Inner circles and salt

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Mark 9.38-50 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Mark describes how the disciples come to Jesus one day to 'tell tales.' They tell their rabbi that some people are ministering in his name, people they do not know. These people are not part of Jesus' inner circle.

Should Jesus be concerned about this?
No, of course not.

The disciples are effectively limiting the inclusiveness of Jesus.

The disciples are misunderstanding; seeing enemies where there are no enemies. There are others ministering in Jesus' name and this is okay, they are for us, not against us, they might not be like us but they are us, they are a part of the body and, of course, St Paul expands on this image of the unity of the body and how all parts of the body are essential for the health of the whole.

Jesus wants the disciples to understand that our greatest enemies are not outside, beyond, other than ourselves, our enemies are our issues within.

It is what comes from within, Jesus has told us, that can destroy, not what comes from without.

We are being taught by Jesus that we are not to worry too much about measuring or assessing the ministry or lives of others. We are instead to concentrate on what it is Jesus is requiring of each of us, not what he might be requiring of our neighbour. Our neighbours will each serve God in ways that are unique to them, there are as many callings as there are people.

Like Paul after him, Jesus talks about the body as he spends time with his disciples, because he wants them to understand how this body – this unity of all members, all ligaments, all parts – this harmony of 'all aspects allowing for the other' is essential to health.

This is why then with hyperbole he talks about how it really would be better to remove an offending part than lose the whole body. There are sometimes attitudes that need to go in order for the whole to remain healthy.

This is why he can talk about taking care about not putting stumbling blocks in the way of the little ones, and in the Greek the word is scandalising – we are not to set perimeter walls that are too high for people to climb, we are not to ask people to fulfil their life in Christ in a particular way in order for it to be recognised by a human audience – only God will judge.

It is God and not these disciples who is to judge the lives and ministries of these 'others.' Those here about whom the disciples are concerned and towards whom they direct Jesus' attention are not against them. They are likely for them, says Jesus, or, in other words, 'Forget about them and concentrate instead on your own journey with God.' 

In order to finally sharpen the disciples' minds again Jesus puts before them an ordinary referent: salt – a condiment essential medically for bringing healing, a condiment essential also for preserving, for preserving food. 

Jesus wants the disciples to understand that it is their own holiness to which they should attend before they turn their assessments outwards. 

They need to ask God to preserve what he has placed in them, it is this faith, this call, this task to which each has been called that must not become stale. It will stale if attention is focussed on setting up competition and rivalry with imaginary others. Their misplaced but very human desire to keep their group pure from outside influence is brought sharply home as Jesus focusses their attention on their own purity. They are to not lose their saltiness, their distinctiveness: mined salt from the Dead Sea in Jesus' day would deteriorate eventually, lose its flavour and become worthless. 

We are reminded as Christians, then, by this passage that we “are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).” If we cease to share the gospel of Jesus Christ by which we impart God’s preserving salt to others, we will become effectively useless to God. 

As is characteristic of Jesus, he requires us each to consider our own lives before we consider, before we scrutinise, the lives of others. It is then that we will be far better placed to live at peace with one another. 


Feeling a bit dry and dusty?

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Collect for Wednesday 23rd September, 2015

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ezra 9.5-9 At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said, ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.

Luke 9.1-6 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Why is it okay for Jesus to say 'Wipe the dust off your feet as a testimony against them'? 

On Sunday I was speaking about how it is interesting always to see that Jesus' teaching was something he followed through on; he wasn't frightened of challenge and conflict but he sought to bring everything out onto the light and to face it head-on. He challenges the Pharisees, he calls the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, he turns tables in a temple.

It seems to me that just as we can not define God by a definition of love that is outside of God and to which he must conform, we can neither create our own definition of 'mission' and ask Jesus to conform to it either. Neither the Father not the Son will capitulate to definitions outside of themselves, which are, if we really admit it, created by man. When we define love, it must look like God. God is love, God authors love and Christ is 'mission,' mission in the flesh, Mission incarnated, born for us. The purpose of mission is so that God's reign and rule come to earth. God in Godself is love and mission. What do love and mission look like? They look like God. What does God look like – like Jesus : the exact image of the invisible God and what does Jesus look like: the Bible tells us so. And so... the Bible defines love and the Bible defines mission. God is mission. The Triune godhead is all about sending: the sending of the Son, the sending of the Spirit and then our being sent ( the actual meaning of apostle ) 'sent one.' 

And so it seems, therefore, that Jesus can advocate that sometimes we are to wipe the dust off our feet ! We can move on. Our own dogged determination is perhaps sometimes just that: too dogged and too stubborn.... when perhaps God is saying to us – "Hey – I do the saving – not you, move on, it isn't their time yet, or they can't see me or hear me through you, but you are not to worry, I have just the person, who will reach them, all lined up!"

In my life, God used a teacher, a gentle woman, even of similar height to me. Through her, I first heard God in a real way, in a heart way, in an experiential way. Even on shaking her hand for the very first time, I knew! I was supposed to meet this curate of a former church, she had amazing things to tell me about God. She did.

This is then why Christ can say 'Wipe the dust from your feet,' - there is a right perspective gained when we get our eyes on God, when we know that it's his Kingdom that we are invited to build with him, that in the end it isn't up to us who chooses faith and following and who does not. There is a master builder and we are just his staff-team, there is a greater power and we are just the percussion, there is a greater plan and we play a tiny part.

St Paul wipes the dust from his feet time and time again, speaking out to all God's people, knowing some would prefer him dead. He escapes stoning, shipwreck, persecutions, personal injury, abuse, misunderstandings and it finally cost him his life but he pushes on with purpose and in the greatest of humility with an unshakable confidence in Christ.

Unshakable confidence and all other confidences are shaken down and then this finally helps us understand Jesus' command to shake the dust off our feet, to not let the dustiness cling to us from those rejecting the message of Christ.

Dust is very significant in the bible – the serpent, the Satan, the deceiver is punished by becoming cursed in his creatureliness to a life of crawling in the dust: “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen. 3:14)”. Adam whose name means ground creature, (Adamah in the Hebrew) the first human came from dust and to dust he will return at the end of his life. "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return."

Dust is an indication of our rejection of the Kingdom of God. And life in the Spirit and eternal life indicative of the life we know instead in Christ. We bear the image of the first Adam, we have this dustiness but we bear the image of the second Adam too – the life we know in Christ and so dustiness reduces as Spirit meets our flesh.

Shaking off the dust then is as symbolic as it is practical. Yes, the disciples would have dirtied their feet as they travelled preaching and bringing news of God's reign and rule but they would also have needed to move on to bring the message to those who could receive it; to not continue with the dust but to find those who were receptive and spend their efforts there, on those open to the Spirit.

And what to do about those who we might need to leave in their own dust for a while? Keep loving them anyway, love those who test you, pray for them and wish them well, but know your limits and remind God they are HIS business and give him time to do his job and as he completes his work in them.

We are that amazing combination, all of us, of Spirit and dust. 

Remind yourself every now and then. When water and dust mix we get the malleability of clay – we are lumps of stuff becoming … in the potter's hand – keep praying for the Spirit when you sense you're getting dry, let God rebuild you and remake you. Keep praying for the living streams when you walk through clouds of dust. It's okay to shake a little dust from your toes every now and then – you remind God and yourself that he's in charge... not you!



Disputes and Conflicts

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These conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? James 4:1a

But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another... Mark 9:34

Friday just gone, the 17th September, students across our country began their university educations again after the summer break, some will have signed up for the two year Masters degree course in Central London costing £6,500 in the department of Social Sciences and Humanities Westminster Regents campus to study Conflict prevention and Dispute Resolution. James, Jesus' brother was teaching this too over two thousand years ago, along with St Paul and Jesus himself. The Westminster course describes itself thus: The course content is not explicitly concerned with 'peace studies', but the processes of prevention and the processes of resolution embrace the concepts of securing and maintaining peaceful cooperation.

It is the university of Oxford that is appealing for sponsors for its creation of a course called Peace Studies, so Peace Studies exists - this stuff is big business in a world dominated by what James describes as 'disputes and conflicts.' Both James, Jesus' brother and St Paul talk powerfully to believers in God about their conflicts and their disputes. In Corinth believers have brought one another before the secular law courts and Paul is amazed they couldn't find a single person from within their own community to help settle issues. He believes that in asking the secular world to judge their religious tangles there can be no winners – Christian has turned against Christian and this brings the church into disrepute with the world, the world who already thinks the church foolish for preaching the death of God upon a cross and that weakness and vulnerability are the real power in this world.

James believes that the conflicts and disputes that have arisen in the church he writes to, have a much deeper source and he anticipates the teaching that St Paul gives the Roman church, as St Paul describes the human condition with “O wretched man that I am, I want to do the right thing but there is another law at work within me, fighting against what are really my honourable intentions.” It is as if sometimes we just can't help ourselves because we are human. Disputes and conflicts are everywhere and the church is not immune to them because like the rest of planet earth it comprises fallen human beings. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists know that conflict is even in some ways a healthy part of human and social development.

Professors of Masters degrees like the one I described earlier, explain the difference that exists between a conflict and a dispute. A dispute, they say, can be resolved, agreements can be reached because there is often something over which a compromise can be made – we have all have these kinds of disputes commonly on those holidays where we bargain for a souvenir. We are in dispute with the seller and usually peaceably and even with a wink, suggest prices each side, until one settles and we walk away satisfied we might have won, of course, the other side might have equally walked away the winner too, if we never knew the original price.

Conflicts are different say the professors of these degree course. Conflicts are about non-negotiables. Conflicts are about ideologies, beliefs, deep underlying values and world-views. Conflicts are harder to solve and can be made up of many disputes along the way.

Interests in a dispute then are negotiable. But conflict is based on non-negotiables. You can study all this for six and half thousand pounds and then maybe learn to negotiate for the second degree you take in the subject unless the price of the course is a non-negotiable.

But why study a secular degree course when you have all the teaching you could ever want from the scriptures? In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus teaches the church about how it is to deal with the messy relationships that exist between human beings. His logic is all there for the unearthing and it is the original premise in which our justice system is surely based. Thankfully in our country there are systems that will uphold the innocence of parties until proven guilty, although of course, we all know of times when the system has miserably failed. I was very moved on Saturday morning listening to Radio 4 as it interviewed the families of the Birmingham 6 who were imprisoned for 16 years in 1974 for crimes they did not commit.

Henryk and I are 80s kids and we grew up learning the theme tune of a popular television program that you might have heard of, called the A Team, whose protagonists had suffered a similar fate: the lyrics which we are both a little embarrassed to have learnt off by heart go like this: In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team. I will spare you my singing as the adrenalin-stirring music takes over from the dramatic voice-over prologue.

It was an exciting show and we always cheer for the under-dog, don't we and so viewers cheered for the A Team, these misunderstood and honourable heroes, the victims of a corrupt system. And indeed the film industry is built on this stuff and really conflict is at the heart of every grand narrative. Conflict is at the heart of the gospel too – Jesus' biggest triumph over the powers was in his defeat of them by coming back from the dead – defeating the biggest powers on planet earth – sin and death. It was hugely costly for him as we know.

It is interesting always to see that Jesus's teaching was something he followed through on – he wasn't frightened of challenge and conflict but he sought to bring everything out onto the light and to face it head-on. He challenges the Pharisees, he calls the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, he turns tables in a temple. It seems to me that just as we can not define God by a definition of love that is outside of God and to which he must conform, we can neither create our own definition of Peace and ask that Jesus conform to it either. Neither the Father not the Son will capitulate to definitions outside of themselves, which are, if we really admit it, created by man. When we define love – it must look like God – God is love, God authors love and Christ is Peace, Peace in the flesh, peace incarnated, born for us. Peace is God's Shalom – God's reign and rule on earth – God is love and what therefore does love look like? – it looks like God - and what does God look like – he looks like Jesus – the image of the invisible God and what does Jesus look like – the Bible tells us so – and so the Bible defines love and the Bible defines peace and if we here want to be better by ever increasing degrees at this conflict and dispute business, that seems very fashionable these days, as Christians, we had better begin with the guidance set out here and learn a thing or two from God himself. In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus says that if someone sins against you, you are to be so wanting the restoration of that person that you will talk with them face to face, if that's just too nerve-racking you are to take some witnesses with you and try to do everything you can to restore your brother or sister.

If they will not meet you there is little you can do. At some point it would seem then we have to let them go but every time we deal with one another it is in private and face-to-face. No mass audiences and no grand hype.

And isn't it hard to do?

This is because ultimately the Bible in its teaching understands that problems are located within and without. Conflict is described in the Bible using the word “agon.” It is the word from which we get the “agony” and “agonize.” It describes the disputes between human beings –external problems but 'agon' also describes the personal struggles we all have to be more patient, to overcome temptation, to exercise control of one's emotions – to have an internal conflict is also to have an 'agon' – Jesus himself experienced agon both in his lengthy pilgrimage through the wilderness and in the garden of Gethsemene – God understands us perfectly in his Son.

It would be wonderful to end this sermon with something twee, some assurance that conflict will fade away, that there really might be some bubble that the Christian can live in, protected from such things, there isn't – with Christ in our lives, however, we are ultimately protected for nothing can separate us from the love of God in Him – the reassurance that I give then comes from theologian John Howard Yoder, (not immune himself to a little internal conflict!) who helpfully reminds us that “Conflict is normal and natural. In the context of Christian ministry there should be more rather than less of it, since truth telling, growth, change, and the demands of righteousness concur in bringing more of it to the surface. Rather than being denied or avoided, conflicts are to be processed, resolved in the light of the message of forgiveness… Conflict resolution is then a special Christian grace, but also a general Christian duty” (Yoder, Conflict Resolution, 6-7).

Let's keep studying our scriptures together for what Jesus has to say to us – not £6500 but just ten pounds for the price of a bible, if you can spare it – as we study this book here (life-long learning) we have the text book par excellence and it is the one that God left us - so let's study together. Amen.


Words are powerful and human fragility

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Words are very powerful.

The first words we speak are celebrated.

The latest words spoken we can regret.

What was likely your first word?

What was likely your worst?

What we say with our mouths is more powerful than what we do with our hands. A small tongue hurts more than a clenched fist no matter how many times we tell ourselves sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me – it's not so, is it?

Words are not just words.

Yesterday I had a day of powerful words – there was a wedding here in which words spoken changed status – two became one, a covenant was entered into –a verbal agreement was made that powerfully changed the lives of two families.

But on the way back from that wedding party, on the number 65 bus, words became weapons as a bus driver was insulted- verbally abused by the passengers who'd missed their stop.

James tells us that words are like the bit in a horses' mouth. They have the power to control. The tongue is like the rudder of a ship. It can steer individuals, groups, congregations... nations.

We are people of the Word. Their power should not surprise us. The scriptures begin with God's words – words which bring creation into being.

God begets as the Word is made flesh, crucified, died and buried, he rose again for us.

God's words are life-giving for those who can hear him.

Human words can be dangerous as James reminds us: "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! ...

The power that God gave to our words and speech remains but our words can be hijacked by a power not from God. St. Paul tells us that one day every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord but until then there is a struggle over what is accomplished with our words. There's a messy mixing up in each of us of words that bless and words that curse.

“Does a spring pour fourth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?

In an egg box from the supermarket will we find both eggs and strawberries? [as you open an egg box containing strawberries and eggs, take the strawberries out]. No - we are to fulfil our purpose and egg boxes are to contain eggs, the mouth of a Christian should build up and not tear down.

In our gospel today Peter's words let him down. Jesus comes to know there's more teaching to be done. Peter has not understood that what Jesus says about who he is, is true.... and that the consequences are... Jesus must suffer and die.

Can you break this egg into the bowl? [to older child]

Perfect – a body broken – perfect life inside. Jesus is God as well as God's Son (that perfect mystery that is the Trinity) and so broken for us he brings fullness of life. He can break and rise again with a wholeness that is perfect.

However, can you break this egg? [to much younger child, inevitably shell will be mixed with the egg]

Broken again but now messy and imperfect - there are bits of shell mixed up with the life inside here because each of us is fragile, not perfect like Christ and we will be mixtures of brokeneness and life.

And can you go to the pulpit and drop this egg from up there?

James tells us today that because of human brokenness, we must be careful with our words – now this egg bounced back because it's not a real egg – people are real and so only some bounce back and being the shape that it is in, there is no predicting this egg as it goes off in all directions. 'Tis thus, you see, with us, us – some people bounce back and some do not and some go off in directions we could never predict.

So let's be careful with our words and listen to Jesus' brother: James.

We are each of us fragile, asking for more life in Christ but we are each only on the way.

I am not Jesus and neither are you ... none of us are perfect, only Christ the Son of God. He can give the fullness of life that we need. We are foolish and fragile like Peter. Let's remember the beautiful brokenness of the person beside us and remember to pray daily for God to steer the course of their life.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit appears as tongues, tongues of fire that don't destroy but set God's people ablaze. Followers of Jesus speak by the Spirit words that encourage and honour God – let's pray for these tongues of fire as we learn today from James. Amen.

All Together Worship September 13th 2015


Consecration considerations

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Women and the Church have released the text of the sermon preached at the Consecrations of Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester and Sarah Mulally, Bishop of Crediton on 22 July 2015:

Mary Magdalene:
When Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, he was not the first writer to be attracted to the scent of Mary Magdalene, and he won’t be the last. She is one of the most iconic and enigmatic figures in the Gospels, providing down the years a rich seam of speculative material for creative minds to adorn and exaggerate.

And exaggerate they surely have. It is shameful, and deeply ironic, that the witness of Christian history – written and formulated by men – so often projects on to Mary little more than the deepest insecurities of the male psyche.

For, on any straightforward reading, the Gospels consistently witness to Mary as one of the foremost leaders in the group that surrounded Jesus. And by appearing first to her in the garden of resurrection, the early church was offered a quite extraordinary ‘join-up-the-dots’ moment, an opportunity to connect the radical inclusion of Jesus with the shape of the church that was to bear his name. That the church failed to do so was hardly surprising. It has, after all, taken us until very recently to join up some of these dots ourselves.

I have been given the delicious task of trying to draw something from Mary Magdalene’s story that speaks in to Rachel and Sarah’s ordination to the episcopate today. So I want to offer two simple thoughts about the distinctive contribution of female bishops to the question of leadership in the Church of England, as you both begin to influence the way in which bishops lead the church.

Socialise us, and subvert us.

1. Socialise us

I have some of my most profound thoughts on rush-hour tube trains. Crammed like a vertical sardine in to a Central Line tin can, nose to nose with my fellow commuters, each of us desperately trying to avert our gaze from the eyes only inches from our own, jealously guarding the smallest bit of personal space, that’s when the biggest metaphysical challenge to Christian faith rears its ugly head.

It is not, I have to say, the problem of suffering that keeps me awake at night, nor the doctrine of the Trinity; not the difficulty of squaring substitutionary atonement with the love of God.

No, it is simply this. There are more than 7 billion people in our world. And the thought that God can be in intimate personal communion with each and every one of them, stretches my weak faith to its limits. Especially on the tube.

I don’t know what it’s like in the spacious fields of rural Gloucester or the rolling hills of rustic Devon, but you simply can’t live in London without being challenged by this on a daily basis. There are just so many people …

It’s why, in big cities, no-one even looks at anyone else, let alone talks to them. The scale of the human landscape is too vast, it overpowers you. People retreat in to screens or headphones, shutting out the insistent presence of those with whom we share immediate space. Little wonder someone coined this definition of a city: millions of people being lonely together.

The thing is this: it affects the way we understand leadership. It reduces it to function and structure and bureaucracy, instrument and agency.

But on my tube journey, thundering through subterranean tunnels, 30 seconds from Liverpool Street, I have a moment of revelation. In the garden of the resurrection, whatever outward form and physical appearance Jesus had in his resurrected body, it was not immediately recognisable to Mary. She thought he was the gardener. When she eventually recognises him, it is devastatingly simple. He speaks her name: Mary.

Despite the weakness of my faith, resurrection is and always will be personal. The risen Christ is known in and through relationship.

The heart of Christianity is a relationship. Not a campaign or a project or a structure or a debate or a review or a reorganisation, but a relationship, a knowing by name.

And this gift was entrusted to a woman.

Sarah, if you will permit me one small Stepney departure for a moment, I have been privileged beyond measure to work closely with Rachel for 4 years. She has taught me more about being a bishop than I could ever teach her. She has modelled relational leadership in a way that is a gift to those around her, and a gift to the church. Both of you will both bring huge gifts to your role as bishops, but I have a suspicion that at heart you will embody a relational approach that is truly distinctive.

I’m not talking here about the rather anodyne idea of a leader as a ‘people person’. I’m talking about leadership for social transformation. The real significance of a relational approach is not so much in the sometimes rather saccharin nature of individual personal relationships – ‘hide less, chat more’ as the graffiti on one of my running routes in East London puts it.

Important as this may be, I’m more interested in the dimension of relationship we might more dynamically define as ‘communion’ – that sacramental relationship between and within God and the created order which expresses itself in social transformation and lies behind Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Eucharistic communion is radical and inclusive and utterly relational.

So when Florence Nightingale brought a revolutionary new approach to nursing, or Octavia Hill developed innovations in social housing, their insights were not so much about medicine or the structures of the housing market; these women placed human relationships back at the heart of medicine and housing management, humanising otherwise mechanistic systems and transforming them in the process.

The challenge to women, as we celebrate your full inclusion at every level of leadership in the Church of England, is to transform notions of sacramental communion beyond pastoral relationships and in to the very structures of society. That will be socially transformational leadership.

In the secular leadership world there is a fascinating trend towards CQ: Cultural Intelligence. Julia Middleton, Chief Executive of Common Purpose, has written a book exploring the significance of Cultural Intelligence for the next generation of leaders. CQ is just a fancy way of saying that in the emerging global world, characterised above all else by diversity and difference, the best leaders will be marked out by their ability to navigate the diversity of the cultural landscape in a relational way; as the Archbishop put it in his Roscoe lecture on Monday: facing each other.

It has taken a woman to point this out.

Socialise us. Be relational in your leadership, and help all of us to do the same.

Secondly, finally – and more briefly – subvert us.

2. Subvert us

I was directed recently by a friend to an obscure short story by EM Forster (‘The Story of a Panic’). Set in the rather crusty, straight-laced world of Edwardian society, the story relates the delightfully agitational and alarmingly disruptive intervention of the unseen figure of ‘Pan’ to strip away the stifling effects of the dominant culture and liberate an altogether more vibrant expression of life.

Pan subverts the patterns of an ordered, controlled society where a powerful elite constrains and limits the cultural norms of belief and behaviour. E M Forster’s story is a fascinating reflection on the positive effects of challenging convention and unmasking the unconscious bias of an unexamined orthodoxy.

Years later the German psychologist Erich Fromm came up with the notion of ‘anonymous authority’ – that unseen influence within the modern world which affects the way that people believe and behave, which he says is “a cultural pressure all the more effective for being invisible and source-less”.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit frightened of Pan. Perhaps we all are. Perhaps that’s the point. But the ‘panic’ that EM Forster wrote about was not a wholly negative thing. He represented it as a catalyst for positive change, both for individuals and for society.

It’s hard to escape the fact that Jesus chose the outsiders of his world to share his life with, those whose very existence was disturbing and disruptive to the accepted norms of belief and behaviour. He lived and preached a gospel of radical inclusion, and it upset the apple-cart of conventional religion.

Was this why he chose Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection? Not so much to ‘disturb the comfortable’ as to disturb the conventional. For it is in the disturbance of people like Mary Magdalene that we may learn to see the world – and God – afresh.

I hope that women bishops will disturb us. I hope they will challenge the conventions of the C of E, which continues to be led and directed by too many people like me – white, male, middle-aged professionals.

I’ve always loved the notion of the court jester – the outsider who is nonetheless welcomed in to the court of power because they are the only one who can speak truth to the King. Every society, secular or religious, needs a way of allowing non-conformity. I hope that women in the college of bishops will raise non-conformity to new heights in the way they exercise leadership among us. I hope they will disturb our conventions, and unmask the unconscious bias which constrains our models of leadership within the dominant cultural norms that are so powerful that we hardly even notice or question them.

Rachel and Sarah, you did not choose to be ordained on the feast of Mary Magdalene. You did not choose her; perhaps she chose you. So look around at this packed cathedral. It is a sign of how much we love you, of how much we value you, of how much we trust you. So be bold and courageous in how you lead us. Filled with the Spirit of the radically inclusive Jesus, and touched with the spirit of the enigmatic Mary of Magdala, please be a little bit dangerous:

Socialise us, and subvert us. Amen.


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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.