Monday, 26 September 2016

Transforming Church, Transforming Lives


The text of a sermon preached on Sunday 25th September; the texts were 1 Timothy 6:19 and Luke 16:19-3. The Diocese of Guildford has launched its mission and vision strategy - Transforming Church, Transforming Lives - which includes twelve transformation goals. For more information, follow this link:http://www.cofeguildford.org.uk/about/transforming-church-transforming-lives

At the Cathedral, we are praying for parishes, schools and chaplaincies; and discerning the part we play in being a resource for that work. We pray in order to resource ourselves to play our part in the building up of God's Kingdom.  As Bishop Andrew says: 'God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is in the business of transforming individuals and communities, as we have the joyful privilege of joining in.'



The name Alan Scrase probably won't mean much to you.

Alan is a banknote collector; so the newly issued polymer notes were of particular interest to him. On his second visit to the bank, he was excited to discover that three of his new five pound notes had the sought after AA01 serial numbers. On the internet auction site, Ebay, they fetched £460!

What would you do - or have you done - with your first plastic fiver? The aptly named Johnny Five - a fundraising consultant - announced on Twitter that he'd given his to charity. The hashtag #firstfiver led to an impromptu social media campaign; as others joined in naming the charities which would benefit in tangible ways from an intentional act of kindness.

Some have likened the new note to Monopoly money. Perhaps that's not a bad way to begin to critique the illusion of wealth addressed in today's readings. Indeed, at last week's interfaith peace gathering in Assisi, Archbishop Justin said this: 'our money and wealth is like the toy money in a children's game: it may buy goods in our human economies that seem so powerful, but in the economy of God it is worthless'.

How we use our money matters inasmuch as it reveals our character and can express values of God's kingdom; but it is the mercy of God which quenches our thirst and satisfies our desires.  As Pope Francis commented: 'We are to drink daily of that mercy in order to overcome our sin and anger, and to bear mercy to others.'

This resonates with the story Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man.  One longed for his hunger to be satisfied; the other longed for his tongue to be cooled. At a first reading or hearing, it makes us uneasy because it seems to suggest a simple reversal of roles. Life was unfair to Lazarus when compared to the luxury of the rich man; but God will balance things out in the next life.

It's more challenging; more transformative than that.

Jesus' "pearly gates" tale is intriguing: it's a useful scenario in making judgements about public life and personal lifestyle Contemporary humour does the same - you know the kind jokes involving a conversation with St Peter and a politician, pastor, atheist or accountant.

Today's parable is a vivid picture of our world; where the inequality between rich and poor reflects a fundamental injustice. Developing the x, y and z of a comprehensive economic policy which achieves sustainability and equity is huge task; and yet, the church is called to have a vision of how we hold together a commitment to justice with income generation - at a micro and macro level.

Transformation is possible. Archbishop Justin's challenge to Wonga and exorbitant pay day loan rates is an example of institutional shifts within and beyond church. Canon Andrew explored with us last Sunday how we might engage at a personal level (his sermon can be read here :http://canonandrewb.blogspot.co.uk/?spref=tw Here at the Eucharist we move from worshipping and serving mammon to take our place within a sacramental economy: an economy of grace and transformation, which enables us to be bearers of mercy.

In recognising that all we have is God's, we're already caught up in the process of transformation. Our faithfulness to God means using all that's entrusted to us with love.  We cannot, like the rich man, ignore the demands of mercy and generosity. The rich man's indifference, self-indulgence and arrogance is dehumanising; yet it's Lazarus who's named and remembered as one whose human dignity calls forth compassion.

This pearly gates story expands our imaginations by presenting a stark challenge to us: but what does that look like for us?  In his letter to Timothy, Paul sets out memorable 'soundbites' which we can take to heart and reflect on. It alerts us to or dependence on God's generous love; which in turn enables us to be generous.

We brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out. Rather than getting caught up in the pursuit of transient riches and the desires of this world, we find contentment by placing our attention on God. Such contentment goes hand in hand with the pursuit of what is good, right and just; our lives begin to radiate patience, love, gentleness and endurance. We are draw on God's mercy; transforming our hearts that we might be merciful.

This is life that really that really is life.
This is the transformative dynamic of God's economy.

Such transformation is at the heart of our diocesan vision: we are all called in our own contexts and places of work, to respond to the world of God's Spirit so that we might be channels of God's love - gradually transforming the world around us. We will be aware that we face challenging times in our nation and across the world.  As a pilgrim people we share in God's transforming work. It's not just how we use our first fiver, but how in the power of the Spirit, we reveal the transforming love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ? What does that look like decision by decision, breath by breath?



Churches across our diocese will be launching our vision and transformation goals this morning: making disciples, improving buildings, sharing expertise, encouraging generosity and nurturing education.

As the body of Christ in this place we share in that vision: we are facing a period of disruption because we are restoring our building and making it accessible; we nurturing education with a new programme for schools, families and adult learning; our public lectures reach out to those of faith and goodwill seeking the Spirit's gift of wisdom.

How might a vision of transforming church and transforming lives shape our priorities, our worship, our budget, our learning together and our common life?

Feed your reflections into conversations with Chapter and talk about it over coffee. But for us to be a resource to others, we need to resource ourselves: As the body of Christ in this place, our first calling is to pray in the power of the Spirit:

Almighty God, you sustain us with your life

and transform creation with your love.

May we always rest in you,

that the world might know your healing power,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Julie Gittoes 2016  ©





Saturday, 10 September 2016

Help!

This is a text of a sermon preached at Evensong on Sunday 4 September: the readings were Isaiah 43:14-44:5; John 5:30-end.  Perhaps it's because as a cathedral we are in the midst of a period of refurbishment of the building and disruption to familiar patterns of life, that the 'key' to these passages seemed to me to be 'help'. Whatever our situation or season of life, there are moments when we cry out (silently perhaps) for help: to God, to others or within our own hearts. To help and be helped, takes us to the depth of our humanity - where in love and vulnerability we re-learn patters of dependence and freedom.  May the cries of our hearts be heard.

My help cometh even from the Lord; who hath made heaven and earth.

Help!

A single word which signals so much about our human condition: we make life easier for one another when we help out with ordinary household chores; we might improve a situation by offering help in the form of mentoring, feedback or other assistance. Help is woven into our discourse about our common life: Help for heroes and help to buy; helplines to smooth out glitches in our hi-tech lives - fixing our broadband or rescheduling a flight; helplines staffed hour by hour to offer confidential support in the face of abuse or mental distress.

Help!

It echoes in so many registers: commanding, pleading, longing and crying.


There's an intimacy to language of help. It reveals our vulnerability; our co-dependence. It undercuts our self-sufficiency, our omni-competence. Perhaps The Beatles were right: when we were younger, we 'never needed anybody's help in anyway; but now these days are gone, [we're] not so self assured. Now [we] find [we've] changed out mind and opened up the doors'.

It can be offered instinctively, yet it's hard to ask for.  Perhaps there's a fear of been refused; or being manipulated. But as life changes; when we feel insecure, giving and receiving help can be transformative. When we're feeling down; when we appreciate someone being round. 'Help me get my feet back on the ground, won't you please, please help me'.

Lennon and McCartney sing if needing somebody; not just anybody; but for the psalmist, that desire finds a very precise focus.  Regardless of age or circumstance; help is rooted in the Lord. More than that, it an expression of faith which acknowledges that the Lord is the one who preserves life itself.

Isaiah also expresses words of hope rooted in the conviction that God is our help. He addresses a community in exile; a people who'd confronted the consequences of the failure to walk faithfully in the ways of the Lord. Help for them takes the form of healing, salvation, liberation and restoration.  It's profoundly intimate and radically transformative.

'Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you': do not fear; sins and shortcomings are blotted out; the spirit is poured out in blessing. A new thing comes into being. God is our help. Don't be afraid. God is with them. God is with you. God is with us.

That with-us-ness of God in the person of Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's help. John's Gospel uses the ordinary stuff of water, bread, light, wine to express the abundance of such love. John recounts Jesus descriptions of himself as a good shepherd and the true vine. We hear of conversations with a teacher of the law under the cover of darkness and a Samaritan woman in the glare of the midday sun. He piles on the images and metaphors to such an extent that the disciples say at one point - perhaps with a hint of sarcasm - that Jesus is speaking plainly.

The passage we hear tonight, is perhaps one where we, like the disciples, struggle to make sense: yet, this monologue tells us both who Jesus is and also reminds us of our need for help.

To set it in context, this passage comes at the end of a chapter full of life and transformation; a chapter full of challenge and controversy. In the first place, Jesus offers help to some of the most dispossessed, broken and rejected people in Jerusalem. He brings healing to the sick - including a paralysed man who's been crushed by despair; who has no one to help him.

Jesus healed him - telling him to take up his bed and walk. He helped him. He gave him new life.

He did so on the sabbath day: a day when people were invited to rest and give time to God.  Those in positions of power and privilege were disturbed and angered by what they saw - a man carrying his mat. They had so narrowly interpreted the law that rather than rejoicing in this sign of freedom, the Pharisees condemned it as work. Jesus' response was to help them too: to explore with the nature of God's work with them; to reveal that he and his heavenly Father were working to bring life. In love for them, Jesus begins with what they know: the scriptures, the law of Moses.

Jesus is one with us; he is one with God. He is perfect communion with God. He is the beloved Son, doing all that his Father wills. Life and love flows from them. Our help comes from God who made heaven and earth; who formed us in the womb; who dwelt among us.

Jesus enters into conversation to help them. He sees their fear and their hardness of heart; he names their prejudice and rigid interpretations. It's as if he invites them to respond at a deeper level - attending to the new thing springing forth. Jesus points them to the glory of God at work in him; and therein lies the challenge.

We, just as much as the Pharisees, can get caught up in a chain reaction revealing our own fears and prejudices. Like them, there are times when we seek our own glory or turn in on ourselves; times when we cling to our certainties and miss the grace of God bubbling up in the unexpected places. Yet when we risk response to God, drawing on divine help, we share in the depth of love; becoming channels of help. We proclaim the transformed life of the kingdom.

May the Spirit kindle in us a desire to cry out for help to the one who in Christ, reveals life and love. Or, as Jean Vanier put it:

Jesus came to heal us.
He is calling us
to come out from behind the barriers built up
around our vulnerable hearts
so that we may have life and give life.


© Julie Gittoes 2016

Monday, 22 August 2016

Olympians and disciples...



This is the text of a sermon preached at Evensong on Sunday evening - as the Rio 2016 Olympics drew to a close. In part it is a meditation on Psalm119 (or at least the portion set for that day, verses 49-64) in relation to Isaiah 30:8:21 and 2 Corinthians 9. When we think of 'putting in the hours' as disciples, what does that really mean? Perhaps, if it's taking inspiration from athletes, it's about habits of attention to God: in worship, personal prayer, reading the scriptures, fostering relationships... allowing space and time for God's Spirit to be at work in us. It doesn't make us 'busier' but it might equip us to respond to others in obedience to God's commandments of love. Praying the psalms is at the heart of daily prayer - in paying attention to God in them and through them, our lives our shaped with honesty and hope.


O Lord... teach me thy statutes.

As we worship this evening, TeamGB has claimed second place in the final Rio16 medal table.

Some names are well known - Mo Farah, Laura Trott and Bradley Wiggens; others are unfamiliar - including Hollie Webb, Helen Richardson-Walsh and Maddie Hinch in the women's hockey team.

And perhaps, out of the 1000s of people who participate week by week in sporting activities as diverse as archery, badminton and fencing, we wonder what makes an Olympic athlete?

The Director of the Science Gallery at King's,Dr Daniel Glaser, has a succinct answer, based on neuroscience: he says that motivation and innate ability make little difference. 'It's all about the hours your put in.'  Hours and hours of repetitive practice changes brain structure - reflected in the excellence of the 58 year old equestrian Nick Skelton and the 16 year old gymnast Amy Tinkler.

Few of us will dedicate our lives to one such discipline: yet we understand the effort needed to reach a point that a skill looks effortless. In music, languages and sewing, as well as sport, for most of us it's getting to the point where we can enjoy something for fun, make a gift or be understood travelling overseas.

What about our lives of faith: what sort of repetition shapes our lives and deepens our response to God?

Psalm 119 offers wisdom in the form of personal practice. It's made up of 22 eight verse stanzas - bite size pieces which we could read/pray over the course of coming weeks. Psalms form and transform us.

This prayer is addressed to God: it expresses personal faith and encourages others. The psalmist rejoices in God's faithfulness and ponders how we can live more faithfully. We hear of troubles, derision and fear. The quest isn't for the good, lofty or noble ideal in the abstract, but the day by day working out of God's love for us.

Such love is revealed in word, judgments, ordinances, statutes, testimony and commandments.  These are ways of describing God's concern for what is just, peaceable, compassionate and merciful. The faithfulness of God is communicated in such a way that we might be guided; that we might practice ways of kindness; that our dealings with one another might be consistent.

The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy. It is full of your steadfast love.

At times of uncertainty and sleeplessness, in weakness and growing older, the young psalmist seeks to learn observe, read, obey, sing about and practice this love. There is joy, delight and freedom. 

Likewise, we are called to put in the hours!  Paradoxically, rather than meaning more human effort, this allows space for God's grace to act on us, in us and through us. We are to practice putting God at the centre; to be mindful of how that love seeps out into the minutia of our life. In acts of tenderness to a child; in courtesy to a colleague; in patience in the face of indignation; in good judgement amidst things which trouble us.

This is the pattern of life Isaiah calls God's people back to: a way which is purposeful and disciplined by the ways of God. Our hope is not in human strength or schemes; our trust is not based on our capacity to manipulate, oppress or deceive others. Instead, we are to return to and rest in God: to abide in his grace, mercy, justice and blessing.

Like the psalmist, Isaiah acknowledges affliction and adversity: but assures us that cries are heard; God's word is spoken. We are to listen and then practice - one step at a time.

This is the way; walk in it.

Both prophet and psalmist weave together thought and action; praise and service.  It is a pattern of live lived under the compulsion of love. God's way of love is made manifest in Jesus Christ; it is costly and generous. It's a love that enables Paul to nudge the Corinthians beyond duty and pride in their giving. It is God's Spirit which awakens in us the capacity to act with such a generous love.

What we hear from Paul is an example of how formation our lives before God opens up transformed lives. It enhances the welfare of others, restores their dignity, enables them to trust others and praise God. It is an act of witness as love divine finds expression in human lives; it's authentic, compelling and live-giving. It glorifies God in expressions of praise, joy and thanksgiving.

Let's weave psalm 119 into our lives: a stanza at a time, perhaps. Let's meditate on God's love; on the commandment to love others. Let's listen, learn, act and sing.

The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statues.  

© Julie Gittoes 2016

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Blessing and glory and wisdom...



In the book of Revelation, we catch a glimpse of heavenly worship; of angels and the whole company of heaven falling to their faces before the throne, giving glory to God and singing: 

"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

Those words from Revelation 7:12 seem to be an appropriate response of praise to the gift of a time of Extended Ministerial Development Leave or EMDL (aka "Sabbatical"). Easter Day was my final Sunday at the Cathedral, and I began this period of study, retreat, reflection, travel and refreshment on 1st April. 


Glass from the Holy Spirit Chapel, St James' Church Sydney

It was a season of tremendous blessing - or rather a succession of blessings. It was a season of glory as I glimpsed afresh something of the love of God in the ordinary and the new, in people and places; as I began to re-calibrate my life as a disciple of Christ, seeking balance and refreshment. It was a season of wisdom - which is very much the Spirit's gift - in conversation, in research, in prayer.

What follows is a brief overview of some of that blessing and glory and wisdom.


The Society for the Study of Theology:  I began my EMDL by going to the Society for the Study of Theology (SST) conference in Durham. This has been the academic equivalent of taking an annual retreat for over a decade! As well as chairing a seminar session on Church, Ministry and Theology, I presented a paper entitled 'Alone Together'. This is the beginning of developing a piece of work I've led sessions on (for SEITE, St Anselm's and our Youth/Family Workers); but am in the process of turning into a book.  It's not about 'being single' as a static state but recognising we all will be single (for some/all of our lives) - so how do we speak about fellowship, solitude and mortality?

The SST continues to flourish and this was one of the best in terms of fellowship and theology; there was an intense commitment to do theology rooted in the complexity of life and in an Augustinian sense to discern what moves the human heart.  If you're interested, this is my short paper:
http://juliegittoes.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/alone-together.html

Retreat: I then spent a week on retreat with my cell group in the North Yorkshire Moors (driving up via a weekend with my mother and friends in Herefordshire). We adopted a simple rule of life together for that time - rooted in morning, midday and evening prayer; silent mornings for reading/prayer; walking in the afternoons; a time of conversation and prayer focusing on each person/their context; shared cooking/eating together; and sleep!  I took Rowan's book 'On Augustine' with me - I would recommend it!

Guildford interludes: The 10-14 days or so after that were spent doing some reading and also some writing -  finalising a co-authored paper on Richard Hooker/Dan Hardy (as some of you know, this is a contribution to a FAOC sub-committee).   Time in Guildford also meant I could see my spiritual director and work consultant early on in my EMDL: This is an important part of being able to re-calibrate life - lived fully in Christ - but also to discern how to flourish in a particular context. Being back in Guildford in between trips also meant I could make time to see friends and go to galleries, theatre, or opera. All part of the blessing and gift of re-balancing life. 






Australia has been a series of blessings (there are pictures on Facebook!).  Exploring two new cities has been amazing! Lots of galleries and museums; gardens and beaches; mountains and memorials; glorious state libraries with inspirational reading rooms; enjoying the company of family and friends; and lots of very good coffee!  Underpinning all that has been a series of significant conversations about faith and witness; plus lots of time in two very different cathedrals.

Sydney Cathedral: the welcome as you might expect is rooted in the proclamation of the Gospel with boldness and directness (impressed by their welcomers; they give away dozens of copies of Luke's Gospel). Their informal worship and evensong made be delight afresh in the diversity of our Communion; conversation and prayer with Ross their Director of Music and their new Dean, Kanishka and his colleagues (after worship and at their staff meeting) was engaging and encouraging. If walking together is about being rooted in prayer and discerning a vision of God's Kingdom, I certainly felt we were increasing our capacity to understand one another in a spirit of mutual flourishing.

Melbourne Cathedral: it was good to catch up with Dean Andreas, my friend and colleague from Selwyn days, and his wife Katherine; to meet members of the team there and to share in their pattern of life. I also had a long brunch with 'our' Gillian (former organ scholar).  On one level it's much more recognisable in terms of patterns of worship: like us, they've faced a budget deficit and, like us, they have some major capital works going on (refurbishment of office/community space; the prospect of a new metro station).  There's a strong sense of vision and purpose for being a place of transformation at the heart of this cosmopolitan and culturally diverse city - not least in the welcome they offer to refugees (advocacy, a Mandarin service, English as an add. lang. conversation).

At the heart is a sense of their identity in Paul which flows through their guidebooks, welcome and vision.  Apt given they proclaim the good news in such a global city.  I shared in Bible study, a social for chorister parents and staff meetings amongst other things - I preached on the Spirit/language of the heart at Pentecost, bringing greetings from Guildford, of course!

The text is here if you're interested:
http://juliegittoes.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/today-it-was-very-good-indeed-for.html

Theological Work: the final half of my EMDL is the more explicitly theological part of my time away: marriage, disagreement, the 'alone together' project and ethics of Christian leadership are sketched out below.



Marriage:  There have been a couple of pieces of good news: one was reading Bernice Martin's review of 'Thinking again about Marriage' in the Church Times - she so eloquently captures the essence of the project. It's more than the sum of its parts; and she encouraged re-reading of it as a resource in contemporary debates (SCM's pricing policy is a bit eye watering, but I can get discounted copies if anyone is interested!).  
Disagreement: The second piece of good news is that the report on Communion and Disagreement has now been sent to members of the General Synod as a GS Misc. Together with a document containing the five supporting papers, it is available on the FAOC page of the Church of England website (https://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/work-other-churches/faith-and-order-commission.aspx). Jeremy Worthen suggested that they be brought to the attention of others. It has been an understandably intense project, but I hope that taken together this work will contribute in a positive way to Synod and beyond. 

Alone Together: At the moment I am happily ensconced in Cambridge: it's wonderful to have time to settle into the UL and I'm focusing on reading as much as I can  while I'm here. There's also the space to  let the ideas percolate and I'm having some extremely helpful conversations along the way.  Writing, for me, tends to be a process a bit like using a stove top espresso maker... the water, coffee, heat need to be there... and something emerges! 

Soon after arriving in Cambridge, I led a quiet day at Westcott House.  It was one of those things which it was possible to say yes to because a. I'm here and b. the theme for the day was a spiritual working out of the bigger writing project, 'Alone Together'.  It was strange and familiar to be back; but I was encouraged by the interaction with some of the students afterwards. 

On 'Alone Together' book proposal, the overall structure is certainly clearer now. I've ended up with an opening section giving some context to the challenge (pastorally and missiologically) of loneliness and single person households. The rest of the project will have a fourfold structure. That will be an exploration of fellowship/shared endeavour (it is not good to be alone) and solitude (Jesus went to a deserted place); then as well as reflecting on mortality/living well in the face of death (do not cling on to me), I plan to write on legacy and kinship in relation to childlessness. Each section is rooted in a biblical text/texts. I might be primarily a doctrine person, but that begins (always!) with attentiveness to Scripture!  

Ethical Leadership:  One of the highlights before coming to Cambridge was a day at Leeds University taking part in a fantastic workshop at Leeds University on the ethics of Christian leadership within the CofE. The wonderful thing about a smallish group of clergy/academics is that you cover a lot of ground whilst still having time to delve into a range of questions.  There was an interesting philosophical paper on rhetoric/persuasion, avoiding the dualism of 'leader' and 'led'; followed by a superb session by Loveday Alexander on models of leadership in Paul's epistles - that Paul and the people were called by God; and that those two way relationships shaped the community relationships.


However, two papers in particular stood out. One was Mike Higton talking theologically about leadership - and described the role of the leader as one who 'assists others in the performance of a collective practice'. He said it isn't coercion or imposition, but enabling others, working with the free agency of others; in order that we celebrate, communicate and mediate the love of God. Specific roles and responsibilities flow from and are rooted in our common practices (word, sacrament, forgiveness, care etc); and the leader keeps that circulation of love going - but also needs to receive that. So there’s a mutual dynamic of being enabled by others and enabling others to flourish.

The other was Sam Wells on 'there are two ways of doing this': exploring truth/integrity and unity/grace.  He set out his basic ethical framework from the universal to the ecclesial - and ended up with an exploration of the two languages of leadership.  First of all he described the contractual - safeguarding, due process, care for staff, and exemplary models of organisation/accountability (learning from the best of the secular world). Secondly there was the covenantal - our reliance on God, the transformation of the Gospel, the transfiguration of the Holy Spirit, rooted in word, sacrament and prayer. Holding those two together really resonated with my learning during the mini-MBA at Birbeck University last term - as well as my experience as a disciple first and foremost (but also as a priest). 

My return: I am now turning my mind to Summer School - and in particular the festival day on Abundant Life - which meant thinking about the Holy Spirit for a TED style talk! The focus of that was an invitation to consider what it might be mean to be Spirit-led - literally breath by breath. 

Bird of Hope - Catherine Clancy
 
© Julie Gittoes 2016