“Moses saw a burning bush while he was out tending sheep and you won’t believe what happened next!”

Sermon at Evensong, St Paul’s Woldingham, Sunday next before Lent
Exodus 3:1-6
John 12:27-36

“Walk while you have the light.” What does it mean to walk in light? What does it mean to stand on holy ground?

It was the light that Moses would have seen first, so bright, and unending as the burning bush didn’t burn. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition it’s called the “unburnt bush”: and the angel of the Lord that appears to Moses in the bush, the fire that Moses sees, are interpreted not as temporary miracles, there for a moment, but as a glimpse of the truth of God.

What an odd thing to happen to a shepherd. Moses wasn’t out in the wilderness looking for holy ground. He also wasn’t looking for trouble: far from it! He was there because he was an outlaw: he was brought up as a prince in Pharaoh’s court, but when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave he got angry and thumped him. Thumped him a little too hard, perhaps: he struck the Egyptian dead. So, he ran away to Midian to escape the punishment due. He settled down there and got married, but he was a fugitive, a refugee, maybe looking for a quiet life and trying to leave the persecution of his people behind him.

And then he sees this bush and goes to check it out and hears this voice calling his name, “Moses, Moses.” Tonight we heard him answer “Here I am” and we are told God spoke some impressive introductory words, but what follows is daunting. He is to go back to Egypt, where he’s wanted as a criminal, and make Pharaoh let the Hebrew people go. It’s a tall order, but he does it – and goes on to receive the Law given by God to those same people.

I think it’s interesting that an outlaw receives the Law, and that rather than being punished by God for having done wrong, his anger at the injustice shown to his people is turned toward the purpose of securing their freedom. It can be an important thing to keep in mind when trying to learn what God wants us to do, too. If there is an issue that you are passionate about, something which really gets you riled up, it might be worth exploring whether God is calling you to do something about it. For the record, I don’t recommend killing any Egyptians, or anyone else! But it’s also good to remember that the things you see as faults or mistakes, the things that make you want to run away into the wilderness and hide, may be part of your vocation too: they certainly won’t prevent God working through and in your life.

A calling that suits your personality still isn’t always going to be easy, of course. I’m sure that Moses, after a relatively affluent upbringing, wouldn’t have been particularly comfortable journeying through the wilderness for the rest of his life, but that’s exactly what he does after the Hebrew people are chased out of Egypt. The discomfort and unease of responding to God’s call is also obvious in tonight’s Gospel reading. Jesus’s heart is troubled. He’s upset. Of course he’s upset: he’s going to be crucified.

We started this reading halfway through a speech, so let’s look at the background and see if we can make sense of it. Jesus and the disciples have been travelling and now they’re in Jerusalem, and things have been… pretty weird, really. On the way to Jerusalem, at Bethany, there was that thing where Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive ointment, and Jesus said she bought it to use at his burial. There was that procession into Jerusalem itself, where people were hailing him as the Son of David, the King of Israel.

The disciples are, understandably, getting a bit confused. And then these Greeks turn up: they aren’t even Jewish but they’re in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, along with the other “God-fearers” who like to worship the God of Abraham and Jacob but don’t go through the process of becoming full members of the people of Israel. But they say to Philip that they want to see Jesus. So, Philip tells Andrew and the two of them go to tell Jesus and he starts talking about all this weird stuff again: about how the hour has come, about the grain of wheat that must fall to the ground and die. He says that whoever loves their life will lose it. He says that those who serve him must follow him.

And then we pick up where our reading starts: he tells Philip and Andrew, and the crowd that are there, this is what he has come for. There isn’t any getting out of it. His death will be to glorify God.

The voice from heaven that follows is confusing, too. Maybe the disciples aren’t so surprised by it, it’s happened twice before, once at His baptism and once at the Transfiguration. The crowd are just confused, though, not sure whether it’s thunder or an angel or what. And Jesus just tells them it’s for their good not his, and goes on talking about his death, and about judgement. The people still don’t really get it. How can the Messiah die? That isn’t what they understand of the Saviour who is meant to come and rescue them from the occupying Roman forces. How can the one anointed to crush their enemies be put to death on a cross? Who is this Son of Man, anyway?

The crowd doesn’t get a straightforward answer and neither, in this reading, do we. There is just the instruction to walk in the light – almost as if trying to outrun a sunset. Walk in the light now and believe in it so that you may become children of light.

We have the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight and scholarship to help us understand what happens next and where Jesus is going. We can read about the events that followed, about the Cross and Passion and Resurrection – and in the coming weeks of Lent and Easter we will do exactly that. It’s all a bit easier to take when you know there’s a happy ending!

But to walk in the light of Christ, to truly serve Him, means more than simply skipping the parts of the Gospel narrative, or those parts of our own lives, which make us uncomfortable. We don’t get to just jump ahead to the happier news of Christ’s resurrection. Instead we are called to follow Him, even when we aren’t quite sure what’s going on, and when we feel we are inadequate or unworthy.

This Lent, may we all follow Jesus, right to the foot of the Cross. Then we will indeed be standing on holy ground. Amen.

Sermon for Baptism of Christ, Year C

Sunday 10th January 2015 – St Andrew’s Leytonstone
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17,21-22

This morning we celebrate the Baptism of Christ. We heard the main details of the event in our Gospel reading. It’s a good time to recall those details, but also to reflect on our own baptism and what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ.

We talked about baptism at the Advent group, and in particular about the various reasons that parents might want to have their children “done”. We also discussed whether it is appropriate for baptisms to take place outside of the main service.

Imagine, if you will, the river Jordan. John the Baptist is going around preaching about repentance – in Greek, metanoia, or ‘turning’. And he is baptising people in the river. This is a rich symbol of a new start, a new direction for life. Immersion in water was already a Jewish ritual for purification. It was associated with God’s salvation: the waters of the great flood which Noach and his family escaped were to rid the world of wickedness; the waters of the Red Sea which the Hebrew people fled through during the escape from Egypt were not only the start of freedom from bondage, but the beginning of a new journey, being led by God. And of course, the cleansing properties of water are obvious and also symbolic.

Full immersion in a river is a dramatic act compared to the gentle sprinkling of water people receive when they are baptised at St Andrew’s and many other English churches. But whether your own baptism was by the most delicate of sprinkles, or involved a pool or even a river and a lot of dripping afterward, the idea of turning toward God is important.

For Christians, repentance and a fresh start are only part of the story. John the Baptist is preaching about repentance, but he also makes clear he is not the Messiah: he baptises with water, but one is coming who will baptise by fire and the Spirit. It’s a bit scary really: the idea of the Messiah sorting out the wheat from the chaff, and burning up the chaff in unquenchable fire, is quite a contrast with the idea of being re-born to new life after repentance!

I don’t claim to have a complete answer to what the fire means for us, but some of my favourite words from the Old Testament were in today’s reading from Isaiah:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.”
There’s that juxtaposition of water and fire again but this time with the assurance of, if not safety, at least survival. And something more: “I have called you by name, you are mine.”

God calls each and every one of us by name, and baptism is part of our response to that vocation.

Jesus is baptized in response to a vocation from God: and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. The reading from Acts suggests that the Holy Spirit is part of becoming Christian – which makes sense if you think of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit moving among the people as the start of the Church.

Christian baptism, then, is about repentance and new life, but it is also about becoming a member of the Church. The new life we receive at the re-birth of baptism is new life in Christ, and we live it out as members of the Body of Christ.

Whether or not we meet the people who are baptised here, they, like us, have a vocation as members of the church. And so part of our role must surely be to welcome them, and, like the apostles Peter and John, to pray for them. We are all siblings in Christ; we are all beloved children of God, waiting for the day when we too may hear a voice from heaven saying, “With you I am well pleased.”

Bicycles Change Lives

I’m increasing my cycling to 80 miles per week to improve my fitness.

As a way of staying motivated I have signed up for a charity sponsorship thing. Qhubeka is the African programme of World Bicycle Relief. They provide bicycles to children — many of whom would otherwise walk more than an hour each way to and from school. The bicycles are assembled locally. They are robust and durable, with standard parts that can be replaced when they do eventually wear out, and Qhubeka also have a bicycle mechanic training programme.

If I raise £350 sponsorship it will be enough for about three bicycles.

So far in January I’ve ridden 68 miles in six days. That’s not bad going, and I’m already starting to feel the physical effects, but I would like to be further ahead: there will be some days in January that I can’t manage, and I don’t want those to put me too far behind. It would also be good to be able to take the odd day off when the weather is truly foul or I’m very tired or very busy, too.

Sermon for St John the Evangelist, 2015

St Andrew’s Leytonstone
Exodus 33.7-11
Psalm 117
1 John 1
John 21.19b-end

Christmas is finally here – after all the preparation and planning during Advent and, if you’re a church musician, even beginning before then. For many, the biggest celebrations are all done and dusted now, whether that’s singing your heart out in church, exchanging gifts with loved ones, having a big roast dinner or all of these customs. Christ is born and in the coming days and weeks we hope to catch up on sleep, enjoy the leftovers, and let life get back to ‘normal’. But it isn’t quite normal yet, so many of us are looking back over the past year and reflecting on it, and resolving that this year, we’ll do better.

I know that when I make New Year’s resolutions, they can be pretty short-lived. “Write sermons well in advance” should perhaps be top of the list! But when I do manage to make a resolution and stick to it, I often find it’s because I have had an example. I’ve observed someone I admire, and tried to copy them somehow – to incorporate an aspect of their behaviour into my own, not just on a superficial level but really untangling what it is that is so positive and compelling, and then finding a way to weave that into the pattern of my own life and habits.

Whether or not you make New Year’s resolutions yourself, it’s a useful exercise to examine some of today’s readings and find out if there is anything relevant to our own lives.

Moses is certainly well-regarded. The people of Israel, at the point in our reading from Exodus today, are on a journey together through the wilderness, and Moses is their leader, so a certain amount of respect would be in order. This is the man who led them out of slavery in Egypt, after all – though sometimes the great rejoicing after passing through the Red Sea can seem very far away, and some of the people have their doubts about all this wandering about in the desert… but despite any of that uneasiness, Moses is still given respect. When he goes to the tent of meeting people notice, and stand waiting. When the pillar of cloud descends, people bow in reverence, and then Moses has this chat with God – or, rather, the Lord speaks to Moses. The reading we heard today describes God as speaking to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Surely, if there is something to admire and respect about Moses, it is this closeness to God, this holiness that comes from listening to God. Could there be a better New Year’s resolution?

But – how to attain holiness and closeness to God, exactly? Listening to God is important, but there’s more to it than that. The epistle gives us a hint about another part of it: we need to “confess our sins”. Great – we do that every Sunday – sorted! But there’s a deeper message here. We all mess up, and confession of our mistakes – those times we have turned away from God – is not just a matter of saying some special words and going through the motions, but being totally honest with ourselves and with God about what we have done wrong and the harm that we have caused. And, the epistle tells us, if we claim we already have fellowship with God, if we say we have not sinned, then we are lying. Sobering stuff. Clearly, closeness to God is not always going to feel comfortable. It might even be pretty embarrassing. But honesty works better than fantasy for resolutions, too: if I said I was going to run the London Marathon this spring without doing any training, you’d be quite right to laugh. It’s no good pretending I’m that kind of athlete: I have to start where I am, not where wishful thinking dictates I’d like to start, even where that is uncomfortable.

The Gospel reading today doesn’t appear to offer much more comfort. This is the end of the Gospel according to St John the Evangelist, whose feast day we celebrate today, and he writes to imply that he is, in fact, the “beloved disciple” – the one who was reclining close to Jesus at the Last Supper. But that revelation isn’t the only message of this reading: instead, we have Peter, getting told off again.

A bit of context might be helpful. This is the ending of the third time that Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection. They’ve eaten fish on the beach and he has just asked Peter three times, “do you love me?” and instructed him “feed my sheep.” And with that comes a warning, of a loss of autonomy through matyrdom, and one more command: “Follow me.” No wonder Peter is asking if this other guy – John – can do it instead! I can’t say I would be too happy about being informed I’d have a martyr’s death, either. The tradition that St John himself lived to a venerable old age suggests that, thankfully, not everyone is called to martyrdom. But the point is that Jesus doesn’t want Peter looking around for someone else to do the work, someone else to follow Jesus instead. Peter is given his task and then he is told to be obedient.

There you have it: three things to think about if you’re pondering some New Year’s resolutions: holiness, honesty, and obedience. Our resolutions, whether for a day, a week or a year, should be to a life of holiness, of listening to God as Moses did. They should be resolutions that are realistic, taking into account the messiness and messed-up-ness of our lives. They should be resolutions that are obedient, where we strive to do all that Christ asks of us.

That’s all rather daunting – but it is still Christmas, after all, and another text by St John the Evangelist tell us some truly good news. We heard it just the other day on Christmas morning: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

We don’t need to go and seek God in a tent of meeting, outside the camp: God came to meet us where we are, living with us as a real human baby, Jesus Emmanuel. We don’t need to worry that our mistakes will be held against us forever, no matter how embarrassing they are, because we have assurance that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven. We don’t need to worry about whether someone else might be more obedient or more worthy, and compete with one another to do (or not do) the tasks that Jesus calls us to do, because in Christ, we are all one body.

So, whether we are making New Year’s resolutions or just planning one breath at a time, let us pray in the words of St Richard of Chichester:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.


Advent — Christina Rosetti

We’re well into December and there is so much going on that is very focused on Christmas; yet this is still Advent, a season of preparation.

Advent is my SATB setting of Christina Rosetti’s poem by the same name:

‘Come,’ Thou dost say to Angels,
To blessed Spirits, ‘Come’:
‘Come,’ to the lambs of Thine own flock,
Thy little ones, ‘Come home.’

‘Come,’ from the many-mansioned house
The gracious word is sent;
‘Come,’ from the ivory palaces
Unto the Penitent.

O Lord, restore us deaf and blind,
Unclose our lips though dumb:
Then say to us, ‘I will come with speed,’
And we will answer, ‘Come.’

This will be premiered by Capella Martialis on 19th December. I can’t attend, sadly: a trip to Singapore, as well as being beyond my means, would also have the effect of completely messing up my circadian rhythms just in time for Christmas services. As usual, it’s released under a CC by-SA license: feel free to download it, print it, photocopy it, record it, and so on. (Grateful? You can help me keep doing this by visiting my Support page and choosing one of the options there.) But please don’t perform it in public before the premiere: that would just be rude.

Christmas Carols with the London Gallery Quire

Wednesday 2nd December 2015 7.00pm

Christmas Carols with the London Gallery Quire
Tickets £6 on the door

St George’s German Lutheran Church
55Alie Street
London E1 8EB
(Located at the junction of Alie St and Leman St – 2 mins walk from Aldgate East tube)

If you come along to this concert you will not only get to hear me play the serpent, but you’ll be at the premiere of my setting of “The great God of heaven has come down to earth.”

Here’s a .pdf:
Addington – Full Score

No singing robots yet, but I’ll try and get a recording of Wednesday’s performance.

It’s called “Addington” because that’s where I was when I wrote the tune. I was in a shape-note sort of mood that day and so the harmonies are rather reminiscent of that tradition.

Here are the words:

The great God of heaven is come down to earth,
his mother a Virgin and sinless his birth;
the Father eternal his Father alone:
he sleeps in a manger; he reigns on the throne:
Then let us adore him and praise his great love:
to save us poor sinners he came from above.

A Babe on the breast of a Maiden he lies,
yet sits with the Father on high in the skies;
before him their faces the Seraphim hide,
while Joseph stands waiting, unscared, by his side: Refrain

Lo! here is Emmanuel, here is the Child,
the Son that was promised to Mary so mild;
whose power and dominion shall ever increase,
the Prince that shall rule o’er a kingdom of peace: Refrain

The Wonderful Counsellor, boundless in might,
the Father’s own image, the beam of his light;
behold him now wearing the likeness of man,
weak, helpless and speechless, in measure a span: Refrain

O wonder of wonders, which none can unfold:
the Ancient of days is an hour or two old;
the Maker of all things is made of the earth,
and worshipped by angels when God comes to birth: Refrain

I chose this because of another of LGQ’s forthcoming performances, which will be at the National Portrait Gallery on 18th December. Sadly I won’t be able to be there, but it was the fourth verse above that I drew me to the text as suitable for that occasion.

Working for Exposure

I see a lot of whingeing about people expecting artists to work “for exposure”.

No, you can’t buy a loaf of bread with exposure, and I’m not contesting that. Work is work, and if we’re going to use in a capitalist system where we’re compelled to exchange money for goods and services, we need to pay creative people money for the work that they do. (Hint: most of us don’t get much choice about existing in such a system.) My rule of thumb is that I’ll generally work for free if it’s sortof my idea, or if there’s little or no effort required of me (and only I get to decide what that means on a given day).

That said: without exposure – without people who haven’t heard of you getting to hear of you and your work – it’s pretty hard to make money. You can call it exposure or publicity or market visibility; it’s still necessary. One of the attractions, for many, of working with an established publisher (or some other gatekeeper/distributor of creative work, let’s stick with publishing) is that such publishers already have a foothold in the market. Having your work published means that you trade some of your income from a work, and some of your control over that work, for what the publisher provides, and I’d say that “exposure” is a big part of what publishers provide.

If you don’t want to go down that route, you’re going to have to get that exposure in other ways. You’re going to have to advertise. You’re going to have to build a social media following (though many publishers now expect you to do this anyway), you’re going to have to tell everyone you know how great your work is and you’re going to have to convince them to tell everyone *they* know. That’s a valid path, but let’s not pretend it isn’t work, and let’s not pretend it isn’t costly.

Most of the problem with “do it for exposure” offers is not the principle of trading work for exposure; it’s in the quality and quantity of exposure offered not being commensurate with the amount of work being asked of the creative person. Rather than being insulted, perhaps negotiate. Ask questions: How many people are expected at this gig, and where do you get the data on that? What is your publicity plan for this project? How much of the publicity work do you expect me to do on my own? If you’re distributing my poetry in your zine, how many readers do you expect to direct back to my crowdfunding site? And when you’ve asked a lot of questions, decide whether the ‘exposure’ is indeed worthwhile compared to what you would normally charge for the level of involvement requested. If it’s “Well, who knows, there could be an agent at this gig and they might like your stuff…no we don’t really plan to invite any agents personally…but it could happen…” it’s probably not a good idea to work “for exposure,” but if it’s an annual event they regularly sell 600 charity tickets for in a town where you aren’t known and the charity is related to your interests and work, the admin work is going to be minimal on your side and they’ll let you advertise in the accompanying printed programme? It’s worth considering.

Originally posted at tumblr/a>. I haven’t worked out what I’m using tumblr for yet.

Broomside 11 11 11 11 11 11

St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne recently ran a competition for a Pauline hymn. I asked Miranda Threlfall-Holmes if she wanted to write some words for it, and we submitted an entry.

PDF: broomside

1. We meet as God’s people in this holy place
And gather together across time and space
With all of Christ’s body, Christ’s building and field,
The church of all sinners Christ died for and healed.
Diverse in our gifting, no two are the same
Yet all stand united in praising God’s name.

2. The Scriptures all witness to Jesus, God’s Son,
Who died and was raised, in whose victory we’ve won.
In weakness exalted, all gains count as loss
Compared to the knowledge of Christ and his cross.
Your church down the ages proclaims and receives
This gospel rejoicing, and firmly believes.

3. Forgive us those times when we struggle to see
Beyond our conviction in some enemy.
Confront us with strangers to open our eyes,
And make us dependent on those we despised.
Then take us and use us, to build not destroy,
Co-workers together in love and in joy.

4. Fill us with your love, make us patient and kind,
To strive in your service with one joyful mind.
Send us where you need us, like your servant Paul,
And make us receptive to hearing your call.
Inspire us to partner with all your co-heirs,
Inclusive of all in our mission and prayers.

5. Approaching our end may our faith still increase
Maturing a harvest of love, joy and peace
Rejoicing in truth and delighting in good
At last understanding as we’re understood.
For now we see faintly reflections of grace,
But then we’ll see clearly and meet face to face.

As with most of my work this is CC by-SA: this means you can use it for whatever you like, even profit, but you must also let others do the same with any derivative works.

This means I don’t get any royalties: my work is community-supported, not commercial. If you’d like to show your support, I have a page that tells you how you can do so. Thanks so much!

Sermon for St Luke

Sunday 18 October 2015
St Andrew’s Leytonstone
Isaiah 35:3-6
2 Timothy 4:5-17
Luke 10:1-9

Today we celebrate the life and ministry of St Luke. Tradition has it that he was an artist, writer and doctor – perhaps today he would be called a polymath, someone with remarkable skill in a number of areas. He is best known as the writer of the Gospel according to St Luke, of course; but he also gets attribution for the book of Acts, and for acting as a scribe for many of the letters of St Paul.

Luke is only referred to as a physician once in Scripture, but his language in writing about people is the same style of Greek that was used by other doctors of the same period. Luke’s Gospel has not only technical, medical language, but a particular concern for healing, and for the inclusion of society’s outcasts in the Kingdom of God.

I wonder what it must have been like for a doctor to write so much about the healing ministry of Jesus, while also spending a lot of time with Paul, who was no stranger to physical suffering. But there is more to healing than physical health. It might help to think about the origin of the word “health” – it comes from the same roots as the word “wholeness”. So another way to think about healing is to think about what makes people whole. When Jesus heals people, they are made whole, regardless of whether their physical symptoms stop.

Our readings today all talk about preparation and healing. “Strengthen the weak hands, make firm the feeble knees,” says the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel; “encourage those who are afraid and tell them: God will save you. People will be healed.” These are comforting words to a nation full of fearful and downhearted people; but also challenging: the work of God is going to require us to have a sort of strength, and it’s best to start preparing sooner rather than later.

The reading from the second letter to Timothy tells us of a rather different sort of preparation. This is a very personal letter: Paul is in prison, and he expects he will soon be put to death. That’s what he means when he says “I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.” He is certain he isn’t going to be alive much longer, and he wants Timothy to come and see him – and Luke, the only person who has stayed with him. He asks for a cloak that he left with someone else; prisons can be cold places. He asks for books and papers, perhaps to put some of his affairs in order as best he can. But Paul isn’t afraid of death: he knows he has done all he can, and he trusts utterly that God will reward him in death. That is a sort of healing, to him, despite all that he has suffered. His main concern seems to be that Timothy should continue his own ministry: and the parts of the letter we didn’t hear today are full of advice on how to do that, preparation for what lies ahead.

The Gospel reading this morning is also about preparation and healing. Just before the passage we heard, Jesus is asking people to follow him – but they make excuses. There is an urgency to the instructions Jesus gives to the seventy he sends out, which he conveys by speaking of harvest. Sometimes, we tend to think of harvest as a time of plenty and profusion – and it is that, after the work has been done. But if you’ve ever had an allotment that’s just a bit too big to handle, or perhgaps a very fruitful apple tree, you’ll understand the urgency that comes before the harvest: if there aren’t enough people to do the labour of picking the beans or onions or fruit, it still gets ripe – and eventually goes rotten. So Jesus is in a hurry, and he sends these 70 people out in pairs into a dangerous situation, like lambs among wolves – another farming comparison. And rather than going on this journey fully equipped and prepared, they are to go as they are: no bag, no purse, no sandals. They have to take the risk of being vulnerable, and rely on the people in the towns they visit for basic needs of food and shelter.

It seems pretty drastic – but if the harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few, the need for more labourers does call for drastic measures.

The task of these 70 people, as unprepared as they might feel, is to prepare the way for the Kingdom of God. This is how they’re supposed to find more labourers to help with this urgent harvest Jesus is talking about: They are to wish peace on the households they visit, and then if they are welcomed they are to accept whatever hospitality they are offered, to cure the sick they find there, and to declare that the Kingdom of God is near.

As Christians, we are also invited to join in God’s work, and each of the readings we heard today can help us prepare for that work. We can begin, as Isaiah tells us, to strengthen ourselves and one another in preparation for what God is doing here. We can remind one another of the salvation and love of God, which means we have nothing to fear.

Like Paul in his letter to Timothy, we can encourage one another in ministry; and we can ask one another for the help we need in getting our own affairs in order.

And, like the 70 that Jesus sent out on the road to Jerusalem, we can be people who prepare the way for Jesus. We can work toward peace: in our family and home life, in our workplaces and local communities, and in our politics. We can learn to be vulnerable with people, appreciating what help and hospitality is offered. Where we are welcomed, we may not be able to cure the sick – though there is a long tradition of Christians providing medical care – but we can certainly have conversations about healing and wholeness, and work toward the reconciliation of people to one another and to God.

When we do these things, we will be showing people not just that we are encouraging, or peaceful, or vulnerable, or kind: we will be showing them the Kingdom of God and preparing for the coming of Christ.


Harringey, now with recording.

Back in 2012 I set these words by Doug Chaplin:

From the Jordan to the desert,
from the crowd to barren place,
Spirit-driven, Satan-tempted,
Lord, you sought the Father’s grace:
show us now your pow’r, in weakness,
presence in the empty space.

Out of Egypt with God’s people,
freedom brings its testing stress:
what is right and what is truthful,
how the name of God confess?
Jesus, be our journey’s leader,
guide us through the wilderness.

Lack of food for empty stomach,
offered only cold hard stone;
scripture used to tempt and strengthen;
easy route to grasp the throne:
Bread of life, and Word incarnate
help us worship God alone.

In the search for loving justice,
in the quest for truth and right,
Jesus walk beside, before us,
hold your Cross of love in sight;
keep us in your Father’s presence,
guide us to your risen light.

Thanks to the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, there is now a recording:

Doug Chaplin’s text is CC BY-NC — you can use it, but not for profit. The music is CC BY-SA as is my usual practice: this means you can download the sheet music and use this hymn in your church at Lent, should you so wish. Or at some other time of year, but it is really a Lent hymn when you get right down to it.

I’m not averse to a tierce de Picardie at the end of the last verse, if that’s your kind of thing.

There are more LFCCM recordings; do have a listen, it’s well worth it.