Educational Ethos – Thomas Deacon updated

img_4459Yesterday I took the funeral of a colleague from an educational trust.  Preparing for it I was reminded of a conversation we had about the purpose of education and the ethos we were there to promote.  We were bringing the values of the founder up-to-date, to relate them to the world of schools today.

Given the debates raging about grammar schools and all students needing a good education, here is a contribution with echoes from the 18th century and a benefactor from Peterborough, Thomas Deacon, whose will established a free school for poor boys (now a co-ed academy).

Education is at its best when it:

  • Focuses on the student as the primary concern;
  • Aims to assist him or her achieve their best;
  • Prepares them for today’s world and citizenship;
  • Helps them become rounded people;
  • Fosters moral and spiritual development.

 

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The negligent manager and primacy of justice

img_4634One of the privileges of being vicar of the city centre church and parish is that it brings me into fairly regular contact with our civic leaders and politicians. The tie-in with the cathedral strengthens that and brings a number of opportunities together. It makes me aware of some of their struggles and the issues they face. There are public occasions when I am on show, but it is the quieter conversations that are the real privilege. I therefore have a ready connection with Paul’s plea that we ‘make prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for everyone, not least those in high positions’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Praying for those we elect matters. It shows our concern for the weight of the responsibility they have placed on them and shows our longing for the main themes running through our readings this morning.

The central themes running through the core of those readings were trust, justice and honesty. I have said before that I believe the primary purpose of government is not defence, as some are keen to say, but justice. Poverty and hunger were seen by the writers of the Bible as being primarily a failure of justice, a failure of governance by the political leaders. They had not ensured that the hungry were fed, those who were most vulnerable were cared for. They had not ensured that the society was structured in such a way that it worked for the benefit of all and not just the few. I’m sure I’ve heard someone else say something about that recently. This was expressed powerfully and clearly by Jeremiah (8:18-9:1). The cry of the poor from far and wide was heard and it made the writer ask if this meant there was no king; ‘is God not in Zion?’ Surely if those in charge had done their job properly this would not have been the case.

It is a cry we hear when we look at poverty and the pressure on welfare services today. Many of the solutions and causes are complex, but the cry down the ages is to remind those whom we elect that their job is to serve the needs of those who can least assist themselves. It is not to enjoy the rich and privileged lifestyle for themselves or to make their mates rich, but to ensure that what is needed is there. To do this they clearly need a peaceful society, not at war, not under threat, not corrupt. So there are struggles against aggressors, struggles against organized crime and oppression, and these seem to require constant vigilance and we know this only too well. The reason for this protecting is to ensure justice.

Threats from corruption were present in the gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13). That said there is no suggestion that recompense was required of the agent, so the parable may be more about neglect than misappropriation of funds. Squandering, defined as wasting in a foolish or reckless manner, covers the spectrum from failing to do the job to what would be called culpable negligence, that is knowingly failing to do what we should have done. For those of us who are trustees we are acutely aware of this. Where there are failures to look after the property entrusted to our charge, it becomes necessary to give account of whether we have been duped by another, whether we have misplaced our trust, or been negligent in our duties of oversight and management. The Charity Commission and Church Commissioners for churches can take an interest. Being a trustee means we are deemed trustworthy of the assets committed to our charge.

Jesus used the story of the negligent agent as a parable of an eternal charge. The setting in Luke began with the scribes and Pharisees who grumbled at Jesus because tax collectors and sinners flocked to hear him. He told parables about joy in heaven when sinners repent using lost sheep and misplaced coins as his examples, which we heard last week (Luke 15). This is followed by the parable often referred to as the prodigal son, but better named the loving father, emphasizing its point about compassion and love that delights in repentance. The Pharisees, whom Jesus accused of failing in their responsibility to draw people closer to God, were accused of being the negligent agent. They were distracted by laws which just made it harder for everyone else to draw closer. Jesus in contrast was the one the penitent went to for words of liberation and nourishment.

It is a concern for the church at the moment struggling with crises of cash and keeping inherited structures serviceable and functioning. Behind these structures lies a gospel, a message of good news to set us free from the oppressions of the mind and spirit. There is a purpose, there is hope, and that purpose and hope comes from God and rests in God. Our confidence for this is found in all we see and learn in Jesus Christ. As the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, who died a week ago, was keen to say, “God is as he is in Jesus Christ and therefore there is hope”. Self-giving, loving, forgiving, calling and sending, redeeming and transforming, in Jesus Christ we see purpose and goal.

So Jesus’ parable about a negligent steward is a reminder of the hope at the heart of our faith and the church’s calling to proclaim it. Part of this is to make prayer, intercessions and thanksgivings for everyone, not least those in high positions, for justice is their primary concern.

 

Sermon preaching in Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 18th September 2016

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The love above all others

IMG_2378Every now and then the gospels portray Jesus in a way that startles. We are so used to public figures guarding their words that we could wish they spoke a bit more frankly at times. Every nuance of what they say is examined by people ready to pounce at the slightest infringement of what is expected or deemed acceptable. So the head of Ofsted resigned over the summer following lack of care in how he referred to the Isle of Wight. Having been the vicar of an area where the gene pool needed expanding, where the local health visitors and podiatrists told me about the additional toes, and where there were significant learning challenges in the local schools, I had an inkling as to what he might have been referring, but there were more respectful ways of saying it. His words were jumped on and condemned. Careless words can cost jobs.

Jesus used some very surprising language in our gospel reading (Luke 14:25-33). He told his hearers that they should “hate” their parents, children and siblings, even life itself. If they didn’t do this, they could not be his disciples. Still reeling from that, they were told that unless they embraced the way of execution and shame, their cross, they could not be one of his disciples. The point behind this came in what followed, that they needed to know what the cost was so that they followed him with their eyes wide open, that they entered into this fully aware of what was involved. But still, ‘hate’ is a very strong and an emotive way of putting it. In English ‘hatred’ refers to intense dislike and strong aversion.   We have ‘hate crimes’, which are usually violent offences motivated by some form of prejudice, not least racial or sexual prejudice. To put it mildly, it is very strange to us to be encouraged by the gospels to adopt hatred as a sign of being one of Jesus’ followers.

It won’t, perhaps, surprise you then that all is not as it seems. The word translated as ‘hate’ turns out to be more subtle. Its more likely meaning is ‘to love less’ or ‘leave aside and abandon’. That is still a challenge because we expect to love and be loved by those closest to us fully and children need to know that they are loved, that they are their parents’ priority. In fact depriving them of unconditional, full love is very much seen as neglect and not an environment conducive for them to grow and flourish. And we would expect that loving is itself to be seen as an outpouring of the Christian character, which is infused by love, by the love of God.

It is here that we begin to find a way into what Jesus was referring to. All love stems from God’s love. It is because God loves us that we can have any hope of loving. Our love is rooted in God’s love for the creation and which is hardwired into creation. So to love anyone we have to connect with that foundational love which brought the world into being and holds it in God’s purposes. As the writer of the First Letter of John put it, “God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16).

But there is more to this love of God standing above all other loves. The foundation of our loving is our love of God and loving another or any other is not a substitute. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something we do with the spare bits of our lives that are not allocated to something else. Following Jesus Christ is the primary goal and call on who we are. Everything else flows from it. How that is expressed, though, is another matter. We English people don’t tend to go in for particularly passionate religious expression. We tend to be rather reserved and see the emotive outpouring of faith as being excessive and it makes us uncomfortable when we see it. So when a group from one of the newer churches in the city walked into Cathedral Square on Friday afternoon singing the praises of Jesus very loudly and exuberantly, I was very much out of my comfort zone. I am much more reserved than that. But it is not that far from what I do every time I kneel for my morning prayers, as my outlook is reset for the day ahead, just much more quietly and privately. It is what lies behind what we do as we gather here to remember Jesus with bread and wine in the great thanksgiving prayer of the Eucharist. It is what we do when we ‘sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (Colossians 3:16), at the moment to the accompaniment of the piano, but in time to the magnificent sound of the soon to be restored mighty organ. The cultural expression is very different but the passion and faith behind them both is far more similar, and rooted in the same whole-life commitment.

With this heart that responds at its deepest point to the love and call of God in Christ comes a further challenge, that is to realize the potential cost of this. It is to risk, to be so committed to it as the reason for life that it is the priority for life, even if that means that life being threatened. There were news reports this week about a suggestion that clergy should not wear clerical attire in case it attracts attacks. This came from a particular group and followed on from recent terrorist activity. Most of the responses I saw from fellow clergy saw this as being alarmist and it struck at the heart of what we stand for. It came to mind yesterday as I walked through the city centre in full robes to lead a prayer outside the Town Hall as the Red Ensign was raised for Merchant Navy Day, far from incognito. Making statements about what matters most to us, be it by flying flags or forms of dress, is important. The alternative is that we hide and give in to the secular delusion that it is possible to have a neutral space where they are all removed. It is not. All of us have an ideology that lies behind our values, our living and our loving. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, it comes from Christ and so we can do no other than make that explicit.

That may bring a cost, it inevitably will where there is conflict with other ideologies. For Paul, in our first reading from his letter to Philemon, it led to incarceration, and it is clear from his letter that he wrote from prison (Philemon 1-21). This was because what he said was seen as being seditious, against the accepted values of a state that expected that it would hold ‘the allegiance beyond all others’. Totalitarian regimes often put themselves in the place of God and think they stand above the divine. This is one of the disturbing sides of the French burkini ban and the forced uncovering of women on beaches. There is an understandable concern that faces are visible – otherwise people become non-people and you can’t relate to them as people. We expect people to remove crash helmets when entering banks and the burka is the same, covering as it does the whole face. Headscarves and the hijab are different. Are we going to ban nuns from beaches because they also wear headdress? For us how we are, who we are, is rooted in our allegiance to Christ.

As we think about this, Paul’s letter to Philemon adds a further dimension. Having lost their slave Onesimus Paul offers him back to the recipients of his letter, not as a slave, but as a beloved brother. They are to welcome Onesimus as they would welcome Paul. He will flourish and so will they in the grace and freedom that comes from knowing they are the beloved. The cost comes in different guises. It is easy to focus on the darker side of the cross, of knowing the price of the force to be expended in the venture, of the cost of the consequences when what we stand for clashes with another ideology. But it also comes in the pouring out of blessing, of grace being expended as an investment and rewarded in the return.

Talking of ‘hating’ life, parents, children, skews the message to our ears. It is more that the first love, the foundation of our loving is the love of and for God. By definition all other loving will be secondary but nonetheless profound and deep. I don’t think our translators, those who chose the word, have helped us here. Ultimately all of us stand alone before the saving grace of God. That saving grace calls us to love and blesses us with love, but it is not to be replaced by any other loving. It is the root of who we are and all we shall be.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 4th September 2016

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Olympic spiritual ideals: Aiming higher to be stronger in spirit and faster to bless

The Olympic Flag flies in front of "Christ the Redeemer" statue during a blessing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro

Every four years our attention is drawn to a much wider selection of sport than we usually see. That is one of the reasons I like the Olympic games and the 31st Olympiad started on Friday in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Athletes from around the world have been training for years for this moment. Under the motto of ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ they will aim to smash records and win those all-important gold medals, hopefully based on their skill and not enhanced by drugs. They have committed themselves single mindedly to hone their skills and are now poised for their moment to shine. Being champion is everything, and for many even coming second or third won’t count. The unofficial motto of “The most important thing is not to win but to take part” seems to have been archived, as has its other version of striving and the struggle mattering more than triumph.

There are many occasions when being focused for this level of competition is a life skill. Job selection by competitive interview will mean that because there is only one post, only one will be offered it and the others will not. Coming second still means you don’t get the job. At some levels there may be an element of discernment about who will flourish in the role and who will not, but that can feel little consolation if you are the one not offered it, and I’m not always convinced it’s the best method of selection. Time to slope off and nurse a bruised ego, or more seriously worry about how the bills will be paid.   There are other situations where it is more important to work together and for the project to thrive above our own glory. In fact there are more situations where that is the case, even when we may have a distinctive contribution to make based on our own striving to be faster, higher and stronger, however that translates as we develop the gifts we have. Team sports can prepare for working together to achieve a goal.

It is one of the often-overlooked aspects of natural selection that cooperation is an important feature of what makes us thrive and survive as a species. We have come a long way from a crude fittest wins and everything else is defeated. We protect the weak and vulnerable, recognize gifts in diverse ways, and this is an attribute that has been shown to be advantageous for survival and thriving. So just being the best doesn’t necessarily get us very far unless there is a point to it, a goal to be achieved. And of course the Olympics have their origin in honing skills for battle, for messengers running with letters and endurance tests. In battle winning means you live and coming second means you are dead. So it’s easy to see why aiming to be the best can matter. Some sports are less obvious. It was watching the jousting at the Heritage Festival last year that I suddenly realized what the point of dressage is as a military skill; dancing horses had previously struck me as being completely pointless. It is the ability to manouvre a horse in a tight space and that is a skill needed on a medieval battlefield.

So we have games that emphasise individual endeavour with skill being honed to the top of their performance and this being harnessed into team efforts so that together the goal can be achieved. It emphasizes tribal allegiances as we cheer our team and reveal the place our identity calls home. I will be cheering for the Union Flag and whatever I might think about Brexit, I wouldn’t cheer in the same way for the blue flag with yellow stars on it.  This year there is a team drawn from refugees so I can see me cheering for Team Refugee, to rejoice in the triumph over so much adversity.

Our Gospel reading looked at aiming for the treasure which counts above all others and being ready for moment (Luke 12:32-40): we strive for the prize or medal at the end. It follows on from last week’s warning about just hording money, or the fruit of the harvest, for selfish gain. And it moves us on to show that what we call treasure is determined by what our heart desires. The “do not worry” at the beginning refers to over anxiety about food and clothing, base needs in the hierarchy of needs. It is a call to move up the scale beyond shining things to what counts, to set our vision beyond the immediate and what the preacher of Ecclesiastes last week called ‘vanities’.

Reaching for the treasure of great price, the pearl of great price as another gospel story put it, clearly has a spiritual parallel. And we aim to live a life that shapes us for this, that prepares us for it. Our Collect this morning, the special prayer for this Sunday, fits with this. It prays that we will be given such grace that running the way of God’s commandments, shaped by God’s ways, we will be made partakers of the heavenly treasure. There is in this the notion of shaping, training and preparing; living life as a preparation for the Kingdom of God, a spiritual twist to the Olympic ideals. We aim to live in anticipation of it, so that the values of justice, living with truth and love and thankfulness for the gift, will shape how we try to be and become.

There are so many struggles that confront us in this, and many of them come from inside ourselves and our own mental maps. Some come from the assaults of the temptations and other ways of looking at life we encounter. There are many fears at the moment of who is dangerous and who is not, and it is easy to think our security lies in building barriers to all who would come near us in case they are dangerous. That kind of fortress may seem protective but it offers a picture of closed relationships, inhospitable rejection and one where love finds little room to flourish. And we know that living in love rather than hatred and in hope rather than fear is a far more fruitful state. Time and time again, over the centuries, liberation from oppression has come from the dominance of love rather than the imposition of hatreds and fears. Loving and hoping, hospitality and embrace change and transform people and situations for the better in ways violence and hostility can never match. This can require being vulnerable, to risk love, where hatred and fear would close the door. In Christ we see that self-giving, open and hospitable love is the true way to peace and wholeness.

The summer is a time with more space in it, not least because the heat demands that we slow down from the rushing around. In the slower pace we have the chance to take stock and let the air freshen up. We aim to breathe more deeply and dream in sunny places. Watching different sports, as with the Olympics, can give the mind chance to think differently, to be renewed in grace. Aiming higher to be stronger in spirit and faster on the draw for blessing is not a bad way to live a spiritual Olympic ideal.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 7th August 2016

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Vanity of Vanities and the not so pessimistic preacher

IMG_4448If I start to talk about money, what sound track comes to mind? For those whose musical taste naturally goes to the 1970s and 80s it might be Pink Floyd’s 1973 song ‘Money’ with its characteristic sound of a ringing cash till and its bass riff at the beginning. The song comes from an album which reflects on the things that send humanity insane: war, greed and death. Or it might be the rapid staccato piano chords of Abba’s 1976 hit ‘Money, money, money’ with its comment on the difficulties of breaking through the gender pay gap. A decade later brought us Dire Straits’ ‘Money for nothing’ where a hardware store employee contrasts his own life with the lifestyle he sees on the music videos he is watching. 1985 was the decade of shoulder pads, Miami Vice with its sharp suits and fast cars, and the young and upwardly mobile. Acquisitiveness was everything.

For older listeners, the Beetles 1966 rant against the 95% supertax rate in their song ‘Taxman’ may be what springs to mind first. And for some of our younger iPod track searchers, Jay-Z and Kanye West produced a rap called ‘Who gon’ stop me?’, complete with Parental Advisory in 2011. Here the inner city struggle meets the aspiration for the badges of power and value displayed in gold watches and bling. I will leave the Precentor and Dean to give you their top 10 favourite tracks from a more classical selection over coffee.

This very selective and brief track list gives a snap shot into how money is often portrayed on the radio and MP3 player. The themes of justice, avarice and false treasures compete for attention, though it has to be said avarice probably has the upper hand. The reason for this is probably set out by Rick James 1982 song ‘Money Talks’, where he sets out the ability of cash to control all facets of our lives. Those with it can do what they like; those without it can’t. And those who say you don’t need it are often speaking from a position of comfort or security, or both.

When we want to know what money is for we need to ask what life is for. Both have a transitory quality, here today and tomorrow gone. They cannot just be stored because they have no value except in the using and in the case of life, in the living. It is in the breathing of the moment that we exist and it is in the spending and using for a purpose that money is of any use. Money is a tool to be used to help us trade and exchange; it is the currency of action which makes things happen because it is much easier to swap a commonly accepted token than go around with a bag of chickens with which to barter according to whatever value can be gained for them. Even money in the bank is working in how it is lent and invested and moved around – though you might not think it when you see the interest statement. So in the use of money and the living of life we begin to see what our readings were about.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, from which the first reading was taken, has been described as having an unremitting pessimistic outlook. It has a seemingly negative view of life, not surprisingly coming from its opening words: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (1:2). The book ends in similar vein so it doesn’t improve. But the word translated ‘vanity’ is not that easy to tie down. It can mean futile and worthless, fleeting and ephemeral. But it can also mean brief and breath. Chasing after stuff is like chasing after the wind (1:14). But wind and breath are also the signs of life. So when we think of the human condition in these terms, we join the Psalmist who pondered the question ‘what are human beings that God should value them’ (8:4). Our lives are like the grass in the field, when the wind goes over it it is gone (103:4), blown away like a dandelion head in the summer. ‘Vanity of vanities’, this strange phrase of the Preacher, whoever he was, probably from the third century BC, is an expression of how much our life is fleeting and fragile, brief and like the breath, but that breath is what makes us alive. It may be momentary, but that moment is charged with the substance of life itself. So how the ‘vanity of vanities’ is viewed depends very much on the stance of the one viewing it. If life is pointless, it is pointless and useless. If life is charged with the purpose of God, then its brevity is nonetheless held by the purpose of God.

We may well wonder what the point of everything is, especially in our darker moments. Work may indeed feel a vexation, full of pain, disturbing our sleep, a fleeting vanity as with the Preacher in Ecclesiastes (2:23). But deeply rooted in the writing, given its place in the Bible, is a faith that purpose lies with God and so while our life might be fleeting and brief, a mere breath, it nonetheless emanates from the breath of God and that makes it all the more special.

It is here that we start to look afresh at the man who built a big barn in our Gospel reading (Luke 12:13-21). The Old Testament story of Joseph, with his coat of many colours, has the building of barns to store the food from times of excess to feed the people during the approaching famine (Genesis 41). And that is the clue, the barn was for everyone and was for a purpose. It was not just to horde so that the rich farmer could take life easy, while others struggled, but to make sure there was enough for everyone, to use it for the common good. Money is not individual and private, but a social mechanism and without the social use it is pretty pointless. And money brings us into the web of relationships around its production and spending. We cannot count it without an eye to how it was generated.

Yesterday our church calendar remembered William Wilberforce and those who campaigned with him to end slavery in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Those included Olaudah Equiano, himself a former slave. It was moving to hear Michelle Obama talking this week about her family being descended from slaves and her daughters currently living in the White House built by slaves. Quite a few bishops in the Church of England were compensated for their loss of income by the ending of slavery, not to our credit. There are modern forms of slavery with people trafficked, exploited and held as slaves and from time to time we hear about it in this city. When we ask what money is for, we are confronted with the God of justice who demands that we treat one another as the full, honoured, beloved children of his amazing grace that we all are. We may be fleeting, fragile and brief, but just like breath the value and the purpose of love remain central.

The rich farmer was condemned for his avarice, for his selfishness and for his total lack of any notion that there was a purpose to life because of his total missing of the point of what his harvest was for. What we can buy with our money and the fruit of our labour does not last, just as life does not last. It is vanity and all is vanity. But vanity, breath, for all its brevity and its fleeting nature, springs from the heart of God and is held by the purpose of God.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Cathedral, Sunday 31st July 2016

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Pokémon Go: searching, meeting, finding

IMG_4417Last weekend a new craze burst into our lives. If a couple of weeks ago anyone had said that I would have been sitting in a meeting this week discussing a strategy to respond to Pokémon Go with two education officers, a safeguarding officer, two communications officers and a director of operations, I would have been surprised to say the least. You will no doubt have seen groups of teenagers and others walking round glued to their phones as they go in search of Squirtles, Pidgeys, Magnemites and Zubats.

For those in blissful ignorance of all of this, Pokémon Go is a mobile app game which lets players find the animated creatures called Pokémon (short for pocket monster) and once caught by flinging balls at them on the screen, they can train them and then battle with them. The game takes place in what is called augmented reality, which combines real life places with virtual gaming. It uses the GPS signal on the phone so it knows where you are and can locate you on the map. Various buildings and features have been tagged as Pokéstops that gamers need to visit to find the Pokémon and pick up various other items to play the game and St John’s is one such Pokéstop. Some places are gyms where the battles can take place, and the Lido is one of these. The game has labeled us as “One of Jesus’ Houses”, which is pretty accurate, and the gateway to the Cathedral is “Gateway to Jesus Mansion”, which has a certain humour to it.

One of the benefits of the game is that it gets people out and about, looking at what is around them. And those who are playing it are very happy to talk. It is social and engaging, it provides an opportunity to point out what the place they have visited is for. I was talking to a group of young people in the cathedral grounds the other evening and they had been out for 2 hours walking round different places in search of the creatures. In the Cathedral we have decided to work with this and are setting up a phone free Pokémon trail around the inside for the school holidays. We have also had to put up a few notices to let people know if they are about to stray off the right path and that there is no way through. We are concerned for the safety of those who play it and so are alert to some of its darker sides. We are on the look out for anyone trying to use it to lure young people into danger. We want to be a place of safety.

Augmented reality; searching, meeting and finding; a place of safety: these are themes that connect with our Christian faith.

The creatures which are seen on the screen are not there, they only exist in a cyber world; a world that augments the real one. But they spark the imagination. It entices a question: what lies around us but is hidden? In a much more enchanted age, where the popular consciousness felt the presence of demons and angels, spirits and forces at work unseen, the concept of augmented reality would have readily triggered in ways it doesn’t tend to for us. We are familiar with the use of metaphor: a word picture to help us express what we can’t quite get hold of in any tangible sense. These can help us give form to forces at work that we don’t readily see but want to talk about. A community can have a corporate way of being and the writer of the Book of Revelation referred to this by addressing his comments to the ‘angel’ of the churches of particular places, the ‘angel’ being the metaphor for the corporate character. Some of those were not very virtuous angels. So augmented reality can be similar to metaphor, the representations we use to express the deeper dynamics and drives which we can’t see.

We can ask what are the forces that are at work beneath the surface of our corporate character. How are these expressed as we struggle with how we view the stranger, the vulnerable, the struggling? How do we relate to those who have a very different picture of what kind of society they would like to see? Do we look for a ‘gym’ where we can do battle with our metaphors or instead find a place to understand one another more deeply? The overriding aim for a Christian character is to seek God’s Kingdom and that should aim to bring us together in love and hope, to reconcile the differences and bring peace. The Christ who died and rose for us draws us closer to one another and to him.

Secondly, searching, meeting and finding; these were in our Gospel reading (Luke 11:1-13). If we search we will find; there is something to look for (v10). It began with Jesus teaching them how to pray (v1-4), with words that connect with the hidden and unseen reality that is God. It was relational, because just like it is unthinkable that a child asking for an egg would be given a scorpion (v11-13), so God as Father can be relied on. It has been a central theme of the spiritual quest down the ages that we have to go on a journey to find what we seek. Just as Pokémon Go players have to walk around to find the Pokémon and play the game. It is readily available but we do have to move in order to connect with it, be that physically, emotionally or mentally. It rarely leaves us where we are or as we are. The hymn ‘Just as I am’ is not a statement about how God leaves us but that in the state of being ‘without one plea’ we are met and drawn into the reality that is God’s love for us. God, who accepts us as we are, transforms us into the image of his glory that he would have us be. It is one of the fallacies of our age that thinks there is no need for redemption, confession or indeed resurrection. How we are is not how we will be and the true spiritual paths disrupt us and change us. The Lord’s Prayer asks for forgiveness to be given and received.

In that changing, the social element of the game has a further level for us. It is connecting people, getting the hard to reach to open up so that a point of contact to talk, however briefly, can be found. And the “hard to reach” might be us. It breaks down barriers as people compare their excitement and discoveries. God the Holy Trinity is our ultimate model of social living. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to one another and exist in a harmony of love and purpose. So anything that promotes breaking down barriers and drawing people closer together is to be welcomed. In providing a common topic, Pokémon Go can be an icebreaker as those engaging with one another find a point of contact from which a conversation can develop.

As people play the game we can also recognize its dangers, not least being so absorbed in what’s on the screen that we don’t notice what we are about to walk into or be hit by. And the game begins with a warning to stay aware of your surroundings. Providing a place of safety, of sanctuary, my third theme, has been a feature of churches since very early days. It can be a refuge from the pressures and noise as we enter its calm and stillness. One of the things I was reminded of on the clergy chapter quiet day last week, as I read TS Eliot’s poem Little Gidding at Little Gidding, was that poetry requires us to slow down and savour the words at a more measured pace. That can be difficult for the restless soul, but doing it stills the inner mind and brings refreshment. Safety also brings protection from the evil that would assail us, and there is a link between spiritual anchoring and calming a turbulent mind, as well as safeguarding.

So Pokémon Go is this summer’s brain rest and fun feature for many people around us. We are involved in it, whether we like it or not, because the game has tagged us as “One of Jesus’ Houses”. That brings an opportunity to explain what being one of Jesus’ Houses means and I have put a poster in our outside noticeboards. It can also prompt us to look more deeply at what is real as we play with augmented reality: the reality of faith, hope and love, and how we live these. We search, we meet and we find: we find God who is looking to connect with us and we find one another as a point of contact opens up what may have been closed. Love of God and love of neighbour are after all linked. And we find our ultimate safety in the love of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us. In augmented reality and real reality, this is one of Jesus’ houses because here we search, we meet and we find.

Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 24th July 2016

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Prayer Commemorating WW1

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As we stand in solemn silence
and recall the terrible cost of war and conflict
give us courage to take stock
of all that led to the hour;
the evil intent,
the opportunities to step aside
and embrace a different path not taken,
the confrontation and aggression
with violence in the heart
that would not stop.
May we learn to build true peace;
to nurture the channels and bonds that unite;
to respect and honour all people,
however different they may be.
Keep us ever mindful of the road that leads to death and destruction
lest we forget and travel it once more.
For the greater love that lays down its life
in your Son, the Prince of Peace,
won for us eternal hope
and a Kingdom built on true justice;
we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Prayer written to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

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