“Be transformed by love” – sermon for All Age Eucharist with Admission to Holy Communion

Have we got any Harry Potter fans here today?

I was in Year 6 when the first Harry Potter book came out, and I used to daydream about what it would be like if, instead of going to secondary school, a letter arrived one day by owl, and I went to Hogwarts instead. What would it be like to study Potions and Defence Against The Dark Arts, instead of English and Maths?

If you went to Hogwarts, what do you think would your favourite subject be?

Mine, I’ve always thought, would be Transfiguration. I love the idea of being able to change one thing into another. And I’ve been compared more than once to Professor McGonagall – make of that what you will!

So you can imagine my delight when I first came across this Bible story, which we call the Transfiguration.

Transfiguration – the act of changing something into something else. I wonder what we could turn these pipe cleaners into? Perhaps some of you would like to have a go while I speak.

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus is changed, not into something else – not, like Professor McGonagall, into a tabby cat – but into a fuller and more glorious version of himself. “Changed from glory into glory”, as we sometimes sing.

Peter, James and John see Jesus “shining like the sun”, reflecting the light of God within him. And we are called to do likewise – to “shine as lights in the world to the glory of God the Father”, as we say in the baptism service. That is the special job, the vocation, which God gives each of us at our baptism – to live in ways show the world what God is like.

We begin that vocation at our baptism, and continue it week by week, day by day, as we are fed by God in the eucharist, in order to be sent our to “live and work to [God’s] praise and glory”. We meet with God in communion in ways which change and transform us – not just when we receive communion for the first time, as A,K,S,J,J and H will today, but every time.

If we are to do God’s work of serving and transforming this broken world in which we live, we need that ongoing transformation. God knows we can’t do it on our own. But in Jesus we find what we need in order to do and to be what the world needs.

In a while we will sing a song, which may be new to many of you, and I want you to especially notice the chorus:

“We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces
We are loved, to love where love is not
We are changed, to be the change you promised
We are freed, to be your hands, O God”

Blessing, freedom, transformation, and love. That is what we encounter in Jesus at the eucharist, just as his first disciples did on the mountaintop. This is our weekly ‘mountain-top moment’. But, like those first disciples, we cannot stay on the mountain top. We cannot stay cosily in a club called ‘church’. That isn’t what being the church, the body of Christ, is about. We are called and sent by Jesus to use whatever we have received from him in order to serve others and transform the world to be more and more like God’s kingdom.

So I say to A,K,S, J, J and H, and to all of you:
Be blessed – and do whatever you can to bless others.
Be changed by meeting Jesus in communion – then go out and change the world, or at least whatever small part of it you can.
Be freed by your encounter with the living God, from whatever holds you back – and invite others into that freedom.
Know yourself to be loved, loved beyond anything you can imagine, loved fully, extravagantly, outrageously, loved by God who is love – and do whatever you can, love people in whatever ways you can think of, to let everyone you encounter know that they too are loved like that.

As you come to receive communion, allow yourself to be changed by the One who is Love, then go out and change the world through love.

Amen.

After the sermon, we looked at what people (of all ages!) had made with their pipe cleaners, and wondered together about what the things we had made could tell us about God. There was a huge variety of things people had made – a ring, a cat, a heart, the sea, a dinosaur, a scorpion, a balloon, and at least 2 giraffes! The variety of shapes we had made helped us to think about the variety of ways God shapes each of us, to become the beautiful diverse people of God – together. Then in silence we considered the question: “I wonder how God is changing and transforming you?” 

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Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships – letter to General Synod

Dear General Synod Representatives for the Diocese of Oxford,

Re: GS 2055 – Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops

I am writing to you in your capacity as a General Synod Member representing the Diocese of Oxford, to urge you to vote not to take note of the above paper during the take note debate in the forthcoming session of General Synod.

I was part of the Shared Conversations process which led up to this report, participating in the shared conversations involving members of our own diocese in March 2016. I found the process challenging and at times painful, but was also greatly encouraged by the degree of openness, respect, and honest discussion between brothers and sisters in Christ which I encountered.

Sadly, I do not see this reflected in the report of the House of Bishops at all. I think it is disappointing that the bishops did not seek to reflect the outcomes of the Shared Conversations, nor did they apparently make any effort to include the views and experiences of LGBT Christians – who will be most effected by the content of the report – in the process of writing it.

If Synod chooses to take note of this report, I am concerned about the effect it will have, both within the church and on our mission, which is why I am asking you to consider voting not to take note.

Within the church, it has been obvious for many decades that there is not a consensus regarding the place of LGBT people in the church, and the status of relationships between people of the same sex. A very wide range of views – all based on people’s prayerful interpretation of scripture – were expressed during the Shared Conversations, but there is no acknowledgement of or allowance for this theological diversity in the bishops’ report. Instead, the bishops seek to impose ‘unity’ by failing to acknowledge the differences that exist, rather than trying to address them in ways which could lead to true unity.

Many LGBT Christians, myself included, have been deeply hurt and angered by this report, and many have decided that this is the tipping point at which they can no longer stay in a church which does not seem to want us. I am not walking away, but I understand why people are, and I think this should be a cause of sorrow for the whole church. ‘Unity’ which causes faithful men and women to feel that they can no longer be part of the church is no unity at all – it is deeply damaging to the body of Christ.

However, far more important is the damage which this report will do to the mission of the church. I work with young people within and outside the church, and it is clear that they see our response as a church to LGBT people as discriminatory, homophobic, and lacking in love. Christian young people identify it as a major impediment to sharing the gospel with their peers, and non-Christian young people are put off by what they (understandably) perceive as the hypocrisy of a church which preaches love and practises the opposite. I know this situation is by no means limited to young people.

If the Church of England is to be a church for all people – and if, more importantly, we are to live out Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all people” – we must begin to engage with the reality of the people we seek to serve. If the Church of England is even to be a place for all Anglicans, we must acknowledge and respect the diversity that exists within the body of Christ.

I had thought that the Shared Conversations were beginning to take us in this direction, but the bishops’ report bares little or no resemblance to that process, and is a disappointing retrograde step. I urge you to vote not to take note, in order to demonstrate to the bishops that this is not good enough. At the very least, Synod deserves a report which accurately reflects the diversity of the church and the reality of the Shared Conversations process.

Please be assured that you and the whole Synod will be in my prayers during the coming session, and I am most grateful for your work as a representative of this diocese.

Yours in Christ,

Ruth Harley
Children’s and Families’ Minister
All Saints Church, High Wycombe