Sunday, 9 March 2008

Walking with God in today's world... the title of the sermon series we have been running at the evening services during Lent. It basically a fancy title for various people to give their testimonies about how God is working in their lives. Tonight was my turn….

“Seeking to walk with God in today’s world”.
Matthew 20:17-34
Evensong Sunday 9th March 2008

My mother always said I was destined to be a Librarian. I tried very hard not to be, I wanted to do something much more exciting then that! As a major league film fanatic I wanted to emulate the lives I saw on screen, but lacking the space flight needed to be Luke Skywalker or indeed the “license to kill” needed to be James Bond I instead settled on another great hero of mine and duly went to university to study Archaeology fully convinced that I was going to be the next Indiana Jones. Destiny is not something to be thwarted though it seems. My path was set early when I was elected the class librarian at the age of seven and I spent many happy hours re-arranging all the books into a classification scheme I had devised. By the sixth form I was 10 years into the job and had free reign of the schools book budget to order all the new stock and probably spent more time in the library then I did in my classroom. At university I spent weekends and evenings shelving and filing, classifying and labelling the diverse collections of the university library. There really was no question that this would be my career path It was only I that refused to see it!

I did give in, in the end of course and had 15 wonderful years working in a variety of libraries before I had to leave it behind to come to train in Cambridge.

I tell you this story, not as an advert for the joys of a career in librarianship, though it is great and I do heartily recommend it to any of you considering your career path! but rather because when I think of title of this series I came to the conclusion that my journey with God has been conducted in rather the same way as my journey to my initial career. For me I was less about “seeking to walk with God” rather I was usually to be found running as swiftly as possible in the opposite direction to him, determinedly set on a path of my own choosing, ignoring the rather obvious signs on the way, rather then walking at God’s side where I belonged.

The passage from Matthew we had read to us tonight tells us of Jesus and his disciples walking to Jerusalem – walking towards their destinies, walking towards the horror of Jesus’ passion. Jesus is clearer with his disciples then he has ever been. Time is short and he needs them to understand what it is that is going to happen. Nothing is more important on this journey surely then Jesus getting his point across? Well apparently it is, for he is diverted by the mother of two of his disciples who’s only concerned seems to be that her sons future is secure and settled.

Jesus’ question to this woman and his subsequent reply had real resonance for me as I reflected on my walk with God.
What do you want? To which his reply was - You don’t know what you are asking?
so true isn’t it – so often we go to God with a list of things we want, things that we are convinced are just what we need for everything to be just great – but the reality so often is that we “don’t know what we are asking for.”

I turn 39 next month – I first heard God call me to ordination when I was 26. I wasn’t joking when I said I ran in the opposite direction! Being a vicar was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I had just finished my library training and had an interesting and well paid new post. I had just got my foot on the property ladder and was engrossed in DIY projects transforming my small flat into the home of my dreams. I was settled at church and amongst family and friends I had no intention of disturbing that, thank you very much! I knew exactly where my life was going and managed, most of the time, to convince myself that this was the path that I was supposed to be on, really it was. I was focused and driven, the childhood dreams of being Indiana Jones being replaced by a desire to one day run a library of my own, preferably something nice and prestigious like the British Library or the Bodleian,

The problem was, there was, as the years past this persistent little nagging sense that I wasn’t on the right road, that this was not the journey I should be taking.

And so we have Jesus’ second walk of tonight’s bible passage. The walk from Jericho. The one where the noisy hecklers on the sidelines could not be quieted by the orders of the crowd. Over the years I tried every trick I could think of to get rid of the nagging sense I carried. I thought that if I got more involved in church God would be satisfied and I could keep my life as well as serving him. I joined the PCC, started to help with the youth group, helped out with small group studies and eventually started even to lead services and preach, trained as a Reader, I was putting in anything up to 20 hours a week at the church on top of a full time job ….and yet the nagging just shouted louder.

It came to a head in the summer of 2006 – I was approaching sheer exhaustion. I was so determined to walk the path that I believed was right for me, had put in so much effort to make it work I just couldn’t understand why God still seemed to want more – How could I give more – I had nothing left to give.

It was at this point that I found myself, through a curious set of circumstances, walking a prayer labyrinth. You may have come across such things before but for those of you that haven’t it’s an ancient way of Christian meditation that invites you to take a walk with God physically and prayerfully by following a complex set of intertwining pathways marked on the floor. During this walk for the first time in a long time I found myself rather then going to God with a list of all the things I needed him to do for me, that I was opening myself up to God to ask him “what do I need to do for you.”

The answer came so clear, he didn’t want more, he just wanted different – I was taken back to the day I accepted God as my saviour, I was put back in the chair I was sitting in then, I could feel and smell and hear that day so clearly – but now I could hear the additional commentary – “you gave me your life that day” – “Its mine now and I want it.”

I wish I could say I was gracious with my acquiescence. I wasn’t. I argued with God for nigh on 2 hours trying to counter each request with a perfectly good reason why not. But he persisted “you gave me your life” but….. “you gave me your life” It is mine, I want it.

In the end there were no more buts to be found. Exhausted I knew that from then on I needed to walk this different path, a new path that was mine alone but a path not decided by me.

The journey to being accepted to ordination is a strange one, not least because you, as the candidate, have virtually no say in the decisions being made. A long line of diocesan ordination directors, bishops, selectors and college admission officers are the ones that decide the course of your future. By the processes end I has this piece of A4 paper with a yes on it – a yes that would change my life forever and yet the reality was that my life had changed forever the year before – It changed when I finally allowed God to guide the route, to choose the path.

Just as the two beggar’s on the Jericho road had been I had been touched by Jesus, my sight was regained and I followed him.

I don’t know how well you know the Indiana Jones films but for those of you that do there is the famous scene in the film the “last Crusade” where the path that Indiana Jones is on leads him to the edge of a deep cavern. There is no way across and yet the map he has shows he is to step out. After much hesitation he does so only to realise that there is a bridge there painted in such a way as to be invisible until you are standing on it.

So in a bizarre way I did get to be Indiana Jones because each day now feels like that scene from the film. Each day I step out on the walk knowing that I am not sure where it is going to take me, but trusting that the path will continue underfoot.

It took me a long time, and wanderings up several cul-de-sacs for me to get onto this path but now that I am finally on it I know that it is the right journey for me, for no matter how hard it gets I know that God walks along it with me, and there can be no greater contentment then that.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Never let your pets stay with friends....

.... they will only embarrass you!

All I can say is its a good thing P wasn't in a hurry to get any work done that afternoon.

Monday, 3 March 2008

O Happy day?

It was announced at 11am this morning that Chris Cocksworth, principle of Ridley Hall has been appointed Bishop of Coventry. While its fair to say that all at Ridley were sure that Chris would one day be made a bishop we were all probably secretly hoping it would not be whilst we where students here.

It’s a great day for the Church and of course for Coventry, Chris is a man of amazing gifts as a theologian but also as a man of great pastoral sensitivity. The fact that he has been appointed directly to be a diocesan bishop, the youngest that will currently be serving, shows that the church has recognised these gifts as well. But for us at Ridley this it is a day touched with sadness as it’s a great loss to the college. It’s hard to imagine coming back next year and him not being here. Still we can take heart from those that have been through this before. When the previous principle left to be a bishop there were similar feelings said to be expressed then of him being irreplaceable and yet God was gracious and brought a principle that has also been a blessing to the college as his successors were. I have every confidence that God shall do the same again.

So please pray for Chris and his family as they prepare to take up their new post and pray for the college as they begin the search for a new principle.

(Please also pray that we are gracious and not stick our tongues out at those ordinands from Coventry Diocese who are jumping up and down with glee at the appointment!)

Just noticed that my friend Jeremy has also posted on this but has the addition of a rather fine photograph. Somehow I don't think this will make the offical press releases!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Hero worship

It’s been an odd few weeks as I have had the chance to meet three of my heroes. The first was the week before last when I had breakfast with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Ok, so there were 249 other people there but it was nevertheless a special time. The Archbishops were kind enough to make time in the busy 3 day schedule of meetings here in Cambridge to come and talk to the federation students and though there was some grumbling at having to be there for 7.30 it was well worth the early start. After breakfast and Morning Prayer each of the Archbishops gave a short address and then they fielded questions from the floor for over an hour. Several things struck me, one the genuine friendship and mutual concern the archbishops had for each other. It was wonderful to see this and realising how important that must be, especially in the difficult times that the Rowan has had of late. Secondly was how enormously intelligent they are. They fielded a huge range of questions with wit, grace and massive dollop of wisdom. They gave amazing answers off the cuff that most of us would have struggled to give even with many hours of research. As those that know me well, know I am a huge fan of the “West Wing” TV series. One of the reasons is that I love the idea that America could be led by a man of the intelligence and integrity of President Bartlett. Well I realised that in the Archbishops the church has just such men. It did make me consider again though why is it that we have a national obsession with pulling people off the pedestals we put them on? We build people up and then having done so spend the rest of the time trying to find things to criticise….

The thing that struck me most however was the amazing humility they have. These are men who have ever reason to feel important and yet they struck me as so down to earth. There is such a sense of how important it is to them to be rooted in prayer and the word of God and to remember for whom they are doing this. As Rowan himself said in answer to the question of how he had managed to survive such sever criticism, “by remembering who it is I am ultimately accountable and that’s God and not the editor of the Daily Mail.”

The second hero I met was Sister Francis Dominica who founded Helen House the worlds first children’s hospice. I had heard her speak at Greenbelt and read some of her work and think she is the most amazing woman. I was thus very excited when I heard she was coming to preach at the church I am attached to. She spoke so wonderfully and movingly of her work that, as at Greenbelt, I found myself laughing through a veil of tears. I was fortunate to find myself sitting next to her at the lunch that followed and like the Archbishops there was an amazing humility about her. She was so generous with her time and graciously answered the many questions we all had. She was a fantastic source of anecdotes and kept us all amused with stories of the great and the good that she has met in the course of her work. There was such genuineness about her that when, at the end of lunch, she was saying to people “I hope we meet again” you knew she really meant it. Truly one of Gods angels…