Remembrance Sunday 2018

2018-11-11 12.35.27I have been thinking about silence. The two minute silence, instituted by King George V for the first Armistice Day in 1919, is now part of our national psyche. The King requested that “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

I read an archive report of that first silence (from the Guardian, see here)

At eleven o’clock I chanced to be at Oxford Circus. It was a most impressive moment. There was a loud detonation, and immediately the restless traffic was silent, every male head uncovered, and all flags on the house-tops slackened in the leech until they were half-mast high. I have never before assisted in a pause so reverent. It was possible to gauge the thoughts of the crowd. Many themselves had served, and will have been flung back…to the memory of those fine fellows with whom they had lived in the closest union until the fatal scythe of war snatched them away. Of the others, who does not mourn a vacant chair?

99 years later countless more men and women have been added to that number whose thoughts will be flung back to other wars and conflicts. There are many more vacant chairs to be mourned.

It is the silence of the emptiness of a space once filled with laughter and the joy of being alive that strikes to the heart of remembrance.

There is silence which frees us from having to find the right words to use to express our thanks, our reverence, our anger, our compassion, our frustration or our love.

There may never be words that are right. There are famous words…, words we have heard today – “they shall not grow old…” “…for your tomorrow we gave our today…” but even these only scratch the surface of the depths of loss and grief in a century of conflict.

We think of the noise of war but there are so many other silences in war too.

 

Different silences that when bundled together with the King’s two minutes deepen the silence and stillness.

 

The silence endured by those waiting at home.

A favourite book of mine puts these words into the mouth of a young woman with two brothers fighting in France.

It isn’t as if it were some sort of fever to which you might conclude they were immune when they hadn’t taken it for two years. The danger is just as great and just as real as it was the first day they went into the trenches. I know this, and it tortures me every day. (Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery)

My generation and those younger than me are so used to instant communication. We live our lives around phone calls and messages. Telegrams are museum pieces and letters are a rarity.

What must it have been like to wait for casualty lists in a newspaper? To long for news of a loved one – but to live with silence?

Today’s military families don’t have the same delays – they are not reliant on letters, newspapers or telegrams – but there can still be an adjustment to only periodic emails or messages; and there are still deep operational silences during conflicts.

 

There is the silence of those who were not able to speak of what they had seen.

The final silence of those executed for cowardice in the face of shell shock.

The silence of those who witnessed horrific scenes – and kept a stiff upper lip, never sharing their experiences.

There is the silence that confronts us when we ask God for answers.

John’s Gospel reassures us that we are loved as the Father loved the Son.

That the Father may give us whatever we ask for.

Yet in our depths of grief – whether for an individual we have loved or the loss of peace in a community – we cry out to God and hear nothing but deafening silence.

A hundred years after the war to end all wars we are still making swords and not ploughshares. Nations are still training for war.

Has God not listened? Has he ignored the cries from the heart of those in anguish?

How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from me?

Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

These are the words of the psalmists expressing their fear and pain and the silence from God.

The psalms tell us there are are no easy answers.

I believe that God is with us in all times and in all things.

I believe that God loves us as he loved his son, Jesus Christ.

I trust that even when God is silent he is grieving with us over the pain and the agony and the war in the world.

This isn’t how his wonderful creation was meant to be.

We are loved as the Father loves us.

And the gospel today speaks of laying down one’s life for a friend.

Jesus lay his life down; to take it up again in the power of the resurrection.

The resurrection that did change the world.

The resurrection that assures us that God has won the battle over sin, and death; that there is light and life in this world and in the next.

The resurrection that assures us God is watching and waiting for us to speak.

The resurrection that assures us of God’s love even across the silence.

There is one final silence that should be filled.

The silence of the bystander.

The second world war did not start with the gas chambers.

Rwanda’s tribal genocide did not spring from nowhere.

The Syrian Civil War did not just begin overnight.

We may not be able to broker international peace deals.

But we can show that love for one another that Christ asks of us by breaking the silence.

Breaking the silence when we see people marginalised.

Breaking the silence when we see people discriminated against.

Breaking the silence when we see people bullied.

If we believe that we live in the tomorrow that the soldiers of the first world war gave us by sacrificing their today; how do we honour them?

We honour those who gave their lives fighting against injustice, genocide, and oppression by refusing to stay silent when we have a chance – any chance  – to pursue justice and to speak up for the oppressed.

We pledge in a moment to work to serve God and humankind.

Let us say those words with confidence and clarity,assured of God’s love for us all, as we make the promise to work for peace.

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Two homilies (2) Easter Day

Easter Sunday | Year A | Acts 10.34-43 | Colossians 3.1-4 | John 20.1-18

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Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia.

Praise the Lord.

There, that’s better.

Six weeks of not being able to say Alleluia – and here we are.

Easter Sunday.

We can say joyfully and loudly say “Praise the Lord” because Jesus Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

We will say that again during the Eucharistic prayer.

I will say “Great is the mystery of faith.”

And you will respond “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Great is the mystery of faith.

We’re gathered here today in worship and praise and rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Christ died.

Christ is risen.

And if you are sitting thinking “resurrection is a pretty odd thing,” then you know what – that’s OK.

Great is the mystery of faith.

And strange is the resurrection of Christ.

In today’s Gospel account of the resurrection, the familiar elements are there – the empty tomb, the grave clothes, the bemused disciples and the witness of a woman.

Like the whole of John’s gospel there are images and echoes backwards and forwards internally and to scripture.

Perhaps the grave clothes are mentioned so specifically to show they are different from Lazarus’ – Lazarus, whom Jesus had already raised from the dead. But Lazarus was still wearing his grave clothes when he was raised.

Jesus, the one who had the power over life and death, was different.

And Peter.

Peter – the favourite disciple of so many of us, because he just so often gets it wrong – went home.

There’s nothing different yet about Peter.

Peter went home.

I wonder why.

I wonder if he was tired. If he was burdened with the guilt of having let down his lord, his rabbi, his Messiah.

Did his ears still ring with the sound of the cock crowing, trumpeting his failure?

Peter saw the grave clothes, but he did not understand.

The other disciple saw the grave clothes and he did believe.

Seeing and believing are strong ideas in the Gospel of John.

In John 1, in the prologue, we read “the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.”

John the Baptist says “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The first words that Jesus speaks in John’s gospel are “what are you looking for?” and his first statement is “come and see.”

But Peter, and the other disciple, go home, leaving Mary Magdalene to see Jesus.

To have him ask her practically the same question as he asked in the beginning “whom are you looking for?”

And calls her by name.

Just as Jesus in John 1 names Simon Peter.

You may all by now be familiar with my desire to highlight the things that women do or say in the Bible that are so easy to miss.

This is one of them.

This is not just a trivial conversational exchange that the gospel writer has scripted.

We are also reminded of the image of the good shepherd in John 10.

He calls his sheep by name, and they know his voice.

And I wonder why Mary Magdelene thought Jesus was the gardener.

Was that the most logical explanation for seeing someone else in the early morning?

Was Jesus tidying up the shrubs?

I don’t know.

But it’s an image worth thinking about.

Is it an echo back to that first garden, Eden?

A reminder of the creation story.

You may have heard before that the name Adam is a play on words.

The Hebrew for ‘ground’ or ‘earth’ is adama. In Genesis 2, God puts the man in the garden to tend and till it.

Perhaps we have this link with the warden of the garden.

Echoes of the creation of the world in the re-creation of the world through the resurrection.

The resurrection changes things.

Peter’s simple statement in Acts shows the change in him.

This is the post-resurrection Peter.

The Peter that has been forgiven by Jesus for his denial.

The Peter that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Peter who seen the persecution of the fledgling church and is on his way to leadership – and his own death.

The resurrection changes things.

This morning at the beginning of the service we renewed our baptism vows.

In baptism, we sign the candidate with the sign of the cross using holy oil.

When I explain this to the children visiting from schools I talk about the identity that it gives us.

I say that they wear a school uniform to show they are part of that school community.

And that even when they’re not wearing the uniform, they’re still part of the school.

And the cross is like that.

It’s the invisible mark that we died and been raised with Christ in our baptism.

Our identity in Christ.

The resurrection changes things.

The resurrection changes us.

We belong now to God’s new world.

We are a new creation.

Paul wrote to the Colossians talking about this new life in Christ.

He tells us what the implication is.

What we need to do, if we have been raised with Christ.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

What does that mean today, tomorrow, when we’re back at work in the thick of life after a holiday weekend?

In baptism we say ‘Christ claims you for his own.’

We recognise Jesus when we are called by name.

Mary recognised Jesus when he called her by name.

Peter was called by name.

I think we need to look and see for those signs of the things from above.

The things that are of God, not of the world.

And we might have to look quite hard.

Because those things of God might come disguised.

Christ might look like a gardener at first glance.

The grave clothes might just look like any other linen.

Love might look like duty or hard work.

The mystery of faith might look like something to be laughed at.

We might fear faith for not understanding, rather than welcoming a mystery to be explored.

The other disciple had a chance to take a breather after his run to the tomb.

He went second into the tomb, and he saw and believed.

Perhaps for us to see and to believe we need to take a breather from our busy lives.

Time in prayer, in study, in fellowship.

Time to hear Jesus calling our name.

Time to become a disciple.

A lifetime’s commitment.

The resurrection changes things.

Will we let it change us?

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

 

Two homilies: (1) Maundy Thursday

feet-1176612_1280Year A | Maundy Thursday | Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, John 13.1-17,31b-35

May I speak in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want to look tonight about what John’s gospel says. And why it says what it does.

That might be a short sermon, you think, possibly with relief.

Because it’s obvious, isn’t it? Thursday of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday. Passover, betrayal, arrest. We know the story.

And yes. Our familiar landmarks along the way are there in our readings.

But what does John say? Why does he say what he says?

We probably all know that the gospel writers describe the life and ministry of Jesus differently.

There is a general theory that Matthew, Mark and Luke shared some sources when writing their accounts; but had independent sources as well.

So that’s why there’s overlap and difference between the three synoptic gospels. They’re called synoptic because they take a common view. That prefix – syn – means ‘together’. We see it in words like synagogue and synchrony and synergy.

It’s also thought that the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew at least one of the others and based his material on them.

But John’s view is different.

John’s Gospel has been described as the ‘theological gospel’ as if the other three were merely narrative. A useful starting point, perhaps, to measure John’s text, but ultimately not a true distinction. Both John and the synoptics have both detail and theology.

John has been selective.

John gives us many small, significant hints at his message. All kinds of imagery that we perhaps don’t notice or don’t get in translation.

For example, the verb used when we hear of Jesus laying aside his outer robe, is the same as used in John 10 when we hear of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. The verb τιθημι that’s used is quite specific, not normally associated with undressing, but laying aside. Echoes in the text reminding us of what has been said previously.

Or, throughout John, the words “coming from”, going to, going up, coming down; are used to describe Jesus’ origins.

John shows us the comparison with manna – the bread that come down from heaven – and the bread of life – that came down from the Father.

Water, bread, and wine are threads that run through the tapestry of John’s gospel.

What is the first sign in the fourth gospel?

Jesus turns a lot of water into a lot of wine.

The conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4  is about living water.

John 6 tells us Jesus fed more than five thousand people, with leftovers. Twelve baskets. A lot of bread. Twelve – probably not a number chosen at random.

And that sign is immediately followed by Jesus walking on water.

Which is followed by Jesus saying that he is the bread of life.

In John 15 he talks of needing to be part of the true vine.

The gospel reading this evening talks of water cleansing feet, and cleansing lives.

Wine, bread, and water. The elements of the Eucharist. John’s gospel is awash with the stuff.

But John’s description of Jesus’ last meal doesn’t include the sharing of the bread or the cup. It’s in the synoptics.

And we think the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew those other accounts. The letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest parts of the new testament, so the ritual meal was well known relatively quickly.

So why not mention it?

Perhaps because he knew that the Corinthian Christians had already corrupted it. The letter Paul was writing was to tell them off for making the shared meal a place of inequality.

And John wanted us to think more about what Jesus was like and the legacy he left us, than just a special meal.

I think he is saying that Jesus’ giving of himself was greater. That the incarnation changed everything. The implications are too great to be limited to one sacrament. That the love of God for his creation surpasses everything. Those threads of water, bread and wine in the tapestry of the gospel point to the threads of God incarnate in our world. We sometimes need hints to be able to see them.

We have signs and symbols in sacraments. An outward sign of an invisible grace. The ordinary is blessed and made holy. The oil I gave out this morning at the Cathedral was ordinary oil before it was blessed.

Those signs and symbols are ways to experience and remember God’s love for us.

But they are only signs. They cannot grasp the vastness of the encounter of the word made flesh. We can only see the back of the tapestry…not the full glorious picture on the other side.

John is far more concerned with telling us who Jesus was, than the things he did.

Only John’s Jesus washes his disciples feet.

So if John chooses what he includes for a reason, why include the washing of feet and not the institution of the Eucharist?

It is amusing, perhaps, to imagine different ways in which our faith might have evolved if footwashing was the thing we focused on.

Would our basilicas and churches have reredos and artworks not celebrating the Eucharist, but the washing of feet? Would there be whole swathes of plastic foot buckets for sale with inspirational quotes? Would it feel natural to share in the washing of one another’s feet, not something awkward that we shy away from?

Why include it?

I think because it’s an act of humble service. It puts Jesus in the role of ο διακονος – the word for servant – the root of our word ‘deacon.’ Peter’s reaction demonstrates how difficult it would have been for the disciples to have their feet washed by their teacher.

And like everything else in the gospel this private act of service points us forward to the public, ultimate service, the ultimate humiliation in Jesus’ death on the cross.

It points to Jesus’ love for his friends.

Those friends were the ones from the world. Κοσμος – the world – os another word that is used a lot in John’s gospel. Jesus loved his own. They were chosen from the world; in contrast to Jesus coming from the Father.

Note how the disciples are called Jesus’s own. The text doesn’t say “disciples” here. It says ‘his own.’ If we say yes to Jesus, we are his own.

And what does it mean to say yes to Jesus?

Love one another as I have loved you.

By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus is about to be betrayed. His friends are about to betray him. He knows what will happen. He knows he is going to the cross.

He laid aside his life for us.

He loved us to the end.

Sermon for Harvest Festival 2016

My tweet is probably the TL;DR version!

Harvest Festival 25 September 2016 Year C
John 6:25-35 | Deuteronomy 26:1 -11 | Philippians 4:4-9

When originally delivered, this sermon was interspersed with stories from users of the local foodbank. I’ve taken them out, in case anyone was accidentally identified, but left the gist of the reasons. Eat or Heat are our local foodbank.

Today we celebrate our harvest festival.

We give thanks for those who provide the food to sustain us. We are t2016-09-27 08.22.06.jpghinking about those who do not have enough. We are going to hear the stories of people that have used the food bank we support. And we are going to think about why Jesus said he was the bread of life.

But first, let’s hear from P. [benefit withdrawal due to mistake by DWP]

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

In many places bread is a staple food.
Can we name different kinds of bread? (White sliced, brown with bits, naan, pitta, flatbread. Bread rolls. Bloomer. Cob)

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Just before this, he’s performed a miracle.
He’s fed five thousand people.

I am going to read a bit here.

One of Jesus’s disciples, Andrew, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’… so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

Geoff’s harvest loaf here reminds us very clearly of that miracle of abundance.2016-09-27-08-23-08

Deuteronomy, a book all about laws, tells the people of God what they should do when they reach the land that has been promised to them. After forty years of wandering in the desert, they should celebrate with the first fruits once they are settled. That’s got to be the first harvest festival.
So we have heard about saying thank you to God for the harvest.

And we are reminded of Jesus miraculously feeding people.

And we have abundance.

We have 24hr supermarkets. Internet delivery. Great British Bake Off.

B said [fighting a work capability assessment]

Food is such an important part of life. We have birthday cakes, mince pies, Christmas puddings. If we can afford it, we go out for meals for special celebrations. We invite friends over to share our food. We share in the Eucharist together, meeting Jesus in the bread we eat.
But when we’re skint, money for food can often be the only thing we can vary. Rent, or debt, or fares to work can’t be changed. But what you spend on food can. So good, healthy, nutritious meals become a thing of the past. If you’ve got very basic cooking equipment – or only a kettle – then your options are limited.
A said [low paid work and homelessness]

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus can be the staple on which we build our spiritual lives. The essential, for everyone.
Let’s just think about those five thousand people that were fed. Perhaps compassionate provision went to some ‘wrong’ people. The ones at the back, making jokes about cheesemakers.

Jesus didn’t check whether everyone in the crowd was properly hungry, or deserving of lunch. He didn’t suggest that handing out short term provision would make people dependent on handouts.

He didn’t separate people into ‘them,’ and ‘us.’
He didn’t judge people for not having the foresight to bring extra provisions.
He didn’t assume that because one person had the opportunity to bring lunch, all the crowd should have also have done.

So, as we bring our offerings for the food bank to God, let us ask ourselves what assumptions we might be making.

K said [working for low pay and facing large expenses]

Do we assume it could never happen to us, because we are not like them?
Do we judge people’s choices and circumstances without knowing their story?
Do we listen to accusations of fraud, or the foodbank being a soft touch, and assume everyone is on the make?

Do we live with guilt and shame knowing we can’t make ends meet ourselves?
Do we forget that everyone is a loved, and chosen, child of God?

If we enforce ever harsher restrictions on who can be helped by our social security, we hurt those who are vulnerable even more. It seems to be that at best, benefit sanctions or work capability assessments create a dehumanising regime designed around the assumption that all claims are frauds. And at worst, they destroy lives.

Jesus is the bread of life.

Life is more than just existing, getting by, being treated as less than a person because you haven’t got a job.

A full life – an abundant life – doesn’t require great riches.

It does require understanding that we are a loved and chosen child of God.

And so is that user of the foodbank. Or that person struggling to find a job.

The crowds following Jesus around demanded signs. They wanted proof of who he said he was. What would be the proof of who we say we are? What do we do, that proves we are followers of Jesus?

Filling a carrier bag with tins can create a lifeline for some. And we should give thanks for our ability to do that…and recognise that for some, contributing to a food bank represents sacrificial giving. 150 people have been helped so far this year; and the foodbank needs more resources – food, time, volunteers. When I visited last week, one of the things they’d like to be able to do is offer a cuppa to those using the service. Tea, a chat, a chance to be treated like a human being. Like a loved and chosen child of God.

I want us to support our foodbank, because it is a practical demonstration of Jesus’ love for all people. But. There is a danger that we can be happy to lovingly help people out of a river, but not investigate why they are there in the first place. Who is up-river, pushing people in for us to rescue? We need to be in both places.

We need to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Questions about WHY the foodbank is needed. About WHY rent is so high, and housing so scarce. I want us to know if whether the businesses we give our money to make people work for free. I want us to question the assumptions behind headlines, advertising, the pressure to borrow and to spend. I want to challenge the decisions made by politicians for whom £20 is a cab fare home, not a week’s supermarket shop.

Are we tacitly supporting of benefit sanctions, because we believe the ways newspapers and television present poverty? That people are poor because they’re lazy?

Do we think that refugees are having the time of their lives, on five pounds a day?
Are we the sort that think, “they can’t be that desperate, they have a smartphone?” whilst taking for granted our access to the internet?

So. To finish.

We give thanks today for the food we have available. We give thanks in the Eucharist – that’s what the word means. So as we approach the altar to receive bread and wine, let us be sustained by that bread of life. Let us take strength in that encounter with Jesus, here, this morning, in the abundance of his presence. Let us celebrate our abundance, and the gifts we can make to the foodbank.

And let us question why we permit a society that forgets that all are loved by God and equal in his sight.

Sunday 4 September: All-age sermon

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Image source: http://www.ycf.net/images/products/scourers/scourerspongesmall.jpg

Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25:33

First time preaching at our main Eucharist here at St Edmund’s, and it was an all-age service. Each person was given a pan scrubber as they came in. I set the children (and any interested adults) to building a tower with them in the middle of the aisle. Using pan scrubbers as building blocks is an idea I discovered during our children’s week earlier in the summer. Current record is 42 for a freestanding tower. I digress. Here’s the rest of the talk.

Jesus uses the example of someone building a tower to try to explain that following him is hard. He says that there is a cost to what he asks.

Jesus says we should hate our families and give away all of our possessions.

I don’t think we need to take this literally today. Wouldn’t it be silly to give our house away, and have nowhere to live? Or give all our clothes away and have nothing to wear?

But

How seriously do we take our discipleship?

Jesus is telling us that those who want to be his disciples must make counter cultural changes. Counter cultural means not doing what everyone else does. And sometimes that’s hard.

September is a time of change for many. Our little ones start school or nursery; older children perhaps moving school or starting the year without a best friend. We want to fit in, find friends, and be liked.

In a world where bullies seize on differences, and can make lives truly horrible, seeking to stand out can be hard. That holds true for work as well as school.
Now, if you had given all your clothes away and were going into work or school wearing nothing but a smile, you would definitely stand out.

I wouldn’t recommend it.

But what if you decide to spend a bit less, and are teased for wearing something that’s not the right label? What if you are at school, and you make a choice that goes against your friends? Or you stand up for a colleague at work? Or call out someone being dishonest? Or walk away from malicious gossip at the school gate?

Those times can be hard.

Is taking up your cross being willing to be a doormat and be bullied?

No.

It’s not about being deliberately, openly, proudly making ourselves a victim.

Jesus asks us to think carefully about our priorities. He tells us that following him will be hard. But the cross he asks us to take up can be a cross of comfort, not just pain and difficulty. The cross shows us that God loves us. The cross gives us hope of resurrection and new life. The cross shows us that change is possible even in very difficult times.

Jesus asks us to be prepared to be different from the crowd.

In our epistle, we see a demonstration of exactly what that looks like.

Paul is asking Philemon to be different from the crowd.

Now, let’s be clear that whilst slave owning is something we find abhorrent. Being a slave means a complete loss of individual humanity. But in Paul’s time, it was an accepted part of society.

Yet the story tells us something important about discipleship.

Onesimus was a slave. And he had run away from his owner, Philemon. Philemon was a follower of Jesus, Paul reminds him at the start of the letter how pleased he is with Philemon’s work. Paul is, essentially, buttering Philemon up, because he’s about to ask him something really hard.

In Paul’s time, a slave who ran away could be killed as punishment. Philemon as a slave owner would not want to lose face, to be seen to be lenient with Onesimus. Otherwise where would it all end?

You let one slave go free, you encourage the others to run away.

Philemon would have to be persuaded to be compassionate.
Philemon would have to be persuaded to bear the cost of discipleship.

We don’t know for sure what he did, and whether he was persuaded by Paul’s appeals. There are reports of various Onesimuses in the history of the early church,

But we can see that from the very beginnings, to live as a follower of Jesus has asked people to be different.

You let one slave go free, you encourage the others.

You let one refugee in, you encourage the others.

You start one food bank, you encourage people to shop for free.

You give one person debt counselling, you encourage poor choices.

Those are all objections I have heard to actions that churches have taken. But aren’t they exactly what Paul was asking?

He’s asking Philemon to value the person, not the status.
He’s asking Philemon to think differently about the values he has inherited from his upbringing.
He’s asking Philemon to give Onesimus his humanity back.

Can Philemon think in terms of love and reconciliation instead of rights and punishment? Can Philemon see Onesimus as a person, beloved of God, a brother in Christ – not just as a useless slave?

Let’s remember that in our Gospel reading Jesus asks us to count the cost; to put him first above our family, security and possessions.

Often it’s hard to do the different, Christian thing.

It’s hard to bite our tongue, and back down in an argument.
It’s hard to find more money to support more charities to help more refugees.
It’s hard to be teased for believing something different, or for believing something at all.

But remember, the cross we are asked to bear is a sign of hope in the darkest times.
Was anything worth having ever gained easily? We built fun towers with sponges…but real foundations and real building takes effort.Perhaps you can take a pan scrubber home, and when you’re using it to do a bit of cleaning, remember that God is with us in the ordinary, and have a bit of a pray about what’s on your mind.

We all have a role to play as disciples. We all have different gifts, talents, personalities and ideas. As we all brought our individual scrubbers to be part of a tower, we all bring our own selves to build the community of the church.

Our parents and carers with a vocation to parenthood know well the personal cost and sacrifice of bringing up children, and grandchildren. But we know there is great joy sometimes – making the cost worthwhile.

If we want to nurture a society that is guided by love, compassion, reconciliation and respect, we’re going to have to work at it.

That means that to fulfil our role as disciple, we need to be prepared for it to be bumpy along the way. And we can’t say that we weren’t warned, for Jesus sets out his terms and conditions very clearly.

So let me leave you with some questions.

Jesus asked us to give up everything to follow him. What might we be unwilling to let go of, and why?

Paul asked Philemon to do something that might make him look strange in the eyes of his society. Are we willing to respond to that challenge today?

Are we willing to accept the cost of discipleship?