Saturday, 19 January 2019

Grit, determination and passion

This list the text of a sermon preached at the Cathedral Eucharist on 13 January 2019. Opening the Saturday papers, there was a lot of comment on Andy Murray - his career, physical pain, achievements, character as he contemplated giving up competitive tennis.  

It sparked reflections about the weight of expectation he faced and how we sit lightly to 'success'. How this related to Jesus' Baptism was in part about the divine embrace of human flesh, but also the power of the Spirit. Given the Cathedral's dedication to the Holy Spirit, it resonated too with T. S. Elliot's Four Quartets - the ground of our beseeching.  

However, as well as remembering Murray win his first Wimbledon title, I was calling to mind the moment I heard about the Dunblane massacre - an attack on a school where Andy and his brother were pupils. There is underpinning this sermon something about trauma, resilience and redemption. The texts were Isaiah 43:1-7, Acts 8:14-17 and Luke 3:15-7, 21-22

In the summer of 2013, 17.3 million viewers watched tuned in to the Wimbledon final.

Many more, like me, listened on Radio 5 Live.

The duration of the Men’s Singles Final outlasted the journey time from Guildford down the A281 to Alford Church. Sitting in the car park, Evensong drew closer; waiting with baited breath for those three words: game, set and match.  Followed by the name: Andy Murray. 

And he cried - having squeezed out every last drop of talent in pursuit of victory.

And six years later,  he cried - the excruciating pain of his body is telling him to stop.

Journalists reach for cliches - speaking of blood, sweat and tears. They remind us of the gangly kid who became a sporting icon; the fierce competitor who would sulk and swear; the shy man with a dry wit and the conviction to challenge misogyny in tennis.

Like Jeremy Bates, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski before him, Murray carried a weight of expectation: every time he stepped on to court, the people questioned in their hearts whether he might be the one; whether he might be the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry.

His role of honour is quantified in singles titles, Olympic medals, weeks at number one and being named as Sports personality of the Year. His greatness, if you like, is in the headline: the grit, determination and passion at the limit of endurance.

In the realm of sport, that weight of expectation never ends. Rankings are determined match by match. Greatness is a glittering prize; elusive and subject to judgement.

The words of Andy Bull’s tribute point to a different metric of greatness; to Murray’s character. Of the man who sold the red Ferrari and kept his VW Polo, he writes: It is rare enough for a sportsman to be so successful, much rarer still for one to be so unaffected by his success. 

Perhaps being unaffected by success will enable expectations to morph into legacy, mentoring and a new pattern of life.

Today we John the Baptist had found himself in the spot light; he carries a weight of expectation that he will be the one. The one who brings freedom; who’ll triumph in the name of God.  

He remains unaffected by the crowds, taking no claim of greatness for himself. 

Instead he continually points beyond himself; to the one who is to come.

By baptising with water, he has set the scene and prepared the way. 

His words sting with the rebuke to those who abuse power; and captivate those longing for new life. He invites all who hear him to turn back to God: to open their hearts, to change their lives, to expect something - or rather someone - more.  

That expectation is met in the one who comes and stands alongside us - embodying the fullness of God’s love in the frailty of our our flesh.

In the moment of his own baptism, Jesus is revealed as God’s Son; revealed in the physicality of the moment. In this moment of prayer. 

In baptism, the divine embrace of human flesh is declared. 

The voice of his heavenly Father declares Jesus’ identity and authority as Son; the power of the Spirit though which the work of our rebirth is completed is revealed. 

Jesus is the one who restores dignity to our humanity by being with us: his baptism is a sign of the way in which the world is reclaimed, healed, transformed and blessed by the Word of God made flesh. 

In him, our expectations are subverted and fulfilled. Greatness and success are re-defined. In him, we see God’s ways at work - persistently, gently, fiercely turning us away from death and toward life.

With a passion as strong as fire, Jesus calls us back from all those things which serve as substitutes for life lived with God: the desire for control over others or the desire to be at the centre of the crowd; the reliance on what we have to define who we are; the way we might chase multiple glittering prizes which leave us empty or unfulfilled.

With a fire of unquenchable love, Jesus restores to us the dignity and calls us into a community which reflects life lived with God: where we are loved; where we are supported; where we find wisdom and joy; where we can be vulnerable; where hospitality bubbles up.

And some days, it feels as if we are still waiting for that to be made real; still waiting to be noticed or heard; still waiting for expectations to be met; still waiting for our purpose to become clear; still waiting for radical love to extend its reach.

And the gift we are waiting for is nearer to us than we know; it is for us, our name and our charism. At a Cathedral Church dedicated to the Holy Spirit, dare we pray and call upon power from on high?

We are to pray as the apostles did in Acts: that the Spirt might descend to renew in our flesh, the reality of that divine embrace; to see that love stretching forth over one another. 

In our waiting and praying,  our bodies yield to this gift of love divine.

As one theologian [Willie Jennings: Acts] puts it: God will draw near and give lavishly in an intimate space created by bodies and created for bodies. 

To pray in this way expresses our longings; our desire to liberated from fear or failure; our need for love to be move loving.

As T. S Elliot puts it:
And all shall be well and 
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching. 

Our beseeching is met in the promise of being beloved. 

The intimacy of this echoes the words of Isaiah fulfilled in Christ: in him, we are called by name and redeemed; in the Spirit we are created and recreated; formed and reformed.  

In the assurance of such love, our motives and actions are purified; the chaff burnt away. In the assurance of such love, we are called to bring healing and hope to others.

It is through the intimacy of created bodies that God’s love is made known in the world: in Christ, God’s very self is given for us, defeating death and turning us towards life.

That life and light and love, is breathed through the world by the Spirit blowing where it wills: provoking, creating, protesting, healing, crying out. 

That Spirit is poured out on us today: on broken bread and outpoured wine becoming for us Christ’s body; on hearts and minds receptive to challenge and desiring blessing; on our bodies however energetic, frail, bruised or beautiful. We who are many become one body - living, breathing and moving in the world. 

May we live with grit and determination, passion and endurance - listening to what the Spirt might be saying to us in the words and music of our worship; in the papers we read and the people we meet. What might the Sprit be saying?

In the words of Elliot (text):

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

© Julie Gittoes 2019

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Day by day like us he grew

A sermon preached at Guildford Cathedral on 30th December 2018.  Writing in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, Emma Brockes reflected on the experience of sifting through boxes in her parents’ home and finding what she calls ‘the detritus of girlhood’.  Perhaps we still have similar boxes of seemingly banal objects - and certainly exchanges on Twitter indicated that I wasn't alone in keeping the seemingly banal, worthless or useless.. As Brockes writes, ‘there is often an inverse relationship between the trivial nature of a keepsake and the wonder it evokes simply through having survived’.   

That article and the conversation was in my mind as I prepared to preach today - preaching on a glimpse into Jesus' childhood. Having just returned from a flying visit to my childhood home, I was conscious that setting foot in my bedroom is like a microcosm of  the National Museum of Childhood. Their collection of games, clothes, mechanical toys and dolls includes each generation’s “must have” (not things which ended up in our stockings!).  In holding in trust our nation’s collection, their curators are also engaging us in the wider culture and experience of childhood - and it also made me ponder how those things enable us to enter an adult world. 

Having heard sermons which sit lightly to the infant Jesus - rushing to focus on his adulthood teaching us how to be human - I began to wonder even more about the significance of Jesus growing up and what that might mean for us and for our salvation. And if childhood matters, then how do we enable others to grow up well. I had in mind another exchange about labels and ways in which we pigeonhole others within our congregation. However, as I've preached elsewhere, the responsibility goes much much wider and deeper in relation those who are robed of childhood through.  The texts were: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, Colossians 3:12-17 and Luke 2:41-52

48 hours in my family home reconnects me to the mysterious and intimate detritus of my childhood:  A-level notes; a Charles and Di thimble; a walkman; a Barbie doll; felt tip pens; tickets galore; letters from friends; commemorative coins; games, puzzles and banal keepsakes; books read and then re-read with my sister. Shared toys may have acquired a disputed status, but the Meccano my sister resurrected last week is definitely hers!

My sister's Meccano boat under construction (her photo credit too!)

These things not only preserve an experience of childhood. They also reveal the ways in which children are prepared for the adult world through imaginative play and construction toys, through storytelling and creativity.  

There is one carol which speaks of  ‘child’ ‘childhood’ and ‘children’ more than any other.  It is of course Cecil Frances Alexander’s ‘Once in Royal David’s city’. It was first published in her ‘Hymnbook for Little Children’ in 1848; but last week, as in so many cathedrals and churches, our carol service began with a treble voice breaking the silence of anticipation.

The familiar words may have a sentimental glow; but they continue to remind us of the truth that the little child in Mary’s arms is our God and Lord of all. 

Our God came to share in our humanity: sharing in our infancy, childhood and adolescence. 

The ordinariness of that matters. It is wondrous: Jesus shared in the life of an earthly home in Nazareth; day by day like us he grew.

At the heart of our faith is the truth that God, in whom we place our trust, lived among us; occupying particular time and space. That means sharing in our weakness, obedience and curiosity; in tears, laughter and love.  

Luke’s Gospel gives us a glimpse into that reality - not by preserving the detritus of Jesus’ boyhood, but by engaging us with who he is. Luke offers a snapshot of Jesus' cultural experience of growing up and discovering who he is.

Like other Jewish parents, Mary and Joseph took Jesus with them to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover as soon as he was old enough.  They raised the child entrusted to them within a wider community of faith. At home in Nazareth, on the road to Jerusalem and in the midst of crowds celebrating across the city, he would have mixed freely with his extended family and friends. 

To be 12 years old comes with a whole set of preoccupations and anxieties: the things we want to explore or understand; the people we want to spend time with; the absorption in a moment.  It can be exciting, frustrating and not without worry as any child setting off for secondary school knows all too well.

The adolescent testing of boundaries and growing independence is in part a gift of enabling a child to grow up. Mary and Joseph are not immune from that risk or worry.  They make assumptions about who Jesus is with; his absence goes on noticed for a day.  Gradually the reality dawns that he’s not amongst the extended network of family and friends; they have to retrace their steps. 

Luke matter of factly states that they searched for three days: a search which may well have been restless, impatient and sleepless.  The expression of anxiety only breaks in when Jesus is found. 

He is found not acting as a precocious teenager teaching his elders. Rather he is sitting amongst them. Jesus is listening and asking questions. He forms his own responses - giving answers which demonstrate a depth of understanding.  The amazement of the crowds and the astonishment of his parents give way to a perfectly normal exchange.

Luke captures Mary’s relief and frustration, her anxiety and rebuke: child, why have you treated us like this? 

Luke also perfectly captures a typically nonchalant and frustrating teenage reply: why were you searching for me? Wasn’t it obvious? I must be in my Father’s house!

To grow up is about discovering who we are; where our passions and aptitudes lie; taking responsibility for ourselves, growing in maturity. 

For Jesus, he was growing in ever deepening awareness of who he was: God’s Son, with a longing to be in his Father’s house and to be amongst his people; knowing a complete union with his heavenly Father and a complete identification with our humanity. 

For now, that also meant living with his parents; continuing to grow up in obedience to their authority. 

For now, Mary and Joseph nurture him and come to know the cost of parenthood.  Like Hannah and Elkanah before them, their will watch their son grow up not only in service of God, but as the one who is God’s Son; the suffering servant.

No doubt every stitch that Hannah made in the robes she prepared for Samuel expressed love and prayer. Perhaps Mary too sewed garments for Jesus as she pondered all that she had seen; all that she did not yet understand; all that she hoped for and feared. 

The child at her breast became the child abiding in his Father’s house; the one who listened became the one who taught with authority.  

He was the glory of the people of Israel and a light for all nations; and yet a sword would pierce her soul too.  The one who was missing for three days would die and on the third day rise again. 

The adolescent engaging with teachers in the Temple grew in wisdom. His wisdom is not an abstract divine knowing; it is an enfleshed knowledge. 

The one who is our childhood’s pattern, thought and learned like us. He got older. He grew in understanding who is was: the Word made flesh, God’s beloved Son.

The Word was speechless in infancy and eloquent in humanity: God’s love sharing fully in our humanity so that we might share the life of his divinity. 

Our prayer today is that as members of the Church, we might live as one family united in love and obedience.  This is the prayer of Paul to the Colossians too. He adopts a language so familiar to our childhood. Just as we played at dressing up - taking on roles and identities of adulthood - so Paul invites us to dress in the new life that is in Christ. 

We are to cloth ourselves in the virtues of God’s kingdom: to be compassionate as we put our feelings of empathy into action; to be kind in our treatment of others; to be humble in our service as we allow others to flourish; to be patient in recognising that building up a community in love takes time as well as sustained effort.

To bear with others is to recognise that within a diverse community, sharing in one faith, there will be irritations and disagreements. What matters is how we resolve them.  Perhaps that means listening carefully to others; or enabling others to grow up, embracing their gifts. It means cherishing what each has to offer and avoiding labelling others in a way which belittles them. 

We are all called to belong: and each Eucharist marks the character of that belonging. We are people who are forgiven and called to forgive others; moving from hurt and sorrow to healing and hope, seeking peace.  We are to listen and to teach; to sing joyfully and express our gratitude. Our family likeness is to be the breadth and depth of love we receive and share. 

Such redeeming love is revealed in the one who shared our life from childhood to final breath; he is the one who leads his children on, growing into one body in him.  

As we break bread together,  may God’s Spirit be at work in us; leading us onwards to reflect the character of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.


© Julie Gittoes 2018

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Crying out in song

The text of a sermon preached at the Cathedral Eucharist on Advent 4 - reflecting on the ubiquity of Christmas songs and the way that music can hook us back into childhood memories or cultivate a sense of community. It's Mary's song which takes centre stage. It's family words challenge us to think about the cries of our world and our part in singing God's song of justice. The readings were Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45 [46-55 sang by the choir]

December is the season, more than any other month of the year, when our lives accompanied by a communal soundtrack. The Christmas classic is as ubiquitous as tinsel, mince pies and festive jumpers.

Supermarkets set the ‘Christmas vibe’ as play the sentimental schmalz of Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’, and the harmless cheese of Chris Rea ‘Driving Home for Christmas’; the Jackson 5 accompanies the last minute trolly dash with the up beat ‘Santa Claus is coming to town'; we leave to the bell-chimes of Wizzard's ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’.

On an overcrowded, late running last train, there’s a spontaneous sing-a-long of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’, enthusiasm turning to awkwardness when no one knows all the words; church choirs and music groups gather in their local pub for beer and carols, weaving Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas’ alongside ‘O come all ye faithful’. 

Perhaps we lift the needle to play the old vinyl of Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’; or, like me, find ourselves catapulted back to our childhood as Bonny M sing ‘Mary’s boy child’. 

Why do these songs get under our skin? Setting aside our inner music critic, they tap into our memories and emotions. When it’s cold outside, Christmas songs remind us of home; of warmth of friendship and community.  

But there’s complexity too. The songs which put a smile on our face are also the ones which express our loneliness and or the personal heartbreak of  Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’.  Others convey and urgency of protest; weaving together hope for change and calls for action. 

The Band Aid single ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time?’ remains as challenging as it was in 1984. Simon LeBon sings  ‘But when you're having fun / There’s a world /outside your window /And it's a world of dread and fear’. Can we feed the world?

Music is fundamental to celebration but what we sing shapes our hearts and minds. Our scriptures are full of songs of praise and gratitude, lament and protest; justice and hope; they express our human responses and invoke the promises of God’s Kingdom.

Today we are drawn into the intimacy of a precious moment between two women; a moment which has been taken up in our own songs and praise. The angel greeted Mary as full of grace; Ave Maria, gracia plena. Now Elizabeth calls forth blessing; Benedicta tu. Blessed are you; blessed is the child you carry.

Mary journeyed from Nazareth to the remote hill country to give and receive kindness and affection. These woman in their first and second trimesters, share the same hopes and anxieties; the same physical changes and sensations of pregnancy. And in the midst of the expected gift of life, there is immense delight, excitement and energy. 

Elizabeth and her unborn son are responding not only to the presence of a beloved younger woman. The Spirit is moving in the face of human recognition to prompt them to rejoice in presence of God. John leaps in utero at the nearness of Jesus in Mary’s womb. There is awe and wonder, joy and dignity. The name of their Lord is on their lips; promises of God are being fulfilled. 

But words of blessing and trust, fulfilment and joy are not the end point. For on Mary’s lips, words of praise and gratitude overflow into a song of hope and radical change. 

We make her declaring our own as we sing or say the Magnificat every day at Evensong: Mary gives thanks for what God has done for her and she expresses God’s generosity towards her. But she goes on to draw out the consequences for the world. The one whose name is holy will make known mercy from one generation to another. And mercy is revealed in deliverance from poverty, exploitation and domination. 

Mary - this determined, trusting, courageous and joyful woman - makes her own the voice of the prophets. The poor are lifted up and the rich sent away empty; the hungry are filled with good things and the powerful are brought down.  

Her song is a powerful declaration of what salvation looks like: relationships are transformed, imaginations are renewed and resources are redeployed.  This song calls us to embody the compassion and justice of God; the flourishing of the whole of creation is a promised fulfilled in the pursuit of equity.

We are to make Mary’s song our own - committing ourselves to feed the world and banish fear; embracing the lonely, vulnerable and fearful; challenging those gifted with economic and social capital. 

The prophet Micah denounced dishonesty in business and superficial religion; he challenged the abuse of power and the exploitation of the poor.  He looked forward to a time of peace - when we could set aside our reliance on military might and the false gods of wealth.

And foretold that this work of redemption would begin in a small place; in a city which was home to a small clan. In Bethlehem, this marginal place, blessed Mary will go into labour. In this city her firstborn child - God’s own beloved Son - is born. 

Peace breaks in in the cries of an infant; in a babe at his mother’s breast.

Blessing is found in the fruit of Mary’s womb.

We are blessed by God’s love dwelling with us in flesh of our flesh. 

We bless as we become receptive to that gift, and channel that love.

Our world cries out for that gift of peace and love: a world of universal credit and food banks; a world of environmental degradation and refugee crises; a world of homelessness and zero hours contracts.

Our world cries out:
His name was Gyula Remes: aged 43, a Hungarian national working as a chef’s assistant; there was no space for him in a hostel. He died at Westminster Tube Station. 

Cries are heard:
The baby has no name yet, rescued at two days old from a boat carrying 311 migrants off Malta. The mother is only 23; fleeing in hope of a better future; trusting in the immediacy of medical assistance. 

We cry too:
Like Mary, we sing songs of praise and protest, hope and vision. We make her joyful song about God’s with boldness and tenacity.

We respond to cries: singing increases our capacity to act; the Spirit strengthens us to seek justice, compassion and peace. We commit to Mary’s manifesto of struggle and change with hope and courage. 

The body Mary carries in her body is God with us. That body will teach and heal, console and provoke. That body will be beaten, mocked and lifted up on a cross. That dying body destroys death and brings new life. In broken bread, we are fed, restored and strengthened by his body; we become his body, receiving dignity and purpose.

We sing out in places of vulnerability and fear; we stand in solidarity with suffering and anxious. As his body we cry out for those seeking healing and hope; we act of those seeking justice and peace. May our lives be blessings of love.

© Julie Gittoes 2018

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Not a Crazy Cat Lady

Last week, I was preaching at Choral Evensong for Advent 2. The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth drew my attention to what it is to be childless - through choice or circumstance. As Carole Cadwalladr reflected on the comments made about her being a mad cat woman, I reflected on how such judgemental stereotyping continues to silence or belittle women. It's not something I've named in the pulpit quite so explicitly as on this occasion, but it felt timely and pertinent. The texts were Isaiah 40:1-11 and Luke 1:1-25

Carole Cadwalladr (pictured left from The Guardian website) is an accomplished British investigative journalist and features writer. Earlier this year, she won the Orwell Prize for her reporting of the impact of ‘big data’ on the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election.

She’s a woman who knows the power of words to communicate and challenge; to question and persuade.

She’s a woman who found herself on the receiving end of words which wound and damage. In the early hours of a November morning, Andrew Neil used a few key strokes to type out and send a Tweet calling her a ‘mad cat woman’.

It’s a familiar stereotype: the more mature women, living alone, who has a cat or cats. As Carole puts it ‘it isn’t a harmless animal lover with freethinking views; it’s a woman who’s outside acceptable society. Who doesn’t conform to conventional norms’. 

In the twenty-first century, is being a middle-aged woman, without children, to occupy of the last bastions of seemingly acceptable prejudice?  

Is the ‘crazy-cat lady’ an example of using stereotypes to cast judgement or shame women into silence? As a society, do we still see woman who’re childless through circumstance as to be pitied for avoided; do we see those childfree by choice as somehow ‘unnatural’ intimidating or too fiercely independent?

Or is there a sense that such women hold up a mirror to our own fears; fears which lurk around the edges of consciousness: fears about ageing or being lonely; fears about being isolated, with no one to care; the fear of being forgotten and the fear of death itself. 

Beyond, the stereotype of the crazy cat lady is the reality that one in five women in the UK has turned forty-five without having had children. These women - and men too - find themselves living the life unexpected; moving beyond disappointment and grief to find meaning, purpose and fulfilment. 

Our scriptures are echo with the cries of those who long for a child of their own. And in this season of Advent, it is in the lives of the childless that God chooses to witness to promise and calling beyond the scope of biological kinship.

We hear of the faith of Abraham and the laughter of Sarah; the wordless prayers of Hannah and the confusion of Mary. Today we hear of the Zechariah and Elizabeth who are both getting on in years.  

Luke sets out an orderly account of the events which have been handed on to him - by eyewitnesses and following his own investigations. He does not spare us the tragedy of this human situation.

He presents us with a couple who were devoted to each other; and also devoted to God. They had lived out the commandments in faithful love and dedicated service. But they had no children. 

‘Sons are a heritage of the Lord', writes the psalmist, and ‘the fruit of the womb a reward’. But for Zechariah there was no son to join him in the priestly oder of Abijah, no hope in his old age; for Elizabeth, there had been no children to teach, no grandchildren to take by the hand. 

Despite this apparent lack of blessing, there is no hint of bitterness in Luke’s account of their character. This couple might be aged and barren but their lives were not unfruitful. For we find them at the heart of the Temple - the place where God’s people gathered to draw near to the holiness of the divine presence. We find them living out the promise of the law with gratitude, service and love. 

In this place, the horizon of life is extended beyond old age to the breaking in of a new age. 

In this seemingly barren place, there is a depth of attentive and faith waiting which speaks of new hope.

In this place of patient prayer, God is present, preparing hearts to receive afresh promise and blessing.

God chose Elizabeth and Zechariah to nurse and nurture John. He was not a child to bring comfort in the old age; but a child who would speak words of comfort to an entire nation. 

His parents will know joy and gladness because John will speak powerful words which will bring healing. Human hearts will opened; relationships will be restored. 

Just as Elizabeth and Zechariah walked in the ways of righteousness, their son will invite others to place their trust in God; recalling them to those paths of wisdom and obedience. 

Luke’s orderly account reminds us that in the most ordinary of circumstances, God addresses us by name and invites us to live the life unexpected. 

Perhaps we feel as unlikely candidates as Elizabeth and Zechariah; we still trust in God but we’re uncertain as to what the next season of our life will bring.  

Perhaps we feel as if we are exhausted, stigmatised or in some way ‘past it’; perhaps we’re feeling overwhelmed or fearful.

Or may be the fact that we’ve already endured much is opening up in greater capacity for resilience and altruism. There is nothing to lose - because in small gestures of care, in smiling at the stranger, or an act of kindness, joy and blessing are multiplied. 

In the midst of all this, God releases us from the stereotypes of the judgements of others.

We won’t be seen as crazy cat ladies or ruthless careerists; grumpy old men or broken hearted widows; as snowflake millennials or middle-class consumers.

We are released from such stereotypes when come before the loving mercy of God - who knows our heart-breaks and our dreams; our potential and our fragility.

John stands in a long line of prophets who seek to bring comfort to God’s people by restoring of vision of what is possible; by challenging us to walk in ways of justice and mercy; by opening our hearts to reconciling love.

Zechariah was rendered speechless by the fulfilment of God’s promise; his son cried out with a loud voice pointing us to the one who is God with us. 

The record of John is to prepare the way for our Lord Jesus: he is our God drawing near to bring us hope and healing; we are gathered together as members of his body. In him we are loved; we are freed from stereotypes and invited into new life.

However impatient our waiting and however patient our prayers, may we know the promise of his Holy Spirit leading us onwards from fear to hope; from despair to new life. The Spirit’s breathes words which silence voices of inadequacy; and quells our fears.

Prayer written by Alison Webster, as part of the Oxford Diocesan health, wellbeing and social care group.
God of compassion, 
you meant us to be both fragile and ordinary,
Silence the voices that say we are not good enough; 
haven’t achieved enough;
haven’t enough to show for our lives; 
that we are not enough.
Help us to know that we are treasure, we are prized,
We are cherished, 
We are loved. 
By you.
So be with us in our corrugations of feeling:
When our hearts are in downward freewill, be with us.
When our minds race with anxiety, be with us.
When our throats close in fear, be with us.
When sleep will not come, be with us.
When walking hurts, be with us.
In the name of Jesus,
Who knew trauma, abuse, despair and abandonment
And has nothing but love for us.


© Julie Gittoes 2018