Bishop Steven at Christ Church Cathedral.

For they did not yet understand (20.9)

A very happy Easter to you and to your families. May you know the hope of the risen Christ in your homes and in your hearts.

I love the gospel stories of the resurrection. One of the things I love in Luke and John especially are the different characters in the stories. No two people respond in the same way to the good news of Easter Day.

In our gospel reading we see Peter and the disciple Jesus loved and Mary Magdalene. Mary comes to the tomb early. She finds the stone rolled away and runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple. They in turn run to the tomb. Remember they are in the first days of shock and grief.

The other disciple outruns Peter. He bends down and looks in but will not enter. Simon Peter arrives, breathless and goes in. They see linen wrappings, a cloth rolled up by itself. The other disciple now enters. He sees and believes: the first to do so.

Then the gospel tells us: for as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead. They did not understand.

Peter and the other disciple return home, still unsure of what to do. Mary stays weeping outside the tomb. It is Mary who has a vision first of angels and only then, when she has heard the angels, of Jesus himself. Even then Mary does not recognise him but mistakes him for the gardener.

Then Jesus speaks Mary’s name and finally she understands. Rabboni. Her longing is to embrace him but still there are things Mary does not understand but needs to do.

Peter, Mary and the beloved disciple each have their journey of understanding the immensity of resurrection. A whole world view is shifting here and it shifts at different rates for different disciples.

Mary arrives at the tomb with an unshakeable belief that Jesus has died and is gone for ever. She leaves the garden with an unshakeable belief that Christ is risen and death has been conquered. How does that transformation happen?

Mary begins to ask questions when she sees an empty tomb; the fear and excitement of Peter; the faith of the beloved disciple; the linen bandages and the folded cloth. Cracks appear in her understanding. Mary slowly begins to doubt her conviction that Jesus is gone for ever. The seed of a new faith begins to grow. Perhaps, perhaps.

That seed of faith enables Mary to see and hear the angels, apparently unseen by Peter and John a few moments ago. Faith grows as Mary sees and hears the angels. Mary turns and sees Jesus but also does not see him. Even now the paradigm holds strong. Those who have been cruelly crucified cannot be found walking in gardens on the morning of the third day.

But then Jesus speaks. His voice is unmistakeable. Mary looks up and opens her eyes. The strong fortress of her ideas on death, her entire view of the world, formed generation after generation crack from top to bottom then crumble and fall away. Mary believes: Rabboni? First questioning. Rabboni? Then full of joy.

The gospels tell us that when a disciple comes to believe the resurrection it is not a simple matter or the work of a moment. It is not simple for Mary here; or for Simon Peter or the beloved disciple. It will not be simple for Thomas in the upper room or Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus who walk for hours with him unrecognised. It is not simple for the disciples in the Upper Room. Luke captures their journey to faith as they met the risen Christ in this intriguing sentence: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….” (Luke 26.41). It will not be easy for Saul on the road to Damascus as the glory of the resurrection will for a time mean he can literally see nothing else.

This is no easy, instant faith or simple change to make. To believe the resurrection of Jesus is always an individual journey for every person. For the disciples it means spiritual encounter; it means searching the scriptures and understanding them in new ways; it means replaying their memories of journeys with Jesus and the difficult and unlikely things he said; it means wrestling with doubts; denying even the possibility, scarcely daring to believe it could be true; coming to terms with their own failure and blindness and betrayal; and realising what this will mean for the whole of their lives. The majority will give their lives in different ways to transmit this truth and understanding to the world.

In the end each of them will come to believe that they believe, not through their own cleverness or virtue or understanding. Each of them will come to believe that they believe through grace: because God in Christ reveals himself in a way that draws them deeper into faith and hope and love. That revelation comes through evidence and reason and conversation and encounter in unique ways for each disciple as the gifts and witness of each combine into the new community of faith.

It is no small thing therefore in 2024 even to be present in this Cathedral church on Easter Day. It is no small thing to declare together Alleluia Christ is Risen in the face of death. It is no small thing to gather around the table of the Lord and meet with the risen Christ in bread and wine, to seek forgiveness and renewal, to reassess our lives in the blinding light of resurrection.

If we are hesitant or uncertain in our responses, we are in good company. Simon Peter and Mary and Thomas have been there before us. If we need to lean back into the faith and worship of the church and lean on the faith of others, then that is understandable: these are such world shaking and life changing truths. As long as we then keep seeking.

We live now in a world which does not readily admit the miraculous or the transcendent; a world which limits itself to what can be seen and understood with the senses. We live in a world in which it is harder to believe and where the echoes of the song of faith grow more distant with every generation. We live in a time when the church is weaker in this land than any time we can remember but we know also that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. We live in an age where it seems that all the vast river of human suffering and evil flows past our eyes continually in an every present and distressing cycle of distress which weighs heavily on the souls of so many and saps our strength. This too is a barrier to faith the first disciples never had.

Each of us will find in different ways that the ways we believe must be revisited with each decade of our lives; that personal suffering and grief will change and challenge us; that our perspective and our doubts shift and change with experience and age.

But still, but still. We are drawn back to this living fire of faith even if it is only to creep in at the door and listen. We are disenchanted with a material and finite world. We long for some deeper truth; some greater mystery; some better, richer, story; some greater cause. And the still small voice within whispers still, come deeper; come and see.

The truth we are seeking, which changes everything is here: in discarded graveclothes and an empty tomb; in the struggles of the witnesses; in the great narrative and the detail of the scriptures; in the testimony of the church across the ages; in the changed lives of the saints; in the examples of Christian love we see around us; in the calls we hear within; in our resting and replenishing in Holy Communion; in faith enduring the face of suffering.

Today is a day to say yes; to declare our faith; to seek God’s renewing power. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia.

Faith is rekindled. We make a fresh offering of our lives. We will follow with Simon Peter, with the beloved disciple, with Mary Magdalene. We will hear his call and follow.



Come and see…

A sermon for the beginning of Lent, preached in St Mary’s Iffley and Keble College Chapel on 11 February. The readings for the day were 2 Kings 2.1-12; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6 and Mark 2.1-9.

On Monday I had an appointment in central Oxford arranged at short notice. The instructions on location in my diary are normally an address or a postcode. But these instructions read as follows: Big Green door left of Ravenscroft and Ede, High Street. This sounds more like an extract from a John Le Carre novel or maybe Harry Potter than a normal Bishop’s diary.

I walked down the High Street with moments to spare, only half remembering where Ravenscroft and Ede is and concerned that I might miss the big green door because I’m colourblind. Thankfully my host was there to meet me. We stepped inside between the shop fronts, through a door, an alleyway and a gate. Behind the shop front, as so often in Oxford, we entered another world: quadrangles and staircases; modern buildings; student rooms; a maze of corridors. I had walked down the High Street scores of time, never realising the hidden world beyond.

Oxford lends itself to hidden unseen worlds. All is not as it seems from Lewis Carol and C.S. Lewis to Colin Dexter and Philip Pullman. Whole departments for the arts and sciences are hidden inside the doors of terraced houses. Beautiful gardens are locked inside forbidding walls. The whole architecture of the city reminds me over and again that there is more to almost everything than meets the eye. That architecture and geography springs in turn from the deep Christian roots of the city. The geometry of our faith invites us to come deeper, to explore unseen worlds, to take the next step on the journey.

Our Old Testament reading uses geography to invite us to explore unseen worlds. Elisha follows Elijah through places which have deep meaning in Israel’s story: to Gilgal and Bethel and the Jordan back into the wilderness. Once there Elisha catches a vision of an unseen world beyond this world: a world of the spirit; a world of eternity. Elisha’s will go on to draw immense strength and power from this vision of eternity to bring change in his own generation.

Paul in 2 Corinthians tells us in many different ways that there is more to this faith of ours and to Jesus than we have yet seen and that the world has seen. The gospel is veiled, hidden away. It is possible to walk past it scores of times and never understand it. The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel. Even those who are Christians can lose sight of the wonder and the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

And that glory is revealed most clearly in our gospel reading, Mark’s account of the transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James and John apart. They have travelled with him, listened to his wisdom, seen the feeding of the five thousand and the stilling of the storm, witnessed countless acts of kindness yet still they have no idea of the person he is. Their minds cannot embrace the scale and depth and mystery and majesty: the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

And so for a moment they pass through the door. Their eyes are opened as they climb the high mountain. They see him through a different glass: neither microscope nor telescope but spectacles.

Some years ago, my son bought me a special pair of spectacles which aim to correct colour blindness, so I that I could tell the difference between red and green. I had visions of being able to see a glorious range of colours instead of the colours I can see. Sadly they don’t work that well for me.

But it was something like this effect multiplied a hundred fold for Peter, James and John. They see the glory of the Christ who is the image of God. He is transfigured. The Greek word is metamorphosised: the transition from a chrysalis to a glorious butterfly. His clothes became dazzling white. They see part of the company of heaven, represented by Moses and Elijah. They see there is one here who is greater than the law and the prophets. They hear a voice from heaven, echoing the voice at Jesus baptism which answers the deepest question in the gospel: who is this Jesus?

“This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”

The curtain is drawn back. There is a glimpse of eternity. Only here on the mountain. But a glimpse which will shape their lives for ever; a vision which will give them the power to change the world for ever. The glory of Christ who is the image of God.

Too easily we lose this vision of deeper realities and other worlds as the disciples did when they came down the mountain. We need still times in our days when we pray and ponder God’s word. We need a set time each week when we come apart to be with Christ, to reflect on Scripture; to receive the sacrament; to be in Holy Communion. We need a time in the year when we travel up the mountain to with Jesus, seeking that clearer picture of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. That season each year is the season of Lent, which begins of course this coming Wednesday.

One of the most wonderful and profound invitations in the gospel recurs at the beginning of John. Two reticent disciples begin to follow behind Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them following and begins as Jesus often does with a question. What are you looking for?

They stammer out a reply: Rabbi where are you staying? They see him only as a teacher. Jesus gives this most beautiful invitation: Come and see. He opens a door to another world.

This Lent as every Lent we are echoing Jesus’ invitation to the whole Diocese within the Church and beyond it to Come and See. Use this season to come deeper into faith, to discover the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Use this season to explore faith perhaps for the first time. Register on our website and we will send you daily reflections by audio and email and short videos each Sunday. This year we are exploring the Way of Love: Jesus great summary of the law.

There is more behind the green door than we will ever see or understand. Whole worlds are waiting to be explored. The vision we see there will give power and strength and joy for this life and the next. The glory of Christ who is the image of God. Come and see.

Over 200 people came together in our cathedral church on Sunday 19 November to give thanks for the work of our Parish Safeguarding Officers and all those who serve with them, to pray for the safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults across the churches and chaplaincies of our diocese and to commit ourselves afresh to this ministry which we share. This is the text of  the sermon given at the service.

Thank you for all of your work to ensure a safe environment in our churches. We do recognise the task is complex. But we recognise together that our task is immensely valuable and vital for God’s mission.

Our starting point must be the value of each person before God. That sense of value runs through Psalm 139. The words of the Psalm help us to realise each time we pray them how precious we are to God and how precious each person in creation is to God. To say these words is to open our hearts to understand the love of God and the value of every person.

O Lord you have searched me and known me
You know when I sit down and when I rise up
You discern my thoughts from far away.

And later

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…. your eyes beheld my unformed substance; in your book were written all the days that were formed for me when none of them as yet existed.

It’s impossible to imagine a more intimate expression of God’s knowledge and understanding of each person – a knowledge which extends even before birth, a knowledge which extends through the whole of our lives. It’s impossible to imagine a safer image of intimacy than this resting in the love and knowledge of God. Every person in creation is made in the image of God, to be respected, cherished, loved.

But the psalm teaches us as well, as does the whole story of scripture, that human beings have a capacity for harm and hurt as well as a capacity for good. Abuse in all its various manifestations is a reality in the life of the world and in the life of the church. There are those who misuse power to pray on the vulnerable.

For that reason we have had to relearn as a church the need to be vigilant; the need to be watchful and alert; the need to offer protection as clergy and PSO’s to those who are part of our churches and who may be vulnerable within them. Parish safeguarding officers are at the front line of that watchful vigilance.

The work of a Parish Safeguarding Officer involves many different details: safer recruitment; developing good policies; improving the safeguarding culture; the handling of allegations; helping safe access for all to the vital ministries of the church.

But at the heart of that ministry is the fulfilling of the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves: to treat anyone who is part of our churches as we would want to be treated ourselves; to offer love and respect as to our own children or grandchildren or sisters and brothers. Our safeguarding culture is founded on a tough but unconditional love.

And as in any demanding ministry, God’s grace will be there for us; God’s love and care will lead us. May God bless you this day and in the coming year in all that you seek to do.



Peace is far more than a truce: an absence of conflict, violence and war. Peace is the presence of human flourishing, of well being, of harmony, of lives well lived from childhood to old age. Shalom describes the world we long for; the world we pray for Sunday by Sunday; the world each of us is trying to build.

The Bishop of Oxford gave the sermon at the Coronation Service of Celebration at Christ Church Cathedral on Friday 5 May 2023. 

In a few hours time, at the very beginning of the Coronation service, King Charles will come to his Chair of Estate on the pavement of Westminster Abbey. He will be surrounded by world leaders and dignitaries. The event will be watched live across the entire globe.

The opening words of the service will be spoken not by a Dean or Archbishop but by a child: Your majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.

The King will reply, quoting the very words of Jesus: In his name and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve. The whole Coronation and, we pray, the King’s life and reign will flow from that promise.

St Paul encourages us today to pay attention, to reflect, to think deeply in these moments in these words from our second reading: “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”

I wonder where your mind will be tomorrow as the nation pauses in this moment. There will be much in the Coronation which encourages us to look back, I am sure. The pageantry and processions, the costume, the Abbey itself. We will look back over a thousand years of our own history. We will look back further to the sacred kings of ancient Israel, celebrated in the Psalms, anointed with oil at the beginning of their reign: to Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet. The Coronation distils deep seams of divine and human wisdom on leadership in communities into simple acts of consent, disrobing, of anointing and prayer, of kneeling, of acclamation, of the acknowledging and the balancing of power. The words of the service reminds us of the blessings of stability and order and rule mediated through a person as well as an institution: a deep humanising of authority and justice.

There will be much which encourages us to reflect on the present. The service will be a testimony to a mature, multicultural, diverse United Kingdom: a unique moment in history. Different faith leaders and cultures will play their part as the monarch seeks to bind us together in humility and a generous inclusion. The different nations of these islands will each play their part, countering the forces of separation and division which have marked this last decade. The whole nation is invited to the party not only tomorrow but in the local celebrations which will follow in towns and villages celebrating volunteering for the common good, making memories and binding communities together.

There will be much, finally which helps us to reflect on the future. The words of the service paint a picture of a still better kingdom. A kingdom of healing and renewal in the natural world. The world faces environmental catastrophe in our own generation. Surely Charles is king for such a time as this. A kingdom of justice as inequalities grow wider. A kingdom of peace in a world at war, forging alliances across the world. A kingdom of welcome and a friend in need to the many who are in distress.

King Charles has prepared for all of his life for this moment. He is and will be a rich blessing to our nation and Commonwealth and the world. We know him better than any previous monarch because of the age in which we live. We know he will have a strong support and stay in Queen Camilla.

Whatever is good and honourable, think about these things says Paul. We will reflect on the past, the present and the future as the great liturgy enfolds us. We will reflect too, I hope on our own lives, on our own faith, on the part we have to play in building this nation and in building God’s kingdom.

In his name and after his example, let each of us come not to be served but to serve.

God Save the King.


A very happy Easter to you and to your families. It’s good to be together to rejoice and to reflect.

Jesus was crucified. His body was laid in a tomb. On the third day he appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter and then to all the apostles. His resurrection brings deep joy and hope. His power and his Spirit give life to the Church throughout the world. Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia.

Within a generation, the good news about Jesus has travelled from Jerusalem and through Judea and Samaria to every part of the Roman Empire. The resurrection of Jesus is not simply an event: something remarkable which happened to Jesus of Nazareth after his death. The resurrection is not simply a sign of the promise of eternal life for all.

The resurrection is something to be lived every day; something which affects every Christian, in every place in even every moment. An event which has the power to change our lives.

This is what Paul writes to the Colossians.

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”
– Colossians 3.1-3

Think what Paul is saying here. Your resurrection and mine is not a remote event in the future which follows our death. Your resurrection and mine has already happened. We are living the risen life today.

The big, bold instruction which follows is for every Christian, every day but especially on Easter Day. As one translation has it: “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground absorbed with things right in front of you. Look up”.

Walk down any street and you will see many people shuffling along – often with their eyes glued to their devices afraid of missing anything yet actually missing everything. Set your minds on things that are above. In words which we will use later in this service: Lift up your hearts. To where will we lift them? Where else but to where Christ is. We seek to be born from above, to be filled with power from on high, to have our minds filled with wisdom from above. To gain and hold the perspective of eternity as we grapple with the problems of the earth.

Set your minds on things that are above. Start today. When we do that it is amazing what we can do.

I spent the best part of a year in 2021 and 2022 visiting every part of the Diocese of Oxford, from Olney to Hungerford, from Ascot to the Cotswolds. I met with all 29 clergy chapters and listened to thousands of people’s experiences of the pandemic. I heard of tiredness and exhaustion and illness and grief, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine. I was expecting to hear all of that.

But in every single place, even at the darkest moments, I also heard so many stories of hope and rebuilding and transformation: extraordinary acts of kindness; food banks; visiting schemes; community care; meals for key workers; visiting asylum seekers; welcoming refugees from Ukraine; starting new congregations; rebuilding in person worship. The clergy and lay ministers of the diocese have been extraordinary, including in this Cathedral church. We have together seen a miracle. The same creativity and love has continued as life and strength has come back to the church after the lockdown.

How is that even possible that men and women find such strength and resilience and hope to imagine new things in the midst of so much darkness?

Because in every place, in every generation, in times of difficulty Christian people lift up their hearts. We set our minds on things which are above, not on the earth. As we look to Christ and the power of the resurrection, the impossible begins to look possible again and hope returns. From time spent in silence and prayer, strength returns to this Easter people. The alleluia’s we sing today give us the energy we need for works of mercy tomorrow and the next day. As one writer has it, resurrection people see grief turn into possibility; trial into opportunity and sorrow into dancing .

The cross tells us that God is with us in the suffering. In the last few weeks I have spent time with a congregation grieving the sudden death of their priest; another whose priest has been seriously ill; another struggling with division. But Easter speaks to us each day of new life and hope. I know that in each of those situations there are women and men who lift their minds and hearts to heaven and so the mending and the healing and the hope begin to bring change.

The world around us needs to hear this. It’s not easy in this generation to set your minds on things which are above. There are many distractions. We carry in our smartphones the anxieties and despair of the whole world. A think tank published a report just last week with the title Burnt out Britain. The reason for the burn out is not longer working hours but the exhaustion of distraction through technology leading to a sense of being overburdened and decreasing the time we give to civic life and volunteering.

Our own hearts and minds and those of our young people are being shaped and overwhelmed and harmed by the power and temptations of technology. Society needs much better regulation and oversight than currently exists. Online safety should be as much a human right as offline safety. The Online Safety Bill currently going through Parliament needs to be further strengthened to protect both children and adults from greater harm, from dragging our hearts and minds down to earth. Britain will need robust regulation of artificial intelligence to build public trust and confidence and to prevent further harm.

But all of us can begin to live the power of the resurrection today. Set your minds on things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above. Begin each week with worship. Begin each day with a quiet time of prayer and bible reading. Celebrate your resurrection each and every day. For the sake of the whole world, lift up your hearts.

Christ Church, Oxford
Easter 2023

Picture: Stained glass window in the German Church in Stockholm Sweden (c) Shutterstock

The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd. Olivia Graham, gave the sermon at the Eucharist with the Blessing of Oils and Renewal of Ministerial Commitment at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on Maundy Thursday this year.

Today, we gather to remember God’s grace and his love in Jesus Christ; to renew our call to ministry; and to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Today in this beautiful and ancient space, we are glad to gather and look around at each other and marvel at what God has done and continues to do in our lives.

The oils that we bless today are a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. They are a reminder of the grace and the blessings that God has given to us through the sacraments, and they remind us of our calling as baptised Christians to share that grace and blessing with others.

And as we renew our ministerial commitment, our thoughts are naturally drawn to reflecting on our calling to ministry in God’s church. What is it to be called and how can we encourage others to think about it as a normal part of our relationship with God?

It has come to us in many ways. It might have been that we felt a niggle, experienced a thought that wouldn’t not go away, sensed a nudge. It might be that a word that kept coming back to us, or a series of ‘co-incidences’ took place which triggered us to wonder whether something was going on. It have might been the ‘have you ever thought about?’ question, asked by one person, and then maybe repeated in some form by others. Other people often see in us what we can’t see in ourselves, notice the gifts we have been given, or the way our hearts are inclined. And maybe it was none of those things, but simply an experience of getting more and more drawn in until it seemed like a natural next step.

Just occasionally it is a voice. Maybe God’s, maybe our own. My own sense of calling began a decade before I was ordained. I was working for Oxfam in Somalia., One hot sticky night, during a routing power cut and by the light of a pressure lamp, I sitting with an oddly assorted group of people who were doing the same kind of work as I was, we began to tell each other what we thought we would be doing in 10 years time. When it got to me, I heard a voice saying ‘I think I will be ordained’. To this day I don’t know where it came from. It was my voice, but not my words, because I had never voiced this idea, had never even formed the thought in my head. But sure enough, 10 years later, I was ordained in this Cathedral.

We will all have a story to tell of how we were called into the flow of the Kingdom of God.

Imagine perhaps a stream emerging from a dark, underground, invisible place and flowing out into the daylight, through woodland; a stream contained by banks down which leaves and twigs tumble and are swept along in the flow. Each of us who becomes conscious of God’s call on our lives, at that moment tumbles into the stream and is carried along by it. It has no beginning and no end, although we experience the passage of time and the sense of a journey. Our journey is unique, but it’s in company with others, and born along by the irresistible current of God’s eternal love.

Christ walks the earth among us, calling, calling, who will go for us and whom shall we send? At some point we have said ‘Speak, for we are listening. Here I am, send me’. And we have tumbled into the stream, and begun a journey of discovery.

What we discover is the part we are called to play in God’s Church and God’s world as we witness to God’s wonderful story of salvation through Christ; as God continues to forge his relationship of love with the creation.

Vocation, for all of us, begins with getting to know ourselves. The quest to gain an ever greater understanding of who we are, is one which should underpin our lives, and this has been recognised from ancient, pre-Christian times. The great message of the Oracle at Delphi was Know Thyself. It’s a lifelong quest well known to secular philosophy and psychology.

But for us as Christian disciples, vocation begins with knowing our belovedness in God’s eyes and God’s heart, and becoming aware of who God intends us to be. This entails growing in holiness and becoming more Christ like. We are who we are, and all that we are, in Christ, who is our beginning and our end.

But it will also entail shaping our lives in a particular way for a particular purpose. And when we discover, by whatever means, a course for our life which is the right fit, then we have a sense of ‘Yes, this is who I am; this is what I am for’. And we experience a sense of the rightness of it. In Christ, fully in Christ, we are a new creation – the old has gone, the new is come.

We are here today, in this Cathedral, because we have heard the voice of this calling in the Church of England. We may have always been in the CofE; we may have joined it at some stage, and there may have been a moment of decision when we said, OK I’m in.

We’re here because we’re committed to this imperfect, sometimes confusing, sometimes troubled expression of the Body of Christ; because it feels like home. It’s often infuriating and slow; it’s often fractured; it can be bad-tempered. It emerged out of a King’s marital difficulties nearly 500 years ago; it was founded in statecraft and pragmatism, on differences held in tension, and reconciled disagreement; it is underpinned by historic formularies; governed by Canons and Measures and served by the ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons as well as lay people in licensed ministries. It is a big, complicated old thing. And within it, and the ministry it offers, there are abundant moments and examples of real holiness, humility and self-giving love, as God-filled Christians incarnate the Christ of the Beatitudes, and through the astonishing reach of the CofE into all corners of our society and nation, tend and serve and love human beings in every kind of need, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Why me? Why any of us? Simon Peter, when brought face to face with the realisation of who Jesus was through the miraculous catch of fish (in Luke 5) fell on his knees and said, Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.

Who among us is not? We’re all horrible, miserable sinners. We get it wrong daily, hourly. We judge, and misjudge, and fail to love and show compassion, and think we know best. We are hard of heart, and we lack hospitality and generosity; we mis-use power. But the gospel story in Luke 7 gives us hope. The irony of this story of course is that the woman, who is introduced as ‘a sinner’, makes her extraordinary display of love and contrition, and is forgiven. But Jesus makes it clear that Simon the Pharisee, who is quick to label and condemn her, is no less a sinner, perhaps the more so because he does not recognise it; and his lack of love stands in sharp contrast to the woman’s extravagant display.

Simon thinks of himself as a good man. He is an alpha male; he is a Pharisee, an influential religious leader. He has power and status (and frankly, thinks that Jesus is in a lower class). He thinks of his life as being correct and feels justified in taking the moral high ground. The woman with no name is outcast, with sexual sin implied – probably that of selling her body to satisfy the market for sex without responsibility demanded by her male clientele, and repeated down the centuries. Who knows why she does it? Maybe she is forced into it; maybe she just needs to eat or support her children. She has no power or status; and she is labelled by a hypocritical religious elite. A sinner.

When we recognise how much we have all fallen short, and turn back to God with love and longing in our hearts, we are forgiven. In the face of love, there is no moral high ground. We are astonishingly equalised, and forgiven in the measure that we love. And as we are forgiven, we are made worthy – as the Eucharistic prayer puts it – to stand in your presence and serve you.

And this is the only way that we can be credible ministers of the Gospel.

Today, conscious of our failings, conscious that we dare not judge others, we renew our commitment as ministers of the gospel, to God and to one another. Tomorrow is Good Friday: when the body of Christ is broken for each one of us on the Cross. And beyond it lies Easter Day. And with that front and centre, let’s remember our calling to be ministers of hope, of faith, of love. In the service of Jesus Christ.

A Sermon for Christmas Day
Christ Church, Oxford
11am, 25 December 2022

Available to view on livestream and catch up

A very happy Christmas to you and to your families.

There has been a famine of good news in 2022. It is true that COVID has receded in the UK. This time last year I was confined to bed. But the lockdown years have given way to new anxieties: a bloody and costly war in Europe and elsewhere; economic hardship; the challenges of migration; political turmoil in a year of three prime ministers; the death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth; inflation; and as the year closes, strikes in our public services. There have been wildfires, heatwaves, floods, storms, extremes of weather disrupting the lives of millions.

How is it possible even to say Happy Christmas in the face of such a year? How do we hear the angel’s message: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’?

Christmas has to be more than a few days of eating and drinking and terrible television. Christmas has to be even more than precious time with family and friends. Each one of us is invited today to kneel at the manger and hear the good news for all the people.

“…to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord”.

It’s hard to see a single candle in a floodlit stadium. But in a Cathedral by night, that single flame burns brightly and gives light to the whole room. It’s hard to kneel at the manger and hear good news when we feel rich and prosperous and need nothing. But when I truly understand that I am wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked, that’s when I begin to see the gift of Jesus, Saviour, Messiah, Lord. The greater the darkness, the more clearly we need this light and this day.

Many of us here will know what it is like to hold a newborn baby. Ann and I have been blessed with two new grandchildren this year (bringing our total to eight). Nile was born in August and Benji just a few weeks ago. To hold them is to give thanks and to wonder at their beauty and potential and all the years to come.

But to kneel in the stable in Bethlehem this morning takes our wonder to a different level, caught by the carols we sing this day. We dare to believe that this child is both fully God and fully human. In this child the glory and wonder and wisdom of the maker of heaven and earth is distilled into a baby.

This child is our Saviour. See how salvation runs through each of our readings. Isaiah 62 proclaims “See your salvation comes”.  Titus reminds us of the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour; that this God saves us not because of our good works but simply through God’s mercy.

According to the angels on the hillside this Saviour is for all the people: the whole world in every age. The salvation this child Jesus brings is first of all forgiveness and a new beginning. Forgiveness at the end of this year for all our sins and mistakes and they will be many. Forgiveness which holds such rich potential for healing in families and churches and communities and nations. Forgiveness which holds the secret of new life.

This Jesus will live a life which embodies God’s strong and determined kindness. This Jesus will give his life on the cross so that our misdeeds and shortcomings can be cancelled and forgiven. So that today, in this place we can leave our heavy burdens here and walk free. So that we can live new lives of grace and joy and peace. This is good news indeed.

The name Jesus means Saviour. It is the name given by the angel to Mary before his conception in the womb. But according to the angels he will be known by another name which is also a title, the Messiah, Christ, the Lord. This Jesus is the one anointed by God to bring order and peace and justice to our lives and to God’s world. This Jesus in his ministry will call us to follow him and share his work of building God’s kingdom on earth. This Jesus will one day come in glory, to set right all that is wrong and to make all things new.

No matter how bad the headlines, no matter how dark and cold the world, there is good news in the angel’s song:

Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah the Lord.

So take a moment this Christmas time whether you are at home or in this Cathedral to reset your life and your faith. Seek God’s forgiveness afresh in Christ for all that has gone wrong. Lay down those heavy burdens you carry at the font or at the altar. Make a new confession that Jesus Christ is Lord in your own life and in the life of the world. Come as you are: poor, wretched, pitiable, blind and naked and seek his gold, his new clothes, his medicine for the soul.

In the words of our carol, let each of us invite Jesus Christ to be born in us today.

Hear the good news of great joy. O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.



+Steven Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral
Christmas Day, 2022

Bishop Steven preached at the patronal for St Andrews Headington on 29 November. His sermon focused on the Census 2021 findings and how the Church should respond…

Congratulations on your 900th birthday and all that’s been achieved through the marking of that. It’s good to join the celebrations this St. Andrew’s day for your patronal festival.

St. Andrew is the patron saint of mission and evangelism and today seems a very good day to remember Andrew, who brings his brother Peter to Jesus. The banner headline in the i newspaper shouts out for our attention today following the release of the Census 2021 information yesterday: UK Christians in minority for first time since the Dark Ages. According to the census, less that half the UK population identify as Christian for the first time in 1,500 years – certainly for the first time since there has been a Church in Headington. The Express leads with the same story: less than half of population is Christian. The broadsheets carry the story and question the Church’s role. In case you think it’s everywhere, the Mail leads with Xmas Turkey Shortage Fear. The Mirror stays with the football with the headline BISH, RASH, BOSH, which I thought at first was an episcopal story but is actually about England’s victory over Wales in the world cup.

I wonder how we should respond to the census news on this St. Andrew’s Day. We’ll all have a mix of feelings:

Resignation and helplessness the decline in nominal Christianity is nothing new, though the milestone is significant.

Excuses: this has been a slow decline for many years, after all. Blame the church: if only the Church of England would… [insert your favourite simple solution or prejudice].

Or blame the culture: people are consumers, thinking only of themselves and faith can’t flourish in such a climate.

St. Andrew and St. Andrew’s day points me to a different response. We need to mark this moment as one of challenge and rise to it. I think this is a watershed moment for us as a Church though it’s been coming for many years. How we respond should affect the life of every local church, every diocese, and every part of the life of the Church of England. My prescription is in essence very, very simple. It is that, following Andrew, we place telling other people about Jesus at the heart of our common life and at the head of our priorities.

The church has a beautiful word for the business of telling people about Jesus: it is the word evangelism, telling the good news of Gods love in a wounded world.

From Isaiah 52:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

From Romans 10 and quoting Isaiah 52:

‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

And most simply of all from our gospel reading in Matthew, words spoken to Andrew and Simon and to all of us: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

How should the Church respond to becoming a minority again for the first time since the Dark Ages? Only by resetting the life of the Church around the disciplines of evangelism and setting the disciplines of evangelism again at the core of the life of the church. It’s a journey we’ve been on for a generation but it’s not yet complete.

Evangelism has suffered as a word in recent years. It is easily dismissed and caricatured and mocked. But only a church which recovers these deep disciplines will flourish in the coming years.

Evangelism or evangelisation is not a single thing. The Church cannot flourish with a thin, emaciated concept of what it means to tell the Good News.

There are at least seven disciplines of evangelism, as I see them. Evangelism is rooted first in contemplation, in prayer and worship, in catching a fresh vision of Christ in word and sacrament and stillness. It is only as our own lives are transformed by the love of God that we will want to share Jesus with others. Evangelism is second rooted in our actions and our lives: in living out the gospel, in incarnational mission. Local churches are centres of service and support to their local communities because we want to love our neighbours as ourselves and this is the beginning of our witness to Jesus.

Evangelism is third rooted in apologetics, defending and commending the Christian faith through reason, argument and persuasion, through identifying and removing objections to belief. Is there a conflict between faith and science? How can we understand a God of love in a world of suffering?

The fourth discipline is personal witness and initial proclamation: finding ways to tell the Christian story to our neighbours, as will happen in powerful ways this Christmas time, and also finding ways to let people know what that story means. It has been wisely said that her late majesty, the Queen, was one of the very best evangelists in the Church. In her Christmas message year by year the Queen told the story for faith but also said what it meant to her. How will those around us encounter the love of God which so transforms our lives in this coming season.

The fifth discipline is teaching the faith to enquirers and new believers, those preparing for baptism and confirmation – a traditional discipline in the season of Lent. The Church calls this discipline catechesis: helping new believers discover and live in Jesus through community and love and scripture and prayer.

The sixth is building those new believers into the community of the Church so that they grow and mature in their discipleship and find their own calling before God. The seventh is to go out beyond our existing congregations to those unable to connect with the life of the Church and begin new Christian communities, new congregations for those who may be out of reach of our traditional church and to do all of this in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I thank God for the ministry of St Andrews across this 900 years and especially in the years I have known it. The census information yesterday was indeed a significant moment – but one we can see as a challenge: to deepen our practices in these seven disciplines and set the telling of the good news more and more at the heart of our common life.

Follow me, says Jesus, and I will make you fish for people.


29 November 2022


A Sermon for the Civic Service of Thanksgiving marking the end of St Mary’s Festival 200.