The Everthere – a wedding sermon.

14 04 2015

This post might be breaking the rules – it’s not about a Cafechurch event, nor about something in the style of Cafechurch that we’ve offered elsewhere. It’s about a normal wedding service. Only it wasn’t normal as it was between two people who’d met through Cafechurch. I was delighted to be asked to take the wedding service for Paul and Hattie. It was fantastic to see them getting married. It was great to see so many Cafechurchers there celebrating with them.

As well as conducting the wedding i was asked to preach – here is the text of the sermon. It explores some themes from one of the readings (1Corinthians 13) and uses lyrics from songs by Elbow.

“The Everthere”

I’m sure many of you first thing this morning were saying ‘it’s looking like a beautiful day’.

And it certainly was from a meteorological perspective.10982263_10152761125846860_2344115637622097722_n

But for Paul and Hattie I’m sure there were far more concerns than the weather. I have seen the lists that were stuck to the walls and the planner schedules. I have seen the nervousness about the service – not so much using words they never say, as what saying them means.

But now you’ve said them, and you are married.

Today it’s easy to get wrapped up in an altogether beautiful day, get carried along in the joy of the occasion, the excitement of seeing your plans coming together, the knowing that all those lists have worked and that so many of your friends and family are around you, to share in your wedding day.

It truly is a beautiful day.

Getting here has taken time and has required effort and decision. Something that doesn’t always come easily.  Something that is not always straight forward. It has required patience. No doubt you will have started to learn about compromise. However much you thought you knew what love was about when you first got together, when you first decided to get married, you are really only beginning to understand something of what it means to love each other.

Today love is an easy thing to do. Hattie may not always look quite so fabulous as she does today. Paul may have some days that his hair isn’t quite so perfect. But it won’t matter. You will be together and you will learn to really love.

If I loose a sequin here and there
More salt than pepper in my hair
Can I rely on you when all the songs are through
To be for me the everthere, everthere?

At times marriage will be the big adventure, the everything is new and exciting – opportunities will be presented, chances taken, things will work out and you’ll discover things that neither of you ever imagined possible.

That’ll only be possible if you’re able to take risks together, risks that are underpinned by a deep trust in each other.

Sometimes you’ll need to take the decision to say no, to not jump for the exciting adventure but to continue with the ongoing, the everyday, the humdrum, you’ll have to let go of the fanciful idea and take a dose of realism. That isn’t always easy.

We often want our own way. When we don’t get it we can be irritable or resentful. But you have each made a commitment to each other.

Sometimes those commitments require hard work, require you to put the needs of the other first, require that we learn to really love.
If I loose the sequence here and there10734054_10155401262305114_5208136903363510835_n
Less derring do than quiet care
Can I rely on you for a good talking to
To be for me the everthere, everthere?

If I’m totally honest, you need beautiful days like today (and hopefully more than just one a year), and the memories of them to get you through some times that won’t be quite so joyous.

However much you hope that all aspects of life will be perfect that’s just not going to happen. When things aren’t quite as perfect and shiny as you believe they’ll be it’s not just memories of happy times that will help you endure all things.

It’s not just the two of you facing things. You don’t have to bear all these things alone. Yes, you have the support of family and friends and that is tremendously helpful and important, but that is only part of it. You are stepping forward in marriage with God at the centre of it.

Part of the point of getting married here in church is asking God’s blessing today and into the future.Our service started with the words ‘God is love and those who dwell in love dwell in God, and God dwells in them’ Even in the most difficult times, the struggle, the times you don’t feel you can go on, even in those times God will be there. Whatever you feel, however joyous, or difficult marriage is proving one thing is certain. God is, and will continue to be, your everthere.

If I loose a sequin here and there11127544_10205123759766200_127190022575227405_n
And take my time on every stair
Can I rely on you when this whole thing is through
To be for me the everthere, everthere?

You have promised today to be the everthere for each other, those familiar lines ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ express that so eloquently.

I pray that in all of those things you will know the presence, the strength, the support and the love of God,

the true, the One for everthere.





Blessed are the pure in heart…..

23 02 2015

As we continued our exploration of the Beatitudes Jo and Dave invited us to go into the chapel and play. There were a range of children’s toys scattered around the space and we were just left to play with them. People moved around choosing whether to build a lego tower, or do some colouring in, play i the sand pit or host a puppets tea party. For some playing seemed to come quite naturally, for others it was hard work. After a while we talked about what the experience was like. Some had enjoyed it, others described feeling awkward, or having a sense of wasting their time.

pure1  pure2

Jo shared with us something from Berne Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection‘. We talked about how play can help us develop creative approaches to problem solving and how it can simply allow us time for recreation that isn’t focused on achieving something particular.

She then read to us a piece by Bonhoeffer reflecting on ‘Who is pure in heart’.  and another quote that read  ‘We approach God in a way as if we are trying to achieve something. We need to approach God like our father with whom we are invited to play. To be open and trusting and vulnerable.’

As we talked together we realised that those who had said it was difficult to play with the toys had said that they felt self conscious doing it. There was a sense of being worried about what others would think. There was also a sense that simply playing was time wasted – there was a deeply instilled sense that time should be used in a productive manner. We went on to discuss research that looked at the links between creativity and the ability to be playful. Perhaps for some of us there was a need to release ourselves from being product focused and to allow for playful experimentation.

All this brought us back to thinking about being pure in heart – the connection being that being childlike might be the thing that opened up a purity of heart and a purity of intention. We may simply enjoy being in God’s company, perhaps ‘wasting time’ with God rather than always trying to achieve more, to have a better relationship with Him,. When we are able to do that then maybe we will see God.





Blessed are the merciful…..

9 02 2015

Blessed are the merciful is the only one of the Beatitudes that seems to suggest that what you give is what you get. If you’re merciful then you’ll receive mercy. Michelle threw in the first question ‘how do we receive mercy’ closely followed by ‘what is mercy’ As we stumbled around possible definitions she offered us 5 images and asked if they showed mercy.merciful  The images were Rembrandt’s ‘Return of the Prodigal‘, a sculpture by Henry Moore of a mother feeding her baby, A painting entitled ‘The Return of Ulysses‘ by Edward Armitage, Frank Holl’s painting ‘I am the Resurrection and the life‘ and a painting of a man laying in the shade of a haystack.

From looking at these we moved our discussion as to what is mercy forwards a little. We suggested that it might be’kindness against the rules’. We thought that justice without mercy could tend to becoming vengance. We pondered whether mercy and righteousness were potentially in tension with each other.

The five images offered a sense of mercy in the workplace (shade to rest in in the heat of the day), mercy in our mistakes (the returning prodigal), mercy i our families (the nursing mother – perhaps one of the most difficult places to live out mercy) and mercy in community (the village funeral.

We then were asked to remember the story of the Prodigal son and tell it as closely as we could remember. We got most of the detail but missed a few things. We didn’t remember the son’s internal dialogue of saying he’d return and ask to be treated as a hired hand. We forgot the lavish clothing the father gave him. We missed the detail of language of the Father and the older son (the older son only referring to his brother as ‘you son’). We asked the question ‘who will show mercy to the father’

From our discussion we came to see that the beatitudes are relational. They can only be lived out in community and in relation to other people. We wondered whether mercy was the verb of compassion. We talked about whether the Church is a merciful organisation. This was a difficult discussion. Mercy means laying down power and institutions are not always good at doing that.

After much talk of mercy, what it might look and feel like we were asked whether we could think of a story about when we gave or received mercy. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded….





Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…..

9 02 2015

We started the evening with Michelle asking us what ‘righteous’ meant. We were invited to write no more than a short phrase that summed it up. It was a lot harder than it first appeared. Michelle had been reading Roger Bretherton’s book ‘The God Lab‘. He asked a focus group to come up with a word that best represented ‘righteous’. The best they could manage was ‘nice’. A second attempt got them to ‘good’ and a final go produced ‘sorted’. We were unhappy with all of those. The thing that came through for us was that ‘righteous’ was not simply a personal characteristic. We wondered whether concepts such as ‘justice’ or ‘balance (in all things)’ or ‘truth and reconciliation’ were closer to what we wanted to say.

From all the words we had written we came to a sentence ‘a sense of justice, being kind and caring so we can sort the world in a truthful way in all things’. It’s not as snappy as ‘righteous’ but fleshed things out a bit.

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender3 FullSizeRender2

Having got to some sort of understanding of what ‘righteous’ meant we were asked to read through the Sunday newspapers and see if we could find stories that spoke to us of people thirsting for righteousness. There were a number of things that stood out ranging from a blogger in Mexico who was writing to reveal the activity of drugs gangs, to an Imam in Bradford who was campaigning for better sex education in schools to address the attitudes and issues around consent. We shared the stories we’d found with each other.

To finish the evening we were invited to write down an area in our lives or a situation that we were involved in that needed to have a sense of God’s righteousness brought to it. Michelle promised to take the cards we wrote on and pray for those things throughout the week.





Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

30 01 2015

This week Christine helped us to explore what ‘meekness’ is all about. To help us start thinking about it she first offered us some reflections on how the word is translated.
This is what she shared:
The Biblical meaning of ‘meek/meekness’ is rather different from the meanings we ascribe to it. It isn’t easy to express the original Greek word in English. It also has a particular meaning in the New Testament, because it isn’t only seen in a person’s outward behaviour, nor in their dealings with other humans, nor in a person’s natural disposition. Its primary use is towards God and it describes an inward grace of the soul, the sort of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good, without resisting or disputing. An example of this could be Mary’s attitude to what Gabriel told her at the Annunciation, when she says, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’. Meekness is closely linked to humility; it’s suggested in Ephesians 4:12 which talks about how this can ‘equip saints for the ministry of God, for building up the body of Christ’ and in Colossians 3:12, which talks about ‘put[ting] on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.’ The Greek word translated as ‘meekness’ is a condition of mind and heart. There is no sense of weakness in it [in contrast to the English meaning]. Jesus showed meekness but it came from the power He had, having all of God’s resources at His command. The Greek word is the opposite of self-assertiveness or self-interest and refers to an equanimity of spirit which is neither elated nor cast down because it is not occupied with self at all. It is a humble and gentle attitude which expresses itself in a patient submissiveness to offence, free from malice and the desire for revenge.

After that we were given this sheet to help us think and to prompt discussion.

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As seems to be the way at the moment it was a case of “light the touch paper and step away” as we quickly got into a wide ranging discussion about meekness, our own sense of whether being meek is a good thing, whether we find it easy to be meek, what the difference between meek and humble might be.
As our conversations drew to a close Christine shared the text of the Magnificat – Mary’s obedient response to God. The question ‘was Mary the first person that the angel had approached?’ was interesting! Whether she was or wasn’t didn’t seem to matter. She was able to meekly put God ahead of her own thoughts and actions.
We ended listening to a recording of the Magnificat





Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

26 01 2015

This isn’t a topic we’re always good at talking about – it’s often wrapped up with general bad or difficult times. As Christians, we also have the struggle of holding in tension our own personal pain of loss, and the belief that death is not final, but a step towards something better.

We discussed how mourning is a public expression of loss – whether that’s the loss of a person, or an ideal. We wondered whether, for example, the public mourning of Princess Diana was due to her representation of something more – some kind of ‘goodness’.

To mourn, there needs to be a recognition of loss, a journey towards acceptance. Without acknowledging there is a need to be comforted, there is no way one can be comforted.

Michelle shared some insights from her work as a pain researcher – mourning takes time as we have over years developed neural paths that are connected to people we care about, those paths take time to be re-routed after the person has died. That’s why we find ourselves going to phone the person at the time we always used to phone, or expect to see them in certain places.





Back with Attitude

13 01 2015

After the long Christmas break CafeChurch started back this week. It was a subdued start – exams beginning on the Monday morning and for those without exams the pressure of dissertations.

For this term we’ve decided to look at the Beatitudes. This set of well known phrases open what is called as ‘the sermon on the mount.’ They have a common shape (Blessed are the Blah because they shall Blah Blah) but how well do we really understand what they are about? In our usual style someone different will be leading each week meaning we have different approaches for each session. Matt got to lead the opener.

The opening question was deceptively simple. ‘What does “Blessed” mean?’ We were invited to write our answers, comments or reflections on post-it notes and then to talk about what we had written.

We initially found it difficult to know how to interpret it but eventually post-it started to be written. Suggestions included  ‘Cared for’, ‘fortunate’, ‘fulfilled’ ‘good things will come to you’, ‘made holy’, ‘the opposite of cursed’, ‘infused with holiness’. All these led to some great discussion – did Blessed mean entirely different things as a verb or an adjective (‘Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, blessed and broke them’ or ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’)

After a while we moved on to look at the whole open phrase ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. We reflected upon whether there is a difference between being ‘poor’ and being ‘poor n spirit’. quickly deciding that there was. Poverty of spirit seemed to be about being humble, about knowing our need of God.

Being Epiphany we turned our reflection to the coming of the Wise Men (we missed, as always celebrating Christmas and epiphany together as a community). We were asked ‘Do the Wise Men represent the ‘poor in spirit';?  We read Matthew 2:1-12 and talked about it. The Wise Men were certainly not materially poor – they had resources to travel, were granted an audience with King Herod, and on finding Jesus were able to offer expensive gifts. We questioned whether their journeying was out of curiosity or whether there was a deep sense of them seeking after God.

To help with our reflection we were given a couple of copies of paintings. One was one of Rembrandt’s representations of the Adoration of the Magi. The other was an image by Diziani of the Adoration of the shepherds. We spent quite some time discussing the images, the characterisation of the Magi and the Shepherds. Along with the images we also had a poem to read Chesterton’s ‘Here is the little door’

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head;
All for the Child who stirs not in his sleep.
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.

Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift;
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!),
For incense, smoke of battle red.
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead;
Gifts for his children terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and
Oh such tiny feet.

Frances Chesterton

After listening to Herbert Howells setting of the poem we finished the evening reading the collect for the 19th Sunday After Trinity

O GOD, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.








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