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All are welcome at the feast: a sermon on food and inclusion

Sermon preached at Duston United Reformed Church on 11th October 2020. Texts: Isaiah 25:4-8; Luke 14:15-24.All the passages we’ve heard today – from Psalm 23, from Isaiah, and from Luke – are to do with feasting. The word feast is perhaps a little old-fashioned now. It conjures up images of Oxford colleges or medieval banquets, it belongs to the world of Henry VIII or Hogwarts. Indeed, there are many memorable feasts in the Harry Potter books. Here’s how JK Rowling writes about the first one that Harry encounters, fresh from his unhappy cupboard under the stairs:"Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup and, for some strange reason, mint humbugs."Harry’s reaction is an important one, because although he was ne…
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Forgiving others, as we are forgiven

Sermon preached at Duston United Reformed Church, 13/9/2020. Text: Matthew 18:21-35.In the past couple of months, we’ve been mildly obsessed as a family with the musical Hamilton, the big-ticket show in New York and London which was released in a filmed version on Disney Plus this summer. We’ve watched it three times and listened many times to the music. For those who don’t know, it’s a mostly historically accurate portrayal of Alexander Hamilton, a key figure in the American revolution and the founding of the United States as an independent nation. It’s full of brilliant music and lyrics, and some very powerful moments. One of the most emotional scenes is concerned with forgiveness, so it’s directly relevant to this passage.

In a terrible series of events, Hamilton had an affair when he was a prominent politician and his wife Eliza was away. He was subsequently blackmailed by the husband of the woman he’d had the affair with, which for complicated reasons left him open to charges of p…

Reflecting on twenty years at the Open University

Twenty years ago today, I started work at the Open University, and I haven't stopped there since. This seems like a long time - as I'll be 50 in a few months, it's just over 40% of my life, a much higher proportion of my adult life. There's been times I've been very fed up with the OU or various of its aspects, but I've always been proud to work there. So to mark the occasion I've been reflecting a bit, on what I've done and what I might still do there.
The OU is amazing in the way it touches people's lives - giving the opportunity for higher education to those who have missed out in one way or another. It was set up with an explicit intent for social justice, and despite ups and downs has always retained that. I'm constantly struck by how much colleagues buy into the mission of the university, and especially this goal for social justice - as much as anything else, this is what has kept me at the OU all this time. Years ago I remember speaking at…

Sojourning in silence and systems

100 days into Covid-19 lockdown, and many people’s lives have changed. In lots of cases these are for the worse, but also things have become possible which were not previously seen as possible. Some have tried new patterns (as well as having new patterns forced upon them) – in my case I’ve also been returning to old patterns.
Here are two changed patterns.
I was a Quaker for fifteen years, a time of deep spiritual nurture, strong sense of shared values, and close community. I learnt hugely through my time as a Quaker, made many friends, served the Religious Society of Friends on several committees, and met and married my lovely wife Becky. I owe Friends (Quakers are the Religious Society of Friends) a great deal. Yet in time Becky and I chose to leave Friends, for both personal and theological reasons, and joined the United Reformed Church which is close cousin of the Church of Scotland where I grew up. We’ve been active in the URC for ten years now. 
But in lockdown I’ve returned to Qua…

Mary and Martha – a dichotomy or an invitation?

Sermon preached at Duston United Reformed Church, 21 July 2019. Text: Luke 10:38-42.

This is a well-known passage that has sometimes been badly used to attack women, to present a never-good-enough situation where every option is wrong. So it’s a passage with danger in it. Yet to me it’s also a passage that’s got plenty of hope and encouragement. And first of all I want to say that I think it’s a mistake to treat this story as simply one about the domestic sphere. We’ll touch on that on and off, but ultimately it’s a story about discipleship and what it means to be a disciple, and it’s a story about hospitality, and what it means to offer hospitality. But ultimately I think it’s really important not to see it as putting two different ways of living in conflict with each other. The answer to Martha and Mary is one of both/and, rather than either/or.
By this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has quite an entourage. In the previous chapter, which we read in the lectionary two weeks ago, he se…

New commandment, new creation

Sermon preached at The Headlands United Reformed Church, 19 May 2019. Texts: John 13:31-35, Revelation 21:1-6.

We’ve heard two passages this morning about things that are new. We have a new heaven and a new earth in the book of Revelation, and a new commandment in the gospel of John. For me, spring often feels like a time of new growth, of new life. And we are still in the season of Easter, and the readings are still on the theme of new life after death. In my view these two different things that are new are very closely linked. So we’ll talk first about the new heaven and new earth, and move on to the new commandment.

First thing to be said about the passage from Revelation, as ever with any reading of that strange book, is that nothing in it should be taken as prediction or at face value. It belongs to the category of apocalyptic literature and like all such work, it’s mostly a deep social commentary upon the world of its time, full of symbolism and strange imagery. It’s a book that…

The fox and the hen – a sermon about the journey to resurrection

Sermon given at Creaton United Reformed Church, 17 March 2019. Text: Luke 13:31-35. See also earlier address about Abram and covenant.

We’re all about the animals in this passage. St Patrick is said to have chased the snakes out of Ireland (he didn't), but here we have a fox and a hen appearing. They make a nice contrast, and we’ll come back to them later.

So Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. The gospel of Luke has a lot to say about journeys, and especially the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. We first hear about him ‘setting his face to Jerusalem’ in chapter 9, and the account of Palm Sunday is in chapter 19. In other words it takes 10 chapters, out of a book with 24 chapters, for him to reach Jerusalem after he starts on his way there. And he’s still got a long way to go, here in chapter 13. There’s an admirable sense of determination here. Jesus is absolutely sure he’s got to be there, to accomplish his task. And yet also lots of things happen on the journey. Much of Jesus’ mini…