This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Show.

Saturday was a bit of a nerve stretch, wasn’t it? Well, it was for me! Liverpool eventually winning the FA Cup Final after penalties and then Eurovision – which, whatever you think of the songs – is strangely compulsive viewing! I was a bit shredded by bedtime. Congratulations to Sam Ryder.

But, I must confess: I’m more of a blues man, myself – the sort of stuff that’s fifty years old this week: The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. It’s the sort of album that grows on you.

But, the blues are wonderful because they take us beneath the veneer of happy superficiality and open up the depths of our experience. Not just the words, but the tunes slow us down and expose the pain of life, the torments that can’t be tidied up or easily resolved. The blues recognise, as one track on the album puts it, that we are Torn and Frayed.

This is why so many blues songs took their lead from the haunting poetry of the Hebrew Psalms – unafraid to ask hard questions, to complain about stuff that happens, to stop pretending. Never without hope, but always with great, yearning emotion, unafraid of emptiness and silence.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the idea of exile finds its way into the album title. Because what the blues give voice to is the sense we all get at some point that we are not at home, that we are in exile – speaking the language of a different country, longing for the home where we feel we belong. OK, this can be merely romantic – a sort of nostalgia for when the world seemed simpler or kinder or less complicated.

But, I think it’s what an old saint – Augustine – meant when he said of God: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Not a rest that exempts us from reality, but one that takes it seriously – that even in exile we can sing the songs of home and know that we belong. That circumstances might change, but we are never abandoned by the God whose love cannot be extinguished.

Or, to twist another lyric by the Stones on their Sticky Fingers album: “Wild horses couldn’t drag [him] away”.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2 (at the new earlier time of 07.15.

Do you know what it’s like to live on the edge?

Well, that question can be taken in more than one way – especially so early on a Monday morning.

I got back late last night from Switzerland. I went out last week to do some work in Germany, then grabbed a short break with my wife and friends in Basel. We also managed a couple of nights in their holiday house by a lake in Italy. In the course of a few days we were exposed to English, Italian, German and a bit of French in a market.

Crossing borders and operating in different languages is an everyday part of life on the European mainland, but, whenever I am there I realise how unusual it is for me. In one sense, this is living on the edge. Walk fifty metres and the language, architecture and mood changes. You constantly have to navigate strangeness and respect difference.

But, I guess that when most of us talk of “living on the edge”, we mean something else. It’s to live dangerously or with a bit of risk. It’s about the excitement of not quite being in control of events or people. It seems to me that even people who like an orderly or predictable routine also like the odd instance of edginess.

Yet, for many people today, living on the edge is not merely a bit of entertainment. Not knowing if you can put food on the table, pay the rent or heat the house for you and your children is not the sort of edginess anyone would welcome. So, what do we do?

I unashamedly follow a Jesus who constantly crossed borders to be where people actually stood. And he never seduced anyone to go with him – rather, he told them that if they walked with him – edgily – things might get rough and they might lose everything. But, he also made it clear that “loving my neighbour as myself” means living on the edge of my comfort in order actively to love those whose own edge is too sharp.

So, today that’s my challenge: living and loving on the edge of other people’s lives.

This is the basic text of a sermon I preached this morning in the Georgenkirche in Eisenach, Germany. This is the church where Johann Sebastian Bach was baptised and where Martin Luther preached. This service concluded a series of sermons over the last year or more – 67 in total. The service also saw the premiere of a Cantata by Uri Caine, commissioned as part of the Thüringer Bachwochen.

Ganz zu Beginn dieser Predigt lass mich euch mit einer kurzen Geschichte ermutigen!

Drei Männer wanderten in den Bergen. Sie kämpften sich ihren Weg durch die Bäume und versuchten, ihre Hütte vor dem Einbruch der Nacht zu erreichen. Plötzlich stießen sie auf einen reißenden Fluss. Das Wasser lief den Berg hinunter und die Männer hatten keine Ahnung, wie sie den Fluß überqueren sollten. Aber es gab keine Alternative – sie mussten unbedingt diesen Fluss überqueren, aber sie wussten nicht wie.

Der erste Mann betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“Pouff! Plötzlich wurden seine Arme größer; seine Brust erweiterte sich und seine Beine wurden stärker. Dann warf er sich in den Fluss hinein und schwamm auf das gegenüberliegende Ufer. Ein paar Mal ist er untergegangen und wäre fast ertrunken. Aber, endlich, ist es ihm gelungen, das Ufer zu erreichen, und er schleppte sich total erschöpft an Land.

Der zweite Mann beobachtete den ersten Mann und er betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft und die Mittel, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich wurden seine Arme größer; seine Brust erweiterte sich und seine Beine wurden stärker; und ein Kanu tauchte vor ihm auf. Er paddelte eine lange Stunde durch das Wasser und schließlich, total erschöpft und nachdem er zweimal gekentert war, schleppte er sich aus dem Wasser und auf das gegenüberliegende Ufer.

Der dritte Mann hatte die zwei Freunde beobachtet und er betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft, die Mittel… und die Intelligenz, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich verwandelte ihn Gott in eine Frau! Er schaute in seine Handtasche, holte eine Karte heraus, ging hundert Meter das Ufer entlang, und überquerte die Brücke.

Gebet kann uns überraschen. Im Gebet beschäftigen wir uns nicht nur mit Gott, der unser Vater im Himmel ist, sondern wir setzen uns – unsere Weltanschauung, unsere Art zu sehen, zu denken und zu handeln – dem prüfenden Licht von Gottes Wesen und Willen aus. Wenn wir durch das Beten nicht verändert werden, dann, wahrscheinlich, beten wir nicht.

Vor dieser Herausforderung stehe ich, wenn wir jeden Tag im House of Lords mit Gebet anfangen. Den Geschäften der Regierung und der nationalen Gesetzgeber gehen mehrere Gebete voraus, beginnend mit dem Vaterunser – keine leere Wiederholung vertrauter Worte, sondern eine bewusste Öffnung für Gottes Art, die Welt und die Agenda vor uns zu sehen. Es ist mir immer sehr unangenehm. Es sollte uns allen unangenehm sein, wenn wir unsere Debatten an Gottes Gedanken messen. Wessen Reich sollte kommen? Wessen Wille soll auf Erden geschehen … und nach wessen Kriterien? Im Bezug auf die Lieferung von Waffen nach Ukraine, zum Beispiel? Oder Maßnahmen, die die demokratischen Freiheiten der britischen Bevölkerung einschränken?

Beten ist zu keiner Zeit einfach – tatsächlich genauso komplex wie eine menschliche Beziehung. Wenn ich wissen möchte, was meine Frau denkt, kann ich das nicht einfach tun, indem ich ihr gelegentlich sage, was ich von ihr will. Gemeinsam müssen wir ein Gespräch pflegen, das sich im Laufe der Zeit ändert, wenn wir in Liebe und Hingabe wachsen. Im Laufe der Jahre verändert sich unser Gespräch. Wenn ich jetzt mit meiner Frau dasselbe Gespräch führe wie vor 45 Jahren, ist etwas schief gelaufen. Und so ist es mit dem Gebet. Die Beziehung wächst und die Sprache ändert sich.

Das Gebet schafft hinter den Augen eine Linse, durch die wir den Geist – den Sinn – Gottes allmählich klarer wahrnehmen können. Und dazu lädt Jesus seine Freunde ein, wenn sie ihn um Anleitung zum Beten bitten. Was Jesus in Lukas 11 und seiner längeren Form in Matthäus 6 anbietet, ist ein Manifest für sein Reich – das heißt, wie wir Gott, die Welt und einander im Licht von Gottes Blick sehen sollten. Deshalb muss uns das Gebet herausfordern, um uns zu transformieren. Und es gibt keine Abkürzungen zur Transformation.

Der Schlüssel liegt in den einleitenden Worten: „Vater! Dein Name wurde geheiligt“.

“Vater.” Die erste Erwähnung Gottes als Vater in den Heiligen Schriften erfolgt im Exodus, als der Pharao gebeten wird, die Israeliten zu befreien. Jesus verbindet Gott also bewusst mit Befreiung. Aber Befreiung erfordert die aktive Zustimmung derjenigen, die befreit werden sollen. Schließlich hätten sich die Israeliten dafür entscheiden können, in der Vertrautheit Ägyptens zu bleiben, anstatt es zu verlassen und das Risiko einzugehen, das Rote Meer zu überqueren.

Das Wort Vater ist aus dem aramäischen Abba übersetzt, was dieser Beziehung, die im Gebet wächst, ein Gefühl der Intimität verleiht. Aber darauf folgt sofort: „Dein Name werde geheiligt.“ Heilig. Getrennt. Intimität gefolgt von Ehrfurcht. Die Heiligkeit wird so angerufen, dass sie implizit meinen Mangel an Heiligkeit anerkennt … und daher die Notwendigkeit für den Rest des Gebets.

Ich habe mich oft gefragt, ob die Sprache der Anbetung und der Lieder der Kirche uns entweder Intimität oder Distanz bietet, aber nicht ein Gleichgewicht zwischen beidem. In England betont der Aufstieg charismatischer Anbetungslieder die Intimität und verliert manchmal das Element der Ehrfurcht, das unseren Mund verschließt und uns, wie Jesaja, in Schweigen lässt. (Bestimmt hat Johann Sebastian Bach das verstanden – genauso wie bei der Kantate heute, wenn die Musik und die Worte uns zum Schweigen bringen.) Dennoch sprechen viele traditionelle Hymnen von Wahrheiten über Gott und bieten wenig Raum für Emotionen. Jesus bringt beides in seinem Gebet zusammen: Gott ist unser Vater, aber er ist auch der Schöpfer des Universums und nicht nur mein bester Freund.

Das ist für mich in einem wunderbaren Lied des kanadischen Musikers Bruce Cockburn zusammengefasst. Die Worte sind in meinen bischöflichen Ring eingraviert – ein Zeichen meiner pastoralen Verantwortungen als Bischof: “Love that fires the sun keep me burning.” („Liebe, die die Sonne entzündet, hält mich am Brennen.“) Da haben wir es wieder: das Kosmische und das Intime in Liebe zusammengehalten.

Und hier kommen wir wieder auf die Herausforderung des Willens Gottes zurück. In meiner Diözese versuche ich immer wieder, Pfarrer/innen dazu zu bewegen, ihren Gemeinden beizubringen, die Worte des Vaterunsers richtig auszusprechen. Das heißt: Wenn ich durch Gottes Augen auf Gott, die Welt und mich/uns blicken soll, was könnte ich erwarten, in Bezug auf die Realität unserer gegenwärtigen Erfahrung zu sehen? Oder anders gefragt: Wenn Gottes Königreich kommen soll, wessen Königreich muss vertrieben werden? Denn die Betonung sollte auf dem Pronomen liegen: nicht „Dein Reich komme“, sondern „Dein Reich komme!“ – nicht die Herrschaft von Cäsar oder Putin oder die globalen Finanzsysteme oder die Märkte.

Und wenn Gottes Königreich hier und jetzt zu sehen wäre, wie würde es aussehen? Menschen würden satt, Sünden würden vergeben und Menschen würden nicht in Versuchung geführt. Hier würden wir die menschliche Gesellschaft sehen, die von gegenseitiger Liebe und Verantwortlichkeit geprägt ist. Tatsächlich bin ich der Hüter meines Bruders. Und ich kann von Gott das nicht erwarten, was ich denen, unter denen ich lebe, nicht anzubieten bereit bin.

Nun, dies befasst sich eindeutig nicht mit der Komplexität der menschlichen Ethik in einer komplexen Welt. Dieses Gebet beantwortet nicht jede Frage nach Werten und Gemeinschaftsverhalten. Es sagt uns nicht direkt, wie wir den Krieg in der Ukraine, den Krieg im Jemen, oder die Herausforderung der Einwanderung in Europa angehen sollen – noch nicht einmal die Folgen des Brexit. Aber es eröffnet uns die Möglichkeit, dass meine Vorurteile in Frage gestellt werden müssen. Metanoia – Buße – Veränderung.

Der Schlüssel steht wiederum am Anfang des Gebets: „Dein Name werde geheiligt.“ Für uns im Westen ist unser Name wie ein Etikett, ein Identifikator. Meine afrikanischen Freunde finden das lustig. Als wir in London lebten, hatte mein jüngster Sohn einen Freund, der Nigerianer war. Ich habe einmal den Fehler gemacht, ihn nach seinem vollen Namen zu fragen – wir kannten ihn nur als Temi. Er hatte ungefähr fünfzehn Namen, die ihm alle von Mitgliedern seiner Familie und der örtlichen Gemeinde gegeben wurden, als er noch ein Baby war. Und jeder Name sprach von dem, was sie in ihm sahen oder auf ihn hofften. Namen hatten eine Bedeutung, und die Person sollte dem Namen, der ihnen gegeben wurde, gerecht werden oder darin leben.

So ist es für das Volk Gottes in der Bibel. Wenn wir von Gottes Namen sprechen, erschließen wir seine Natur, seinen Charakter, wer Gott ist. Und das wirft natürlich die Frage auf: Was ist eigentlich Gottes Charakter? Die Antwort lautet: Lies die Heilige Schrift und schaue schließlich auf Jesus. Wir lesen also die Evangelien und sehen, wie Gott ist, wie sein Reich aussehen wird (Heilungen, Provokation der Verlierer, auf den Kopf gestellte Werte usw.). Und die Logik ist ganz einfach: Wenn Christen „in Christus“ sind, müssen sie wie Jesus aussehen … was uns den Charakter – den Namen – Gottes zeigt.

Wenn wir dieses Gebet beten, streben wir daher danach, verändert zu werden und zu Akteuren bei der Veränderung der Welt zu werden. In diesem Sinne sollten wir das Gebet Jesu wie folgt lesen:

Vater!

Geheiligt werde DEIN Name.

DEIN Reich komme.

Gib uns UNSER täglich Brot Tag für Tag

Und vergib UNS UNSERE Sünden;

denn auch WIR vergeben JEDEM, der an UNS schuldig wird.

Und so weiter.

Dieses Gebet vereint Christen auf der ganzen Welt und zu allen Zeiten – auch wenn uns so viele andere Dinge trennen. Dieses Gebet ist nicht unser Besitz – es gehört Jesu – auf Englisch: the Lord’s Prayer. Aber wir sind eingeladen, mitzumachen – mit Zuversicht und Demut, in Anbetung und Hingabe.

Aber wie die Männer, die zu Beginn dieser Predigt in den Bergen wandern, müssen wir offen sein für die Kraft, die Werkzeuge und die überraschende Weisheit Gottes, wenn wir gemeinsam durch eine komplizierte Welt navigieren wollen.

This is the text of the sermon broadcast from Leeds Minster this morning on BBC1 television.

John 20:1-18

It was early and it was dark. And a woman stands weeping in a cemetery.

Her name is Mary of Magdala, but it could easily be Natasha of Kharkiv or Lyudmilla of Bucha or Magda of Mariupol. Standing in the ruins of a life and community, ruptured by violence and fear, is – tragically – not a rare experience in the world in which we live. ‘Normality’ has been torn apart and an anticipated future looks shredded in the dirt of destruction. Just watch the television and this fearful horror is everywhere in Ukraine and Syria and Yemen.

And women – it usually is women – stand weeping in the ruins of the world.

If we have the imagination to put ourselves – even slightly – into the skin of those women, we might glimpse just briefly and inadequately what it means to lose everything and fear what might lie around the corner. Violence terrorises and always seems to win in a world in which might is propagated as right and virtues such as humility, integrity and love are seen as feeble.

But, this Easter Day offers to shine a different light into this darkness. And this woman, Mary Magdalene, stands alone for now, bereft, but about to embark on a hitherto unimagined and unimaginable journey. Resurrection is the start, not the end.

One of the funniest books I have read recently is Jonas Jonasson’s Anders the Hitman and the Meaning of It All. One character printed a shedload of Bibles, but, having fallen out with the Christians, added a line after the final verse of the final book of the New Testament: Revelation. He added: “And they all lived happily ever after”, thus, of course, rendering the Bibles useless.

Because the characters involved with Jesus of Nazareth knew there was nothing romantic or fanciful about their story. Here there was no comforting ‘happily ever after’ fantasy. They had put their hopes into the wandering Galilean who had helped them to see God, the world and themselves through different eyes. They had followed him, staked everything on him, and now they have watched it all bleed into the dirt of Calvary – a world ended in violence and injustice. And they might be next.

No wonder, then, that the discovery of an empty tomb didn’t provoke joy or excitement. It simply added to the fear and bewilderment, the horror and the loss.

So, what changes everything? After all, the men had simply gone home to what was familiar and relatively safe. But, the woman – this woman – stays and weeps. Helpless. No agency. No hope.

What changes is a question and the sound of her name. The risen Jesus doesn’t present her with an explanation; rather, he asks why she is weeping and for whom she is looking. Blinded by grief, she then hears her name spoken amid the dereliction within and around her. “Mary.”

Answers to the uncertainties and horrors of life cannot be reached before the questions have been asked of us: “For whom – for what – am I looking?” If our common life is all about the accumulation of security and stuff, then who am I when it is all stripped away … or buried in the street as the tanks withdraw and the reporters point their cameras? And who are we – collectively – when death and mortality place a large question mark over our society, our common life, our priorities, our way of living and being together? Pandemic – conflict – loss.

Easter Day should be fearful before it is joyful. Resurrection has to be met with facing the questions and hearing our name spoken quietly in the darkness.

Names matter. Mary discovers she is known. Jesus’s recognition of her matters more than her grasp of him. She might struggle to use his name; but, light shines when she knows that she is loved and known, right here in the darkness.

And the women of Bucha and Mariupol? It is so important that the names of the lost and abused people of Ukraine are remembered and spoken and not forgotten – even among the ruins of their homes. While states fuel the violence and missiles destroy cities, the quiet defiance of hope – of resurrection, even – dare to suggest that death, violence and destruction will not have the final word. Death might be everywhere; but, the quiet whisper of our name means that the journey has not finished – the destination has not yet been reached. This is the love that will not let us go – that compels us to challenge any social order that kills and demeans and diminishes any people. Racism, antisemitism, imposed poverty, industries that enslave and drugs that steal people’s souls, politics that prioritise ideology over people and sacrifice truth on the altar of power.

We can generously offer that same resurrection hope that surprised and bewildered Mary in the garden on the first Easter Day … when we enable bereft people to hear the whisper of their name, knowing they are known and loved and held – by God and by us.

Indeed, Christian faith is no fantasy. But, it proclaims quietly that we need not be driven by fear, but can be drawn by hope. In our search for light and love, for a future through and beyond the now. And in our commitment to those who fear their name has been forgotten.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2 on the day they announced that September will see Radio 2 Live in Leeds.

Did you know that today is National Read a Roadmap Day? No? Nor did I. Who dreams up these things?

I use satnav all the time, but I do recognise that technology changes the way you see the world. If you look at a map – on paper – you know which way you’re facing and where you are in relation to other places; with satnav you just follow a line ‘forwards’.

When we had just moved to Leeds eight years ago I really struggled with the road system. The city centre loop means that you sometimes find you’re driving in the opposite direction to the one you think you should be on. So, you have to trust your screen or map and suspend your instincts. It’s not comfortable, but it works.

And, given one or two disorientating driving experiences here, I always hear the echo of some lines by Bruce Cockburn in a beautiful song called ‘Pacing the Cage’. He says: “Sometimes the best map will not guide you; you can’t see what’s round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places; sometimes the darkness is your friend.” Does that sound odd?

Well, none of us needs any lessons today about uncertainty or dark places, do we? Nearly five million people are on the move from just Ukraine. They have no idea what lies around the next corner, but are all too familiar with dark places … as they long for light and the warmth of love.

This is why refugees from war will arrive traumatised by experiences most of us can barely imagine. Yet, the darkness of loss can be illuminated by the light of love and mercy and friendship and hospitality. The Psalms of the Old Testament give frequent voice to the reality of terror and hope. As he approaches his probable execution in Jerusalem, Jesus knows that violence will not have the last word.

And just as many people here in Leeds are reaching out in compassion and mercy to individuals and families for whom the darkness is fearful, they shine a light that cannot be extinguished. Like the loop system, you get there in the end.

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

I remember hearing the late great Leonard Cohen explain how he delved into drugs and religion to alleviate his distress; but, he said, “joy kept breaking through.” I remembered this while watching a couple of videos from Ukraine this week.

One was a young woman in her coat and backpack, outside the railway station in Kyiv, playing the piano while the air raid sirens howl across the fearful city. The calm beauty of music defying the threat and the violence – music that, if silenced here by bombs, will be played somewhere else by someone else. The fragile but persistent beauty of music challenged the fear and threat in the air.

The second showed a group of soldiers playing instruments and dancing during a break from the grimness. The small crowd loved it – an interval of joy.

But, you might ask what’s the point? Is it defiance? Or sheer bloody mindedness? A gesture of order against a landscape of chaos?

Well, I’m not sure it really matters. What they do in these simple acts is point us through or beyond the immediate to a barely imaginable future. They light a fire that cannot be extinguished. They are gestures of hope. When things are closing in, they open us up – like a flower opening to the light of the sun which keeps burning anyway.

And there is a long tradition behind them. Three thousand years ago a prophet called Jeremiah was about to be sent off into exile with his people. Military defeat had led to loss and humiliation for a people who thought God had been on their side and couldn’t now understand the abandonment they felt. And, as loss dominated everything – as life seemed to be ending – Jeremiah bought a field. Pointless – the exile in Babylon might last for decades or, even, centuries? Stupid? Misguided by fantasy? Or brutally realistic and hopeful?

Jeremiah had no illusions about suffering, but he was also able to imagine a different future. I guess many of his friends – if he had any by then – thought he was deluded or making a pointless gesture. But, he was drawn by a vision of God and life that saw beyond the immediate, convinced that endings never end – that out of the trauma and out of the destruction new life will come. So, he buys a field that someone else might one day cultivate to feed a community or start an economy.

Jeremiah refused to let violence have the last word. So do the Ukrainian soldiers and the young pianist. In this sense, hope has a melody and life has a rhythm that makes us dance.

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

They say that radio wins over television because the pictures are better. Indeed, words can open up the imagination in ways that a photo or video cannot. But, some images leave me speechless.

I remember going into the cathedral in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a few years after it had been restored for its original purpose after decades of Soviet iconoclasm. It was the icons that moved me. Icons are meant to be looked through and not looked at. A glimpse is not enough; you have to stay with it, look deeply and go beyond superficial significance.

So, it is appropriately shocking that one icon doing the rounds at the moment has Mary Magdalene holding a Javelin missile launcher – an image not of comfort or piety, but a juxtaposition of redemption and violence. Mary Magdalene is the friend of Jesus who – as legend has it, at least – lived a morally questionable life who found new life, new hope, new identity and a new belonging in the company of the wandering Galilaean. Having found peace, here she holds a weapon of war.

It is right that this should shock. Anodyne statements about peace evaporate when an image confronts me with the moral dilemma facing so many people today: what place violence finds in shaping peace – and how redemption can involve such terror.

Two things come to mind. One is a line by the novelist Francis Spufford who wrote: “Some people ask what kind of religion it is that chooses an instrument of torture for its symbol, as if the cross on churches must represent some kind of endorsement.The answer is: one that takes the existence of suffering seriously.” In other words, even if we have become inured by familiarity to the offence of the cross as an image, it stands amid the smoke of destroyed lives and landscapes as a recognition of violent reality; but, this cross holds a man whose arms are open to the world as it is, offering a redemption that sees beyond the violence to a future in which love wins through. No romance; just brutal reality.

The second thing it evokes for me are the words of President Zelensky when he said at his inauguration: “I don’t want my pictures in your offices, for the President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait.Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.”

So, I am left haunted by two images, two icons: redemptive suffering … and the eyes of my children and grandchildren as I help shape the world they will inherit.

This is the text of an article, commissioned and written early this morning, and published in the Yorkshire Post just now.

The Ukrainian national anthem begins: “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom”.

This might sound a bit hollow as we digest the news that war has returned to Europe and Ukraine is being invaded by the Russian bear from next door. Ukrainians have vowed to defend their country, to shed their blood if they have to, and to defend their identity as well as their territory. Vladimir Putin will learn that simply declaring a state to be invalid or ‘fake’ does not render it so.

Ukrainians are no strangers to conflict or sacrifice. This is a land which saw millions killed under the jackboot of a dictator who, to echo Putin’s line, had no greater obligation than to “defend the security interests of our own people”. Of course, the false pretexts of Hitler were no more convincing then than are the pretexts of the Russian dictator today.

Yet, his false prospectus, built on lies, fabrication and propaganda/disinformation, has been trailed for more than two decades. In contrast with many leaders in the West, Putin took a long term view decades ago and has strategically worked up to today. Conceived in shame (at the meek collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991) and born in ruthlessness, his imperial drive has been observed by Russia-watchers with increasing concern, but little action. The West has watched, sometimes colluded, often ignored what was before our eyes.

A small cameo: I recently met the Russian ambassador in a couple of meetings in the House of Lords. It was obvious that he was subject to a different reality from the rest of us. Watching the humiliation of Putin’s security council as they had, one at a time, to stand and unequivocally agree with him, it became clear that the behaviours displayed in the film The Death of Stalin are not merely satirical. They certainly aren’t funny.

There are many tragedies at play here. One is that, contrary to the words used by our own Prime Minister just a few days ago, Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was never to come as a “shock” to anyone. You don’t move half your military to the border of a neighbouring country without intent. Threats to apply sanctions against Putin’s people and his economy do not stand up as powerful when the memory of twenty million dead in the Second World War is kept alive every day. Sacrifice flows through Russian veins like an oligarch’s money through London. This invasion is not a shock and politicians should not pretend it is.

A second tragedy is that Ukraine stands alone. The country is not in NATO, so cannot invoke the obligation of NATO partners to defend each other militarily. So, as President Zelensky has made absolutely clear in his recent dignified and powerful speeches, defending his people and country with words and sanctions will not save the lives of the people who will soon be too dead to defend. We are watching with our own eyes what we thought had been consigned to bloody history in the 1930s when Hitler used similar language and pretexts to occupy other countries; think Poland and the Sudetenland for starters.

History never repeats itself, but echoes can be felt for generations. Think of the children of Ukraine and the conflicts of the future that are being born in them today.

So, what to do while western governments think about stopping individuals from shopping in London or New York or Paris – or banking processes are curtailed, causing an as yet unknown impact on the world and its markets (which ultimately means ‘ordinary people’s lives’)? What to do while Putin sheds blood in a country that is not his and knows that Ukraine will not be defended militarily by its wordy neighbours?

Two things come to mind. First, we must put pressure on our own government to defend Ukraine and shut off completely the wholly immoral flood of corrupt money that flows through London. And that includes money paid to political parties here “by people registered to vote”. It has been evident for more than two decades that economic sanctions alone will not move Vladimir Putin.

Secondly, we can join with those in Ukraine itself in praying with and for those standing alone in fear and suffering an indescribable fate. I am not stupid: some people will describe prayer as pointless wordiness that achieves nothing. Well, prayer is not just about bringing our fears and hopes and dreads and concerns to God, but it is also about learning to look through the eyes of God who loves justice, condemns lying and misrepresentation, and abhors the violence of the powerful. (If you don’t believe me, read the book.) Prayer changes us before it changes anything else. Common prayer shuts us up, opens us up, reframes our priorities and calls us to a practical solidarity with those who suffer.

Christians across Europe – including in the Anglican community in Kyiv itself – will be joining in prayer on Tuesday at 18.00 GMT and this will be streamed.

These are dangerous times. The invasion, though not remotely surprising, is evil. “Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom.” But, the suffering is real.

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, following publication of Sue Gray’s update on her investigation into alleged gatherings on Government premises during covid restrictions.

Publication of Sue Gray’s report yesterday poses questions for all of us. Put bluntly, what sort of society do we want to be? And what role should leadership play in shaping such a society?

These are tough questions that can’t just be addressed in the abstract. However, any answers must be built around a moral framework that delimits what is acceptable and what is not. Any living community in which competing values and convictions play for priority will have to agree on some moral parameters – what the late Jonathan Sacks used to refer to as “the moral limits of power”.

Around 3,000 years ago the Hebrew Proverbs asserted that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – not the fear of terror, but what we might term ‘awe’ and ‘ultimate respect’. Such fear assumes a reference point beyond me and my interests; it takes responsibility for the consequences of decisions made and priorities set. And I think this applies not only to individuals like me, but also to whole societies which must choose whom they worship – that is, to whom or what they give ultimate value. Pragmatic reflex is not enough.

And there’s the rub. Character is shaped by the habits of a lifetime and must always be held against some commonly-owned measure of what society claims to believe about truth, love and justice … if you like, what we wish to teach our children about how to live well.

I was thinking about this on Sunday when celebrating Candlemas in two parishes in Yorkshire. Candlemas marks the transition from Christmas and Epiphany towards Lent and Easter. Christmas offers us the mystery of God coming among us in the vulnerability of a baby; but, we move on in the story to the child who grows up, makes choices, and ends up on the gallows.

The remarkable thing is that this child, Jesus, never wavered, even when the cost of leading others towards a radical change of life led, in the end, to his own death. Choices, consequences, costs. The victory of power is a sham.

The Christian story speaks of forgiveness for failure; but, it also speaks of repentance and change. Not for reasons of pragmatic convenience, but because ethics matter for both individuals and society together.

We live in challenging times on many fronts. The question to be faced is: what sort of a society do we wish to be?

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, guest-edited by footballer Raheem Sterling on themes of education and social mobility.

The American poet Robert Frost wrote: “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” I know what he means. I remember turning 40 and realising that my life was probably half way through; today my elder son is 40 and I look back with amazement at what has happened, what choices we all made, what experiences we shared, what relationships we forged.

Frankly, I think we did a good job: despite being born in Cheltenham and living around the country, he has always been a passionate Liverpool fan. What more could I want?

Well, quite a lot actually. To go back to Robert Frost, I remember looking at a baby and realising the responsibility asleep in my arms. And the uncertainty about what might lie ahead of him – not just in the choices we and he would make as he grew up, but also what might happen in the world that couldn’t be controlled but would shape or constrain those choices.

While celebrating Christmas over the last few days I was conscious of the fact that the baby of Bethlehem grew up into an argumentative boy who clearly learned by debating and questioning. The boy grew into the man who learned his trade before hitting the political arena and eventually getting nailed to a cross.

Growing up – and letting our own children grow up – is a nerve wracking business. We can’t control what will happen to the children we love. We do our best … and face our failures … recognising that this is a pattern they might also one day repeat. But, if uncertainty is the name of the game, then society has to give all children the best start, the best example, the best opportunity.

Which means what? Especially as no child can grow in isolation from other children, whatever their background.

Well, along with guest editor Raheem Sterling this morning, we might start with education and opportunity. The Germans have two words for it: ‘Erziehung’ has to do with nurture and learning, ‘Ausbildung’ is all about training for a skill. And both are valuable. Of course, at the heart of both lies a person – the roots of whom need to be watered by more than mere information or ‘knowledge’ – if they are to develop wisdom and character.

And this means enabling young minds to roam widely, dig deeply, face unwelcome challenges and hard questions. As Aristotle noted: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Or, as the Book of Proverbs puts it: “Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding.” (3:13)