The Two-Headed Calf
Tomorrow when the farm boy find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.
But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the skies, there are
twice as many stars as usual.
Laura Gilpin in The Hocus-Pocus of the Universe
Belden Lane refers to this poem in a chapter called Grace and the Grotesque in his book The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. He writes: “The paradox of the grotesque is that it summons those who are whole to be broken and longs for those who are broken to be made whole.”
In our worship we are joined by Christians from around the globe: Nigerian, French, Swedish, Canadians, Chinese. Our Diocese has links with the Melanesian Church and the Congolese Church. Your parish may have other links with churches as well. Some of you may have personal links. The Anglican cycle of Prayer invites us to join other Anglicans around the world in praying for the Dioceses of North Dakota and South Dakota, and their Bishops Michael Smith and John Tarrant.
In worship of our God we are as one. We are brothers and sisters, children of our heavenly father. Thanks be to God, through his work as father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is the thrust of our reading from Acts as its author Luke recalls the power of God poured out by Jesus from the right hand of God as Holy Spirit on that Harvest festival in Jerusalem.
It was a power so powerful that about 3000 people were added to the other 120 disciples.
It was a power so transformative that “all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions they gave to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all people.” (Acts 2)
The prophet Joel looked forward to the day when God would pour out his Spirit on all people, young and old, men and women. He knew then that the young would see visions and the old would dream dreams.
I wonder whether the disciples’ commune was one of those dreams, one of those visions.
I wonder if the spirit of Luke’s writing is not wanting us to read this passage as a one-off day in history – for us many centuries ago, but as “today, of all days”, and “today and everyday”.
God showers (that’s the meaning of the Greek word behind out word “baptism”) people with his love, today of all days, and today and everyday.
And then he wants to help us to dream dreams about what is possible, to envision the world in which God’s kingdom comes, on earth, as in heaven. It’s about the future, not the past.
Our news headlines are grim aren’t they? Particularly for the poor.
This week’s news featured a grandmother who committed suicide because of the new bedroom tax, and welfare workers have been trained to recognize suicide risk.
The plight of vulnerable children was highlighted by the Oxfordshire rape case. There was a body discovered buried in a garden in Ellesmere Port. Violence in Iraq has escalated with days of bombings between Sunni and Shia.
Luke’s world was no less divisive. We know there were divisions between oppressed and free, colonized and colonizer, rich and poor, Jew and Greek, men and women.
Luke parades the differences before our very eyes.
In the gospel, he parades the poor, the blind, the prisoners, the lame and the oppressed.
Here, in this reading from Acts, he parades the nations represented at the Pentecost festival.
I’ve heard readers get to that list of nationalities that Luke has measured out for us. Instead of reading the list, they said “Parthians, Medes and Elamites etc etc” which totally misses Luke’s point.
We enjoyed the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony of the Olympics – we discovered countries we never knew existed, like Micronesia. What would it have been like if we were just shown the first three – Team GB, USA and China – with the rest reduced to a blur, as etcetera, while we fast forwarded to something more interesting, like the Queen sky-diving?
No, the list of nations is meant to be long. That is the point. All those people gathered on one place, and in spite of their differences, and their border conflicts, they all heard in their own language what the disciples were saying as they spoke in tongues.
And 3000 of them came together, sold everything, shared everything, met everyday, and enjoyed the favour of all people.
Is it a tall story, a vision or a dream?
You saw the Parade of Athletes at the Olympics last year. For a moment I want you to use your imagination. I want you to parade Luke’s people before your eyes, to see their flags, and to also notice the petal each group is carrying.
Here come the (fanfare, dancing, drums, cheering and applause)
The residents of Mesopotamia
People from Pontus,
Egyptians (why do they walk like that?)
Libyans from the region of Cyrene
They parade around, stake their flag in front of our eyes and place their petal in a stand.
Then come seven young boys and girls. They represent the promise of the future. They go to the petals, and they breathe fire on to them. One by one the petals catch a light until they are all ablaze. The flames come together as one cauldron.
Wasn’t it an amazing sight that Danny Boyle offered us? Isn’t it an amazing sight that Luke shows us.
In spite of our differences, all of us understood in our own heart of hearts the Olympic dream.
For the Dean of Durham we saw what we can be.
He wrote: “We saw some important things that spoke about Britishness in the 21st century … like care and compassion, inclusivity and diversity, flair and creativity, modesty and understatement, the confidence to be at ease with ourselves, our ability to question ourselves, our enjoyment of life.”
Likewise, Luke’s parade needs no interpretation and no explanation. Each of them knew the meaning of what was being said in tongues from within the tongues of flame.
We hear of people speaking in tongues and wonder what all that’s about.
But the message of these 120 men and women speaking in tongues was immediately understandable.
Nothing was lost in translation, because although they were speaking in tongues, they were speaking the Mother Tongue, the tongue of the Holy Spirit.
The Mother Tongue is not a difficult language. In the Mother Tongue there is only one word, which was in the very beginning and which will be spoken for ever.
Some chose to think that the disciples were drunk.
But others, 3000 of them, chose to see the power that is God’s, that overcomes difference, that reconciles enemies, that made one community of many interests.
We call that community “the church”.
This is the community that believes in the power of God to turn the world upside down.
This is the community in which members see a chaotic world before their eyes, but they realise their own responsibility to revert to the Mother Tongue in all their interactions.
This is the community which prays for the ending of division and the repair of broken relationships, which prays for Sunni and Shia in Baghdad, slaves, the poor, the abused and their abusers because we know what is possible, today and all days.
This is the community of men and women who dare to dream dreams and who see visions of kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the community that is being constantly licked into shape by the Mother Tongue. Today of all days, and today and every day.
This sermon was preached at Christ Church, Higher Bebington on May 19th 2013.
The photo of the Olympic Cauldreon is by Paul Watson. The Cauldron was designed by Heatherwick.
Professionally speaking: is that speaking well, or is that being paid for speaking?
Speaking well: is that speaking without hesitation, notes or blasphemy, or is it speaking truthfully?
In what sense has Sir Alex Ferguson been a professional football manager?
There is a sense of professionalism which comes from a realisation which is personally transformative and attitudinal. This is the sense which is behind the religious profession through which a person gives themselves utterly because of that realisation and profession. Here’s my starter for eight about such a professional life. Can anyone help me to make it a starter for ten?
- Professionals are driven by values that go to the core of their being. Their motivation comes from this inner sense of values.
- Professionals profess those values in their practice.
- Professionals enjoy their busyness when they can profess their faith, but become anxious when they lose sight of these guiding principles in their busyness – when practice prevents profession.
- Professionals are preoccupied by their profession at all times. They occasionally switch off when fully engaged by something else.
- Professionals choose an enabling lifestyle.
- Professionals develop disciplines to make themselves resourceful and effective.
- Professionals don’t count working hours or kill time. They are intrigued by opportunities. Kairos beats Chronos every time.
- Professionals cultivate their values as best friends. Continuing professional development is not an option but a natural course of action.
It is important to recognize that mastering any of the disciplines requires effort on both the levels of understanding the principles and following the practices, It is tempting to think that just because one understands certain principles one has “learned” about the discipline. This is the familiar trap of confusing intellectual understanding with learning. Learning always involves new understanding and new behaviours, “thinking” and “doing”. This is the reason for distinguishing principles from practices. Both are vital.
Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline p 384. This quote from Peter Senge (picked up from Friday mailing) emphasises the ins and outs of learning. We can indeed take in many things in terms of understanding, but there needs to be outcome in terms of disciplined practice, through which we learn more and better.
You can tell a culture is in trouble when its elders walk across the street to avoid meeting its youth.
Quoted by Meg Wheatley in Finding our Way and attributed to Malidoma Some from Burkino Fasso and Parker Palmer. Meg Wheatley’s has written a very appreciative and moving essay Maybe you will be the ones: to my sons and their friends.
a sermon for Easter 3C for St John’s, Weston in Runcorn.
One of the running gags of TV sitcom ‘Allo, ‘Allo! was the line, delivered in a French accent, “I will say this only once …….”, which was said over and over again, in a comedy called “Allo, allo”.
And we can perhaps imagine the market trader saying, “I’m not going to give you this once, I’m not even going to give you this twice, I’m going to give you this three times.”
That is what we get in today’s readings. We get it three times.
In the gospel, Jesus gives it to Peter three times. “Do you love me?” “You know I do.”
Three times, to correspond with the number of times Peter denied Christ before the cock crew.
Three times to emphasise that Jesus had got over that, that Peter was forgiven.
Three times to underline Peter’s particular pastoral responsibility
I wonder what he says to each of us, this Jesus risen from the dead. What his call is. “Mary, do you love me?” “You know I do.” “Then feed my lambs, teach my people, help them find their freedom.”
It’s not just once that Luke gives us the story of Saul’s conversion. It’s not just twice. It’s three times.
First of all, I presume it was because he thought this is a story worth telling.
And I presume that it was Luke’s intention that this story should capture the imagination of the church, and help us in our own journeys and our own transformations and conversions.
It’s worth remembering also that it’s not just one, it’s not just twice, but it’s three times that Luke tells us how brutal and callous Saul was towards the followers of the Way.
- In chapter 7, Luke tells us how Saul was involved in stoning of Stephen to death. He may only have been holding the coats, but Luke does say that Saul “approved of their killing him.” He was not a nice man.
- In chapter 8, Luke reports that “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” What was wrong with the man?
- Here in chapter 9, he goes and gets letters from the high priest to authorise him to arrest those who followed Jesus’ Way, and imprison them in Jerusalem. This is a truly frightening man.
What on earth was Jesus doing with Saul?
This is a story of conversion told three times, intended to capture our imagination.
I want to look at this in not just one way, not even just in two ways, but in three.
I want to look at the idea of “going out of our way” (in the sense of waywardness), “mending our ways” and “finding our way”.
And I want to refer not just to one person, Saul, nor even to just two people, but three. I refer to Saul, to the prodigal and to ourselves as the people this story is intended to inspire and transform.
Saul went out of his way to find the followers of the Way.
It comes across as an obsession.
There are two places named. There’s Jerusalem and there’s Damascus. It’s hardly Runcorn to Liverpool in 20 minutes, so long as there are no lane closures on the bridge. This is 135 miles away, across rivers and mountains, on horseback – perhaps 4 or 5 days away.
Then, lo, Jesus meets him, risen from the tomb.
Lovingly he greets him.
“Who are you?” Saul asks.
“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
And he said to Saul, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what to do.”
And Saul had to be led the rest of the way by hand, and then he was told his way forward.
And what a long way he went.
Luke emphasises all the places Paul went, by road, overseas, through storms carrying Jesus’ to all the nations.
The way was found for Saul, and the way was followed by the convert all the way, all the miles, through trial, suffering, all the way to his death.
Saul’s way, Paul’s way, reminds us of the ways of the prodigal son.
His way was to get his inheritance and run for the time of his life.
Until his luck runs out, and he sees the error of his ways.
The father’s way is to tuck his skirt into his belt and run out to embrace the son he thought he had lost.
Lovingly he greets him, in such an outrageous way that the elder brother protests.
“This isn’t the way.
This isn’t the way to deal with someone who stripped you of half of your money, and who let down the family business.”
And the father says “This is the only way.
The only way to share your father’s pleasure is to forgive your brother. That is the only way. That is my way.”
What about ourselves?
What are our ways? Are they his ways?
Our waywardness may not be as dramatic as Saul’s, or the murderer who becomes a preacher, or the prodigal’s.
Or as awful as Peter’s, who when he realised what he had done just broke down and wept.
Waywardness is part of our reality which is realised in our worship. We confess the ways in which, whether in thought or in deed, we have sinned against our brothers and sisters, and sinned against God.
We ask for God to help us to mend our ways.
We let Jesus lovingly greet us, lead us, his way, so that we may “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you our God.”
That is the way God wants us.
He wants us to walk with him. He wants us to be yoked to him, on the way and all the way. This is the way of life.
Before Jesus’s followers became known as Christians, they were known as followers of the WAY. The followers of the WAY were known because they had a way of life.
And that way of life is spelled out not just once, not just twice, but three times, by both Jesus and Luke in today’s readings.
Through both Peter and Saul Jesus experienced betrayal and persecution.
To both he showed forgiveness.
For both he gave them a way to go, a direction.
For both there is the prediction of suffering, but for them that was another aspect of walking with Jesus and following his way.
Ourselves, we help each other on our way at the end of our liturgy.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. “In the peace of Christ, we go”.
We don’t simply get on our way.
We commit ourselves to his way, to keep in step with Jesus, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God as we meet other Sauls, Peters, Sharons and Janets.
What is our way with them?
“This task [of giving hope and changing lives] moves beyond what the city council or national government can do, not least when budgets are being reduced drastically. It will require the combined energy, resources and wisdom of everyone to address some of the fundamental economic and social issues we face, and to protect those who are most vulnerable in our communities.
“I am aware that I am taking a leap of faith that we want to promote another’s fulfilment at the same time as our own. As we seek the welfare of the whole city, may we know that we are committed to Giving Hope and Changing Lives when, in our relations with our fellow human beings, distant respect moves to deep appreciation and mere tolerance becomes full participation.”
David Urqhuart, Bishop of Birmingham, writing in the report Giving Hope Changing Lives on the future development of Birmingham, as reported in the Chamberlain Files. Jenny Gillies brought this to my attention in a tweet @revjennyg.