I am

Acts 8.1b-8That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.
The Gospel is written in the book of John 6.35-40 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

I am the bread of life.

We are told by John that after Jesus has said this many of his disciples turn away and no longer walk with him. But Jesus says to them and perhaps to us all, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...”

Where else do we go? There are so many worldviews, religions and ideologies competing for our attention these days – but Christianity offers not a world view or an ideology, neither moral system nor life-improvement plan – Christianity offers us a person – Jesus, to live in us by his Spirit and to guide us by his example. Jesus offers us himself.

We could so easily be those who eat loaves and fishes forever and who do church because of what it gives us: comfort, company, places at a good school, morality, purpose and it could be that God has attracted you to himself with those things – this is just his clever way of getting your attention – what he really wants to give us is the gift of himself. We are challenged to leave the feast with Jesus after he has fed us. Five thousand watch him leave for the other side of the lake. Just as the manna ran out in the wilderness, we can not sit to simply be fed – Jesus asks that we follow him to the other side and be about his mission to the world beyond us, he doesn't give us security, he is our security and he asks us to join him in securing it not for ourselves but for others.

He says to those who sit in the grass and love him because he sorts things: you are looking for me ... because you ate your fill of the loaves. He knows this can be our tendency – to look to him for what he can do for us rather than to be in Him because of what he can be in us and through us. Jesus is an end in himself. Jesus doesn't just give bread, well, he does for a while but the people love him for that and not for him in himself and he is on to that. Jesus doesn't therefore say he will continue to give bread, he says instead that he is bread. Jesus says I am the bread of life. He says Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.

Like him our mission too must be to the other side, to pick up our cross know that He is enough. When we have been fed with him at the table we are to leave the feast nourished and become bread for the world. I first met Jesus at the Eucharist when I was seven years old with the words 'We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs from under your table' – I didn't understand then what I understand now – I had to journey into the painful but liberating truth that there is nothing I can do to make me worthy of God, that it is all his action – that he makes me worthy by becoming my living bread, by inviting me into relationship with him, to believe that he died for me, to believe that when God looks at me he sees me covered in Christ because of Christ's work on the cross for me and therefore pleasing in his sight – that I can not gather up the crumbs of my life and present them worthy to him but that he can gather up the crumbs of my life and present them worthy to the Father because he, Jesus, is worthy.

Following Jesus, this living bread – being Christian – being in Christ, is to know him in the joys and to know him in his sufferings, it is to leave for the other side of the lake and follow. It is in this following that we then hear him say I am the living bread. I am your enough. It is not about what I can do for you, it is about my being in you by my Spirit. This living bread is Jesus himself. And so what now – we are those who are fed and if this is so we are to go on to feed others, our God is always a missional God, leaving the comfort of the sun and green grass to travel a lake to the other side, to face the authorities and have them take offence at him, to push boundaries and to shake things up a bit, to bring challenge. Here we are gathered just a few, a sunny day, grass outside and not really one of us hungry – how are we to be like him - bread for the world – let's continue to pray in God's renewal through us. Amen.

Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace, to the glory of God the Father.



John 3.16-21 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

We are living in interesting times and I have had cause to think about these gospel verses in recent months: all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

The Ashley Madison Agency, catering for people who are in a relationship yet want to date, with its slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair" was hacked last summer and names and addresses of its users were released into the public domain.

This week the Panama Papers leaked 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca, showing the ways the rich exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders and 139 politicians, Vladimir Putin, Cameron's father, Pakistan’s prime minister; the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Iceland, who resigned yesterday are amongst those exposed.

The problem with the world-view which operates behind such dealings is exactly that which Ashley Maddison is bold enough to declare: Life is short. For Christians life is not short, it is everlasting, Jesus, as we hear in the verse John 3:16, the most quoted scripture in the Bible and the founding synopsis of our faith, came to bring us eternal life, this is a quality of life in Him that does not end when our earthly life is over, in Christ, we live for ever in God's presence and living this quality of life that the Bible describes as everlasting or eternal life begins the moment we give our lives to Christ and then continues on in him without interruption.

The problem with the Ashley Maddison claim that life is short and you should have an affair is that is completely forgets that there is something sacred about marriage, about commitment, about unions that are in fact parables of the relationship with Christ and the church, where Christ is the bridegroom and the church is the bride who will one day be presented to him spotless and then there will be the wedding feast that we hear about. Betrothal language is everywhere in describing God's relationship with his people. Marriage imaging this is for Christians life-long, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, which is why we make vows based on our wills not just our fleeting feelings – when asked whether you take your betrothed to be your beloved you will have answered I will rather than I do – you will to love for ever even in the times when you fall out and don't like each other too much.

Those who hide their wealth so that it not leak away on taxes forget that they are a part of the body corporate, they are that society, those citizens for whom those taxes provide hospitals and schools and pavements and sewers. For Christians our interdependence is everything and makes us distinct from the world, we are one body and when one part hurts the whole body hurts, we engage in reciprocal relationships and we honour the weaker parts, our more vulnerable members.

Our transparency as Christians, our honesty and our levels of commitment to one another and to the comon good are where we can be distinctive within a world that lives for the moment, accumulates for the moment and gratifies the moment, let this be not so for us those who will live in Him eternally. Amen.

Collect: Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.


What a bloody mess!

We have that curious reading in Genesis 15; animals feature across our scriptures. Animals cut in half in the Old Testament... and foxes and hens in the new. 

What's going on?

Abram in the Old Testament has a unique encounter with God which establishes truths about the relationship we all have with God. Relationship entails risk. Jesus teaches us to go to the enth degree for others even to the point of laying down our lives. When the stakes are this high we all need to hear 'Do not be afraid' – God's words to Abram. Jesus strikes us this morning as very unafraid, as he faces Jerusalem and Herod, that fox – out for his blood.

Do you sometimes think about how costly your relationship with God is? You have sacrificed so much, maybe your reputation, possibly your friends, certainly some of the world's offerings because you are obedient and compelled by the Spirit to remember the promises spoken over you by God. 

Do you know what God promises you?

Last week we saw Jesus overcome temptation in the desert from the devil who offered him everything. Jesus resisted. This week then this same Jesus, renewed and determined, turns his face towards Jerusalem to meet his fate, to lay down his life for us so our sins are swallowed up and we can enter into covenant relationship with God.

Abram has just given up the offer of riches from a foreign King and is now asking God what this is all about, this following God. Was he right to make that sacrifice? He can't see the reason at this point with no future before him; no heir and no land.

Have you ever despaired like Abram? Wondered what it is all about? Lived in that time before you knew God's promises of the glory that lies ahead. 

Maybe you are still in that time or have forgotten the promises of God.

The Lord asks Abram to count the stars because there is an almighty huge project that God is going to begin in Abram. Do you ever stop to remember you're a part of the God project too? Jesus' death and resurrection secured your status as an adopted child of God, filled by his Spirit, empowered by his love, you are part of his project to reclaim his world back from the foxes. 
Are you joining in?

Abram and Jesus are both obedient out of faith to the God who makes covenants in the very life-stuff of blood. This ritual in Genesis this morning points forward to the covenant that Jesus makes with us through his blood on the cross which is remembered at the Eucharist – Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Blood carries life, there is no life without blood. The animals laid down, broken in Abram's ritual point to Christ's broken body on the cross. The torch and the fire-pot that pass down these halves, that mediate, that 'go-between' the carnage in Abram's vision is that same Shekinah glory of God that appeared as a star to guide wise men, as cloud and fire to guide God's people to their Land of Promise, that appeared as a rainbow in the sky in a covenant made with Noah. 

In Jesus the divine is a 'Go-between' God.

In verse 18 the word 'made,' 'made a covenant' is cut. You would cut a covenant. This is perhaps similar to our cutting a deal. In the Ancient Near East, agreements were sealed with the cutting of animals, to say, in a very graphic way, if I do not keep my word, may this happen to me – death and judgement – as horrible as this. God takes this on in Christ on our behalf, pays dearly for the relationship he initiates with us, enters viscerally and really with everything he has into a relationship that cost him the lot, the life of his son.

God, in his shekinah Glory, walks through the shadow of death that descends on Abram – we are told that as the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram and a deep and terrifying darkness descended. God commits himself even in this moment to the later moment of the cross, to entering that terrifying darkness to secure for us what we can not secure for ourselves, to send his Son to secure life for us, everlasting life, to send his Son to be savaged by a fox, savaged by all the cunning and crafty work of the devil: sin and death though he, Jesus, is the hen who seeks to protect his people, you and me, and shelter us under his wings, which he achieves with our freedom.

God passes through the pieces, the dead animals, in the Old Testament, God himself comes down into the muck and the mess then, in Genesis, in this bloody and messy ritual with Abram, just as he does in Jesus, taking on flesh and entering our messed up world as a baby born for a cross, our mucky every day, which he fills with His Spirit though it's still savaged by foxes. God will go through death to secure life for us as Jesus, mother Hen, saves us chicks from being being hunted down by cunning sin and crafty death.

Sin and death are conquered by Christ's mockery of them in his resurrection from the cross. In Colossians we hear that 'he disarmed the powers... and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.'

Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox [Herod] for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’” Jesus knows the stakes, understands the deal, anticipates his cut. 

If you are familiar with what happens when a fox gets into a hen house, you know the mother hen herds her chicks under her wings for protection and bares her breast so the fox must kill her first before it can get to the chicks.

This is the image that Jesus chose to bring us,  God’s very son bore his breast for us. Jesus walked for us into the terrifying darkness which descended, but only for a while, over the whole of the earth, at his death. But by being raised from the dead, he overcame death and promises that we will too. 
What is it that Jesus promises anyway? 
Why have you become Christians?
It isn't the way to a comfortable life!
That was never the deal. Foxes exist but death and sin are undone. 
God fulfilled his promise to Abram, taking on darkness and sin and death for us and did so again in his Son, Jesus Christ. 
These are the greater promises he covenants to, for you.

So this is how broken animals and foxes and hens make sense.
When we received the cross of ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of our vulnerability to sin and to death. 

As Christians, we are made for more than just deals that gain us fleeting assurance. We are called to covenant and to sacrifice after our very earthy God, to putting our faith in him who has secured everything for us, who has walked out all our pain to secure our resurrection, our outwitting of the fox. 

We are to trust in a God who fulfils his promises, who entered all our bloody messes, so that he could secure us the promises of Covenant love. 

‘Do not be afraid,' he says again today, 'I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ Amen.


Mary and Jesus and Good Disagreement

I preach this sermon today after hearing the scriptures afresh this morning and so beautifully read, caught up again by the imagery in Isaiah of the Bridegroom and his Bride. I can not help but explore John's Gospel and that Wedding at Cana, in the light of what God is saying to us after a week of conversation on such topics in the Anglican Communion.

If you were with us a few weeks ago, you'll remember Jesus in his childhood, as a twelve year old, staying behind in the temple and missing to his parents for three days. We heard of Mary's anxiety.

Here now, eighteen years later, and at a wedding with anxiety over missing wine, there is much to learn from conversation, where two people: Mary and Jesus seem again at odds with one another.

When Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, he had been unapologetic to his mother. Here, as a man, in response again to his mother's fears, he uses words we find quite puzzling.

If Jesus had been more the middle-class Anglican – in response to Mary's, “Son, why have you done this? Your father and I have sought you anxiously,” he might have responded: “Oh I do apologise, I became so distracted at the temple I lost all track of time. I'm so terribly sorry.”

And to the situation in Cana and his mother's whisper about the lack of wine, he might have responded, “Good grief, how appalling, thank you so much for bringing this to my attention, let me see what I can do.”

But Jesus doesn't respond like this on either occasion. When wine runs out, he responds with “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

In the temple, when 12, his response had been, 'Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house.' 

The truth can not be compromised by the desire for politeness. 

Mary would not have known what we know by the phrase 'My hour has not yet come.' We know it points to the hour of his glorification on the cross but she would have thought he was declining her invitation to immediately sort the wine.

What she does in response, though, is to trust that Jesus will act. She instructs the waiters at the wedding to do whatever Jesus tells them; made confident by her faith in him (though she knows not quite what he will do) she tells waiters to, “Do whatever he tells you.” These, her last recorded words in the gospel of John.

What are we to learn from these passages this weekend of all weekends, when the news has explored decisions made by the Anglican Communion in the recent meeting of the Primates of the Provinces? One decision reached was that the Episcopal church, who last year, without consultation, changed their doctrine of marriage, will become unable to take part in communion decision-making for three years, as a consequence.

The love between Mary and her Son was, of course, without question and yet in the two conversations we have explored briefly this morning, opinion was not harmonious. Jesus travelled back in silence from the temple but we're told lived in obedience to his parents.

Jesus told his mother his hour would come later and yet made the wine flow in response to the faith she placed in him.

There's lots of give and take when we're living in relationship.

Perhaps what Jesus and Mary model for us then is that as Mother of God and Son of God there can, for a while, be good disagreement and yet unimpaired love and certainly holy communion; that we trust that both Jesus and Mary acted for the good of God's people. 

After them, people everywhere are to seek together, as best they can, the will of the Father. 

Jesus chooses his Father's House over his mother's home as he stays in the temple; is obedient to the Father though it pains his mother; and in this points to the hour that will come when he does similar, and she stands at a cross to witness his surrender.

Mary asks waiters at a wedding and Christians today and everywhere: 'Do whatever he tells you.' The problem will be that this 'doing' is interpreted differently, that we can not, just like Mary, for-see, always, what Jesus will do. We must trust, though, that in his actions, he reveals the glory of the Father, not always in ways we'll understand or are necessarily easy, his greatest glory being revealed on a lonely hill and on a cross at Calvary.

On both occasions Jesus acts. 

In the first story, becoming lost to a Mother temporarily, but right at home in his heavenly Father, in asking questions at the temple, Jesus grows in wisdom and the Holy Spirit, surrenders other priorities to the authority of his Father.

And here at that wedding with wine fast becoming lost down the throats of gathered guests, Jesus will make more again and grow the faith of his disciples, who begin that day to know him better from this first demonstration of his authority.

Perhaps ultimately from this story, then, this morning, we are to be those who here ask questions of our faith together, so we might grow in wisdom and in the Holy Spirit and trust in God's authority.

Where we come to different conclusions, (and we're bound to do so temporarily) despite this we're to continue loving one another and learning from our diversity, as we travel in communion to catch glimpses of his glory. Amen.


Out of Sorts Interview with Sarah Bessey

Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist, has released her latest book, Out of Sorts. I had the great privilege of putting some questions to her. Please find the interview below. Order her book: poignant and timely, a very real wrestle with questions of life and faith.

Sarah Bessey is author of OUT OF SORTS. Her book has been published by Howard Books. Quotations from Sarah's book are in italics.

QUESTION: 'At some point, we all have to let people live their lives, even if that means they want to live them far away from us.You use these words to describe the choice that your uncle made to live in independence from family. This approach towards people's personal choices perhaps has helped you to enter deeply into the lives of other people whilst at the same time differentiating yourself from them, their stuff is their stuff and yours is yours – can you say some more about this?

ANSWER: I see it more as respecting each other’s choices and narratives. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, of course, but in the end, I’ve found peace in releasing expectations and even demanding certain outcomes. In our particular story, I continue to hope for reconciliation but even if that doesn’t happen, I have to be willing to release people precisely because I love them and to trust that God is at work with or without my involvement. Sometimes it’s an act of love to let people walk away, but I will say that it’s important to keep the door to return always open.

QUESTION 'I wonder if we’ve forgotten that the Church isn’t simply an institution. It’s us. We’re it. We are all standing in our own homes, looking at all the boxes and the junk and the treasures of our inheritance, and we are thinking to ourselves, “God, what a mess. Someday I really need to do something about all this.”' Your synopsis of the thinking of Phyllis Trickle helps the church to understand the cyclical nature of change and struggle, you speak of this tendency to pattern in your own family, 'we're all just corkscrewing around the same issues.' You describe your own return to the same truths as a corkscrewing – it would seem that there are healthy returnings and less healthy returnings to familiar patterns – can you say somehting more about this? In what ways do you think the church can benefit from becoming more aware of the corkscrewing?

ANSWER: I think it’s quite precious how I thought that I was so unique and original in my struggles and awakenings! Bless. It’s like a university student who goes away from home for the first time and comes home after one course of philosophy with all the answers and all the ways everyone else is doing it wrong, you know? There really is nothing new under the sun. It’s a necessary part of our formation, absolutely, but it’s also part of the story that we need to live into the rest of the story. Even in our spiritual formation, we find some amazing new thing or idea but then we discover that the new thing is actually an ancient thing and there are a lot of people waiting for us on the other side of our shifts and changes. For me, if I had tried to write this book ten years ago it would be an entirely different book because I hadn’t lived into my formation enough yet - it’s likely that is still the case and I’ll look back on this as a snapshot of one moment in my development as opposed to the definitive work. But regardless, I suppose I’ve just grown more comfortable with the tethering roots of our stories and our legacies. We like to think we can cut ties and be autonomous but the very thing that formed us then continue to form us now - we can either recognize and work within it with agency and thoughtfulness or we can be victims of it.

QUESTION: You describe the conversion of your family to faith and are unapologetic for it saying 'Maybe I’m tired of finding other ways to say it, to make it more palatable and reasonable and logical. What is this life in Christ like if not a bit of disorderly resurrection?' Do you think it requires a particular kind of vulnerability to tell our testimonies?

ANSWER: Absolutely. I think that’s why it’s such holy ground, so precious to me. Even now at our church’s baptism services, they make space for each person to share their testimony with the community and it never fails to make me cry. I think there is something so powerful and inarguable about a story of how we encountered Jesus. And to speak our deepest truths - I was lost and then I was found, I was lonely and then I found family and friends, I was blind but now I see, I was broken but now I am whole - those are points of connection and their healing ripples out into the lives of those privileged to hear it or witness it.

QUESTION'Church became a social club at times, then it became a burden to bear. I’ll write more about Church later in the book, but for now, I’ll just say this: I lost Jesus in there. It seemed one could be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus.' You describe the domestication of your faith as you moved into mainstream church? Were there any redeeming features to those churches that you experienced?

ANSWER: Absolutely and I hope I gave equal billing to that very thing in the book. At the time that I was walking through this season, I was quite prideful and purposefully isolated myself. I know I was also hurt and burned out and other legitimate things as well as having actual worthwhile questions and push back. Now years later I look back with tremendous gratitude for each church and community that was a part of my development.

QUESTION: You describe reading the gospels in your return to faith and how 'Jesus was not what I expected. Not what I remembered. I had expected a comfortable wise man, someone saying nice things about being nice and kind to people. I think I expected a version of Jesus I had tricked out of my memory: comfortable, safe. Clearly I’d blurred the Jesus of my childhood with the real one of the Gospels ...'
What was it that you found most shocking about Jesus?

ANSWER: I had this idea of a comfortable and safe and nice Jesus. Instead I found Jesus was a bit wild and challenging and cleansing and healing all at once. Instead of a placating moral guide, he was curing everything that was sick in us and healing everything that was broken and bringing the dead in us to life. It’s bracing and reorienting. And I think I used to think of Jesus as just another character in the Bible and then I was reoriented to the truth that Jesus is the point of the Scriptures, the axis, and so I needed to reunderstand the rest of Scripture through his teaching. As an example, when Jesus tells us that we used to be servants but now we’re his friends, that is wild to me and completely changes how we read so much of the Bible.

QUESTION: You describe your own wresting with the Scriptures. 'And let’s be honest: being a Christian is sometimes almost at odds with what we read in some parts of Scripture. We can be entirely “biblical” and yet be far from being a disciple of Jesus Christ.' Can you expand on this? In what ways have you encountered this?

ANSWER: We can pick and choose Bible verses and so we are technically “Biblical” but we aren’t being true to the teachings of Jesus. For instance, we can quote things from the Levitical laws such as “an eye for an eye” but then Jesus teaches us to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek and to love and pray for our enemies as we would for our brothers. So if we throw away the teachings of Jesus in favour of something else we find in the Bible, then we might be “biblical” but we aren’t a disciple of Jesus.

QUESTION: 'It started with those clobber verses—anyone who has been on the receiving end, you know the ones—2 Timothy, Titus 2, Ephesians 5, and so on. I did my research long before the day came to write, but as a refresher, I dug out the commentaries and books again. Responsible author, I wanted to make sure I had my hermeneutical ducks in a row. But as I worked my way through the passages of Scripture that I used to hate, I began to see Paul more clearly, to understand Scripture even better. I began to see his wisdom, his subversion, his heart.'

I have a similar journey to you and finding the plain reading so provocative here I then applied a close reading which began a close reading of the rest of scripture which cemented for me both call and discipleship: ordained ministry would be my shape for living out discipleship – to grow churches where people are not afraid to ask questions. How do you conceive of your call?

ANSWER: I think I’m still living into my calling. By vocation, I know that I’m a writer. That’s my sweet spot, for sure, but I’ve been surprised at how following Jesus has lead me into writing about the things I write about in particular. And so much of my calling has actually been articulated and affirmed first by the ones I trust and by my community. For instance, I didn’t think that preaching or speaking would ever be a part of my life but my husband and my family and my church community identified that gift in me and gave me opportunities to learn and practice and empowered me to step out into that gift. I probably wouldn’t have ever done that without their affirmation and empowerment. Now I believe a big part of my calling is perhaps a bit outside of the gates - I’m not ordained, I’m not formally theologically trained etc. - and to shepherd people who are there, too. At the core of everything I write and everything I preach is one thing: you are loved. That’s it. If I had one last breath in my body, it would be spent speaking of the overwhelming welcome and love of God towards us.

QUESTION: 'He even gave me the extra measure: his blessing to explore my struggles and ideas and weaknesses in a public forum through blogging about it or talking about it. He was not threatened by my honesty. We each let the other be wrong for a long time.' 

I had this time too, blogging at Revising Reform – because I was literally 'revising' swotting up on what this organisation in the Church of England thought regarding the cross, mainly and women's roles in the church. I could only blog about it because friends at school and nursery pick-up didn't 'get it' or had already too quickly made up their minds. How important do you think it is to find safe places, places where you can be heard and engage and listen? How do you think church might facilitate such places?

ANSWER: I think it’s deeply important! A safe space is deeply important to our spiritual formation. I think that’s part of the reason why people are connecting with the book - they feel less alone and less scared, a little less isolated in their questions or changes. And even though the research shows that these seasons of our lives are entirely normal and healthy, we don’t usually shepherd people well in that season. If anything a lot of our churches are structured around a very literal and early stage of our spiritual formation, they function best if we don’t question and don’t push back or begin to embrace curiosity and complexity. It’s important to be accessible for people in the early stages of their journey, absolutely, but it’s also important to create the space and conversation and companions and guides for all the stages of our faith journeys.

QUESTION: 'My experiences in church ranged widely over the years. But when my husband left ministry and we were both limping home to Canada—burned out, burned up, exhausted—one thing was sure: the reality was pretty far from the ideal. So even though Brian still refused to give up on the Church as an ideal, in reality I opted to stop going to church. For six years.'

You write with great candidness about being 'burned out, burned up, exhausted' and leaving ministry with your husband. What advice would you have for leaders of churches?

ANSWER: My advice would be to walk closely with Jesus, to lean into his rhythms of ministry and life because in Matthew 11:28, he promises that it is a rhythm of grace, it isn’t a burden. So much of ministry can feel like striving and making things happen instead. I’d also recommend that pastors get ahold of everything written by Eugene Peterson on pastoring and start reading there.

QUESTION: 'I think the Church is one of the weirdest ideas and one of the best ideas. If church were just a sanctified social club, I’d be out. If it were just about singing songs or listening to a great sermon, I could do that at home—thanks to the new worship movement albums on iTunes and free podcasts. If it were just about staying busy, I’ve already got that handled rather nicely. So I’ve done my best to figure out the essence of the Church.'

Can you describe the essence of the church is a sentence?

ANSWER: It’s a God-centered and Spirit-breathed community sent to continue the life and ministry of Jesus.

QUESTION: 'We have these moments of transcendence, like the veil between heaven and earth is fluttering. We can’t breathe for the loveliness of the world and each other, and just like that, we remember something. Our skin is made of dust, so we often catch the perfumed scent of the Garden in the cool of the evening, and we know, somewhere inside, that we’re supposed to be walking with God, unashamed still. I wonder if that’s really what happens when we meet Jesus. It’s not that we meet Him or that we believe in Him or that we “invite Him into our hearts” or that we mentally assent tosome nonnegotiable truths that will govern our best life now. No, I think it’s that we recognize Him. I think that part of our souls, our spirits, our bodies, our minds, locks into focus. It wasn’t a dream, no, that is what’s real. When we cross the threshold of faith, we enter into an awareness that the Kingdom of God has already come.'

Your writing is very beautiful and vulnerable and yet uncompromising, who inspires you to write this way?

ANSWER: I’m not sure, really, this is just my voice, I suppose, my way of wrestling and telling stories and talking. I think I can probably credit influence to a few places though - a deep and abiding love of Scripture and my reading habits lean more towards poetry, literature, or spiritual writers whose work makes me weep with the beauty like Madeleine L’Engle or Barbara Brown Taylor.

Thank you, Sarah Bessey!  


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