Good morning everybody….!
Good morning to my friends and my family who have come to support me on this astonishing day.
And good morning to friends, yet to be –to this diverse and exciting congregation. I am truly looking forward to getting to know you over these months and years; to share stories, laughter and tears. To learn, to grow, and be inspired.
I have seen already witnessed this church’s desire for passionate faith, exploration of theology, realistic Christianity, honesty and questioning. I have seen the incredible work that takes place in the community, and in the school here; I have sampled ways in which the church interacts with the community in things like the café; and I know that I and my family have already felt the deep warmth, love and inclusion which comes from a healthy community.
So thank you. Thank you for the welcome, thank you to the PCC for having me, and thank you to Fr.Vincent for taking such a huge risk!
So in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit….
Although Vincent asked me to simply ‘introduce’ myself this morning, I felt that verses like these which we have read in the story of Jesus cannot be left untouched, they are too vivid, too beguiling, too bewildering to ignore. They also happen to contain words which will help me to introduce myself.. so you will have a bit of both…
‘The kingdom of God has come near’. ‘The kingdom of God has come near’
When Jesus is sending out disciples ahead of him telling them he is sending them like lambs among wolves it carries a certain vivid resonance…
Having been commissioned by the Bishop just yesterday to ‘go forth…’ it seems even more sobering….!
But the simple words he tells the disciples to proclaim is what fascinates me; ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.
And even if these disciple are treated badly, if they are kicked out of the town;
The kingdom of God has come near’.
What is this kingdom Jesus is talking about; and what does it have to do with my ordination, and the curious story of the curious bishop?
Ah! I’ll need to tell you a little of my story.
I was raised in a Christian home, encouraged by my parents, (here), to go to church, to think, to engage, and to pray. I’d spent most of my early adult life in churches, involved in leading and challenging and stimulating new ways of thinking, I was passionate about a broad vision of faith which enriched every part of life; music, art, thought, science, justice, politics – all were linked to the effervescent, and exuberant life of God.
In my twenties I married Rachel, and after many creative adventures with friends, (many of them here), we devoted our time and energy to raising our five amazing children, (yes five, who I’m hoping that you will get to know), and celebrating their lives as the richest gifts.
However pain is also part of life’s rich pageant and sometimes pain gets the better of us—as it did for me. Some 20 years ago we entered a prolonged period of anxiety and sorrow; and slowly – but surely, the hope of faith crumbled away.
And I became effectively a ‘happy humanist’.
For someone so active in the church it was disorientating to no longer believe, to no longer trust, to leave the church behind. But it was necessary. (We’ll come back)
Jesus seesm to spend most of his life mystifying people. All to often in these sometimes hilarious stories, he’ll say something and the disciples, women and men, will nod and agree and yet have no idea what he’s just said.
And this ‘kingdom talk’ is no different…because Jesus never explains it!
He talks about the kingdom a lot, and he tells his followers what it’s like but never explains it; “it is like…. A mustard seed, like a missing sheep, like yeast, like an outsider helping someone” always like, never is. Jesus is using the deepest tools of art, inspiring his listeners imagination, drawing them into the story, to engage, think, react, to see themselves in these strange pictures. Jesus speaks like an artist, alluding, inspiring, suggesting, inviting new ways to see.
And this is what he is constantly doing; inviting others, (and us today), to see the world differently to engage with imagination, inspiration, and to savour the call to transform. Jesus inverts the ways of the world, the ways of the Powers, (as Hamish would tell us), he turns the worlds upside down – inverts our expectations, breaks the rules, his is a radical inclusivity that welcomes the broken, and the outcast; Jesus transgresses boundaries, plays with dirt, and welcomes all.
Which means one thing for certain – the kingdom is not isolating, it is not discriminating, it does not fear the outsider but welcomes them, it is not ok with the destruction of earth or the exploitation of the poor, the kingdom is about love and the songs of love shared by atoms, angels, stars and seas.
The kingdom is a different story, a different way to walk, a different set of priorities, where the poor are lifted up and the hungry filled with good things, where the peacemakers are blessed and the stranger is welcomed.
‘The kingdom has come near’, Jesus says, all we have to do is to recognise it; and we will only really ever recognise it when we participate in it….
But what does that mean?
For too long, the same people that want to explain but not inspire, have told us to believe in this, or believe in that… but that’s not the kingdom… (it may be the opposite.. shh). It’s easy to create borders, to build boxes, or towers of belief.. but they wont help.
The kingdom Jesus speaks is wild and free; concerned with justice and love; love of all people – even our enemies; love of the sacred earth and its fragile ecology; love of our good and beautiful selves, (and that’s our hardest one!); and love of the divine – the mystery, the inspiration, the source of our lives, the hymn of the universe, the song of the stars, the mother—Isaiah says—tenderly nursing her young. This kingdom is emerging all the time, in all our lives, in moments of inspiration, awe and delight; maybe on top of a mountain, or before a roaring see, in the tenderness of friends, in the mercy of strangers, the kingdom emerges whenever love is known, the kingdom invites us into Gods world of unconditional love, the kingdom awakens us in joy, in ecstasy and in pain… the bond which we all share in this room.
So as a happy humanist, living my life, I slowly realised that these moments would still happen, a walk in the forest would still provoke that hand-clasping gasping wonder, and that pain somehow connected myself, to people, and to the image of a wounded crucified God. I was drawn back into thinking about the divine, and religion as a symbolic enactment of these mysteries. As much as I wanted to avoid God, I couldn’t. the ecstasy of life, in its highs and lows draw me into thinking about the divine; in the gift of art and music and poetry, Sacred moments of life are revealed subtlety, celebrated, and shared; and in Christ, god in flesh, affirming our fragile tender and beautiful lives.
Like the Eucharist feast of bread and wine, (which we’ll share when I cease my rattling), we are invited to participate in a mystery beyond knowing, to join together in the presence of the unknown; which yet holds our imagination, fuels our dreams and calls us to savour and share the gift of life – the life which Jesus says, ‘I have come to give in fullness’.
So here is where I will finish, (well more an interlude).
The kingdom is near, and we touch upon it in our lives, like a fleeting glimpse, a glint of light in the corner of our vision, a moment of joy, a picture given in our most generous imagination, it is the moments when we become most fully alive.
How do we see it, by working toward it…
How do we taste it, by sharing the feast today…
How do we promote it.. by celebrating the most wonderful gift of our most wonderful extra-ordinary, ordinary lives.
This kingdom, revealed in Jesus – radical, rule-breaking, boundary-crossing, generous, loving; is crucial to the church of God, and is evident in this community. Limited only by our imaginations, it is in the fabric, the texture, the warp and the weft of our lives – waiting to be recognised.
The inversion of our priorities,
the breaking down of barriers,
and the pursuit of love.