Keys to the Kingdom of God

Sermon Preached at St Paul’s Cathedral 29th June 2019 at the service for the Ordination of Deacons
Ezekiel 3:22-end, Acts 12:1-11, Matthew 16:13-19

deaons 2019 begin

For those of you being ordained today there is much which is new which I am sure makes you feel uncomfortable- new collars, new robes and new stoles – signs of your orders and you will be given other new items – You will be given a new bible as a sign of the authority given you this day to speak God’s word to his people.

Friends and family’s will; give you gifts – sign of their love and support for you.

And tomorrow or Monday many of you will be given a bunch of keys. Serving in the church means that we find ourselves keepers of keys – keys to the church gate protecting a building from vandalism, keys to the church front door closed to keep unwanted people out, keys to the photocopying room locked so it is not missed used, keys to the church hall, key to the safe – often historic and far too big and if you are lucky you may be given the key to the side door! – You will develop deep pockets!

Keys become a sign of authority – and if you are not careful you begin to act as a gate keeper.

Peter in our gospel passage declares that Jesus is the messiah the Son of God and Jesus goes on to tell him that he will be given the keys to the kingdom.  These keys are not about keeping people out but rather about opening the way to the kingdom of God.

And what the disciples and we so often miss is that the kingdom that Jesus speaks about is not about buildings, property or wealth or power. It is about love, generous and extravagant, there not because of what we have done but because of what God has done and our call is about making that love, generous and extravagant known – making known what God has done in Jesus Christ.  The keys Peter is given and you have are not about locking people out but are there to open up – to open up to others the possibility of coming into the presence of God, opening up the possibility of finding the hope that you have come to know in Jesus Christ.

Now if you are here today to support one of these ordinands and you don’t know the love of God ask one of these people being ordained about it – having spent time with them I know they know the love of God as seen in Christ Jesus – it has transformed their lives.

In our service we have heard that Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known and to be heralds of the kingdom – to know and to make know the love of God.

Christian service, the service into which these women and men are being ordained, should always follow this pattern, the pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility and vulnerability. Too often service from a position of strength and security becomes an exercise of power.

Pope Francis has said this about his vision for the Church – for the Roman Catholic Church, but it will do for us too: ‘I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. ’  (from Guadium Evangilii – The Joy of the Gospel)

Maybe we need to be more generous not just on the keys of the kingdom but also the keys to our churches?

Today you are to be ordained as deacons you are going to have great fun in your parishes, but ministry is not grand. Being a Christian, a disciple, is not grand, being a deacon is not grand you are to reach ‘into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible’. That is what ministry is about.

Reaching into the despair of prisons, or to reach into the darkness and loneliness of sickness, depression, unemployment and broken relationships. Reaching into the shadow of death. Reaching into the places and towards the people who fear that God is not for them, that forgiveness is not for them, that grace is too far away to reach and to make the love of God known.  That is what ministry is about.

Today as we ordain these women and men, we celebrate Peter – I wonder if Peter ever regretted being given the keys to the kingdom. Peter who ran out of the boat towards Jesus but whose faith failed as he went under the water, Peter who ran to defend Jesus in the garden but who then denied him around the fire, Peter who only when he came to himself in prison realised there where angels.

There will be times when you may regret that you have been given this ministry.  It is then you should remember that it was Jesus whose hand reached out towards Peter as he went under the waves, it was Jesus who met Peter on the beach after his denial and asked him to feed his sheep and even when Peter didn’t recognise the angels God was with him.

There may be times in the future when we regret our calling but do not forget that we are not alone, there may be times when we are confident in our ministry but remember that we can’t not do this alone. We can only do this by the grace and power of God.  We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus remembering who he is for us and we need to pray that God will enlarge our hearts and understanding of scripture.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

deacons 2019 st pauls

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit it is only then that we may use the keys given to us with the wisdom and generosity of God.

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12th May 2019

Today marks the anniversary of my installation as the 133rd Bishop of London.  It occurs on International Nurses day. My clasp on my God Cope is my Nurses Buckle and here is the address I gave at the Nightingale Nurse Awards on Friday.

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Address given at the Nightingale Nurse Awards to celebration International Nurses Day 10th May 2019 Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

I am delighted to be here today; it has been my privilege to have been a nurse. My training as a Nightingale has shaped who I am and whilst I am not now a registered nurse – you can take the nurse out of nursing but never nursing out of the nurse.  Following my time as the government’s Chief Nursing Office I moved into the Church but continued as a Non-Executive of NHS Trusts and now as an independent governor at Kings College London University all because of my passion for nursing.

On the 12th May 2018 (Florence Nightingale’s Birthday) I was installed as the 133rd Bishop of London the first to be a women and I could not do what I do today if it was not for my faith and if I had not undertaken the training I was privilege to have been part of – it has enlarged by capacity to be with people, to stay with them when it would be easier to walk away, it has developed within in me a reflective practitioner and the ability to apply a theoretical framework for which I am grateful.

Today we celebrate nursing and midwifery and mark your achievement.

If you haven’t guessed already I am a great fan of nurses and midwives and the NHS. As  a former Chief Nursing Officer, I have seen some of the best care in the NHS not just in this country but across the world and I am often reminded that the most extra ordinary nursing care is seen in the ordinary acts carried out day after day by nurses.

Since I started nursing over 30 years ago much has changed.  No longer are there frilly hats or starched aprons or back rounds and nurses are no longer only known by their surnames. Life expectancy has increased, although one in every two born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer more people are surviving, and babies are surviving when we only would have dreamed of it.

I have to say that I am not sure I would have what it takes to nurse today – 12-hour shifts, the dependency of patients has increase, expectation of nurses and midwives has increased, and public expectation has changed.

What hasn’t changed is that at the heart of nursing and every nurse I believe is compassion and kindness.

Nursing is not just about being technically effective or competent or skilled or what you do it is about how you do it – I believe that the art of nursing is in the application of the science. I have learnt that what makes the difference to the care people receive is often about the ordinary which makes the extra ordinary difference.  How they are afforded respect, dignity and value, how their loneliness and anxiety is relieved. Never forget that you may have carried out a procedure 100s of times for those you care for it is the first time they may have gone through it.

It is kindness and compassion which make the real difference – putting patients first.

Kindness is one of the most underrated virtues in today’s world. It isn’t bland or soft or feeble or weak. Kindness comes when, even where it isn’t deserved, we dare to offer an opening to humanity and mercy, regardless of cost or reward. It is more than being nice and it can be very demanding in certain circumstances.

Compassion comes from the two Latin words “Com” meaning with and “passio” meaning to suffer. Compassion is an attitude of heart and of mind. It is more than being nice to someone for one moment, it is a word which recognizes that a level of commitment is required, and it acknowledges that we need one another. Compassion requires us to be present not thinking about what we have done or what we are about to do but with someone alongside them. Compassion is not always easy, it is hard work, frustrating and requires persistence and passion.

Compassion and kindness have been the concern of those involved in the Health Service across the centuries. Historically, developing the “compassionate character” was the impetus for care, and gave the nursing profession its ethos. In Florence Nightingale’s view, good nurses were good people who cultivated certain virtues or qualities in their character – one of which was compassion. Patients were expected to be the centre of all nurses’ thoughts. Nurses had to always be kind (but never emotional) because they were caring for living people, unlike plumbers or carpenters.

However, I have often reflected that nurses reflect our society and reflect the compassion of our society.  In my present life one of my challenges is how I, how the church play’s its part in making a more compassionate world.

In a world which is becoming more complex nurses are rightly being trained to degree level and further and taking more roles, but the demonstration of compassion becomes even more important. Our training of nurses needs to include the training of compassion and kindness.

Do not underestimate your ability to make an extra ordinary difference to the lives of others.  You can make a difference to individuals, but also to healthcare.

I know that life is often pressured, kindness and compassion need time and resources and I know that you may feel that the structures, resources and systems push kindness and compassion out but do not under estimate your ability to change the change you want to see in the world.

Having trained at the Nightingale School of nursing I have a complex view of Florence Nightingale however she does continue to be a model for us as nurses. She saw how you had the ability to care for the individual and to change the systems and structures to enable more kind and compassion healthcare.

Anne – Marie Rafferty writes

“We can read Nightingale as a credo for compassion today. She recognised that systems needed to foster and institutionalise compassion, and that small touches and details mattered. Leading by example and embedding a code of behaviour that could be sustained even in your absence was and should remain our goal today.

The challenges we see in care are not new. We continue to fail the most vulnerable members of our society. We need to acknowledge there is a problem, accept responsibility and understand the dynamics of why some organisations succeed and others fail.

Clarity of purpose, moral courage and a coalition for action was Nightingale’s response to the call. We need to do likewise – to light and lead the way.”

Let us not just celebrate our past in nursing and midwifery today but celebrate the nurses of today.  I pray for you and I also pray for nurses and midwives of tomorrow.

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Precious oil poured out

My Sermon at the Chrism Mass


I am glad to be here – not just in the Cathedral on Maundy Thursday but here in the Diocese of London – am I am grateful to have journeyed with you.  I know that is has meant change not just for me but also you.  However, despite what the Diocesan directory may indicate no we have not subsumed the Edmonton Area into Kensington – not that much has changed!

Today our service is about ministry and about our re commitment to follow Christ Jesus – the renewal of ordination vows and the blessing of oils for the anointing of the sick and dying, for the signing of the cross at baptism, and the oil of chrism.

I thank God daily for the ministry with which we have been entrusted and I want to thank you for the ministry we share and to which you have committed yourself – thankyou.

Like some of you, I had never heard of the Chrism Mass growing up. But I have come to love the Chrism Mass.  It is the one time of the year which brings together not only members of many of our parishes, but also those from the Diocesan Offices, licenced lay ministers, priests and deacons.  The oils we bless today will be used throughout the diocese in the sacraments which build up, heal and strengthen the Body of Christ.  The Chrism Mass is a beautiful sign of our unity and communion in Christ.

Oil has been used from ancient times for healing and for strength.  The Oil of Chrism has a strong, sweet-smelling essence which is an apt sign for the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Oil pervades things; it soaks in and remains.

Our readings remind us that anointing with oil is to be set apart. Jacob anoints a pillar of stone on which he rested his head and dreamed of the ladder climbing into heaven.

As the people passed through the Red Sea and came to Mount Sinai Aaron and his sons are anointed with oil, thereby setting them apart for holy service to the Lord.

Later Hannah in her prayer looks for the day in which a king will sit on the throne of Israel, and he will be God’s “anointed,” his messiah.

The anointed one is the chosen one. God chose Saul to be the first king, and he chose David to be the second king. He chooses the lineage of David to be on the throne, and even many of the kings of the northern kingdom are chosen by him. Then a messiah – an anointed one – the one who is consecrated, as is a priest, for holy service. He is one chosen, as is a king, by God to serve God’s purposes.

And Jesus opening the scriptures read;

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.

Today we are reminded in our Eucharist service that it is though Christ broken body and blood which was shed that are able to give thanks that we are worthy to stand in God’s presences to serve him.

And we are anointed for his service – oil to remind us of our baptism, oil to remind us of healing, oil to remind us of our ordination and of our consecration and oil which will be used at our death.

I know the cost of ministry and we can only renew our commitment to our call if our lives are rooted in and refreshed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. Today as you stand in God’s presence receive from him the oil of gladness, a garland instead of ashes and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit be renewed in the Holy Spirit and be equipped for ministry.

At my installation nearly a year ago Psalm 133 was wonderfully set to music and when the psalmist speaks of the precious oil poured on the head of Aaron’s they speak of it running down, down upon his beard, down up his collar of his robes. This precious and expensive oil was not just sprinkled on the top of the head, it was a real soaking and because of the ingredients, myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant cane, cassia and olive oil (exodus 30:23-25) the recipient was left surrounded by an exquisite aroma.

Let us allow God not just to sprinkle us with his spirit but to anoint us allowing the oil to soak us and let us pray that it aroma will remain with us in the days and weeks ahead.

And to what are we set apart for at our anointing? To build up the ancient ruins, to repair the ruined cities, to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, to comfort all who mourn. To give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

All of which at this time takes on a renewed meaning in a city where division seems to be growing, where the blood of young children continue run on our streets because of violent crime, where those who have travelled to be part of our community feel unwelcome, where those sleeping on our streets continue to grow in numbers and invisibility.

Let us pray that over the coming months that we may know what it is that God is calling us to as the Diocese of London as we listen to God and listen to London.

Our ministry should reflect the act of Mary, who poured oil out over Jesus’ feet which years later John remembers as the fragrance filled the room; counter cultural, extravagant, an act of intimate love which is costly and the fragrance of which is remembered.

Let us this Maundy Thursday as we commit ourselves to God’s service pray for his anointing poured out over us and let us pray that we may anoint others in his service and to his glory.

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To follow Christ is to love our neighbour

My sermon preached on the 24th March 2019 at the Berlinerdom

Guten Morgan

It is a honour to be here in Berlin and to bring greetings from our Diocese of London.

London is both an ancient city, established by the Romans, and a thriving, modern capital with a prominent place on the world stage.  Like Berlin it is a world facing city which is multi-cultural and multi faith, it is both cosmopolitan and suburban, economically successful and confident. It is a city of energy and diversity – London is open to all.

But it is also a city of inequality and deprivation. The Capital is home to more multi-millionaires than any other city in the world, but it is also home to some of the most economically deprived citizens in the UK.

And this year, we find ourselves in turbulent times. The ongoing discussions around Brexit mean that many of us are living with a profound feeling of uncertainty. Deep divisions in our society have been exposed, and now we are faced with an ongoing political process which risks deepening them still further.

There have been few others in our lifetime which have been more polarising, or unsettling.  But, of course, division is not new. Historically, we have found ourselves to have unbearable, seemingly irreconcilable, differences before, and no doubt we will again.  These divisions have their route in questions of meaning, belonging and identity.


Our challenge in this time is not to pretend that we are all alike. We clearly are not. But to recognise, and hopefully learn in some small way to overcome, our intrinsic nature which pushes away others and tries to carve out territory only for ourselves and realise that we have more in common than divides us.


Scripture tells us that right from the beginning, when two brothers – Cain and Abel – come to blows, we have been pushing away the people closest to us.


The story of Cain and Abel gives us no-one else to blame. There was no peer pressure, no-one else to impress, no money or land to claim.


Simply, one person was jealous of the other. He thought he was being overlooked by God. ‘What about me?’ might have been his thought, as envy ate him up, and he killed his brother. Scripture tells us that, from the very outset, this has been our struggle.


But we as Christians are called to follow God’s example, as dearly loved children to walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

We Christians, alongside other people of faith and of goodwill, live in and serve the whole community – where there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; no British or German or European for all of us are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) We are here to serve our communities and to bless them. To carry hope and peace, and to demonstrate the love of God to everyone.  Servants and neighbours to those around us.


When Jesus was asked a question about the path to eternal life his exhortation was first to love God utterly and completely, and then to Love your neighbour as oursleves.


Today in London or Berlin our neighbour could be anyone.  That may literally be the case.  We cannot guarantee that the person living next door will have been born in the same country as us, speak the same language or share the same faith.  The mobility of the global population of both rich and poor is re shaping our counties and refiguring our neighbourhoods everywhere.  Our neighbours can be any one and the growth in technology means that our neighbours could be anywhere.

There was a time when it was possible to live in communities where virtually everyone was based together and shared the same faith and values.  We now live with difference.  This can be a great strength and multi-cultural societies can be enriching but it does challenge our shared values.

The question who is our neighbour is not just about the action of the neighbour but also about our understanding of God, the identity of the neighbour, it is about who can be trusted, who can be befriended and who do I need to love.

It is so much easier to view ourselves as the Good Samaritan the one doing good being moved with compassion. But Jesus was putting his audience in the role of the person in the ditch.

To love our neighbour as ourselves not only demands us to be compassionate but it requires us to recognize that others – including our enemies can be bringers of compassion to us – in being compassionate we need to see mutuality so that both parties find value.

If we only see ourselves in the role of the Good Samaritan we in some sense see ourselves as part of an exclusive set of like people, people who “do good” to others.  But if we understand our own vulnerability and need to receive compassion and this it opens the possibility of relationships based on equality and mutuality.

Followers of Jesus Christ believe that every human being is created in the image of God and we are not made in isolation.

As my colleague the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, has said recently, in responding to the tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower in London:


“The Christian view of social relations tells us that my neighbour is not so much a threat, or a limitation, but a gift. If my own individuality is constituted by my relationships, not my own inner elusive personality or choices, then without my neighbour I cannot become my full self.”


We belong together in a creation which should be cherished and not simply used and consumed. This is the starting point for the Church’s engagement with society, the nation and the world.

To build community in our cities, across our cities and the world does not just happen because we want it to.  It takes a willingness on our part to embrace difference to realise that we have as much to gain and to give. The man in our gospel reading coming to follow Jesus was warned that here would be no prestige or perks waiting for him. Rather, he would have to give up his place of honour among the religious establishment. He’d be expected to endure sacrifice and hardship. To follow Christ is to love our neighbour even those who are different to us and we need to recognise that will require effort and cost.

We live in uncertain times and despite apparently political difference we have more in common than divides us.  We must not put our hand to the plough and look back at what could have been but forward to the kingdom of God where all are one in Christ Jesus.






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“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

It was a privilege to celebrate International Women’s Day at The Guildhall London today, here is what I said:

I have never thought of myself as a pioneer but I was the youngest women to be appointed as the Governments Chief Nursing Officer for England, the fourth women to be ordained Bishop in the Church of England and the first bishop of London to be a women.  I see myself as ordinary and I recognize in doing so I give baggage to my daughter.

It has not passed me by that I was installed last year as the first bishop of London who is a women in the year when we marked 100 years after some women were given the vote and in the week when one hundred and five years before suffragettes placed a bomb under the seat in which I was enthroned.

I am not naturally subversive but I am aware that as the first Bishop of London who is also a women I am subversive just by being a women – and it’s a necessity that I have sought to embrace.

At my consecration as a bishop on the feast of Mary Magdalene, the former Bishop of Stepney, Bishop Adrian, preached and encouraged me to socialize and subvert.

He reminded us then that Jesus chooses outsiders not so much as to disturb the comfortable, but to disturb the conventional, and that it is through the disturbance of people like Mary Magdalene that we learn to see the world and God afresh. I recognize that because of who I am, not just because of my gender, my appointment holds the opportunity to see the world, London, God and His church differently.

I just have to turn up and the world has changed – how then do I use this disturbance for good?

Let me share some thing of the Church of England in London.  It is the settled position of the Church of England that there are those who do not accept women as priests and therefore Bishops and the Church makes provision for them and I will ensure they flourish.  In London there is probably the highest concentration – with 13% of priest not accepting me as a bishop or priest because I am a women.  Alongside that we only have 14% of priests who are in charge of churches who are also women – one of the lowest in the country.

And my challenge is; why if there are 87% of parishes that will have an incumbent who happens to be a women priest are there not more women priests?  How do we bring about the change that the rest of London is seeing?

Next week we celebrate 25 years of the ordination of women as priests in the Church of England and I am aware that I walk in the footsteps of others and I am grateful for the battles they fought.

I am also conscious of the responsibility that I have as a women in this role.  I am watched, people project onto me their expectations which I am certain I won’t live up to.  I am conscious that as someone has written my selfhood begins when I walk away from the expectations of others.

I am very different from my predecessor which is a gift but people still say of me that I have big shoes to fill, my voice needs to be deeper, that it must be hard not being as tall as he was or even having his beard – I remind myself and others that I am not going to grow taller or a beard and I have my own shoes and my own voice and I have to be faithful to who I am and to who God had called me to be. As Madeleine Albright said “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now I that I have it I am not going to be silent”

People often comment that I have been successful in two careers and I have to admit that I do not see myself as ambitious but I have always sort to do the role that I am in to my very best and to take every opportunity which comes my way.  I am conscious that I have a comprehensive school background, I went to a polytechnic and my ordination training was undertaken on a part time residential programme – no whiff of private education or Oxbridge and I have therefore often seen myself as the outsider – in the Department of Health and in the Church.  I have often felt that those I worked with didn’t always get me – a nurse and Senior civil servant wanting to minister in the Church.  And I couldn’t always see people like me.

What I have come to realize is that we should have confidence in who we are, in our difference and if we can’t see anyone like us then maybe that’s because there is an us shaped whole waiting to be filled.

And we need to recognize our unconscious bias – Dame Mary beard in her book Women and Power says that when we think of a powerful person even we think of a white middle class man. It maybe my unconscious bias which is holding me back as well as others.

And as those who find themselves is places of power we must not pull up the ladder we need to be people who support those who come behind us – giving away our power, mentoring and coaching others. The changes that we have seen will only be established if we encourage and give confidence to the next generation of women.

I have the privilege of meeting women every day of my life across this city and I am humbled by their courage and tenacity – do not underestimate your ability to inspire others giving courage to others to act.

I will end with the words of Amelia Earhart “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

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2019 – A Year for Kindness

When I left Salisbury Cathedral, where I had been the Canon Treasurer, the Works Department gave me a piece of Purbeck Marble – wonderfully cut and prepared and marked with a Stone Mason’s Banker Mark.

Some of you may know that when stone work is undertaken by stonemasons they mark their stone with their mark – a banker mark each unique.  Originally this was done so that they knew who to pay for what work. Now they leave their banker mark to demonstrate the mark they left on the building – the house of God.

I wonder what our mark will be in 2019?

If you happen to look back at my blog you will find that at the turn of the year I often write about kindness – why? Because I believe that there is no better mark to leave.

The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, in his blog on the 11th November 2016 wrote “I reckon kindness is one of the most underrated virtues in today’s world. It isn’t bland or soft or feeble or weak. It isn’t about namby-pambyism or avoidance of conflict. Kindness comes when, even where it isn’t deserved, we dare to offer an opening to humanity and mercy, regardless of cost or reward. It is more than being nice and it can be very demanding in certain circumstances.”

We find ourselves in a world where our communities seem to have developed fractures, loneliness is on the increase, mental illness among your people is on the rise and I believe that diverse communities are strong communities and divided ones are weak and we hold the power to make a difference.

In 2017 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust published a report by Zoe Ferguson called ‘The Place of Kindness’. The report showed how random acts of kindness have a significant impact on the quality of lives. Kindness reduces social isolation and improves wellbeing. It also provides the building blocks for community empowerment and is a necessary ingredient of successful communities.  The report suggested that for the public policy realm talking about kindness is too personal and too ephemeral but we all know when someone has been kind to us.

I hope that Churches this year will increase the mark they are making on their communities by growing their acts of kindness for that is the true work of Christmas.

As Howard Thurman an African-American theologian wrote in his poem
‘The Work of Christmas Begins’

When the song of the angels is stilled
And the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
And the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken hearted
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among the people
To make music in the heart

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Light and Darkness Dance together but we have Hope

Sermon Preached at St Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas Morning:
John 1:1-14 and Hebrews 1:1-12

Regent Street kicked off the Christmas season back in November as it turned on its Christmas lights – the spirit of Christmas –  the sky above Regent Street filled with winged creatures, Bude in Cornwall has a Perspex shopping trolley tunnel which has been decorated with lights in such a way that it has attracted international headlines as it has become a place for marriage proposals, The Tate closer to home has snails with their slime trails over the south front formed of sparkly lights and Tiverton in Devon have had pants – just in case you think you miss heard me over the PA yes I did indeed say pants.

Three years ago Tiverton Council used three years’ worth of funding to commission new Christmas lights for their high street.  They were selected because the town’s Christmas committee “liked their shapes”. But once switched on, they resembled festive undergarments on a washing line.


The Committee chair said: “They’re Father Christmas’s sparkly underpants and they’re great.”  And although this year they have been replaced by something more traditional they can still be viewed online.

At this time of the year our sky lines are full of lights – light and darkness dance together.

Life does not exist without light.  From the moment of birth we are surrounded by light. The warm light of a summer drawn, the harsh light of office buildings, the magical lights on a Christmas tree, lights that reminds us of home which is see though windows of trains or buses as we travel in winter months and the light of the moon and stars. We have been born into a world of light.

Without light we would not have colour or form, without light we would not have oxygen or life. But light has deeper meanings for us. Stevie Wonder sings ’you are the sunshine of my life’ and Debby Boone’s song lyrics declare ‘you light up my life and give me hope to carry on’ I wonder what or who is it that gives your life light?

In contrast to light we have Darkness.  Darkness is the absence of light, darkness affects our orientation, our perspective and it affects our emotions bringing us fear and confusion.

Now this is the season of darkness and as the sun has become short-lived in our sky the shadows become long. We have come face to face with shadows throughout the world, we live in the shadows of political turbulence, of a harder economic environment and maybe you see shadows in your own lives.

The reality of our lives is reflected in our reading from John where light and darkness dance together.  The promise of Christmas is that ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’

In the North aisle of St Paul’s cathedral there is an art installation by Bill Viola called Mary.  Installed in 2016 it is 13 minutes long audio visual installation shows a beautiful Madonna of colour gazing straight out to us with an expression of compassion as her baby suckles at her breast. Behind her traffic moves though a high rise cityscape building up with an intensity as the sky changes from day to evening to night but the women keeps looking back at us with some unwavering composure.


Mary by Bill Viola

Then Mary as a lone figure wonders among cliffs and the scenes of the annunciation, visitation, birth of Christ reflecting her life and her dreams – biblical images transposed into a modern setting making ancient narratives alive in a new way.  The final image is the Pieta – the Virgin Mary as pale as chalk holding the dead Christ – her hand caressing a lifeless cold leg   – infinite sorrow.

The installation encompasses the great themes of life, of birth, relationships, joy, suffering and death – the themes of light and darkness all of which are our shared experience.  I am sure you are aware this Christmas morning of both the joy and the sorrow in your life.

It is into this shared experience which God was born in Christ – Emmanuel to bring us hope. Christmas invites us to be people of hope as light and darkness dance together.

Now hope is not about optimism which is almost entirely related to personality. Hope is not about a short lived happiness which we know will pass away. It is about a deeper inner peace which can exists in the dark places of our lives. And as our reading reminds us hope is not born of blood, it is not born of the will of flesh it is born of God.

We hope for a future where God’s kingdom is seen in full, we hope for a world of justice and of peace and we hope for eternal life in which there is no more death and dying.  I wonder if you can imagine for one moment what that would be like?

Whilst hope speaks of a future it also breaks into our present like shafts of sunlight. Whilst Christ came into the world in the past he is still in our present Emmanuel – God with us for he is the same and his years will never end.  It is this hope which holds us when we are living in shadows.

The lights which fill our skies at this time of the year, angels, stars, Christmas trees or pants are beautiful but if we are not careful they point not to the true spirit of Christmas but rather the transient happiness or optimism of this world.  To be a person of hope I need to live praying Emmanuel – God be with me as the light and darkness of my life dance together.

The lights which fill our skies at this time of the year reflect off the environment around them and seem to shine brighter so we are called to reflect the light of Christ to be part of the light calming the fears of those around us, breaking like light into the loneliness of others, reaching out through divisions in our community, sitting with those who are hurting and giving to others the light and life of Christ.  Who can we be light to this Christmas?

Light and darkness will continue to dance with each other but the message of Christmas remains that God is with us – Emmanuel and that the light shines in the darkness and darkness will not overcome it.

I pray that Christ the Sun of Righteousness will shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path.


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