“The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.”

I have found myself really struggling to write the sermon this week. Sometimes that happens, when life takes over, where distractions get in the way. It is easy to lose focus, especially during lockdown, when the regular rhymes and rhythms have been discarded. In a way, this seems to me to be an important Lenten discipline – to attempt to focus on God’s will even if the sources of imagination and contemplation appear to have dried up. 

If you were concerned that you were to be denied a sermon this Sunday, worry not! Although I am struggling, I will get there, I promise. I will summon the words and draw theological themes and exercise a form of prayerful perseverance. I sometimes wonder if the struggle leads to a greater grasp of the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The words that are composed are not necessarily my words, easily manufactured and processed, but the words graced by God. The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.

If we look carefully at this painting by Hofmann who delighted in re-creating the life of Christ on canvas, we can see the different levels of attunement which occurred in the Temple on that day. The priest, sitting down, clinging on to his known scripture – the Law. The cynic, gesturing the improbability and impossibility of Jesus’ vision. The old man, quietly reflecting on the words of this young prophet. Finally the listener flanking Jesus with a scroll wrapped in his hand, pausing in meditation. Who, out of these, is willing to be drawn into God’s will?

Jesus in the Temple, 1881 a painting by Heinrich Hofmann

The congregation (or audience, in this age of livestreaming), is also given a responsibility. A certain duty is placed upon those who are listening to God’s word, to listen well. The liturgy of the Word is shared out for anyone who has ears to listen. But a relationship exists in this sharing out – speaking, listening, questioning, interpreting, inspiring, consoling. The homilist cannot speak without listeners to receive the Word. The congregation cannot fully attend without God’s Holy Spirit being fully present. A unity of purpose is formed through the filtering of this Word across the community. This is why the CATechesis group is so important – that we take time, more time, to consider what God is saying to us today. I would commend this weekly meeting to you, not that you are burdened to join each week, but it is an essential tool in tuning in to God’s will and purpose. (email me for further details).

God speaks when he shares his Word. The good news is that God’s story is one of hospitality, of welcome. When we attune ourselves to God’s story, wonderful things happen. We enter into a deeper relationship with the Word. We become a community shaped by joy and purpose. But this doesn’t come easily. You may have to struggle to attend to God’s Word. You may well have to fight distractions. You will need to find the space and time to listen well. If you are prepared to give of yourself in this way, be prepared to be changed.

The turning of the tide

At Candlemas, the tide turns. We are now invited to experience a new wave towards Jesus’ passion, his death and, ultimately, his resurrection.

One of the special features of a seaside holiday is getting hold of another type of bible – the times of the tide! The point is that we need to plan around high and low tides. We don’t want to go surfing in an outward tide and we do need to know the time of high tide so that we can build our fortified castle (yes, we still do this!) to battle against the incoming seas. The time of the tide becomes part of our daily rhythm, it governs what we do and when. The tide is our barometer, our measure, our guide. 

As we approach Candlemas this Sunday, I am reminded of the turning tide. We have witnessed the season of the incarnation, the birth of God among us and shared something of this revelation, in Epiphany, recognising who this Jesus is for us and for our world. At Candlemas, the tide turns. We are now invited to experience a new wave towards Jesus’ passion, his death and, ultimately, his resurrection. Candlemas is the hinge point, the fulcrum, when Jesus is seen as the light of the nations, the one who will bring peace and hope to the world. But this is bitter-sweet. The world, we discover, wants to fight the tide. It attempts to force the waters to stop. Building higher walls and dams, it refuses to allow the tide to flow. 

As we experience Candlemas this year, are we also able to look at this feast as the turning of the tide? Traditionally, the liturgy at the end of the Eucharist takes place at the font. We come to the waters of baptism where we are purified, where we die to the world and are re-born in Christ. These waters cannot be contained, leading us into the joy and festival of Easter! 
At Easter we recognise that no-one can ultimately divert God’s rule of peace and justice from advancing. Easter is the high tide mark but there is plenty of journeying to be done before that. We share the arid dryness of the wilderness. In Lent we build our own fortifications against all that attempts to drag us under and into the deep. 

We may well have endured great sadness and loss in recent months. We have lived in fear. Pray, then, that Candlemas will mark for you an opportunity to form a closer relationship with God in Jesus, the light of the nations. Pray that you will share, with God, your travails. Pray that you will receive new hope as we begin to see the light at the end of this pandemic. Pray that your tide will turn.

One of St Michael’s associate priests, Alyson Peberdy, recently celebrated her 73rd birthday by walking 73 miles in 9 days which, including GiftAid, raised over £2,000 for Oxford Welcomes Refugees. OxWR is a group of local people, including five from St Michaels Church, preparing to resettle a vulnerable family from a refugee camp through a government approved programme.

The group needs to raise at least £9,000 and find a house in Oxford to rent and equip. Then, during the family’s first year in Oxford the group will support them in every way possible in learning English, finding schools for the children, registering with a GP, seeking employment and so on. Anyone interested in trying it should email me A friend approaching her 90th birthday has just told me she is setting herself a 90 square crochet blanket challenge.’


Helping our hospitals at this challenging time
Support during the COVID-19 crisis can help make a real difference
to the NHS staff working across our hospitals and
the patients they are caring for at this difficult time.

Donations go towards:

  • a range of items including specialist medical equipment
  • care boxes and hampers for staff who are most affected 
  • care packs for patients, virtual music concerts  
  • phone chargers to help those on wards who feel isolated or bored, especially with visiting restricted.

To donate, go to:

Many people are asking deep questions of faith. “Come and See” is an invitation from our Bishops to local communities to take the first steps in exploring faith. So why not walk with us, as we walk with Jesus… and come and see.

Who is it for? Come and See is an invitation to everyone, for everyone. It’s for anyone who feels adrift in this pandemic, whether or not they know anything about the Christian faith. Click this link to register and find out more information:

An invitation from Bishop Steven to Come and See


The church is closed to public worship but open for private prayer.

More pink than punk

I remember when the punk movement emerged in 1977; I almost remember the day (if that is possible). A Sunday lunchtime documentary presented by Janet Street Porter reported on this new phenomenon which was hitting the streets of London. Punk was anarchistic. angry and iconoclastic. The movement inspired a very different ‘look.’ Clothes were torn, metal studs, chains and staples were de rigueur as was the preference for dyed hair, mohicans and body piercings of many varieties. This look was meant to shock and disturb, it was loud and uncompromising, it was rebellious. Continue reading “More pink than punk”