This evening between 500 and 600 Christians from across Rotherham gathered in the Minster in the heart of the town to pray together.  It was a remarkable gathering.

Nine days ago an independent report was published.  The report revealed over 1400 instances of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.  The town is in shock.  People feel dismayed, ashamed, perplexed and angry.  The effects will be felt for years to come.

This evening the Churches came together simply to pray and to begin a process of healing and rebuilding.  There were two separate gatherings earlier in the evening in one of the local parks and outside the offices of Rotherham Borough Council and people walked from there to the Minster.

The ancient church at the heart of the town was full with standing room only.  Every stream of the Christian church was there: Methodists; URC; Baptist; Pentecostal; Black Majority churches; Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Coptics and Community Churches.

The gathering was not a service in the normal sense.  There was no singing, no sermon, no formal readings.  Groups of priests and ministers from the different churches led prayers from the heart in a whole variety of styles.

There was a whole range of emotion in the prayers.  People expressed anger, disbelief, compassion for the victims, care for the whole community, and questions of different kinds.  We prayed for the police and the local Council.  We prayed for community cohesion and for the Muslim communities.  We prayed for the welfare of the whole of Rotherham.  We prayed (movingly) for the victims and yet also for the perpetrators.  We prayed for a change of atmosphere across the town.  We prayed for the ministers and pastors who will lead their communities forward.  We prayed for the safety and security of children and young people.  We prayed for a new beginning.  We prayed.

Those who came were young and old, women and men, from different races and cultures and backgrounds.

This was the largest prayer meeting I’ve been in the five years I’ve been Bishop of Sheffield.  It was also the most heartfelt and passionate.  There was urgency and sorrow and hope.

It’s just a beginning, of course: the beginning of a long process of rebuilding.  On Tuesday the Minster will be open all day (as it normally is) but with an invitation to all the people of Rotherham to come in and sit for a while and pray and reflect on what has happened.  We will dedicate a special prayer space as a focus for the months to come.

It’s just a beginning but after nine days of reflection on these appalling events, it was a small sign of grace and hope and a willingness to see things change.  Please pray for Rotherham.

The Diocese of Sheffield was formed in 1914 from the Diocese of York. Today we began our centenary celebrations with a Eucharist in the newly refurbished Cathedral.  There will be seven more pilgrimages in different locations across the Diocese in the coming months.  
 
The theme of the addresses will be refocussing the life of the Diocese on Jesus Christ and being a Christ shaped Church, exploring the great I am sayings of the Gospel of John.  
 
I am the bread of life
A sermon at the Eucharist for the Centenary of the Diocese of Sheffield 8th June, 2014
1 Peter 2.1-10 and John 6.27-40
On Monday, Bishop Peter and I had tea with eight people who were more than a hundred years old.  We were at the Mansion House in Doncaster.  It’s a great place to have tea.  All eight ladies were born in 1914 or earlier in the very year the Diocese was formed.  It was a pleasure to listen to their memories of time gone by.
I took a picture on my phone and said I was going to post it on twitter.  I expected to have to explain myself very carefully to one of the guests who was a hundred.  “No”, she said, “ I can’t be bothered with twitter.  But post it on Facebook and I’ll have a look”.
There is so much to remember and so much to celebrate in this last one hundred years of the Church family in this place, for what else is a Diocese except a family.
We remain a very young Diocese, one of the youngest in the Church of England until very recently.
Through the last one hundred years in these places, the Church has proclaimed and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s what we celebrate today. There have been seven Bishops of Sheffield and six of Doncaster.  It’s good to welcome some of them here today, especially Bishop Jack Nicholls and we send greetings to others, but a Diocese is far more than its Bishops.
The story of the Diocese is the story of thousands of parish clergy serving in urban and rural areas with skill and courage and faithfulness.  It’s the story of chaplains in hospitals and prisons, universities and schools.  It’s the story of pioneering industrial mission and planting new congregations. It’s the story of faithful, steadfast, gifted lay people giving generously to their local churches of their time and talents and treasure.
It’s the story of prayerfulness and moments of renewal and resourcefulness and love of God and love of neighbour.  It’s the story of countless hours of service offered through the local church to the wider community through food banks and lunch clubs and play groups and scouts and guides and a hundred other ways.  It’s a story of the church’s involvement in education, in social work, in care for the needy, in changing the world.  It’s a story of partnership with our precious sister churches, with other faith communities, with other agencies across the region and we welcome their representatives here today.  It’s a story of the creation and renewal of church buildings like this one.  I want to pay tribute today to all who have worked so hard and given so generously to
the magnificent refurbishment of this Cathedral.
The story of this Diocese is the story of evangelism, of passing on the faith from generation to generation.  It’s a story of tens of thousands of ordinary but extraordinary Christian disciples, for that is what you are,  living against the grain and offering their lives back to the living God.  It’s a story of worship offered to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit every single day of those one hundred years in every place across this Diocese to God’s glory and God’s praise.
Whatever your part in that great story, thank you for all you have given and all that you give.  May God bless you for hearing his call, for joining your story to the story of this Diocese in the past, in the present and, God willing into the future as we move forward together.  Thank you.
It’s not always been an easy story.  Bishop David Lunn wrote this in 1982, “Our history is not just a success story….Neither hard work nor vision and insight have always borne the fruit they seem to deserve”.  There have been challenges and difficulties in abundance.  There have been mistakes and wrong turnings and weaknesses and pain, sometimes very great.  We are an imperfect Church and an imperfect Diocese and we will remain so into the future, however hard we try.
So it’s as well then that, in St. Paul’s words, we are never called to proclaim ourselves.  Even on a day like today.  We are not the message.  We are not the good news.  We are not the solution to the problem.  We are not the Saviour of the World.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves;” write Paul,  “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4.5).
If we focus in our centenary year or in any year on ourselves or our story or our achievements or our significance, very soon we will nothing to offer those around us who are hungry and thirsty for
life.
The Church is called to speak the message of hope and salvation.  But that message is never about proclaiming ourselves.
The Church bears good news only as she speaks of Jesus Christ and bears witness to her Lord, crucified, risen and ascended.  That’s the heart of our message today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.  We are called to proclaim an eternal gospel in the midst of a changing world.  “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”.
Where there are things to give thanks for over the last one hundred years and today it is because we have proclaimed Christ in word and action.  Where we have stumbled and fallen short, it is because we have proclaimed ourselves.
As this year unfolds at different events in different places, we will be proclaiming Jesus Christ as the very core of our gospel message.  We will explore together seven remarkable sayings in the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself in words beginning “I am….”.
In all these sayings, Jesus is claiming here the name and nature of God.  In the Old Testament, “I am” is the very name of God (Exodus 3.14).  That name became so holy to the Jews that it
cannot be said aloud.
When Jesus says “I am”, he is telling us, over and over again, that he is the Son of the Living God, that he bears the nature of God, that he demonstrates the compassion and mercy of the living God, that in him all the fullness of God dwells.
“I am”, says Jesus, over and over again.  Think about it.  In the entire history of the world, no other person has claimed to be the fullness of God in human form.   This is the good news we bear.  This is why we are here.
Jesus’ words speak to us about who Jesus himself is and who God is.  They are sweet and beautiful and profound images.  “I am the bread of life” (6.35, 51); “I am the light of the world” (8.25, 9.5); “I am the door” (10.7,9); “I am the good shepherd” (10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11.25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14.6); “I am the true vine” (15.1,5).
A sevenfold window on Jesus.  A seven faced diamond reflecting God’s nature.  A seven course banquet to nourish the soul.  Seven answers to the most important question in the universe: what is God who made us like?  He is like Jesus: bread and light and good and living and true.
And the first answer?  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).
There are whole stories behind that word bread.  The story of the manna which God fed to the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and which kept them alive.  The story of the feeding of the 5,000 on the hillside which took place the day before in John’s gospel.  The story of the law given to Moses, which is like bread and wine and milk and honey. God’s word and God’s wisdom is nourishment for the soul.  The story of the Last Supper when Jesus will take bread and give thanks and break it and give it to his disciples as he did on the hillside and when he will say:  “This is my body, given for you”
There are whole stories to explore.  But the point of them all is this.  Here is something greater than manna and greater even than the law given to Moses. Here is the person at the heart of
the Holy Communion which we celebrate today.
Here is a gift beyond price from God to you.  Here is the bread of life who will satisfy you when you are hungry and nourish you so that you can grow, and sustain you in the darkest times, and who will be there in every season of this life and who will call you and draw you into life eternal.  Here is the bread of life.  Here is Jesus Christ.  Come and see. Come and eat.  Come and
follow.
We give thanks today that for this last one hundred years, the churches of this diocese have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life, in Word and Sacrament, in love and in deeds of discipleship and generosity.
They have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life in the face of the immense suffering of two world wars.  Within months of Bishop Burrows standing in this pulpit for the first time, the young men of this Diocese were marching to the trenches in their thousands and the world was turned upside down.  Within months of his successor, Bishop Hunter, taking office, Germany had invaded Poland and the world was plunged into conflict.
The Church proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life through the decades of reconstruction which followed.  Imagine the changes of the last one hundred years in technology, in science, in culture, in the roles of women and men, in the waves of migration, in the economy.
Through the women’s movement, through the depression, through the miners strike, through the growth of the universities, through rising and falling standards of living, through poverty and inequality, through migrations, through hardship, through the expansion of education and the health service.  The Church has been present.  The Church has invested.  The Church has cared.  The Church has prayed.  The Church has lifted up the bread of life.
Every age has its temptations and challenges.  In our own age, in our time, the greatest danger of them all is consumerism.
A whole machinery of advertising exists solely to convince men and women from childhood to the grave that happiness comes  from spending money and acquiring possessions.  That message is a lie but it surrounds us every moment of our waking lives.
This Cathedral stands in the centre of this city and Diocese today as a living sign of a different story.  Human beings are spiritual beings.  We are more than bodies.  We need more than material goods to be fulfilled and content.  Greed distorts us.  We cannot live by bread alone.  The unease and unhappiness around us is a hunger for the bread of life but a hunger which cannot always be named.
It should not surprise us that in a world infected by greed, the Christian faith is unfashionable.  To meet in a Church and to worship the living God and to love God and love your neighbour is deeply countercultural in 2014, more so than a hundred years ago.  To be a Christian today is live against the grain of our culture.  To share Christian faith is to invite people to explore a more demanding, more truthful way of living: to live for God and others.  To follow the way of Jesus.  To receive forgiveness through his death.  To receive life through his resurrection.  To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To be his disciple.  To come and eat the bread of life in word and sacrament.  To be God’s people together in this place.
Though the world does not know it, we are bearers of good news.  The Church is not the bread of life.  Jesus is the bread.  We are called to welcome others to his table, to break open the bread of the scriptures and the bread of the Eucharist, to offer signs of practical love and service.  We are called to point beyond ourselves.  To point to the one who is the fullness of God’s love.  To point to Jesus Christ, the bread of life.
We give thanks today for this last one hundred years.  We rejoice in all God’s gifts to us this day.  We commit ourselves to break the bread for others in this place in this next one hundred
years and to God be the glory.  Amen.

I am the bread of life

A sermon at the Eucharist for the Centenary of the Diocese of Sheffield
8th June, 2014
1 Peter 2.1-10 and John 6.27-40
On Monday, Bishop Peter and I had tea with eight people who were more than a hundred years old.  We were at the Mansion House in Doncaster.  It’s a great place to have tea.  All eight ladies were born in 1914 or earlier in the very year the Diocese was formed.  It was a pleasure to listen to their memories of time gone by.
I took a picture on my phone and said I was going to post it on twitter.  I expected to have to explain myself very carefully to one of the guests who was a hundred.  “No”, she said, “ I can’t be bothered with twitter.  But post it on Facebook and I’ll have a look”.
There is so much to remember and so much to celebrate in this last one hundred years of the Church family in this place, for what else is a Diocese except a family.  We remain a very young Diocese, one of the youngest in the Church of England until very recently.
Through the last one hundred years in these places, the Church has proclaimed and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what we celebrate today. There have been seven Bishops of Sheffield and six of Doncaster.  It’s good to welcome some of them here today, especially Bishop Jack Nicholls and we send greetings to others, but a Diocese is far more than its Bishops.
The story of the Diocese is the story of thousands of parish clergy serving in urban and rural areas with skill and courage and faithfulness.  It’s the story of chaplains in hospitals and prisons, universities and schools.  It’s the story of pioneering industrial mission and planting new congregations.  It’s the story of faithful, steadfast, gifted lay people giving generously to their local churches of their time and talents and treasure.
It’s the story of prayerfulness and moments of renewal and resourcefulness and love of God and love of neighbour. It’s the story of countless hours of service offered through the local church to the wider community through food banks and lunch clubs and play groups and scouts and guides and a hundred other ways.  It’s a story of the church’s involvement in education, in social work, in care for the needy, in changing the world.  It’s a story of partnership with our precious sister churches, with other faith communities, with other agencies across the region and we welcome their representatives here today.  It’s a story of the creation and renewal of church buildings like this one.  I want to pay tribute today to all who have worked so hard and given so generously to the magnificent refurbishment of this Cathedral.
The story of this Diocese is the story of evangelism, of passing on the faith from generation to generation.  It’s a story of tens of thousands of ordinary but extraordinary Christian disciples, for that is what you are,  living against the grain and offering their lives back to the living God.  It’s a story of worship offered to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit every single day of those one hundred years in every place across this Diocese to God’s glory and God’s praise.
Whatever your part in that great story, thank you for all you have given and all that you give.  May God bless you for hearing his call, for joining your story to the story of this Diocese in the past, in the present and, God willing into the future as we move forward together.  Thank you.
It’s not always been an easy story.  Bishop David Lunn wrote this in 1982, “Our history is not just a success story….Neither hard work nor vision and insight have always borne the fruit they seem to deserve”.  There have been challenges and difficulties in abundance.  There have been mistakes and wrong turnings and weaknesses and pain, sometimes very great.  We are an imperfect Church and an imperfect Diocese and we will remain so into the future, however hard we try.
So it’s as well then that, in St. Paul’s words, we are never called to proclaim ourselves.  Even on a day like today.  We are not the message.  We are not the good news.  We are not the solution to the problem.  We are not the Saviour of the World.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves;” write Paul,  “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4.5).
If we focus in our centenary year or in any year on ourselves or our story or our achievements or our significance, very soon we will nothing to offer those around us who are hungry and thirsty for life.
The Church is called to speak the message of hope and salvation.  But that message is never about proclaiming ourselves.
The Church bears good news only as she speaks of Jesus Christ and bears witness to her Lord, crucified, risen and ascended.  That’s the heart of our message today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.  We are called to proclaim an eternal gospel in the midst of a changing world.  “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”.
Where there are things to give thanks for over the last one hundred years and today it is because we have proclaimed Christ in word and action.  Where we have stumbled and fallen short, it is because we have proclaimed ourselves.
As this year unfolds at different events in different places, we will be proclaiming Jesus Christ as the very core of our gospel message.  We will explore together seven remarkable sayings in the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself in words beginning “I am….”.
In all these sayings, Jesus is claiming here the name and nature of God.  In the Old Testament, “I am” is the very name of God (Exodus 3.14).  That name became so holy to the Jews that it cannot be said aloud.
When Jesus says “I am”, he is telling us, over and over again, that he is the Son of the Living God, that he bears the nature of God, that he demonstrates the compassion and mercy of the living God, that in him all the fullness of God dwells.
“I am”, says Jesus, over and over again.  Think about it.  In the entire history of the world, no other person has claimed to be the fullness of God in human form.   This is the good news we bear.  This is why we are here.
Jesus’ words speak to us about who Jesus himself is and who God is.  They are sweet and beautiful and profound images.  “I am the bread of life” (6.35, 51); “I am the light of the world” (8.25, 9.5); “I am the door” (10.7,9); “I am the good shepherd” (10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11.25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14.6); “I am the true vine” (15.1,5).
A sevenfold window on Jesus.  A seven faced diamond reflecting God’s nature.  A seven course banquet to nourish the soul.  Seven answers to the most important question in the universe: what is God who made us like?  He is like Jesus: bread and light and good and living and true.
And the first answer?  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).
There are whole stories behind that word bread.  The story of the manna which God fed to the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and which kept them alive.  The story of the feeding of the 5,000 on the hillside which took place the day before in John’s gospel.  The story of the law given to Moses, which is like bread and wine and milk and honey. God’s word and God’s wisdom is nourishment for the soul.  The story of the Last Supper when Jesus will take bread and give thanks and break it and give it to his disciples as he did on the hillside and when he will say:  “This is my body, given for you”
There are whole stories to explore.  But the point of them all is this.  Here is something greater than manna and greater even than the law given to Moses. Here is the person at the heart of the Holy Communion which we celebrate today.  Here is a gift beyond price from God to you.  Here is the bread of life who will satisfy you when you are hungry and nourish you so that you can grow, and sustain you in the darkest times, and who will be there in every season of this life and who will call you and draw you into life eternal.  Here is the bread of life.  Here is Jesus Christ.  Come and see.  Come and eat.  Come and follow.
We give thanks today that for this last one hundred years, the churches of this diocese have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life, in Word and Sacrament, in love and in deeds of discipleship and generosity.
They have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life in the face of the immense suffering of two world wars.  Within months of Bishop Burrows standing in this pulpit for the first time, the young men of this Diocese were marching to the trenches in their thousands and the world was turned upside down.  Within months of his successor, Bishop Hunter, taking office, Germany had invaded Poland and the world was plunged into conflict.
The Church proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life through the decades of reconstruction which followed.  Imagine the changes of the last one hundred years in technology, in science, in culture, in the roles of women and men, in the waves of migration, in the economy.  Through the women’s movement, through the depression, through the miners strike, through the growth of the universities, through rising and falling standards of living, through poverty and inequality, through migrations, through hardship, through the expansion of education and the health service.  The Church has been present.  The Church has invested.  The Church has cared.  The Church has prayed.  The Church has lifted up the bread of life.
Every age has its temptations and challenges.  In our own age, in our time, the greatest danger of them all is consumerism.  A whole machinery of advertising exists solely to convince men and women from childhood to the grave that happiness comes  from spending money and acquiring possessions.  That message is a lie but it surrounds us every moment of our waking lives.
This Cathedral stands in the centre of this city and Diocese today as a living sign of a different story.  Human beings are spiritual beings.  We are more than bodies.  We need more than material goods to be fulfilled and content.  Greed distorts us.  We cannot live by bread alone.  The unease and unhappiness around us is a hunger for the bread of life but a hunger which cannot always be named.
It should not surprise us that in a world infected by greed, the Christian faith is unfashionable.  To meet in a Church and to worship the living God and to love God and love your neighbour is deeply countercultural in 2014, more so than a hundred years ago.  To be a Christian today is live against the grain of our culture.  To share Christian faith is to invite people to explore a more demanding, more truthful way of living: to live for God and others.  To follow the way of Jesus.  To receive forgiveness through his death.  To receive life through his resurrection.  To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To be his disciple.  To come and eat the bread of life in word and sacrament.  To be God’s people together in this place.
Though the world does not know it, we are bearers of good news.  The Church is not the bread of life.  Jesus is the bread.  We are called to welcome others to his table, to break open the bread of the scriptures and the bread of the Eucharist, to offer signs of practical love and service.  We are called to point beyond ourselves.  To point to the one who is the fullness of God’s love.  To point to Jesus Christ, the bread of life.
We give thanks today for this last one hundred years.  We rejoice in all God’s gifts to us this day.  We commit ourselves to break the bread for others in this place in this next one hundred years and to God be the glory.  Amen.

The Lord is Risen A sermon for Easter Day 20th April, 2014 John 20.1-18

It’s a privilege to welcome you today to our renewed and re-ordered Cathedral. The work is not finished yet and will go on for some months.  But it’s a magnificent symbol this Easter Day to see this ancient building made new, to see what it will be like, to celebrate resurrection in this very ancient church which has been made so wonderfully new and contemporary.  And its such a joy to have sound system which works…..

Remember as you come in prayer today that there has been a Church on this site for over a thousand years at the very centre of this city.  Down all the centuries the Church building has been knocked down and rebuilt, adapted and improve.  But through all those years the people of Sheffield have gathered here to pray to the Risen Lord Sunday by Sunday and day by day, in moments of peril and difficulty, in the crises of their lives, at the great festivals of the year.

A congregation gathered on this site in 1066, in the Wars of the Roses, in the time of Mary Tudor, during the Civil War, when Victoria came to the throne, during the Great War.  A congregation proclaimed the resurrection of Christ as we have done this Easter.

In the words of Isaiah, This house is a place of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7). It is not just a place for all people – though it is that.  But this house is a place of prayer for all peoples, especially those who do not yet know the living God.  And you are truly welcome this day.

Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.

The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Jesus rose from the dead.  This is what we celebrate today.  This is the entire centre of our faith.  Jesus rose from the dead and his rising has reshaped history.

Every time you write the date, you are remembering how many years it was since this man lived and died and rose again: 2014.  We do not date our lives, our history does not begin from the Norman conquest, or the foundation of Rome, or the accession of the Queen, or the invention of the mobile phone.  Our history begins with Jesus.

We date our lives from the year Jesus Christ was born because of his remarkable life and ministry and death and resurrection.  We meet for worship on a Sunday to honour the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day of the week.  The first Christians were all devout Jews.  They kept the Sabbath, Saturday as their day of worship as the Jewish people do today.  Something remarkable happened to change their day of worship.  Christ rose from the dead.  Within a generation, the Christian day of worship became Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day he rose.

Walk through any English churchyard and you will see graves packed together.  Walk around this Cathedral and look at the monuments and plaques and burial places.  Why are they here?  People are buried here and around parish churches because Jesus rose from the dead, because of truth of his resurrection, because of the hope it brings to us of new and eternal life with God, because of his promises to those who believe.  Where else would you want to be buried but in the place where new life is proclaimed? Because he rose, death is not the end.  The shroud of death which casts its shadow over all peoples has been destroyed (Isaiah 25.7).

These are not superstitions.   Generations have believed and trusted in the resurrection of Christ in every generation on the earth.  Generations who follow us will do the same.  This faith we share has been tested in every possible way down two thousand years.

The first three hundred years of the life of the Church were years of intermittent persecution.  To profess faith in the risen Christ meant that you suffered discrimination, you could be arrested, you could be killed.  We can forget that the early witnesses whose words we read in the New Testament almost all died for their faith, often in terrible ways.  St. Paul lived most of his life in danger – yet his life and his writings are full of joy.  Why is that? Because of his faith in the risen Jesus. Death is not the end of life. There is hope, there is resurrection, there is meaning, there is a future.

Those early Christians tell us that we should not be surprised by resurrection. We can read the signs in creation. “Day and night declare to us a resurrection”, writes one of them. “The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on” (Clement, First letter to the Corinthians, 24).

The seasons of the year speak of death and resurrection: “The earth receives its instruction from heaven to clothe the trees which had been stripped, to colour the flowers afresh, to spread the grass again, to reproduce the seed” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 22).

The resurrection is written deep in the Scriptures.  This pattern, this event was foretold.  In the Psalms and in Isaiah, there are prophecies of suffering followed by glory (Psalm22, Isaiah 53).  There are deep patterns in the stories of Noah saved from the flood, in the Israelites saved from death in the crossing of the Red Sea, in Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish but was given back his life, in Daniel and his friends rescued from the fire and from the mouth of lions.

There are miracles of resurrection in the Scriptures: Enoch and Elijah are snatched into heaven (Genesis 5.24, 2 Kings 2); Elijah and Elisha raise the sons of widows from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); Ezekiel sees a vision of a whole army come to life again (Ezekiel 37) and of deserts made new (48).

The early Christians took this pattern of death and resurrection from the Scriptures and wove it into Christian worship.  Last night, Bishop Peter and I baptized and confirmed 41 candidates in Rotherham Minster.   It was a wonderful occasion.  All of them made for themselves the promises made at their baptism.  All were confirmed.  Eight of them were baptized at the font.

The traditional times for baptism to happen is Easter because of the pattern of death and resurrection.  We go down into the water.  Our old life dies.  We come out of the water.  We rise with Christ’s new life to live with him and for him and in him and to live for ever.  It was a powerful moment.

Today and every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist together in this place.  In this Eucharist, in the sacrament of bread and wine, we make a living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection and we celebrate his call to resurrection life.   We remember that Jesus is alive, that Christ is with us, as we gather in this place, that we can know him, that he lives in us his people, that he has given us His Spirit.

The pattern of resurrection is there in creation, in history, in testimony, in scripture, in sacrament, in experience, in the shaping of our world.

But that pattern begins with a real, actual, historical event, in a garden, in the darkness, as Mary Magdalene comes weeping to the tomb.  She is weeping because Jesus death was a real death, full of pain and anguish, and because Mary loves him, and she is in the chaos of confusion which grief brings.

She sees the empty tomb.  The stone is rolled away.  His body has gone.  The disciples come and see the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself.  This is a resurrection not a robbery.

That resurrection is an historical event. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to his disciples. One writer says: “The empty tomb alone would have been a puzzle and a tragedy.  Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus by themselves would have been classified as visions or hallucinations….However an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together,..” present a powerful reason for faith in the resurrection[1].

Mary encounters the tomb and then she encounters Jesus.  He calls her name: Mary.  There is a turning, a returning, a change of direction, a conversion.  “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means my Teacher)”.  You cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus and stay the same.  To believe means to turn, to change, to be converted.

Then in a moment, Mary moves from weeping to turning to witnessing.  Mary Magdalene becomes the apostle to the apostles.  The pattern of resurrection is even written into the story of resurrection.  Mary was the one from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman of no reputation, by tradition a camp follower.  The one whose life was worse than death, who has already been restored, is the one who carries the message of life to others.

Her story is built in John around three words in the original: weeping, turning, witnessing[2].  They describe the pattern of resurrection in every disciple: mourning: encountering reality without Christ, facing the reality of our own death or that of others; turning: encountering the risen Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection; and witnessing: sharing with others that we have seen the Lord, that he has risen.  Weeping, turning, witnessing: the pattern of Easter.

There is no need to be afraid or shy or lacking in confidence in the heart of our faith or in proclaiming it to the world.  This is the great good news in every age and every will be while the world endures.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Our Cathedral will be a sign now in this great city of the renewing power of Christian faith and of the Christian gospel and of confidence in that message in the years to come.  Thousands upon thousands of people in this city and region need to hear that great good news.

Let this Easter be the day when your own faith is rekindled and renewed; when you place your trust once again in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again, when you follow Mary and move from weeping to turning to witnessing to his love. Let this Easter be the day when the Church in this places embraces a proper confidence in the gospel, to live it and proclaim it in this city and this diocese now and for many years to come.

The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

[1] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 686-7

[2] See Sandra M. Shneiders, Written that you may believe, Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, pp. 211-223

The Lord is Risen
A sermon for Easter Day
20th April, 2014
John 20.1-18

It’s a privilege to welcome you today to our renewed and re-ordered Cathedral. The work is not finished yet and will go on for some months. But it’s a magnificent symbol this Easter Day to see this ancient building made new, to see what it will be like, to celebrate resurrection in this very ancient church which has been made so wonderfully new and contemporary. And its such a joy to have sound system which works…..

Remember as you come in prayer today that there has been a Church on this site for over a thousand years at the very centre of this city. Down all the centuries the Church building has been knocked down and rebuilt, adapted and improve. But through all those years the people of Sheffield have gathered here to pray to the Risen Lord Sunday by Sunday and day by day, in moments of peril and difficulty, in the crises of their lives, at the great festivals of the year.

A congregation gathered on this site in 1066, in the Wars of the Roses, in the time of Mary Tudor, during the Civil War, when Victoria came to the throne, during the Great War. A congregation proclaimed the resurrection of Christ as we have done this Easter.

In the words of Isaiah, This house is a place of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7). It is not just a place for all people – though it is that. But this house is a place of prayer for all peoples, especially those who do not yet know the living God. And you are truly welcome this day.

Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.

The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Jesus rose from the dead. This is what we celebrate today. This is the entire centre of our faith. Jesus rose from the dead and his rising has reshaped history.

Every time you write the date, you are remembering how many years it was since this man lived and died and rose again: 2014. We do not date our lives, our history does not begin from the Norman conquest, or the foundation of Rome, or the accession of the Queen, or the invention of the mobile phone. Our history begins with Jesus.

We date our lives from the year Jesus Christ was born because of his remarkable life and ministry and death and resurrection. We meet for worship on a Sunday to honour the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day of the week. The first Christians were all devout Jews. They kept the Sabbath, Saturday as their day of worship as the Jewish people do today. Something remarkable happened to change their day of worship. Christ rose from the dead. Within a generation, the Christian day of worship became Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day he rose.

Walk through any English churchyard and you will see graves packed together. Walk around this Cathedral and look at the monuments and plaques and burial places. Why are they here? People are buried here and around parish churches because Jesus rose from the dead, because of truth of his resurrection, because of the hope it brings to us of new and eternal life with God, because of his promises to those who believe. Where else would you want to be buried but in the place where new life is proclaimed? Because he rose, death is not the end. The shroud of death which casts its shadow over all peoples has been destroyed (Isaiah 25.7).

These are not superstitions. Generations have believed and trusted in the resurrection of Christ in every generation on the earth. Generations who follow us will do the same. This faith we share has been tested in every possible way down two thousand years.

The first three hundred years of the life of the Church were years of intermittent persecution. To profess faith in the risen Christ meant that you suffered discrimination, you could be arrested, you could be killed. We can forget that the early witnesses whose words we read in the New Testament almost all died for their faith, often in terrible ways. St. Paul lived most of his life in danger – yet his life and his writings are full of joy. Why is that? Because of his faith in the risen Jesus. Death is not the end of life. There is hope, there is resurrection, there is meaning, there is a future.

Those early Christians tell us that we should not be surprised by resurrection. We can read the signs in creation. “Day and night declare to us a resurrection”, writes one of them. “The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on” (Clement, First letter to the Corinthians, 24).

The seasons of the year speak of death and resurrection: “The earth receives its instruction from heaven to clothe the trees which had been stripped, to colour the flowers afresh, to spread the grass again, to reproduce the seed” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 22).

The resurrection is written deep in the Scriptures. This pattern, this event was foretold. In the Psalms and in Isaiah, there are prophecies of suffering followed by glory (Psalm22, Isaiah 53). There are deep patterns in the stories of Noah saved from the flood, in the Israelites saved from death in the crossing of the Red Sea, in Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish but was given back his life, in Daniel and his friends rescued from the fire and from the mouth of lions.

There are miracles of resurrection in the Scriptures: Enoch and Elijah are snatched into heaven (Genesis 5.24, 2 Kings 2); Elijah and Elisha raise the sons of widows from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); Ezekiel sees a vision of a whole army come to life again (Ezekiel 37) and of deserts made new (48).

The early Christians took this pattern of death and resurrection from the Scriptures and wove it into Christian worship. Last night, Bishop Peter and I baptized and confirmed 41 candidates in Rotherham Minster. It was a wonderful occasion. All of them made for themselves the promises made at their baptism. All were confirmed. Eight of them were baptized at the font.

The traditional times for baptism to happen is Easter because of the pattern of death and resurrection. We go down into the water. Our old life dies. We come out of the water. We rise with Christ’s new life to live with him and for him and in him and to live for ever. It was a powerful moment.

Today and every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist together in this place. In this Eucharist, in the sacrament of bread and wine, we make a living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection and we celebrate his call to resurrection life. We remember that Jesus is alive, that Christ is with us, as we gather in this place, that we can know him, that he lives in us his people, that he has given us His Spirit.

The pattern of resurrection is there in creation, in history, in testimony, in scripture, in sacrament, in experience, in the shaping of our world.

But that pattern begins with a real, actual, historical event, in a garden, in the darkness, as Mary Magdalene comes weeping to the tomb. She is weeping because Jesus death was a real death, full of pain and anguish, and because Mary loves him, and she is in the chaos of confusion which grief brings.

She sees the empty tomb. The stone is rolled away. His body has gone. The disciples come and see the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself. This is a resurrection not a robbery.

That resurrection is an historical event. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to his disciples. One writer says: “The empty tomb alone would have been a puzzle and a tragedy. Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus by themselves would have been classified as visions or hallucinations….However an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together,..” present a powerful reason for faith in the resurrection.

Mary encounters the tomb and then she encounters Jesus. He calls her name: Mary. There is a turning, a returning, a change of direction, a conversion. “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means my Teacher)”. You cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus and stay the same. To believe means to turn, to change, to be converted.

Then in a moment, Mary moves from weeping to turning to witnessing. Mary Magdalene becomes the apostle to the apostles. The pattern of resurrection is even written into the story of resurrection. Mary was the one from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman of no reputation, by tradition a camp follower. The one whose life was worse than death, who has already been restored, is the one who carries the message of life to others.

Her story is built in John around three words in the original: weeping, turning, witnessing. They describe the pattern of resurrection in every disciple: mourning: encountering reality without Christ, facing the reality of our own death or that of others; turning: encountering the risen Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection; and witnessing: sharing with others that we have seen the Lord, that he has risen. Weeping, turning, witnessing: the pattern of Easter.

There is no need to be afraid or shy or lacking in confidence in the heart of our faith or in proclaiming it to the world. This is the great good news in every age and every will be while the world endures. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Our Cathedral will be a sign now in this great city of the renewing power of Christian faith and of the Christian gospel and of confidence in that message in the years to come. Thousands upon thousands of people in this city and region need to hear that great good news.

Let this Easter be the day when your own faith is rekindled and renewed; when you place your trust once again in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again, when you follow Mary and move from weeping to turning to witnessing to his love. Let this Easter be the day when the Church in this places embraces a proper confidence in the gospel, to live it and proclaim it in this city and this diocese now and for many years to come.

The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Lift up your hearts A Sermon at the Chrism Eucharist 15th April, 2014. 1 Samuel 3.1-10; Luke 7.36-50

The Lord be with you And also with you

Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord

About two years ago, this particular phrase in the service of Holy Communion began to strike me afresh.

It’s a feature of all good Christian ministry that we get to know one another better over time.  When a priest first comes to a parish or a bishop first comes to a diocese, when a lay minister is licensed or authorized, we do not know each other well.  We are strangers called by God to walk together and serve together in our different ministries.

But, with time, of course, strangers become friends.  This is one of the great mysteries and privileges of Christian ministry. Through listening and shared experiences, through dialogue and sometimes disagreement, through mistakes made and forgiven, bonds of love are forged.  We see the world, a little more through one another’s eyes.  We learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

The longer we are in a place, the better we know it. Because of that knowledge it has become more and more meaningful for me to say in many different congregations and contexts, “Lift up your hearts” and to hear the response back: “We lift them to the Lord”.

Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord

The focus of my sermon this evening is what it means to say those words and what it is to set those words at the heart of ministry.

Some of us have the immense privilege as priests of summoning a whole community to lift up their hearts in the Eucharist.  But others are called no less to invite God’s people to lift up their hearts in different ways: in the ministry of the word and in the prayers, in pastoral care, in evangelism, as we lead worship or work with children or young people.  This call and invitation goes right to the heart of our understanding of every kind of ministry.  So what does it mean?

The words have a long and wide pedigree.  They go back to the earliest descriptions of the Eucharist in the third century.  They are present in the rites of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and all the churches of the Reformation as well as our own Church of England.  What does it mean to say “Lift up your hearts”?

The words are biblical, like so much of our liturgy, but they are not an exact quotation. In Lamentations we read: “Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven” (3.41).  In the Psalms: “To you O Lord I lift up my soul” (25.1 see also 86.4 and 143.8).  There is perhaps an echo of Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O gates and be lifted up, O ancient doors” (24.7,9).  Colossians 3 says this: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth for your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3.2).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the heart is much more than the physical organ which pumps blood round the body.  The idea of the heart is a big idea.  In contemporary culture, the heart is the seat of the emotions and especially the place of romantic love.   In the Bible it is much more.  The heart is the very centre of our inner life, our spiritual life, our emotions, our character and our will.  The heart is the whole of who we are and how we are.

What is that we are lifting up?  When I invite a congregation to lift up their hearts, I’m asking you to lift your very selves to God.  And what is a priest, what is an evangelist, what is a Reader, what is a pastor except someone who is called to make that invitation in everything we do: in the structuring of worship, in prayers at the bedside, in teaching the faith to enquirers, in the ministry of welcome, in our care of little children.  What are we saying except: “Lift up your hearts”?

There are many layers of meaning woven through those scriptures but let me explore three of them this evening.

First and foremost we lift our hearts to a God of compassion, who loves us, who stands with us, who cares for us in ways we cannot understand, whose Son died for us. It is no accident that these words stand at the head of the Eucharistic prayer.  We make the memorial of Christ and especially of his death and resurrection: his one full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.  We lift up our broken, wounded and hurting hearts and place them into the gentle hands of our creator.

Bishop Peter and I have just finished a series of five residential clergy conferences at Whirlow Grange.  Those conferences were an immense privilege to lead.  It was a particular and moving experience for both of us to preside, in turns, at the Eucharist at each conference, to look around the room at those with whom we are called to share this ministry, and to be able to say: “Lift up your hearts”.

Today as you will know is the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. I went with others to the short service at Hillsborough this afternoon, led by David Jeans who was involved in ministry to the bereaved and injured.  David did not use these exact words, but his message to those who are grieving today is the same: “Lift up your hearts”.

It is likewise an enormous privilege to stand before any congregation in this diocese of faithful disciples and say these same words: to those who are rejoicing, Lift up your hearts.  To those who are cast down: Lift up your hearts.  To those who are quarrelling: Lift up your hearts.  To those who are broken: Lift up your hearts.

In our gospel reading, Jesus’ long speech to Simon is a speech of such gentleness and love for the woman who has brought oil to anoint him, who has bathed his feet with her tears, who has dried them with her very hair (Luke 7.36-50).  Jesus has created safe space in the midst of a hostile room.  By her actions the woman has said to him:  “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul, O my God in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame” (Psalm 25.1-2).  Through his words Jesus has replied: “Lift up your heart”; “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you, go in peace”.

We must grasp the love and mercy of God afresh especially in this Holy Week.

But in second place, we lift our hearts, as God’s forgiven people, to a God who calls us to holiness, to sanctification, to be transformed and made new.

This is the context of the verse in Lamentations:

“Let us test and examine our ways and return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled and you have not forgiven” (Lamentations 3.40-42).

It is sobering to remember the first reference to human hearts in the Bible is in the preface to the story of the flood:  “The LORD saw that….every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5).  According to Jeremiah the human heart is devious above all things (Jeremiah 17.9).

It is sobering to remember the call of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that humanity needs a new and radical transformation.  To be in a covenant relationship with God we need a whole new heart – a complete change (Jeremiah 24.7; Ezekiel 36.26)

It is sobering to remember that, according to Jesus, “Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15.19).  It is sobering to remember the hardness of heart which afflicts even the religious, even Simon the Pharisee, who is blind to his own corruption and so blind to the great love of God for both him and the woman he knows as a sinner (Luke 7.36-50).

Whenever we lift up our hearts to the Lord, we lift them up in the hope and prayer that these poor, small, sinful hearts will be made new and transformed and reshaped and made clean again and enlarged so that we may love God and love our neighbour more faithfully and with deeper integrity.  We are praying that our hearts of stone will become hearts of flesh again.

We come here as Christian ministers seeking to be transformed in this Eucharist and in every Eucharist including those in which we ourselves are ministers of word or sacrament.  For us and for all God’s people, the Eucharist is a converting ordinance for the transformation of our lives.  The oils we bless today are for signs of healing, for wholeness, for transformation, for the changing of the heart.

“As we recall the one perfect sacrifice of our redemption, Father, by your Holy Spirit, let these gifts of your creation be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; form us into the likeness of Christ and make us a perfect offering in your sight”(Common Worship Order One, Eucharistic Prayer F) [1]

To lift up our hearts, to offer God our inmost lives, is to invite God to change us and through us to help transform God’s world.

We lift up our hearts to hold them in God’s love.  We lift up our hearts so that God will, through his mercy, change them, soften them and enlarge them.

Finally we lift up our hearts and we call others to lift their hearts in worship, in adoration, to the things of heaven, to the things above.  As bishops, as priests, as deacons, as lay ministers, our calling is to invite others away from the business of earth to the business of heaven: the adoration of the Trinity.   For these few moments in the week we are indeed called to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use: lost in wonder, love and praise so that we might bring that vision of heaven into all we do on earth.

“Set your mind on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1).

Lift up your hearts means to be caught up in the worship of heaven, in the song of the angels, to join with angels and archangels as they proclaim God’s glory without end:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.

St. Augustine says this in one of his sermons:

The whole life of true Christians is “Lift up your hearts”, not that of Christians in name only, but of Christians in reality and truth. Their whole life is “Lift up your hearts”. What then is “Lift up your hearts”? It is hope in God, not in yourself, for you are below, God is on high. If your hope is in yourself, your heart is below, it is not on high. And so, when you have heard from the priest, “Lift up your heart”, you answer, “We lift them to the Lord”. Make sure that you make a true answer.[2]

To live well in this earth we so need the perspective of heaven.  We need to set our minds on things that are above not on things that are on earth for you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.

In this Eucharist and in every Eucharist, lift up your hearts.  Lift up your hearts as you renew your commitment to ministry. Lift up your hearts as we dedicate these oils as signs of God’s grace.  Lift up your hearts as we remember his great offering of himself.

Let us lift up our fragile hearts to the mercy and tenderness of God who loves us with a passion beyond telling.

Let us lift up our stony and deceitful hearts and invite God once again to transform them by his gracious Spirit.

Let us lift our earthbound and fragmented hearts to the worship of heaven and the adoration of the one true and living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

In the words of Hebrews:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12.22-24).

Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord.

[1] See also Prayer A: “Renew us by your Spirit, inspire us with your love and unite us in the body of your Son Jesus Christ”; Prayer C: “Grant that be his merits and death and through faith in his blood we and all your Church may receive forgiveness of our sins and all other benefits of his passion….Do not weigh our merits but pardon our offences”; Prayer G: “form us in the likeness of Christ and build us to a living temple to your glory”

[2] Augustine, Sermo 227.  I have changed the translation from “Hearts on high!”, the literal translation of “Sursum Corda” to the more familiar English, “Lift up your hearts”.

On Wednesday this week, it was my privilege to institute the Revd. Gary Wilton as Vicar of All Saints, Ecclesall, to the south west of Sheffield.  Like all institutions it was a big occasion for the parish and for Gary who comes to this new ministry from Brussels where he has been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the European Union and a Canon at the Pro-Cathedral.

Gary chose as the New Testament reading the profound passage from 2 Corinthians 5.16-21 which sets reconciliation at the heart of the gospel and at the heart of Christian ministry. This is a slightly edited version of the sermon as preached on Wednesday. Reconciliation

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

It is very good indeed to be here this evening and to share in this service for which we have waited for a considerable time.  It is good to celebrate a new beginning, a moment of new creation for All Saints, this wonderful church community, and for Gary.  The moment is pregnant with possibility.

It is good to take time to reflect this evening on the wonder of the Christian faith we hold and celebrate.  It is good to reflect on how much that faith is needed in every life, in every church and in every part of God’s world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

We need no reminder this week that our world is full of conflict.  Enmity, hatred and hostility are on the front pages and at the head of the news bulletins.  All of us will have been moved by the civil war in Syria and the terrible consequences for those who have died, for the injured, for the refugees and especially for Syria’s children.  We share a horror at the effects and use of chemical weapons and we condemn them.  All of us will have prayed for peace.  Most of us will have wrestled with the question of whether armed intervention is right or wrong.  If, like myself, you believe it to be wrong in this case, there is some relief at the decision taken by parliament last week.  But there  remains a wrestling with the dreadful dilemma of what the world can do to help the people of Syria and the region at this time.

The conflict in Syria is simply the worst of a number of conflicts around the world– though it is the worst by a considerable margin.  There is hostility and conflict across north Africa and the Middle East; in Iraq and Afghanistan; across many parts of Africa; between north and south Korea.

We look and we wonder.  What is it that drives people to enmity and war?  What is it about the human condition that divides us and makes us hostile to one another?  We see the evidence of division in our history, in the great conflicts of the world but in bitter disputes within our own nation.  Racial and religious tension is part of life in our own nation. Hostility and indifference to others scars many communities.

The anger and sometimes the violence are the symptoms of the deeper problem.  All of us will be aware of families scarred by deep feuds and divisions and hostility often over many years.  We will know of marriages which end in bitterness, whether or not they end in divorce.  We will know of parents estranged from their children, siblings who do not speak, homes where is hatred rather than love.

Even the Church does not escape the quarrels and divisions which are part of the human condition.  We too easily divide into our tribes as we wrestle with the great questions of the day. Most local churches struggle at some point with disagreement and difficulty and such moments are intensely painful but not, I am afraid, unusual.

Everywhere we look, it seems, there is division and hostility, even when we look inside our hearts.  So let’s listen very carefully to Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians:

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Ponder that phrase: entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation.

Paul describes a new vision of humanity and of the world, a way to see things differently. That new vision arises only and directly from the death of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus died for all, he writes in verse 15.

“From now on therefore we regard no-one from a human point of view” (verse 16). Our perspective is changed completely. There is no them and us because Christ died for all.

“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old has passed away; see everything has become new”.

Because you are in Christ, you have been remade by God and that includes your vision of the world.  The world itself has been remade and is being remade by God in Christ.  That profoundly changes our perspective.

That change of perspective sets the scene for one of the deepest passages in the whole of Paul’s writing about the importance of the gospel for the world.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the message of reconciliation”

Enmity and hatred and hostility are at the heart of the human condition and in our own hearts. As individuals, left to ourselves, we are estranged from God.  God has come to us in Christ.  God has made peace with us through the death of Jesus on the cross.  Reconciliation is God’s gift to us.  Peace is made with our creator deep within our hearts as a person received God’s gift in Jesus, as we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ.  This is the great mystery at the heart of our faith.

But there is even more.

“All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the message of reconciliation”

Even as we become reconciled to God through Christ, so we are entrusted with the message of reconciliation to others.  Just to make sure we have received that message Paul repeats exactly the same thought in the following verse:

“that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself….and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us”.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian gospel and of the Christian faith. Reconciliation between people and God and reconciliation between different people and different groups of people.  The invitation has gone out from God, because of Christ, for all people to be reconciled to him in and through the cross.  As we are reconciled to God so we are reconciled to one another.  As we are reconciled to God and one another so we become bearers of the message of reconciliation to the world.

There is similar language in Ephesian, words we use in the Eucharist:

“For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both Jews and Gentiles one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us……”

“[his purpose is] to create one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross” (from Ephesians 2.14ff).

In Christ we have been reconciled to God. In Christ there is the place of reconciliation between human kind.  In Christ we have become bearers of the message of reconciliation.

In a few moments time, I will formally institute Gary as Vicar of this parish. He will kneel in prayer to God as I read the license which is the warrant for his ministry.  I will then give the license to him with these solemn words:

“Receive the cure of souls which is both yours and mine in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

This cure of souls is not the ministry of being nice to those who come to Church. The cure of souls is the ministry of reconciliation to be exercised among the 20,000 people who live in this parish and the half a million people who live in this city.  The cure of souls is the healing of enmity and division between people and God.  The cure of souls is the reconciliation of families and factions and cliques.  The cure of souls is the proclaiming and living the gospel of peace and justice in God’s whole creation.

The cure of souls is formally entrusted to Gary as your Vicar but this ministry of reconciliation is not his alone.  It is entrusted to the whole Church.  Each of us is commissioned to carry that message, to work for peace, to be an agent of God’s love in the world, to bear Christ in our communities.  Each of you is called in this place to create a community of reconciliation in this parish church in which, God willing, many men and women and children will be reconciled to God through Christ.  Each of you is called to create a community of reconciliation which will influence and shape this parish and this city and, God willing, the whole world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Paul ends this part of his letter with a strong appeal to the Church in Corinth: “So we are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God”.

Gary is leaving one ministry of reconciliation in his ministry to the European union: a project whose aim is create a single society and community out of diverse nations. He is beginning today a new ministry of reconciliation, building up the body of Christ in this place  for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

This ministry of reconciliation has never been more needed than it is today.  God needs you to be people of peace in the Church, in the wider community and in the world.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and….entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation”

Amen.

I’ve been to London today for a Celebration and Consultation on self supporting ministry.  The Celebration was in Southwark Cathedral and marked the 50th anniversary of the first ordinations from the Southwark Ordination Course in 1963.  The consultation was with around 80 people from most of the Dioceses in the Church of England about the nature and the future of self supporting ordained ministry.

All the material from the consultations will be on the Ministry Division website in due course but here is my sermon from the Cathedral this morning

Generosity, humility, liminality A Sermon at “A New Pattern of Priesthood” Celebration and Consultation Southwark Cathedral 17th May, 2013

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John do you love me more than these?”[1]

All of us here will have reflected many times on this encounter between Simon Peter and the Lord.  St. John tells the story as a lesson in grace, restoration and love.  But it is especially a story about vocation and the vocation to feed Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross.

For many it is a story which recurs in the account of our own vocation to be priests in the Church of God, a story to which we return again and again as we understand more deeply what it is to offer our lives to this ministry.  A few months ago, I stood beside the excavated tombs underneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome reputed to be the tomb of Peter himself and listened again to these familiar words and once again was deeply moved.  In this encounter Jesus calls Simon the son of John to become once again Peter, the living rock from which the church will be fashioned.

A key moment in the story is the phrasing of the first question and Simon Peter’s reply.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Here is a question which invites an extravagant, passionate, declaration of love and faithfulness.  Here is a question which tests our hearts in a number of different ways. Simon Peter reply reveals he knows himself only too well.  His love has been tested and is deep and real yet so is his knowledge of himself.  He declines the invitation to compare himself with others and replies, simply: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you”. “Feed my lambs”.

We celebrate today a very significant development in ordained ministry in the Church of England.  Fifty years ago the first candidates were ordained from the Southwark Ordination Course heralding the development of new forms of training and new patterns of ordained ministry.  These new patterns of priesthood have been and are an immense blessing to the kingdom of God and to the Church.  With the hindsight of fifty years, those ordinations stand out as a landmark in the development of the life of the Church of England.  Like the Great Wall of China they are visible from space. The new patterns of priesthood which flowed from them continue to develop. We continue to explore and understand the gift we have been given.  These new patterns are likely to be more not less significant in the fifty years to come.

So it is right that we should celebrate today the generosity and grace of God in these ministries. It is right that we should celebrate the gifts and foresight of those who led this development in the life of Southwark Diocese and the wider church: the prophets, like Roland Allen, the bishops, especially Mervyn Stockwood and John Robinson, the staff of the Southwark Ordination Course and its cousins and successors.

Stockwood writes eloquently about the Course in his autobiography.  In his enthronement sermon in this Cathedral he said “I should like to see cautious experiments with a new type of priesthood and a new type of organization”[2].  The ideas, like all new ideas were resisted.  Stockwood wrote twenty years later:  “I put my plans to the meeting of bishops.  They were not enthusiastically received, least of all by those who had been principals of theological colleges and who found it difficult to believe that there could be an alternative method of training”.  The words may sound familiar.  I couldn’t possibly comment.

It is right that we should celebrate, above all, the gifts and skills of those who have offered their lives as deacons and priests in these ministries and have been a blessing to God’s people and to the world.

What are the benefits of this kind of training?  What is it that characterizes this new pattern of priesthood which we have called by so many different acronyms?

Twenty years after the Southwark Ordination Course was founded, Mervyn Stockwood was very down to earth in his reflections.  He lists four benefits of the course.  “1. It accepted men of different persuasions and trained them together where most colleges cater for a single point of view.” A revolutionary effect.  “2. The men did not learn their theology in a vacuum.” Contextual theology was established. “3. It taught men to work hard.” I quote: “There are too many clergy in the Church of England who are acquainted with only one verse in the Holy Scripture namely how “to be at ease in Sion”.  “4. It was sound economics.”  That remains true today.[3]

But fifty years on, let me offer you three words for reflection.

These different forms of self-supporting ministry are characterized first of all, it seems to me, by generosity.  They are by definition a gift.  A gift of time given to vocational exploration and to training which is costly to the candidate and to their family.  A gift of time and of self given to ministry without financial reward or gain.  A gift of service sustained in similar ways over many years. Self supporting ministry and stability seem to go together.  A gift of love for the Lord and for his church.  As John Chrysostom says, Jesus calls Peter to demonstrate his love for the Lord by care for his flock. This new pattern of priesthood is characterized first by generosity.

Second, this new pattern of priesthood is characterized, it seems to me, by humility.  Humility is present as we have seen in Peter’s answer.  It is enough to say: “Yes Lord you know I love you”.  There is no need to compete with the love offered by others.  It is enough to offer what we can.  Self supporting ministries offer servant leadership in a particular way.  Those who serve in this way have to offer what they can, constrained by time and circumstances, and offer what is needed. They are not caught up in temptations to ambition or influence which afflict those called to stipendiary ministry. This is a liberating gift to the priests themselves and to the wider church though it has its cost.  It is a pattern of priesthood shaped by humility.

Third, I suggest, this new form of priesthood is shaped by liminality: by living permanently on the edge and between two or more worlds. This can be a blessing.  It can also be complex and demanding as many here will know.  But it is a precious gift to the wider church and has many lessons for a church in mission.

A new pattern of priesthood.  A pattern which is still unfolding.  A pattern of priesthood characterized by generosity, humility and liminality.  How is the wider church called to respond to such a pattern?

The generosity at the heart of self supporting ministry calls for appreciation to be shown by the wider church.  We should be saying thank you often and loudly and registering that appreciation in a range of different ways.  All too often we have not done that. Those who trained on courses or offer self supporting ministries have felt undervalued.  Fifty years on we need to turn a page and grow up.  The Church needs to do better.

The humility at the heart of self-supporting ministry calls for recognition on the part of the wider church.  We need to recognize especially the immense wisdom which those called to ministry in these way have to offer the wider body of Christ. Self-supporting ministers seldom exercise power and authority within the Church for all kinds of reasons.  But space needs to be created for them to exercise influence and speak more into our counsels.

And the liminality at the heart of self-supporting ministry calls for anchoring and security on the part of the wider church. It is always difficult to live between two worlds.  One of the things you need are secure lines of connexion and accountability which are both personal and institutional.  As all the research indicates, self supporting ministers are not self supporting in this sense: they need support from their bishops and dioceses in order to sustain this edgy and liminal pattern of priesthood which is so vital for God’s mission.

Generosity calls for appreciation.  Humility calls for recognition.  Liminality calls for security.  For here’s the mystery.  The new patterns of priesthood in the economy of God have simply revealed more clearly what it means to be a priest in the Church of God.  For every priest, of course, is called to be generous, to be humble, to live between two worlds.

We will see the patterns continue to change and evolve in the next fifty years, I am sure.  I hope that more and more we will lose the distinction between priests who are stipendiary and priests who are self supporting.  I hope that all of us will learn to be generous, to be humble, to be liminal.  I hope that we will grow a single ministerial priesthood in which some of us, for some of our lives, receive financial support.  I hope that as a church we will be offer greater appreciation, stronger recognition and more sure footed mutual support.

And I hope that each of us here this day will be inspired by what God has done through the Southwark Ordination Course and it’s students. I pray we may be inspired in our own day to think outside the traditional structures and see new patterns of ministry and training develop.  And I pray that each of us would hear once more the question which lies at the heart of our vocation:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”. “Feed my lambs”.

[1] John 21.15

[2] Mervyn Stockwood, Chactonbury Ring, Sheldon Press, 1982 p.102

[3] ibid p. 107

Happy Easter!  The Lord is risen!

We have major building works in Sheffield Cathedral at the moment.  The Cathedral remains open for daily and normal Sunday worship but we don’t have the space for larger services.  So this morning we moved across the road to the Cutlers Hall, the home of the Cutlers Company in Sheffield, for the Easter Eucharist.

It was a great occasion with Easter joy, full choirs and orchestra and our traditional Hallelujah chorus at the end.  This is my sermon from the service.

The Risen Christ and the City of Steel A sermon for Easter Day in the Cutler’s Hall 31st March, 2013 Acts 10.34-43 and John 20.1-18

Alleluia. Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Some words from our reading from the Book of Acts.  Hear the good news.

“They put [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a real, historical, actual event which changes everything.

We share together today in a unique event in the long story of Sheffield Cathedral and the Cutlers Company.  We have been neighbours and friends for hundreds of years.  But this is the first time the Cathedral’s main Easter Eucharist has taken place inside the Cutlers Hall.  It is good to be here and warm thanks to the Cutlers Company and to the Master Cutler for their welcome.

Our visit today falls in a very significant year for the Cutlers Company.  One hundred years ago, a Sheffield man named Harry Brearley played a leading role in the development of what was at first called rustless steel and then, eventually, stainless steel.

Brearley’s invention was one of three great developments in the story of steel in this city which have shaped Sheffield in the modern era.  In 1740 Benjamin Huntsman invented a way of making steel in a crucible.  In 1856 Henry Bessemer developed something called a Bessemer converter, further refining the process.  You can still see one at Kelham Island.

If you look back at the history of the city,  you can see how these real events in history and all that flowed from them shaped its life.  It’s the same with the resurrection of Jesus.  300 years ago, Sheffield was a settlement of just 7,000 people.  Imagine that.  Little more than a village with a parish church at its heart.  Then the crucible was developed.

200 years ago the population was 60,000, a small town with a parish church still at its heart.  Then along came the Bessemer converter.  100 years ago, the population of the city stood at half a million.  Harry Brearley invented stainless steel.  The parish church became a cathedral. The Sheffield cutlery industry slowly began to use the new material.  Items made in Sheffield travelled all around the world. The city was on its way to becoming the third largest metropolitan authority in England, which is what we are today.  Steel and manufacturing are the backbone of its life.

It’s no wonder that the city is taking a year to celebrate 100 years since the invention of stainless steel.  It’s a wonderful story of knowledge and innovation combining to produce growth and prosperity.  It’s a story of determination and courage against opposition.  Harry Brearley was mocked when he first suggested this new metal could be used for cutlery.  It’s a story of real, actual events in history shaping and changing the world.

So I take my mitre off to the Cutlers Company this morning and to the steel industry in this city and join the celebrations.  My bishop’s ring is a simple band of stainless steel: a reminder of the importance of this industry to this city and region.  A reminder as well of one of the qualities a bishop sometimes needs.

We are right to celebrate and look back and wonder.  But here’s the thing.  How much more wonderful, how much more wonderful, is the story, the event, the life we mark and celebrate today in this service and in hundreds like it in churches all across this region and all across the world.

Does it not make you tremble?  It was an event in history, a concrete event in history, described just like the day Harry Brearley mixed chrome and carbon with steel.  The accounts we have are from eye witnesses.  They were written down within a very short time.   They put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree on Friday.  On the Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, there was a day of rest.  On the third day, on the Sunday, God raised him from the dead.

Peter says this: “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear not to all the people but to us who were chosen as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”.

His tomb was empty.  The authorities could not produce his body when they wanted to deny the resurrection. His disciples were transformed by the event from frightened men and women who ran away to people who would suffer and die to bear witness to this historical truth.  This good news of the resurrection spread across the ancient world like a flame through dry straw.  This was not hallucination or conspiracy or pious imagination or wishful thinking. This was a real, concrete, historical, physical resurrection and from it the church was born.

A few weeks after the resurrection, there were just 120 people gathered together in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.  Humanly speaking they had very few resources: no buildings, no finance, no organization, not much education between them – something the church today needs to remember.   It’s an historical fact that a generation later there were communities of Christians in every major city of the Roman empire and beyond.  This was such life changing, world transforming good news it spread from town to town carried by volunteers.  It is a matter of historical fact that the early Christians were all devout Jews. Yet these devout Jews changed their day of worship from Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, to Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  This was the event in time which changed everything.

The good news of the resurrection of Jesus spread rapidly from Jews to Gentiles.  It spread to India, to Africa, to every part of the known world.  The growth of the Christian church was remarkable.  Less than three hundred years after the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, overturning the old faiths.  More than half the world’s population was Christian.

Last October it was my privilege to be in another upper room in Rome with 400 bishops and cardinals of the Roman Catholic church and their ecumenical guests. There were representatives there from every region on earth all part of this one, holy, catholic and apostolic church drawn from every nation and all witnessing to this single deep and world changing truth that on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.

Ten days ago I was in Canterbury Cathedral for the enthronement of our new archbishop with the Archbishops of the Anglican Communion drawn from every part of the globe, all professing together that Jesus Christ is risen, living, active in the world today and his death and resurrection affect every human life for good.

There have been many inventions in the history of human knowledge.  But there has only been one resurrection.  That is what makes our faith unique.  Jesus ministry was remarkable: his teaching and his healing and his love for others show us what God is like.  Jesus death was remarkable.  He goes willingly, knowing that he is to die, placing himself in the hands of those who will crucify him.  As we will declare again in this service, in his words at the Last Supper Jesus knows and understands the significance of his own death:

“This is my body which is given for you…..This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

The words of a man who is about to lay down his life for his friends.  But if his life and ministry are extraordinary, his resurrection is unique.  “God raised him on the third day”.  Jesus lives. Everything changes. Christians believe that we can know Jesus Christ today in our daily lives.  We believe that because Jesus died and rose again, we can begin our lives again with God and that eternal life is offered to everyone.

Today we look out on our city, on our region and on our world.  We all see the need for economic renewal and regeneration – the kind of renewal which came through Harry Brearley, through Huntsman, through Bessamer and all the others who have contributed to this city.  We see the need for the fusion of science and industry and education and manufacturing skill and entrepreneurial genius. All of those talents are God given and we have them in abundance in this city.  We need to grow our economy from within as we have done in the past. There are more great inventions yet to come from this region.

But as we look out on our city and our region and our world we must also, surely see the need for a still deeper spiritual renewal and regeneration: a need to forgive and to be forgiven; a need to find wholeness and healing and peace; a need for pride in ourselves to give way to humility before our creator and wonder at the beauty of the world; a need to turn away from the greed which drives us and shapes our institutions; a need for honesty, for justice, for love of neighbor; a need for the renewal of communities and relationships and families; a need for peace; a need for faith; a need for the worship of money to give way to the worship of God.

That deeper spiritual renewal cannot come from human effort or invention.  It cannot come from what is physical.  It comes only from a turning back to our creator and maker, to the living God, through Jesus Christ his Son.  It comes from the gospel we celebrate today: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15.3-4).

According to a survey released this week, four out of five adults in Britain believe in the power of prayer.  There is a deep longing for spiritual renewal.  But many of those who pray do not seem to know the living God whom they are seeking.

Christ is risen.  His resurrection was a real event, a unique event.  We look back and we see how this one day changed history.  We look around the world we see how this one event goes on changing lives in every place and culture.  We look within and around us and we see the need for new life still.

We come with Mary in the garden.  We come to meet our risen Lord in fellowship together, in the scriptures, in the sacrament. We come to have our faith rekindled this Easter morning.  For you and I and for the world, everything changes.  Amen

I was at St. Saviour’s Church, High Green in Sheffield this morning.  Alan Greaves, the organist and Reader at St. Saviour’s was attacked on Christmas Eve just a few hundred yards from the church as he walked to church to play the organ at the Midnight service.  He died on Thursday from his very severe injuries and a murder investigation is under way.

Today was the first time the congregation had come together since Alan’s death.  Many people from the wider community were present together with Alan’s immediate family.  Maureen, Alan’s wife, is a Church Army Evangelist and she spoke very movingly in the service about her grief and pain, about the support she has received and about the faith she and Alan shared.

I often feel inadequate before, during and after a sermon and sometimes all three – as this morning.  Who is sufficient to speak on this kind of occasion?  The words I did speak are below and there is an audio on the church website:

There will be a download of the audio of the sermon later today here: http://stsaviours.info

It’s been a week to appreciate the ministry of church organists and Readers.  St. Saviour’s have received many messages of support from people like Alan across the country.  It’s also been a week to appreciate the remarkable ministry of many parish clergy in times of tragedy and grief in a community.  Canon Simon Bessant, Vicar of St. Saviours, has worked tirelessly this week supporting Maureen and her family and many others in the community.

Thanks to all those who have prayed today for Alan’s family and for St. Saviour’s.  Please keep praying!

A tragic death A sermon in St. Saviour’s, High Green 30th December, 2012 Colossians 3.12-17; Luke 2.41-end

It’s very good to be with you this morning as some of Alan’s immediate family gather together with the church family here, with the wider community of High Green, with the wider community of Church Army.

There is a sense of shock and a sense of outrage not just in this community but across the whole city of Sheffield.  Alan was the victim of a brutal attack as he was on his way to church on Christmas Eve, as he was walking to this church to bear witness to his deep Christian faith. There will be immense grief for those who knew Alan well, which includes many in this church and community.  There will be fear that such a thing could happen, apparently to anyone.  There will be anger and all kinds of questions and real pain in our hearts today.

There will also be more positive feelings.  First of all love and support for Maureen and Alan’s immediate family. There has been an outpouring of prayer and support I know from neighbours and friends.  People far and wide have sent messages of support to the Church here including other church organists and Readers.  That support will continue and will need to continue into the coming years as Maureen and the family struggle to come to terms with what has happened.

There will be immense appreciation, I know, for the work of the medical teams who tried to save Alan’s life both in the ambulance and in the hospitals.  There will be appreciation for the police for the way they have pursued their investigation and for those who have come forward with information.  Police are still appealing for witnesses to come forward with any information.  Maureen has said very clearly and powerfully that she longs for justice not for vengeance, again bearing witness to her own deep faith in the midst of the sharpest agony of her life.

There will be appreciation for the care offered by the community and church here and particularly if I may say so for the care offered by your vicar, Canon Simon Bessant.

And in the midst of all of this, I am sure, many will be giving thanks for Alan himself, for all he showed us of God’s grace and love.  There will be occasions in the future for many generous tributes to be given.  Simon has referred to Alan this week quite simply as a good man, a gentle giant. Goodness is not as common as it should be and this community and this city have lost a shining light.

And so we come together in this service this morning.  We offer all of these emotions to Almighty God and his gentle love as we lift up our hearts: our grief, our pain and shock, our anger, our questions, our fears on the one hand; our love and prayers and appreciation on the other.

It is somehow harder when any tragedy strikes at Christmas time.  But perhaps we need to read the Christmas story in a different way this year.

Christ was born to save a world which needed saving: a world in which hatred and evil and violence are real.  In Alan’s murder, that violence and hate and evil and waste come all too close to us and steal away someone who was loved and respected and who made a difference.

Three days after Christmas, the Church remembers the darkest part of the Christmas story.  We remember the death of the Holy Innocents.  The story is told in the gospel of Matthew of how the wise men came looking for Jesus in Jerusalem.

King Herod sends them on their way to Bethlehem but asks them to return when they have found the child.  The wise men bring their gifts to Jesus but they return home by a different route.  Jesus himself is taken away from Bethlehem into Egypt.  But Herod is infuriated.  In his fury he sends and murders all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.  An evil act.

For understandable reasons, we don’t tell each other this the darkest part of the Christmas story very often.  But it is the part which shows that Christ was born to save a world in which hate and evil and violence are all too real.  It is the part which shows that the most terrible crimes come not from the actions of God but from the actions of wicked men and women.  It is a part which shows us the reality of evil and the suffering of the innocent in the world of Jesus day just as in our own day. We live in a world which needs saving.

The name Jesus means God saves.  Jesus in his death on the cross won a great victory over evil.  But that victory is not yet complete.

On Christmas Eve that same violence, evil and murder visited this community in the attack on Alan Greaves as he was on his way to Church.  We should feel angry about that.  We should be reminded that this world needs saving and needs a Saviour. We should be recalled and strengthened and deepened in the faith which Alan was living out in his daily life and in the final steps he took.

There is immense sadness and grief and shock in our hearts today.  There will be an immense reservoir of love and care for Alan’s family and those most affected by this tragedy.

But I hope and pray that even in the midst of such a senseless attack and such a bitter loss, our Christian faith will be deepened and strengthened and will become more real to us.  I hope and pray that Alan’s example to this community will be stronger even in his death than it was in his life and that he will inspire many people to be involved in serving Christ and in serving others in and through this local church.

In this time of crisis hold fast to one another.  Hold fast to the faith you have been given.  Turn your anger into action, your grief into giving and your tears into service.

Let me end with verses from our first bible reading which seem so appropriate for Alan who was a genuine servant of Christ, a Reader who preached in this church and an organist who loved to help God’s people sing his praises:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly: teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3.16-17)