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The Second Sunday of Creationtide – Canon Timothy Goode

Preacher: Canon Timothy Goode 

Date: 10 September 2023,  The Second Sunday of Creationtide

Before we moved up to York, I went to a superb exhibition on St. Francis of Assisi at the National Gallery and through that visit was encouraged to seek out Franco Zeffirelli’s film on St Francis, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’.  Towards the end of the film there is an extraordinary scene when Francis goes to Rome to petition the Pope for permission to found what will become the Franciscan and Poor Clare Orders, religious communities of men and women that to this day take the three-fold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Picture the scene. Francis is ushered into the opulent Papal audience chamber to present himself to the Pope, passing armed guards as he makes his way. He kneels before the Pope who is seated on a throne some dozen or so steps up, with the great Papal crown, hovering majestically over his head.

To his left and right are rank upon rank of Cardinals and Archbishops. They all know inside out the protocols of the Papal chamber and they look down with utter disdain on this petitioner, dressed solely in a simple habit.

Francis unrolls the scroll and starts falteringly reading the prepared dry legal petition, but his heart is simply not in it. He rolls up the scroll, and in place of the text he exclaims at the top of his voice,

‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns…’

And before he can complete the biblical quote, bedlam ensues. How dare he, in his simple habit, challenge the opulence and power of the Papal court – the cheek of it.  Red hats and golden mitres are knocked off in the scuffles that follow; screams of abuse are levelled at Francis and he is physically removed from the chamber.

As the melee recedes all eyes turn back towards the papal throne. The Pope is standing, his right arm raised high. His face looks as if in some sort of shocked trance. They follow the arch of the Pope’s finger as it points towards the ceiling of the chamber, and there above him painted as a great mural on roof of the apse, is Christ as the ruler of all, the Almighty. By those few words of Francis, the Popes heart, mind and very being, is re-directed towards the very core of the Christian faith – Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.

Francis is summoned back into the chamber, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And today in the opulence and splendour of this Minster, like the palatial Papal chamber, we too hear those same words in this morning’s gospel – of the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field – and we too are directed to what matters – to the very core of our faith, to our confidence found in our Lord Jesus Christ.

God sustains. God is good. Through the goodness and provision of his creation Jesus advises us that we should not worry about what we should eat, or drink; that we should not worry about our clothing. Surely this is good news!

Well, yes, it is good news, if you are like me and know where our next meal is coming from, or when our thirst will next be quenched; it is good news when we wake up in a comfortable bed and have access to a full wardrobe of clothes; it is good news when we are comfortably employed.

But how does this message land for those who are not fortunate enough to have the basics to sustain their life? Then this passage should pull us up short, for Jesus, as he so often does, is pointing all of us not towards to some carefree Utopia, not towards some esoteric heavenly dwelling place, but towards the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom we pray for every time we pray the Lord’s prayer. ‘Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’.

If we are being directed by Jesus to God’s kingdom through his two picture images of the sparrows and the lilies, then we are being offered a kingdom that feeds, a kingdom that quenches thirst, a kingdom that clothes: a just kingdom of profound love, equity, generosity and hospitality. A Kingdom, as conjured up in today’s passage from the Book of Revelation, where the water of life flows, a Kingdom of abundance and a Kingdom of peace.

It therefore follows that there can be no place in God’s kingdom for the oppression, insecurity and exploitation of God’s people; no room for the ugliness of hunger, deprivation, and fear; no room for the marginalisation and diminishing of people due to their race, gender, sexuality, economic status or disability; no place for the rampant exploitation of the world resources and the wilful destruction of its fragile eco-systems. For these are not characteristics of the kingdom – they are its opposite, and we are bound by faith and compassion to do all we can, individually and corporately, to eradicate those things that obscure the love, the beauty, the grace and the liberation that God wills for the whole of God’s creation.

For, if we are the Body of Christ, then – as this season of Creationtide reminds us – we are inextricably bound to one another in mutual relationship, and to God’s created order. We are called to be stewards, stewards of each other, investing in the flourishing of the God given potential of our neighbour and stewards of God’s extraordinary creative action, the very planet we live on and whose wonderful bounty offers us more than we each can ever require.

And it is the very creative action of God that we are celebrating today. For as a church we are today investing fully in the flourishing of Rosanna, drawing attention to the reality that she is a unique and precious child of God, created and formed in the divine image, fearfully and wonderfully made. As a unique child of God, through her baptism, Rosanna is being welcomed into the Body of Christ and through the liberating lifegiving waters of baptism she and we are being offered a vision of the freedom of sparrows and the glory of lilies as we are offered a tangible glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In today’s Gospel Jesus presents to us the demands of the kingdom and we pray that throughout her life Rosanna will respond to those demands by walking faithfully with Christ, mirroring the immeasurable love, generosity and hospitality of God, Christ’s name emblazed on her forehead, bringing the light of Christ to the dark places of this world.

But, my friends, as Rosanna is being baptised, let us also respond by reaffirming our baptismal vows so that, as parents and Godparents, friends and fellow members of the Body of Christ, we may model and mirror for Rosanna the immeasurable love, generosity and hospitality of God and be that light which no darkness can repel. For it will be through our lived example of Christian discipleship that Rosanna will first come to learn and experience the Christian faith.  We are called as Christ’s body here on earth to be co-workers with God in the divine creative action, for God calls his church to be a sacrament of the Kingdom – a sacrament of love, equity, generosity and hospitality,

And so, Rosanna, thank you. Thank you that through your baptism this morning you are blessing us all with a wonderous glimpse of the freedom of sparrows and the glory of lilies, a vision of the Kingdom of God. May God always be your light and may you always know of God’s presence alongside you and God’s love surrounding you, every step on the way. Amen.

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A Sermon for Creationtide – Canon Missioner, Maggie McLean

Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

Date: 3 September, First Sunday of Creationtide


A highlight of a visit to Peru last year was a trip to Lake Titicaca.

The largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world. It is equivalent to more than a third of the size of Wales.

On the visit I was able to spend some time with descendants of one of the ancient peoples of Peru, the Aymara. Known today as the Uros islanders this is a community that lives on floating reed islands, continuing to draw on the lake to meet the basic needs of life. Of course, tourism now supplements that life, but during the pandemic the Uros simply disengaged from wider society and returned to their traditional way of life.

One of the things we learned was that Lake Titicaca is unusually full of water. At least a metre above its normal level. At first that sounds like good news, a plentiful supply of fresh water for both Peru and Bolivia. However, the reason behind this increase is the rapid thaw of glaciers that feed into the Lake. Slowly but surely this frozen reserve of water is filling the lake but, when it’s gone it’s gone.

Like many people around the world who rely on the natural environment for many of the necessities of life, the Uros are fearful about what the future will bring. Many of these communities are vulnerable to even modest changes in the natural world, and their survival seems to be teetering on the brink of disaster. Last year a report calculated that every 40 days another language becomes extinct. The changes taking place in our world are not simply about human survival but involve the loss of cultural richness and diversity. Often, as with the Uros, the cultures being lost are some of the least climate-damaging in the world.

When Jesus was conducting his ministry in Galilee, Jerusalem and Samaria, the natural world probably seemed a place of permanent patterns. Yes, there were better seasons for crops and seasons that were worse. There were years with hot summers and years when it was untypically cool. But the overall experience of the climate was probably fairly static. When there was a period of exceptional rainfall, it was burned into the memories of many people in the Middle East, not only the Israelites.

The flood of Noah’s time is echoed across the world in the myths of 200 or so different cultures. It was an extreme weather event that became lodged in the cultural memories of people, thousands of years after it had taken place.

In the Church of England we are now in a period of the church’s year called ‘Creationtide’. A month dedicated to God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Perhaps there will be those who see this as another ‘woke’ initiative in a church that bends too easily to the latest fad or liberal anxiety. Well, if there are, I suggest that they simply stop and listen to the lived experience of people like the Uros. Or read in the Bible of the devastation, fear and loss that resulted when exceptional flooding washed over the face of the earth.

The Church of England in its history has been deeply, deeply connected with the land. The Book of Common Prayer contains prayers for fair weather, prayers for rain and prayers in time of famine. Rogation days are appointed for prayer and fasting as we petition God for a good harvest. If anything, as a church, we wandered away from tradition when supply chains removed our reliance on what grows in the fields of North Yorkshire or is caught off the coast of Whitby. Today when we pray for places that supply our food we are praying for countries that are often far, far, away.

In his discourse with God in our first reading, the Lord reminds Job that human knowledge only goes so far. When Professor Brian Cox addressed the clergy of Leeds Diocese a few years ago he took time to emphasise the sheer vastness of the universe. It is beyond human imagination in its scale and complexity. It is akin to the scope and splendour of the opening words in our Gospel reading this morning.

Who amongst us can imagine all the way back to the beginning when the Word was with God. It would be a remarkably arrogant people who thought that they knew everything about something so enormous and profound.

Creationtide calls us to consider afresh our connection and reliance on the world we inhabit. To renew a relationship with the land and our environment that is deeply rooted in the Church of England’s heritage and spirituality. To listen to the people for whom change brings the greatest risk, and to handle with care the world we inevitably pass on to our children.

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A Seat at the Table – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: “A Seat at the Table”

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Date: 20 August 2023,  The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:21-28.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 What does it take to get a seat at the table?

I am assuming you all know that there is a world cup football match going on this morning- we’re about 20 minutes in, and, for this particular England Team, it has taken years of preparation to get here; it has taken courage and conviction to be seen, to be counted and to be celebrated.

 To be at the table is not always easy, especially for women. But there are plenty of others in our society who have not been invited to take a seat at the tables of power and privilege, plenty of people who have been denied opportunities, plenty of people who have been ignored, slighted, belittled, prejudiced even hated because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, status, class or religion.

We human beings build our walls don’t we? We close our borders, inflict violence upon one another, we discriminate and we judge! Why, Oh, why do we do this? We all live on the same earth, we all breath the same air, we are all made of the same stuff.  More than ever we need a vision of an undivided world and indeed an undivided church, where all are welcome and all are shown mercy, because in spite of our diversity, we are all children of God. Surely, we all need to be at the table? We will only overcome the challenges that we face as a human race and as people of this earth, if we work together, and recognise each other as beloved children of God.

 Who gets invited is the question raised in our gospel today. With courage and conviction enough to match that of any lioness, a Canaanite women simply asks for a seat at the table.

The earliest Christian communities for whom the gospels were written, were beginning to make rules and form boundaries to maintain the integrity of this young, fragile church. Who was this church for? They wondered. Who would be invited to the table?   At first, Jesus appears to conform to the traditional societal and religious expectations placed upon him. He knows he is not permitted to talk to such a woman as this. Women were literally second-class citizens.  But a Canaanite as well? One of those foreigners? From the region of Tyre and Sidon- known to be an outpost of disobedience to God?  She was beyond his cultural boundaries, and not the kind of person with whom one would socialise, not the kind of person you would invite for dinner.

At first, Jesus tries to ignore her. She roars at him, we are told that she shouts – and the disciples try to send her away. But her persistence, her courage and conviction, cause Jesus to see her face to face, and already one barrier is broken down.  Jesus says, perhaps to himself as much as to her ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, reiterating his mission to God’s chosen people, but the woman persists -her daughters’ life hangs in the balance: ‘Lord, help me’, she says.

She knows who Jesus is and she recognises him as the Son of God. Jesus continues his argument, ‘it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs!’ He was putting into words the commonly held belief at the time- that the Children of Israel had to come first, but it was a harsh way of responding to her. His words make us flinch even now. And yet she comes back again undeterred.

‘Sir’ she says, ‘even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table’

And in that one sentence, in that one particular sentence, the Canaanite woman changes everything.

I know I am not worthy even to gather the crumbs under your table -she says, but the crumbs will be enough and are you not the same Lord of all, whose nature, whose property is always to have mercy? This Canaanite woman, of all people, sees past the very human Jesus, and sees in him the divine mission of God and a glimpse of a kingdom for all people.

Through her courage and conviction, we see that this kingdom is expansive rather than narrow, inclusive rather than exclusive, this kingdom is for both jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female, and open to every person who kneels before the throne of God’s grace.  She refuses to be ignored, she refuses to be excluded, she is staking her claim on the love and mercy of God.  There are other vignettes in the gospels where we catch a glimpse of this kingdom: remember that Jesus is often accused by the Pharisees of ‘dining with tax collectors and sinners’ and hosting an open table so that all may eat together.

In the gospels it is often those outside of the tradition, and outside of the religious community who remind us that the love and mercy of God is for all people.  In the twentieth century, William Temple, Archbishop of York said something similar- I’m sure you’ve heard it from this pulpit before: he said that the church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members- we are always called to look out and to look beyond ourselves and our own communities.

Through her humility this Canaanite woman shows the world, that Jesus is for her, as much as the next man, and anyone can have access to his grace.

‘Great is your faith’, Jesus says to her, perhaps the greatest faith he has ever seen, and through his own death and resurrection, the door will be opened, and everyone will be invited to have a seat at the table in his kingdom. In the gospel it is often the least likely person, the least welcome guest, someone perceived as outside the covenant and outside the religious expectations of the day, who has the greatest faith.

In this one very human encounter, it becomes clear that Jesus mission, God’s mission, is to be wider, and broader than was ever thought possible. God’s love is to be shared among all peoples to the ends of the earth, there is no east or west, or south or north.

We might set our own boundaries and entrance requirements about who we think is worthy enough to sit at God’s table and eat his food. We might even think we are not worthy to be here- but whenever we fall into this narrow way of thinking, God proves that his mercy is wider, as wide as the sea. Perhaps we need the courage and conviction to recognise that we are loved, and so is everyone else.

Our world, and indeed our church, seems to be spiralling into yet more division. But our gospel reading today seems pretty clear. To follow Christ faithfully, we are called to err on the side of generosity and inclusion, after all God’s house is a house of prayer for all peoples.  After all, there are no limits to God’s mercy, and his love is broader than the measure of our mind; there is no top table in God’s house.

God says to every human being, come dine with me, and he calls each and every one us to sit by his side.

This Love bids us welcome, and everyone is invited to sit and eat.


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The glory of God is humanity fully alive – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor


Title: “The glory of God is humanity fully alive”

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Date: 6 August 2023,  The Feast of Transfiguration

Readings: Exodus 34:29-end, 2 Corinthians 3

Towards the end of his life, the frail and slightly eccentric Archbishop Michael Ramsey, preached what would be his last sermon to a community of nuns in Oxford. The Mother Superior was fearful, that, because of his age and frailness, the old archbishop would not be audible. But every single word was heard, and every time he said the word ‘glory’ it came out as a triumphant shout. Michael Ramsey believed glory was everywhere.

On his memorial stone, in the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral are inscribed the words of St Ireneus, a second century theologian: “The glory of God is the living man, and the life of man is the vision of God.’

Or in other words: The Glory of God is humanity, fully alive.

We sometimes get Glory very wrong. We think that Glory is a prize that we win, rather than the way that we live. We think glory is related to achievement or merit, we think it’s about coming first, about power, or wealth, or status or celebrity. We might even think that the more we do, the more glory we will get; the better behaved we are, the shinier we will be.

Well, it isn’t like that with this God of ours. God entered into creation as flesh and blood, as a vulnerable infant, in such a daring way, that it almost seemed like foolishness.

Glory, for this God, is about humility, about entering into our humanity, emptying himself, looking like a loser, being mocked, and beaten, and crucified. And why did God step into the arena of humanity in this most surprising way? God did this, so as to lead us to glory too. The incarnate God, makes humanity holy.

In the transfiguration, that moment of light and glory on the mountain top, God shows us the potential of what it means to be human. In this moment, all earthly existence is gathered in,

and we catch a glimpse of what is to come,

when we are fully realized and transformed.

The whole of creation is charged with God’s glory and there is fire and music under our feet.  We are shown who Jesus is, and where we are heading.  We are given the long view. These flesh and bones can be transformed, they live, we are not merely dust and ashes, there is something greater beyond the material, beyond anything that we can see and touch or imagine.

Transfiguration holds out the possibility that the most ordinary life can be infused with glory.  No matter how small or insignificant we feel we are, whatever our hopes or fears, or doubts, or sorrows, or sins, whatever we hide away and keep secret, God’s transforming power, takes all this, and turns it into glory.  That essentially means that we are all extra-ordinary, we are all infused with the glory of God.

If we believe this to be true, it will have an impact on how we live with our fellow human beings as reflections of Christ. We are called to give glory to God and act in such a way that the nature of God becomes visible within us, in the way that it became visible in the face of Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis said that ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If they are your neighbour, they are holy in almost the same way, for in them also Christ the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

God stepped into the arena of humanity and God became one of us. We have all seen his glory, in the face of Jesus Christ and we see his glory in one another.

God has raised fallen humanity, and if we have eyes to see, we can see God’s glory in the mirror, and in the faces of those around us. Just look at the glory surrounding you! Glory is everywhere!

God’s glory is reflected in every human being, it shines, it glows, and so when we come face to face with our neighbour, our actions and our words towards them, reflect that glory back to God.

God’s glory is found in the little things, the kind gestures, the daring words, the unconditional love which we offer one another, the care and compassion we show to those in need, and all that we do to ensure that humanity can live to its fullest potential. When we give glory to God in this way, the nature of God becomes visible within us.

The Glory of God, is humanity, fully alive.

This glory, is not about success, or getting things right, or being perfect this is glory by God’s standards, this is about living life as people who are fully alive, people who are transformed from one degree of glory to another before the one and only living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.



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Love is proved in the letting go – Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

Title: Love is proved in the letting go 

Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

Date: 23 July 2023,  Seventh Sunday after Trinity 

A kitchen shrine adorned with serpents, a bakery, human skeletons, exquisite frescos, and yes, a picture of something that looks very much like pizza. These are among the new finds being turned up at the Pompeii Archaeological Park. So reported the BBC this last week.

 It seems that every year we hear about new discoveries in Pompeii.

While the destruction of the city by a volcano was tragic and devastating, it has left behind a unique record of life as it was taking place on one particular day in 79 AD. Normally, we don’t have access to this kind of precise and extensive historical information.

When we visited the site a few years ago the place gave an unforgettable impression of life interrupted – suddenly halted – in a way that was remarkable and extensive.

As archaeologists explored Pompeii they found one of the earliest depictions of any biblical story. On a wall in a house they discovered a painting of the scene described in our first reading this afternoon. This suggests that the episode of the two women arguing over the custody of a child, and Solomon’s surprising intervention, were celebrated as a moment of defining wisdom. It also suggests that God’s wisdom was seen as the source of all human wisdom, and the only basis on which any society would prosper.

While the conclusion of the story reveals divine wisdom, the events leading up to it are harrowing. There’s no other way to describe it.

We are told in most translations that the two women are prostitutes. But this isn’t accepted by every scholar. There is a view that the more accurate meaning is ‘tavern-keepers’.

Perhaps it’s not difficult to see why these translations aren’t altogether unrelated. Independent women have often found that their reputation is maligned, and for a woman to keep a tavern in her own right might well have produced the kind of slander designed to belittle and undermine her dignity.

Whatever the truth about these translations, the text goes on to make clear that a tragedy has taken place. The women live in the same house, and within three days of each giving birth, one woman accidently causes the death of her baby.

I cannot begin to imagine the degree of distress this must have caused. In this state the woman exchanges her baby for the living child of the second woman.

Then the two women argue. It is clear to the one who has been given the dead baby that this is not her child. For this reason they both go to petition the King.

They speak before the King, and Solomon has the wisdom to listen. But he cannot decide who is telling the truth. His solution – which we may well find disturbing – is to ask for a sword. As no agreement can be made, he suggests that he’ll kill the baby and give them half each. At that moment the true mother relinquishes her claim to the child so that it might live.

This is not a happy story. Even at this moment we feel for the mother whose child has died. Now, in addition to her loss, she is faced with public shame and royal displeasure. It does not seem a very pastoral or caring solution, for all Solomon’s wisdom.

To a large extent the women appear as foils to the display of the King’s wisdom, rather than characters with any depth or complexity. And in this story wisdom is only revealed because it is provoked by love. The love of a mother who would rather see her child given to another than be killed by the sword.

It reminds we of the poem by C Day-Lewis, Walking Away. The poet recalls his son playing football and then disappearing off to school for the first time. He writes these lines:

I have had worse partings, but none that so

Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly

Saying what God alone could perfectly show –

How selfhood begins with a walking away,

And love is proved in the letting go.

‘Love is proved in the letting go’.

For the mother of the child appearing before Solomon, love is revealed in her willingness to let go. A willingness to forsake a right in order to preserve a life.

For Peter and John in the second reading, we might almost say that their love for Jesus means that they are willing to let go of their lives. Confronted by the religious authorities in Jerusalem and threatened in order to ‘keep them from speaking further’, the disciples will not comply. With characteristic resolution Peter seems to shrug his shoulders, and responds that to shut up isn’t a choice they can make. Having witnessed love and peace in the person of Jesus, and his resurrection from the dead, they ‘cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard’.

As with so many of the early disciples, this boldness comes with a cost. But as the true mother said; and C Day-Lewis expressed; love of life requires a willingness to let go – and to trust God with all that will follow.

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Let them grow together, until the harvest – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: Let them grow together, until the harvest

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Date: 23 July 2023,  Seventh Sunday after Trinity 

Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the name of the living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

We live in a very literal and judgemental world, a world which is impatient and impetuous. There seems to be no room for ambiguity, no room for asking questions, no room for transformation or hope in what might be possible. There seems to be no room for frailty and vulnerability, no room for mistakes, no room for forgiveness or apology. You are either in or out, you are this or that, you are right or wrong.  It’s assumed that what we think today is what we will think tomorrow, certainty is prized, immovable opinions are lauded, complexity is overridden in favour of a salacious headline or making a quick buck- we all get sucked in. We divide, we judge, we condemn, we close our doors, we root out, we ban, we eject, we grandstand, we move on to the next story fed to us by the tabloid press.

Our parable today is an antidote to the ways of our world, because at the heart of this parable is uncertainty, ambiguity, and possibility all held under the kindly gaze of God. At the heart of this parable is a God who judges with mildness and forbearance, a God who waits on us and thereby gives us hope in what we might yet become, and what might yet be possible. This is a God of second chances, of renewal and new beginnings, this is a God of forgiveness and love, a God who gives everyone and everything the opportunity to come good.

Matthew tells us yet another story of the Kingdom relating to seeds, and sowing and growth, we are presented with the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the wheat and the tares, as it is sometimes known. A parable for an early church trying to affirm its identity and purpose, perhaps being drawn into operating according to the ways of the world, a church also tempted into condemnation and exclusion, a church desiring a kind of purity and certainty, quick to make a judgement on who was in and who was out.

But the simple point of the story is this: these weeds are not bright and proud like poppies growing up in a wheatfield, they are not obviously different to the crop in question, these weeds are tall and slender, with ears and whiskers,- they are almost indistinguishable from the wheat they stand alongside, it would take a very discerning eye to pull them apart.

The slaves of the household, (let the reader understand these to be the disciples, the earliest church communities perhaps), the slaves of the household are very anxious about these agricultural imposters, they aspire to purity and conformity, they desire a perfect and unsullied community, so they want to root out these weeds, and to separate out the church from the world. They also want to cast their judgement on the situation. They want their turn at being God, but God alone is judge.

But surprisingly, the Master of the House, commands them to wait with patience. He says ‘let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest’. The Master of the house is content to let them grow together, to risk the possibility that the weeds might be wheat. It is only when the harvest comes that everything will be revealed. Judgement will come, but in the meantime, we wait in hope.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that the Master of the House in this parable is an image of God, the Son of Man, Jesus tells us, and the harvest is the day of judgement at the end of all things, but it may surprise us that, until that day, God is content to wait and see what happens and Jesus tells his disciples to do the same. It seems there is always the possibility of change and transformation, of bad becoming good, of a sinner becoming a saint. With this God there is the possibility that the whole world might live into its vocation, wheat and weeds alike.

It’s acknowledged that this is one of Jesus more difficult teachings because its message goes against our human nature, our impatience and our propensity to make judgements on others. St Augustine said of this parable: ‘It may be so, that those who today are weeds, may tomorrow be wheat’, and so we get a picture of a God who, in the words of the book of Wisdom ‘has care for all people’, ‘will not judge unjustly’, but with ‘mildness’, who gives hope through the repentance of sins, who makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Jesus makes no apology for presenting a view of life, and a view of the church, which is complex and requires discernment and patience and calls us all to risk letting God be God.  The Church is not called to be a purity cult closed off from the realities and imperfections of the world and all of its challenge, but it is called to be a community where sins are forgiven and hope is restored, a community where all grow together, untidily, ambiguously, uncertainly, we are all dappled, variegated, mottled, a mixture of wheat and weed, all waiting to be changed and transformed and called to conversion of life.

Do we live in judgement of one another, or do we live in the hope of Christ? It seems to me that this parable is calling us to live in the hope of what could be, not in judgement of what is.

We might give thanks for this possibility because we all know that if the fields of our hearts were examined carefully, there would also be a complex mix of wheat and weeds. We know how close we are to sin and evil day by day, we understand that our motives are mixed and complex, we know that the thoughts of our hearts can be selfish, mean-spirited, cruel, we know that the lines between good and bad, between right and wrong, are as slippery as seductive as the similarity between the wheat and the weeds. Thanks be to God who looks upon us all with a kindly gaze. Thanks be to God that weeds are welcome too. It may well be that the weeds of today, may be the wheat of tomorrow that will bear the grains that make the bread for all to share.

In the meantime, all we can do, is look to Jesus Christ and grow under the light of his countenance. We look for the possibility and potential of everyone to grow in faith, we hope for what we do not yet see, and we wait for it with patience, we wait for the day when the whole of creation will be set free, as St Paul says, into the glorious liberty of the children of God. We wait for a re-creation, and the coming of the Kingdom.

This is the kingdom which Jesus speaks of today, a kingdom where all things are possible, where sinners find a place, where outcasts are welcomed, where evil is overcome with good, peace comes from conflict, life comes from death, wheat comes from weeds and we all give glory to the one and only live God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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How to be good – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: How to be good

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Date: 18 June 2023  Second Sunday after Trinity 

Readings: Exodus:19-2-8a, Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10.8

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in the all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can.’

It’s said that this sentence encapsulates what has been called John Wesley’s rule of life. Whether he wrote it or not, it’s a very clear command to go out into the world and be good and do good. Often easier said than done.

It’s a high calling isn’t it- to do good and be good- to always give thanks, to err on the side of generosity, to give and not count the cost, to share good news not bad, to realise that all our doings without love, are worth nothing.

Yesterday, I was catapulted into a panel discussion at the Big Tent Ideas Festival: it was like being grilled on The Today Programme on Radio 4, quite exhausting! The question being posed to the panel, a Rabbi, a Muslim leader and myself, was this:  “Does Religion do more harm than good? Cause of global conflict and excuse for discrimination, or driver of social change and social good?” What would you say? Perhaps something to consider over Sunday lunch today!? How would you have answered that question?

We can’t deny that what we are doing here is ‘organised religion’, but does it make us good? On the panel, we talked about the good that religion can do- the grass roots ‘good’ of kindness, compassion and community- the practical ‘good’ that faith communities offer to the world through foodbanks, charities, advocacy, campaigning. But we did have to acknowledge the ‘not good’ too. The power and the privilege, the discrimination, the injustice, the abuse, the hypocrisy.

It hopefully won’t surprise you to know that I believe that at its very best, religion is a force for good, and that in some ways our faith will always both betray us and confirm us by the fruits that we bear in the world, by the difference that we make through our attitudes, and interactions and behaviours and imaginations, and importantly by our desire to imitate and embody the goodness of Jesus Christ.

Of course, we often fail in this aspiration, which is why the kind of question I was asked yesterday, keeps on being asked, again and again and again, and rightly so.

To be religious does not guarantee you an automatic persona of goodness, it doesn’t mean you are good, but the life of faith does perhaps help us to know that God is good, and that God so loved the world, that he gave us his Son Jesus Christ…for our good.

To be religious then, could simply be to acknowledge that we are on that journey towards the good and we are hopeful of the good which is found in God alone.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘as you go, proclaim the good news’.  What does good news look like in our world today?

Two thousand years ago, ‘Good news’ looked like curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons. ‘Good news’ looked like forgiveness of sins, finding the lost, giving without expectation of payment, giving voice to the voiceless, good news looked like compassion for the lonely and the unloved. ‘Good news’ was turning the world’s hierarchies upside down, raising the fallen and making the last first, and the first last – and ultimately the good news was the new life that Christ wrought through his resurrection. We do have some idea what good looks like and what it could look like in our world today.

It seems to me, that a fully embraced faith in a good God, will leave goodness in its wake. I suppose the task of the Christian, is to discern and to learn what is good. We are called to inhabit goodness in the name of Christ, who is the expression of God’s love for the world and everything in it.

Our vision of what good is, comes from God, who, we have been promised, holds everything together in love.  To be good, says Rowan Williams, is to desire for the deepest and most hopeful love of love itself, and for all people to long to love one another.  The Good life, for the Christian person, isn’t just about living well- it’s about living as people shaped by Christ’s command to proclaim the good news.

We know this won’t be easy, St Paul tells us so, but if we boast in anything in this life, may we boast in our hope of sharing the glory and love of God.

So yes, I think religion is bad, when it discriminates, when it divides, when it self-serves, when it fails to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, when it breaks down rather than builds up, and when, in its wake it leaves only sorrow, hatred and death.  Let’s not pretend it’s easy to be good in our world, it never has been, and it never will be.

To be good, to desire love over everything else- is the hardest thing that any of us will ever do and yes, we will suffer for it, we will have to endure all kinds of persecution for standing up for the good, but through all this we still have hope, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts and we long for that love to be shared with the world Christ came to save.

We are drawn to this table in love, and this serves to sustain us in our mission of love for the world. As we take bread and wine today, Jesus says to each one of us, ‘As you go, proclaim the good news’.

So, in the strength of God’s love, do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in the all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can, in the name of the God of love, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Trinity Sunday: There is only the dance – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: There is only the dance

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Date: 4 June 2023  Trinity Sunday

Readings: Psalms 93 and 150, Isaiah 6:1-8, John 16:5-15

Do you remember the final of Strictly Come Dancing 2021? You might deny you watch it, but I know you do really!

To re-cap: The actor, Rose Ayling-Ellis and her partner Giovanni Pernice performed a routine which wowed the nation and won them the glitterball. Part way through their routine, the music stopped. But there in the stillness, there was movement. The dance carried on.  All you could hear was the sound of bare feet on what seemed like holy ground. To see Rose dance through the silence, was incredibly moving. Silence, for her, was her daily experience of the world, because she was profoundly deaf. The ten seconds of quietness in the middle of the routine came to an end as the music launched back in and Rose and her partner hadn’t missed a single beat.

Faith is sometimes a bit like a dance that keeps going. Faith does not stand still. Faith is a moving thing, it is like someone on a pilgrimage, like fish swimming in a river, like a bird flying through the air, it’s like the joining of human hearts in love, it is like the comings and goings of life itself, from birth to death. Faith is about movement, about growth, about evolution, about spinning, and whirling, and circling, about being drawn in and then being sent out.  When faith stops moving it becomes brittle and fragile, its energy and life is in the dance.

Our two readings pick up on this sense of movement, Isaiah is called into a vision of worship as he is stood in the temple. A seraph flies towards him, touches his lips with a coal from the altar, and commissions him in the name of the Lord. Whom shall I send, says the Lord, and who will go for us? Here am I, says Isaiah, send me. Isaiah is drawn in and then sent out.

Then Jesus articulates the movement between himself, the Father, and the spirit of truth: the dance between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is returning to the one who sent him, but the Spirit of truth will come. In the persons of God, there is always a coming and going, a giving and receiving.  It’s sometimes easy to think of religion as static, and concrete and still. Unchanging and immovable. Perhaps we are sometimes reluctant to take a leap of faith, or be open to what God is calling us towards, or where God is moving us to. It’s easy to think of Christians as stuck in their ways, and their views as set in stone but Christians have always been people ‘on the move’.

The God we believe in is also a God of movement and transformation, the God of a pilgrim people:  turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, the God we believe in brings water from a rock, makes rivers in the desert and causes the wilderness burst into song. The God we believe in, cracks open the tomb and brings out new life, turning nights of sorrow into mornings of joy.  The God we believe in is all about transformation and change. We are called to travel even when we are standing still, we are called to keep dancing even when the music stops.  At the heart of God there is movement. There is energy. The God we believe in, is a community, ebbing and flowing, giving and moving, spinning, dancing together in perfect unity and concord, the moving heart at the centre of the universe.

At the still point of everything, says TS Elliot, in his Poem ‘The Four Quartets’, there the dance is and ‘there is only the dance’. The nature of God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has long been interpreted as a movement, as a dance. This is how the earliest christians in the second century came to describe God: as a perpetual movement, entwined and embracing, an eternal dance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word they used was a Greek one: perichoresis, which means to go or come around. The word implies an all encompassing movement and relationship. It is in the midst of this movement, this dance, that God is, and this is where God calls us all to be: in the dance which orders the universe, in the movement of faith, in the drawn-in and being sent-ness of our calling, to speak, to share, to care, to tend, to grow, to love, to approach the altar like Isaiah did, and be sent out from it day after day after day. All is movement with God. And even at the still point there is the dance, and only the dance.

We so often fall into the trap of imagining God into a box, of wanting God to be predictable, when God is there on the dancefloor, spinning together as one, drawing the whole of creation into their self, and drawing our stubborn hearts and heavy feet into the music and movement of their love.

This is God as Trinity, God as Unity, God as one, and as children of God’s love, we are invited in. Are we brave enough to step onto the dancefloor with God? God takes our hand, calls us to put on our dancing shoes, and says, dance then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance.

To the one and only living God, who dances for all eternity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

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Easter Sunday Festal Evensong – Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

Title: ‘His face was like the sun shining with full force’

Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner 

Date:  9 April 2023  5.30pm

As you may have noticed, from early evening, the area round the Minster sees many ghost tours. Often the tours stop near the Great East window. Here there is a house known locally as ‘the plague house’, which is supposed to be haunted by a young girl who appears at a first floor window. It’s a regular part of the nightly ghost tours. I was rather surprised the other day – just as I walked past this house – to hear a woman telling her child, while pointing at the East Window, that this is a very, very famous window. ‘However’, she continued, and pointing towards a small window in the plague house, ‘not as famous as this window’.

Fame comes in many different guises.

Every day, more or less, I sit in front of the East Window as we say Morning Prayer at 07:30.

Sometimes it’s dark; in other seasons it begins in darkness and becomes light; and sometimes it is lit even before we start. But it never disappoints. Its colour and vibrancy inspire our prayer and remind us of those who have prayed as we do over many centuries.

The East Window is renowned because it’s an astonishing depiction of Christian themes by late Medieval designers and glaziers. It is a perspective, and a theology, that remains fixed to the time it was created, nearly 600 years ago.

This afternoon’s second reading provided the words that inspired most of the panels in the window. In fact the passage we heard today is captured almost entirely in one frame. Without wanting to make this sound like a crossword, from where you’re looking, it’s 10 up and 5 across.

It depicts Jesus surrounded by candles; hair white as snow; a sword coming out of his mouth. His face is a shade of yellow, reflecting the phrase: “his face was like the sun shining with full force”.

Of course, even the most gifted glazier couldn’t represent fully the force and splendour of this description.

Christ risen;

Christ in glory;

Christ eternal.

It’s simply beyond human imagination and skill.

But the effectiveness of this panel doesn’t rely purely on human craft. In designing something novel, the artists were working with something older than humanity. As it happens – and I’m sure it’s no coincidence – 10 up and 5 across is just about bang on central to the window as a whole. I suspect that this layout is down to more than just chance. At the centre of the window this frame bears the full force of the rising sun. It is lit for longest and this inevitably pale reflection of Revelation is transfigured by the day’s first light. Working with God’s creation, the glaziers have achieved something no human power could ever provide. At those moments in the day the glass become the words from Revelation: “his face was like the sun shining with full force”. It is an overwhelming experience and, when it happens, it is too dazzling to behold.

At Easter we celebrate the Risen Christ, who has conquered death and in whom the light of God shines forth into the world. As the glaziers found, it is impossible for us to reflect that brilliance in our own strength and skill. We need to have God with us, in us, enabling our dull gifts to be suffused with the light of Christ. Six hundred years ago the glaziers knew that this would only work if the figure of Christ was set in the centre of their design. They left a message for every generation that followed, an invitation to place Christ in the centre of our lives, providing the love, meaning and purpose that transforms everything that surrounds us.

This Easter I hope and pray that we each embrace once again the transforming power of God and allow resurrection glory to shine out into the world.

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Water for all, for life, and for unity – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: Water for all, for life, and for unity.

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

Date: Third Sunday of Lent, 12 March 2023, 11.00am

Isn’t it great when we all come together? When we gather, and congregate around something we have in common. There are many things that bring us together and unify us, like, I suppose, football: big matches on the big screens with best commentators; remember the olden days when we all huddled round the TV watching Match of the Day on the BBC? Of course, Football isn’t the only thing that unites us. From our Gospel this morning, people are brought together around a well, a watering-hole if you like. Water always brings us together.

Water, brings us together because it is the source of life. Human beings are made up of around sixty per cent water and the earth is almost completely covered with water, we cannot survive without it. Water is able to calm, and heal, to salve, cleanse, to restore and to reconcile. We are creatures made of water and creatures who need water. Wherever there is water, there we gather, bound together as one, we build cities alongside rivers, we irrigate our land to grow our crops, every creature of this earth comes to the water to drink.

Spiritually, the Christian person is born again through the waters of our baptism, and Jesus alludes to himself as the living water, in whom all our thirst will be quenched. The water that I will give, he says, will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. It is this water that brings about new life and new possibilities, it is this water that can make miracles happen.

In the book of Exodus, we find the Israelites grumbling; they are in the desert and have had nothing to drink for days. Without water the people are fractious and divided. What brings them together in the end? Water bubbles up from the side of a rock like a crystal fountain- and through that water, the people are reconciled to God and to one another.

God yearns for humanity to be bound together as one, and gives them water, to make it happen. Because of this water, the people of Israel are drawn back together and are carried through their wilderness into the promised land.  St Paul later refers to Jesus as the rock from which this living water comes.

Our Gospel reading today, is about water from a deep, life-giving well, which reveals the true identity of the woman who came to fetch it in the heat of the day. This is the water that reconciles Samaritan and Jew, male and female, the excluded and the included. This water washes away any idea of us and them, the well becomes a place of meeting, water brings people together.  Jesus is crossing every social boundary by talking to this woman- but through this conversation he speaks of the hope that one day, all will worship together in spirit and in truth….and he of course, is the living water which will make this happen. This is the ultimate reconciliation of all things in Christ, the living water that brings all things together.

St Paul in his letter to the Romans, reflects further on what this reconciliation might mean.  Reconciliation is in essence is a very simple thing, it is to be made one, and through Christ the whole of humanity has the potential to be made one with God and with one another. Jacobs’ well at Sychar, is the place, where for a moment in time, all things are drawn together under God, above and beyond all the petty divisions that separate us.

As the water from the rock brought the Israelites together- so Jesus, the living water, seeks to restore and reconcile all things to himself, bringing the whole of humanity through the wilderness of doubt and division into the promised land of joy and gladness and complete unification before God. This kind of unity is something we are thirsty for today, not only in our world but also in our church.

Jesus had a vision of all people reconciled with one another. The tribes and nations of the world re-created as one family, worshipping God together in unity and recognizing one another as children made in the image of God.  For us, that hard work of reconciliation begins with our baptism, but also with something as simple as our prayer of confession at the beginning of every eucharist- we have not loved God with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves…there our reconciliation begins, as we gather at the well and drink of the living water.

This is the work we are called to undertake in lent, reflecting on how we give ourselves to this task of being made one when there is so much pulling us apart and when we experience a world which is divided and unjust. We do so need that living water to renew us and bring us together until justice rolls down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

This week we hear again of the most vulnerable and most excluded in our world, our most needy neighbours, brought to our shores across the waters of the English channel, seeking safety and asylum after terrible loss and grief, and yet, as a society how are we proposing to welcome them? Will we even give them something to drink? The direction of some current policies seem to be taking us further towards division, this morning the Archbishop of York has called the government’s new asylum and migration law  ‘cruel and without purpose’, it seems as if we are being scattered, rather than drawn together through our common humanity, we are being turned against one another, and encouraged to turn away those we should be loving.

The Gospel is always very clear on these matters: Jesus constantly challenges us to consider, who is ‘included’ and who is ‘excluded’? What does being reconciled in and through Christ mean for us today? We are called to gather around the living water, we are called to generosity in our response to those who are thirsty. True reconciliation, of which St Paul speaks, means seeing Christ in one another and loving as he loves us. It means recognising that we are all equal under God.

If we waited at Jacob’s well for a little longer, who else would be drawn to the water at an unsociable hour, who else would be seeking to quench their thirst? To all those who come, Jesus offers living water, and desires that we his children do the same.  Whoever turns up at the well is given the water of life.

The story of the woman at the well, shows us that Christ, the living water, shows no partiality. Though the disciples were clearly uncomfortable about Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman and urged him to turn away, Jesus recognizes her as a child of God and she becomes a prophet, a messenger, an evangelist, for the good news, there at the well, where water is shared. God turns no-one away, and sends no-one away without offering them a drink of that living water.

It is to the woman at the well, that Jesus reveals that one day we will all be together, made one in him.

We are all called to drink of the water, offered to us by a loving and generous God, freely given for renewal, restoration, and reconciliation, given to bring us to life, and given to bring us back together.



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Turned towards Christ and turned for Prayer – Ash Wednesday – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: Turned towards Christ and turned for Prayer

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor.

Readings: Isaiah 58. 1–12, Matthew 6. 1–6, 16–21

Date: Sermon preached on Ash Wednesday on the theme of ‘Prayer’, one of the Diocese of York ‘Habits of Christlikeness’ in the Diocesan Rhythm of Life


George Herbert in his first poem on Prayer, describes what prayer is, or rather, he ends up telling us, rather beautifully, that there is no singular definition. Prayer is many things, The Church’s banquet, he begins, angel’s age, God’s breath in man returning to his birth, the soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage.

It seems that Prayer is a thing which is almost undefinable, it is the other country of our souls, whilst also being as Herbert would say, Heaven in ordinary, or the milky way, the bird of paradise, church bells beyond the stars. In more prosaic language, prayer is a habit of Christlikeness, for it through prayer that we become more and more like Christ.

We are today entering into a season when we are commanded to pray as a means of seeking forgiveness, and of orientating our lives anew in the right direction. But what is the right direction? And how shall we pray?  How can our praying help us navigate not only this lent but our whole lives as beloved children of God?

Another take on prayer is and what prayer isn’t, is offered in our readings this evening. God does not desire, God is not interested in, the kind of prayer and fasting that is orientated to the self. The people of Israel complain that they are ‘not seen’ by God when they make ostentatious prayers and offer fasting for their own good- their fasting does not recognise the needy in their midst and their prayers are neither honouring God nor their neighbour, they are primarily honouring themselves. The direction is all wrong.

The Philosopher Soren Kierkegard reminds us that the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather change the nature of the one who prays. To become more Christ-like, we might say.  The change God wants to see through prayer: is the bonds of injustice being loosened, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the oppressed set free, the words of Isaiah, taken up by Christ himself when he defined his own mission in the world.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God calls the people to humility in their praying, which means to be properly brought down to the dust of the earth. For it is stood in the dust with our eyes looking to the stars that we know who we really are- creatures made in the image of God our creator, and creatures seeking transformation and change in our lives, and from there seeking transformation and change, and healing and renewal in the life of a broken world.

When prayer is rightly directed, other joys and blessings will emerge like a spring of water- the praying will direct the living.

Prayer does not need trumpets, prayer does not need to be seen. Prayer is ultimately an activity of the human heart in response to God alone, the turning and tuning of the heart to sing, as Herbert would again say a kind of tune, which all things hear and fear. Prayer is you and me, each one of us, stood before our maker-

In a sense, it is that kind of personal reflection and prayer that we are all called towards this lent, this is an inward journey of the heart and soul, the journey we all must face as we stand before God who sees us even in secret. This is a journey which plumbs the awful depths of our humanity and lifts us up from the dust of the earth to rise in glory.

The Litany of Penitence which follows this sermon sets us off on that journey by naming out loud and helping us each recall our propensity to turn away from God.  It’s a list of things we know we all do and this is followed by a symbolic gesture of penitence which marks our foreheads with an ashen cross.

We remember that we are of the dust, and to the dust we will return, we are reminded that in the meantime, we are daily being tuned to sing the song which glorifies no-thing and no-one but God, and through that prayer we are turned away from sin to be faithful to Christ.

And there is perhaps the key, the secret, the only way of praying- For however we pray, whether on our knees, or in silence, or with others, or indeed on street corners or noisily with trumpets, the key to prayer, the secret to prayer, is that it is orientated always and only towards Christ, we are to be humble in the dust with our eyes fixed on Jesus. O God, turn us and tune us to sing your song.

If our prayers and our hearts are so directed, then our lives will be directed in the same way, turned and tuned to be faithful to Christ, open to being changed and transformed in his name, and ready to serve Christ in one another, in the world he loved and came to save.  To his name be glory forever.




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Up and Down Mountains – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: Up and Down Mountains

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor.

Readings: Exodus 24:12-end, 2 Peter 1:16-end, Matthew 17:1-9

Date: Sunday next before Lent, 19th February 2023

If you were looking for a gift to buy someone you love, you might be tempted to treat them to a gift ‘experience’. A few years ago, we clubbed together to buy my dad an ‘experience’ flying a Spitfire. My sister bought me a ‘Birds of Prey’ Experience, so I spent the day with some pretty spectacular peregrine falcons. There are ‘supercar’ experiences, ‘cooking experiences’, ‘heritage experiences’. In these packages you are given the mountain top experience, the best experience there is, an insight into another world where you become a pilot, a racing driver, a Michelin star chef. If only every day was like this, you think, as you sip champagne and revel in being treated like royalty.

So here’s a thought experiment for you: if you were going to share the Christian ‘experience’, what would you include in the package?

Some people think the Christian life is a ready-made mountain top experience, full of light and glory and exhilaration, some people think that Christians are shiny, happy, perfect people all the time. But, we wouldn’t be presenting the whole picture, the truthful picture of what living the Christian life is like, if we didn’t acknowledge that it’s not all about the mountain top experience, it’s also about daily life and sacrifice, transfiguring the world through our witness, living out the Christian life at work, at home, at school, in times of sadness and challenge as well as times of joy.

For most of the time, and for most of us, the Christian experience is about the climb, the hard, day by day, journey of discipleship, the slips, trips and slides, the one step-forwards and the two steps back, the moments of terror as we lose our grip, the disorientation as we are affected by the altitude, the scratches and bruises as we scramble to the summit: The Christian experience is often about determination and discipline.  And then, once we reach the peak, once we experience the glory of being on top of the world, we come to realise we can’t stay there forever.

Peter, James and John try to make a camp there on the mountain, they want to stay, ‘shall we make three dwellings?’ they ask. Rather like Mary Magdalene in the Garden, who tries to cling on to the risen Jesus: we can’t live on the mountain top. Our experience of God is never meant to be an escape from the world where we are.

We have to come back to earth and begin a descent which may be just as challenging as the climb. But, oh, what a joy it has been to experience the light on the top of the mountain, and how we have been changed by it, and through that dazzling experience we can return to our ordinary lives with that vision in our hearts to guide us and to strengthen us for the next ascent.

Our life is a cycle of comings and goings, of ups and downs, of mountain top experiences as well as time spent at the rock bottom, facing what seems like insurmountable challenges. We might think of our lives in terms of extremes, of highs and lows, of places where God is and places where God isn’t, we might think that the Christian life is only about the glory on the mountaintop and not about the struggle on the way.

But today, as we hear again the story of the transfiguration we are invited to see the glory of God as something which permeates the whole created order, we are called to realise that wherever we travel, glory is under our feet.  We are shown that there is no longer a heaven and an earth but one kingdom under Christ and the exhilaration we experience on the mountaintop becomes part of our daily lives, so that our lived experience as a Christian, even in the tough times when the challenges ahead of us seem impossible, our lived experience as a Christian in the world is always shot through with glory: whether we are experiencing grief or gladness, whether prosperity or poverty, whether health or sickness, life or death: the God of glory is with us.

Christ takes our humanity with all of its faults and failures up to God on the mountain, and God comes with us in Christ as we descend back down to earth. This is a gospel for the plains as well as the peaks, for the wilderness as well as the mountain top.

On this Sunday before Lent, we are all given a vision which speaks of the transfiguration of our world, the ultimate revelation of Christ in Glory, where heaven and earth are one, when old and new are entwined, when past and future are made real in one glorious present.

The disciples are given a mountain top experience, as their preparation to walk with Christ in his suffering, a turn of events which will quickly gather pace once they descend the mountain.  We are about to embark on a journey through Lent which will bring us face to face with the depths of our broken humanity, when we are confronted with ourselves in all of our sin. On Wednesday we will be called to self-examination and asked to consider our mortality, our meanness, hypocrisy, and obsession with the self. It’s salutary spiritual work for all of us, we all sit before God’s judgement in need of mercy and forgiveness. As we are about to start climbing this particular mountain, we do so in the knowledge that we have already been recipients of God’s glory.

The Gospel of Transfiguration is then, a source of Christian confidence: it means we can dare greatly and live hopefully in the present as we are called to see a future shaped by God.

Such a gospel, writes Michael Ramsey, transcends the world and yet speaks directly to the here-and-now. As Christ reveals another world on the holy mountain, he also reveals that no part of created things, and no moment of created time lies outside the power of the Spirit, who will change it from glory to glory.

Jesus prepared his disciples to bear the scandal of the cross by showing them the means of grace and the hope of glory. This week, we are given an assurance that the light and glory of God will be with us in every human experience we are party to. Whether going up or coming down, we move always and only from glory to glory, and that is the experience we are all called to share as a gift, with the world Christ came to save.

To him, be glory forever. Amen.




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