he tells us that this was a sign which ‘revealed Jesus’ glory’ and so ‘his disciples to put their faith in him’. Throughout his writings, John, wants his readers to see beyond the surface action to the real truth underneath, to what this tells us about Jesus. There is for John, and so should be for us, real significance in this first sign that Jesus gives of who he is; but what is the sign showing?
Let’s go back to those water jars, which were part of the Jewish religious rituals; part of the duty that a Jew had to God. Jesus takes that symbol of obedience to the law and turns it into something to be enjoyed within the setting of a wedding feast. He demonstrates by his action what his earthly ministry is to be about. Jesus offers a new and different understanding of the Kingdom of God, not as something that has to be worked for and struggled towards but as a free gift of God, provided in a quantity so great that everyone present will have more than enough. To those who saw and understood what was going on he seems to ask ‘Do you want to settle for the surface obedience to the law of God or are you prepared to get fully involved in the life-changing Kingdom?’
It is a question that we each do well to ask ourselves occasionally; how deep does your commitment to God go? For, to be a true disciple of Jesus, demands more than an hour or so on Sunday morning. Stop at that and we risk being like the Jews, keeping the letter of the law but missing it’s real meaning. People for whom the water will remain just water.
How then do we get more involved in that Kingdom? The passage we heard offers us three different examples of people who do respond appropriately.
First there is Mary, the one who has borne the baby who became this man. Who has seen her child grow up and perhaps always known that his destiny was something very special. She recognises there is a problem and brings it to Jesus. Now I don’t want to over-spiritualise this, as she may have been thinking in very practical ways, maybe the 1st century equivalent of someone going shopping, but Jesus answers more as God’s Son than hers when he reminds her of his greater purpose. Perhaps that is what Mary is responding to when she tells the servants to ‘Do whatever he tells them’, having been reminded who He is she responds with faith in Jesus.
For each of us there will be times when we need to bring very practical, down to earth needs to God. When we do so it is his great joy to respond.
The servants provide our next example as they respond in faithful obedience to Jesus’ instructions. Remember that they are the ones who know where this drink has come from, they probably emptied out the dirty water and they certainly know it was only water with which the jars were refilled. Now they are expected to serve it up to the boss!
Jesus then, as now, needs faithful men and women who will obey his directions, even when it seems a mad and risky thing to do.
Finally there are the disciples. Presumably sitting close enough to have seen and heard all that went on, they are expecting something special from the man who they believe to be the Messiah. John tells us they ‘put their faith in Jesus’; for them this moment was one of those sudden glimpses of who this man was.
Three responses within the story. But how do we respond – and to what? I commented as I started on how many people would almost have preferred Jesus to change the wine in to water. But that is not God’s way. At the very least there is at Cana a sense of God sharing in the glory and joy of our humanity. Of the exuberant, creative power of God at work in bringing uncomplicated, human pleasure to a wedding feast. Do we know enough of God’s joyous ‘YES!’ to all of our human joys?
But, as we are all very much aware, the sometimes anarchic free will we share as part of the image of God in us, can also cause deep divisions and desperate suffering and pain. Perhaps surprisingly, God in that pain is also hinted at within the Cana story. Look how it begins ‘three days later’. John of all Gospel writers, used words with care. Yes, it is three days after the calling of the first disciples but another three days are reflected in Jesus’ response to Mary. ‘My time has not yet come.’
That time came three years after the wedding at Cana, at the end of his earthly life. As he prepared to die, taking upon and into himself all the suffering and pain of our humanity, Jesus once again took an old symbol of the Jewish faith and gave it a new meaning. Just before his arrest and crucifixion, as he shared the Passover festival with his disciples, Jesus took the elements of their tradition and created a memorial to himself in the broken bread and shared cup of the communion service. At the end of his earthly ministry, as at it start, he asked, do you want to settle for the surface observances of religion or will you put your faith and trust in me?
Whether we are those who, like Mary have lived for months or years with a growing awareness of who Jesus is or, like the newly called disciples it is something that we suddenly recognise, Jesus’ call to us is the same. Do you want to settle for water or will you risk the full-bodied, fully committed, world-changing life of the Kingdom of God?
‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
It is Simeon’s acclamation of the Christ when he recognises in the 40 day old Jesus, the fulfilment of God’s age-old promise –light and hope for the whole world, not just the Jews. And so today has two names: Candlemass which celebrates that light for the world and ‘the Presentation’ when Mary and Joseph fulfil God’s ancient law and present their infant son to God in the Temple.
The season or the church’s year immediately after Christmas, the Epiphany season, takes its name from the ‘showing’ or ‘revelation’. Showing who the child Jesus is and, through him and his ministry, what God is like. So, over the last few weeks we have followed the coming of the Magi, as the child is shown to be the Saviour of the whole world; in the baptism by John and changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ divinity and his humanity are demonstrated.
This season of showing or revelation ends by going back to Jesus’ infancy, to his ‘Presentation in the Temple’, when the 40 day old Jesus is brought by his parents to the place that represents the heart of the Jewish faith. Here the baby is recognised by two elderly people – Simeon and Anna. Each welcomes the one for whom they have waited. For each the fulfilment of God’s ancient promises and the pattern for our redemption is revealed. So, let’s explore that revelation.
God revealed in the Temple.
We begin with in the Temple. Spending, as they seem to have done, so much time at the Temple, Simeon and Anna will have seen all of human life. For it was to the Temple that people brought their offerings, in times of joy and of sorrow. The first fruits of their harvests and their Passover lambs. The sacrifices that sought forgiveness of sins or those which, like Mary & Joseph’s two pigeons, redeemed a firstborn son. All this and more Simeon and Anna will have seen. And all of it reflects the story of a God who has been revealed in the national and personal lives of his people for generations. A God who promised them freedom and hope. So Simeon waits God’s comfort for the people and Anna longs for the redemption of not just a newborn baby but of all Israel.
God revealed in the unexpected
Simeon and Anna see God in this baby, but it is God revealed in an unexpected way. They were probably, like most Jews of their time, expecting a great prophet or war leader to save them. Yet both recognise God’s Saviour as a babe in arms. It is Simeon’s words to Mary that remind us of how God works in the world. Not as an overpowering warrior Lord but as one who becomes part of the world. This is, as the writer to the Hebrews would later make clear, becoming a story about suffering. About a ‘great high priest . . . to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people’.
Simeon is waiting for God to comfort Israel. Anna is in touch with the people who are waiting for the redemption of Israel. Both find God revealed in the unexpected, for it now appears that God’s appointed redeemer will deal with this suffering by sharing it himself. Simeon speaks dark words about opposition, and about a sword that will pierce Mary’s heart. And so, as he look forward to the pattern of our redemption, revealed in this child, Simeon turns our faces away from Christmas and towards Easter. From the crib to the cross.
God revealed to the world
Simeon had grasped the truth at the heart of the Old Testament (which, Luke is careful to note, Jesus and his parents fulfilled): when Israel’s history comes to its God-ordained goal, then light will dawn for the whole world. All the nations, not just the Jews, will see God revealed in the world – a plan of salvation for all people, without distinction. ‘A light for revelation to the nations, and glory for your people Israel.’ This is not the sort of revelation the world was expecting, and not the sort of glory Israel wanted, but true revelation and true glory none the less.
Here, first identified in the Jerusalem Temple, is the one who will years later describe himself as ‘The Light of the World.’ God at work in the world. It is from that promise of light for all the world, that today’s feast gets its other name – Candlemass. This was, traditionally, the day on which all the candles to be used in the coming year were brought to church to be blessed. Lights blessed by God, shining out from his people to every corner of the community.
God revealed through us
Which brings me to me 4th means of revelation: God revealed through us.
When we step into this story, of God at work, it can also become our vocation. A reminder that God works in the world through ordinary men and women. That we are like that refined gold of which Malachi wrote- reflecting the face of our creator in the world. All of us could and should be bearers of Christ’s light in the world today, showing the world all of the love and hope that were at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
Now, just as in the Temple, God works through men and women who are prepared to share in the work of building God’s Kingdom. To take the Christ-light out from our Temples, Cathedrals and Churches and to share it with our friends and neighbours. So, as you enjoy the candles burning here tonight, remember this is not just a spectacular sight. It is a reminder of the one who comes as the light of the world.
A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel
Take moment to reflect on how you might be part of that revelation and that glory. How could you or I be like one of those candles in the weeks ahead? Who needs to know the warmth of God’s love; the hope of his ancient promises? Who needs to see God’s light illuminating the path ahead of them? And who here, like faithful Simeon and Anna, like obedient Mary and Joseph, who here will take that light out from this building into the community where God has called you to live and work.
Lent begins in 8 days’ time, so as we turn from the crib to the cross, we have time to reflect and to prepare. May the next two months be, for each of us, a time when we can recognise God revealed – as the babe of Bethlehem, the infant in the Temple, the storyteller and healer by Galilee, the crucified saviour on Golgotha and the Risen Lord in the garden.
It is a great pleasure to be here and to be able to join you for Evensong tonight and to share in this beautiful music and prayer. I am particularly pleased to be joining you in this service to mark the 70th Anniversary of Christian Aid. As someone who is paid for the privilege of working for Christian Aid, I acknowledge with gratitude everything that you do as volunteers for our common cause.
Seventy years is special to mark, but we aren’t celebrating this anniversary– there is no party or anything! The fact that we are still so needed is not really something that we are proud of. However, we are celebrating the immense public witness and outpouring of compassion that Christian Aid represents. We are proud that in Christian Aid Week this year, 21,000 churches across Britain and Ireland and tens of thousands of supporters got out there and helped raise over £11m for our vital work to tackle poverty in forty countries around the world. That’s what we celebrate. Thanks to all of you in Ripon and in the local area for your immense contribution to this.
Seventy years ago, at the end of the second world war, the church leaders asked our parents and grandparents in the midst of their end-of-war celebrations to remember those in need. They asked that donations be made to help rebuild mainland Europe and help former allies and enemies alike get back on their own feet. More than £3m in today’s money was raised – in a time of great austerity and rationing. That organisation, then called Christian Reconstruction in Europe bought bicycles and boats so pastors could minister; provided food and medical supplies so that refugees could rebuild their lives; found teachers and equipped schools to that lives could begin to return to normal. Later, called Christian Aid, that agency soon saw that the problems of poverty, hunger, disease and other crises around the world were being ignored and set out to respond. Today, we work in a range of ways to respond to the complex world we live in.
We seek to respond to the immediate needs of hunger, thirst, suffering and homelessness that today’s Gospel calls us to. That reading is, perhaps, so familiar that it is easy to forget just how radical it is. Matthew 25 lists those requirements – we call them works of mercy today – that was a hallmark of the Old Testament Law. Yet for the religious (and political) elite of the time, the Law they had transformed it into making their good works obvious. Yet, Jesus, as we’ve heard in the readings over the last few weeks, was much less concerned about a show of giving, but about what is in your heart – and the hidden responses and the depth of giving as illustrated by the widow with her pennies. That reading illustrates quite small, everyday acts of kindness – giving someone something to eat, to drink, hospitality and inclusion not exclusion, visiting, looking after people. These are not grand gestures. In so doing, Jesus tells us what the kingdom is reallyl about – of seeing and responding to the basic human needs of people, and doing so with humanity and humility. It can be quite difficult to do, sometimes, when we are surrounded by fear, media horror stories or being threatened by “swarms” of people. But because of your generosity, Christian Aid has been able to respond, and more, throughout its 70 year history. Some examples of how you have helped us do this:
• Emergencies – this summer we saw the earthquake in Nepal – your generosity has enabled us to provide water purification and rehydration sachets to thousands of people; water filtration units; tarpaulins and emergency accommodation.
• Long term development – many of you saw the story of Loko in CAW – whilst on first instance it looked like it was just a story about a cow, it was also about ways in which our partners work to help develop livelihoods, hope and a voice in many countries around the world.
• In Iraq and Lebanon, supporting our partners working with some of the 4m Syrian refugees who have been displaced, we help them provide basic provisions and equipment. Likewise, we are supporting our ACT Alliance partners across Europe – in Greece, Serbia and elsewhere in supporting and meeting basic needs of refugees as they travel across Europe. We’re also working with partners across Europe lobbying political leaders for a fair and humane response to the crisis.
• We seek to change policies – in Sierra Leone, for instance, whilst devastated by Ebola, we are also working to help ensure more women are involved in parliament and ensure voices in the political process that are calling for the sort of education and health care support that will benefit families and children. Of course, just and fair global tax practices will enable countries like Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia and others to potentially have more revenue that could be spent on this sort of vital infrastructure, hence our tax campaign.
• Globally we joined voices with those from around the world in influencing the Sustainable Development Goals so that this new set of global targets really respond to the needs of poor people. Whilst in many respects they are a long way from the reality of life for those in poverty, these goals have the potential to be really transformational and we are committed to working to ensure that happens.
• Next week, world leaders will gather in Paris for the climate conference. Whilst Paris is reeling from the terrible effects of the events last week, people around the world are also praying for an ambitious and legally binding agreement to reverse our greenhouse gas emissions and limit the effects of climate change.
Hang on, I hear you say – Changing policy? Lobbying? Global goals and negotiations? How does that relate to feeding the hungry and those other works of mercy that Matthew 25 calls us to do? Well, aside from Jesus’ whole ministry, which was about turning on its head the political and religious power of the time, we find that answer in the Daniel reading: the Son of Man will rule over all people. The dominion given to the Son of Man (Jesus) is a kingdom that will not fade. Daniel’s vision sustained the faith and hope of the Jews who were being persecuted. Here was the hope of a kingdom, of a different order. Here also is a political revolt – the Son of Man will rule. Today, on the feast of Christ the King, we proclaim that – Jesus is our King. As his subjects, we follow his rule, and he explains in our Gospel reading how we will be judged.
The reading also gives us an insight into what it would mean if the Son of Man really were to rule; where laws required us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Such a society, where basic human needs are respected, doesn’t happen by accident. Society has to have a level of organisation in order to ensure that basic needs are met, that peace exists. That’s politics. You can’t legislate for love, of course, but you can have a society that works towards fairness, justice, towards the more equal sharing of resources.
Let’s remember too, that the Matthew 25 reading is the last judgement of the nations, not just individuals. Mercy, kindness, in the true OT tradition, is not just an individual or private matter. It is about how rulers behave, what the rich and powerful do. The outrage of the prophets was aimed at those leaders and wealthy people who lounged in palaces while the people starved, or who swindled the poor and abused the vulnerable.
So, today, we continue to find ways of building a society built on justice and fairness, where individual acts of kindness happen, but people who are poor and vulnerable are not dependent on them. For instance, in the climate negotiations – all countries will take action, but calling for the richer and more polluting countries take more action; or through our work calling for responsible tax practices and global tax justice, Christian Aid is seeking to help bring about a world where the basics are met, but not by accident, but by being embedded in society. A society where the voices and concerns of the poor are heard and responded to.
Jesus reminds us that we as individuals and as a society will be judged not on our prayers, but on our actions: the strength of our faith in practice. So I want to thank you for your support for Christian Aid that has enabled us together to fulfil that demand to love our neighbour over the last seventy years.
It’s not over, of course, need remains. This Christmas our appeal has, as its theme, our work in Nigeria – addressing healthcare and preventing deaths by malaria. This might start with a mosquito net, but it goes further to community health workers, midwives and supporting partners advocating for access to drugs. Money given in our Christmas appeal will be matched by the UK government’s aid budget. So please do donate – today or on-line at home – or both!!
So these two readings are so apt for today. Christ is our King, and so, we are his subjects, part of his kingdom. It is a kingdom in the making, and that is our task. Not through the power of violence or conquest, but of service and of love in action. Through your words, prayers and deeds you are part of building that kingdom one step at a time.
Thank you for standing with and helping Christian Aid to be able to play our part of the kingdom. We find strength and support in being able to work together.
May you always be strengthened by God’s love and mercy.
There’s a beautiful scene in Bridge over the River Kwai where Japanese and British hug each other. It is a powerful picture of reconciliation, healing, forgiveness 70 years on from the Second World War.
Ripon has some very fine and ancient bridges which span the 3 rivers that meet here and allow people to pass over them, enabling movement and communication from one side to the other. We Christians are called to be bridge people, building up bridges of trust and mercy, understanding and community. It’s costly work as bridges hold a lot of tension to allow all this. There are hurts to forgive, peace and reconciliation needed daily in our relationships and encounters. Jesus on the cross has his arms open wide to bridge the gap between humanity and God and between people. He breaks down the barriers and holds us up in love. And he wants us to copy him.
One of the Latin words for priest is pontifex – a bridge builder, one who reconciles and it is costly, sacrificial and painful. All Christians are called to be the priestly people of God – pontifices
Giving the peace during the Eucharist again is a powerful symbol of bridge builders. We reach out and touch others with the love and forgiveness of Jesus and greet one another in his name. This ancient act joins the community in communion and common unity in him. It is a sign that we really want to be healers, reconcilers, bridge builders, to be open to others, to be in touch with them. It shows that we want to seek all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.
Thanks be to God, our world today has many bridge builders who hold the tension, absorb the pain and hurt without reflecting it back. Amidst all the negativity, they remain positive. They do something positive rather than add to and compound the negative. They bring life instead of death, hope instead of despair, light rather than darkness. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’ Is that what we do?
On this Remembrance Sunday, we remember the 2 World Wars –they were the worst conflict in the history of the world with 66 million dead and 6 times that number injured in mind and body.
Despite conflicts since then and challenges in our present age, these years since 1945 have seen the breakdown of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall; people now have more of a say and democracy is growing sometimes despite huge opposition. There is growing cooperation and understanding between people who used to be enemies. Thank God, we have seen the end of the evil of apartheid, growth of the European Union, realising our common roots and deepening our openness and tolerance of those who are different from us – seeing diversity as something which enriches and enhances a community and world. Taize community and Corrymeela where Christians of all denominations live, work and pray together in respect and harmony; the Church of England now with its 5 guiding principles to enable us to remain one family despite divergent beliefs and practices on the subject of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. We have seen peace in Northern Ireland after 200 years of division and an intensive 20 years of killing with the loss of over 3000 lives.
70 years on we give thanks for the United Nations Charter. It aims to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which brings such untold sorrow to humanity; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; in the dignity and worth of every human being; in the equal rights of all people and nations large and small; to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours; to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.
All of this has been brought about because of men and women of love, healing, good will to all who follow the way of Jesus in word and action.
They live out the Gospel ways of love, forgiveness, compassion, gentleness against all the odds; against all the misunderstanding, ridicule, persecution they stick at it and won’t give up no matter how difficult it is, how disappointing, how thankless.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race set before us with our eyes always fixed on Jesus on whom it all depends from start to finish – who himself endured the cross.
It is the way of Jesus – it is the way of his people.
Let’s pray for grace to be numbered among them – men and women and children of peace, healing and forgiveness and let it begin in this Cathedral today.