This is the text of my presidential address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod this morning.

There’s really not a lot to talk about at the moment, is there? The world is at peace, all is well with the UK economy, politics are predictable and boring, challenges are few, and, apart from England losing the footie and winning the cricket, nothing much changes.

Well, I know many people who wish it were so (apart from the football, that is). But, you’d have to live each day with your head deep in the sand, if you think that all is well. I only have to mention Ukraine and Russia, Afghanistan, the energy crisis, food banks, poverty, hungry children and families, the rising cost of living, questionable public ethics, and we know all is not well with the world. To add to the burden, the island of Ireland is worried about renewed tensions fuelled by political division and the unilateral breaking of international law; parliamentary sovereignty is being replaced by increasing moves toward executive sovereignty (decision by ministerial fiat); we export refugees to Rwanda, denying them human rights under the rule of law at a very basic level.

And the Church – bishops in particular – comes under the cosh of certain political and media interests for daring to have something to say.

I have thought a lot about this. Partly because I get communications that tell me to keep out of politics (despite sitting in Parliament and, therefore, holding particular – and sometimes uncomfortable – responsibilities). It’s also partly because I often think I might be wrong. It’s mainly because I would actually like a quiet life away from the constant storm of criticism, fire and fury, nastiness and debate.

But, there are two fundamental complicating problems here: the Bible and Christian vocation.

I keep having to explain to critics that politics is about people and the right ordering of society. This raises questions, then, about how we judge what a good society should look like … and why. It is not enough merely to assume this without questioning the moral basis of any particular political order and social arrangement. Politics involves creating spaces in which competing judgements about the values and ethics underlying social order and political commitment can be articulated and debated, with passion and seriousness. It can never simply be a power game; it involves and affects people’s lives and communities.

And this is where the Bible comes in. Some of the foundational texts from which our western democracies have derived their legitimacy and development – especially the particular settlement in the United Kingdom – are rooted in certain judgments and commitments. Notions of human rights and the rule of law did not drop from heaven and are not self-evidently right. If we claim that human beings matter and have value, or that truth and justice matter, we have to ask on what basis we make that claim. For Christians it is that every human being is made in the image of God. The creation narratives of the Old Testament lead into explorations of what it then means for human beings to live together. Notions of justice come into place, but the idea of justice itself is not self-evident or merely arbitrary.

The Old Testament tells a developing story of how particular communities took their vocation under God seriously and struggled to create social orders that enshrined justice and equity and generosity and mercy and love. I haven’t time to flesh this out here, but would be happy to do so elsewhere.

The point, therefore, is that to claim a separation between faith and politics is to do violence to what it means to be human in the first place. The moral basis of any political claims must be subject to scrutiny; otherwise, they must be suspect – assertions of power that are potentially so weak they cannot be challenged in the cold light of day. (Charges that the bishops who publicly oppose the exporting of refugees to Rwanda have no alternatives to propose – the windbag theory – are downright lazy and inaccurate. I invite those politicians and journalists to read the many contributions by Lords Spiritual to House of Lords debates on, for example, the Nationality & Borders Bill. Specious mantras don’t help further serious debate of important matters.)

It is not just bishops, though. No Christian can avoid the political implications of biblical ethics. And some of us cannot avoid – except for reasons of cowardice – articulating in the public square the political implications of ethical judgments derived from a serious reading of our foundational texts, the Bible. Compartmentalising faith and real life (including our responsibility for the right ordering of society according to justifiable ethical values) is not an option. Were it so, then we would not have a statue of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the west front of Westminster Abbey and Archbishop Desmond Tutu would be an historically irrelevant nuisance.

This, then, is the context for the work we do today as a synod – literally, bringing together people – in our case, Anglican Christians – with differing perspectives and commitments and experiences in order that together we scrabble our way towards discerning the mind of God for the part of the world we live in. Our particular question, then, is: how do we, as the Diocese of Leeds, so shape our vocation and resources in such a way as to be consistent with our unique vocation? But, the dynamic has to be clear: we help shape the church and diocese in order that church and diocese help shape the world around us. The church is not the end; the end is the kingdom of God and, at every level, its claims on the world in which we live.

So, today we have an opportunity to consider the diocese’s annual report and accounts. These tell a story (or stories). Not everyone gets excited by words and numbers, but the important thing is to ask what these tell us about our common life, our priorities, our values and our real Christian convictions. Reports cannot always tell the vivid stories of how our organisation – the Diocese of Leeds – fulfils the vocation of the Church of England in this part of Yorkshire, but they summarise our commitments and pose the higher-level question of how faithful we are being in responding to that vocation.

Today we will spend time looking at what we are calling ‘Church Support and Deployment’. This represents a process that began before the pandemic, but which the pandemic and its fallout has expedited: what resources can we expect to deploy (money, people, buildings, etc.) in the future that enable us to fulfil our particular vocation as the Church of England in our part of the country? Like political commitments, this necessarily involves competing choices. Where we invest our limited resources is not always obvious; so, we need to understand the options available to us as we shape the future. But, what must be clear is this: if we do not shape the future, we will simply become victims of other factors, events or decisions … and that is not a healthy way to live.

As you know, the Archbishop of York recently led a process aimed at identifying and articulating a renewed vision for the Church of England. Those involved came up with a framing around three words: simpler, humbler, bolder. (I prefer Loving Living Learning, but you can’t win them all!) These words compel us to face up to who and how we are – for what and for whom we exist in the first place. So, as we continue to emerge from the irruption of a pandemic over the last couple of years, we try to simplify our mission, humbly address our challenges, and boldly embrace our opportunities for the sake of the Gospel.

This always hits me with particular force when each year I come to ordain new deacons and priests. They must make the Declaration of Assent and swear oaths. At the heart of the Declaration lies this claim and charge: “The Church … professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called to proclaim afresh in each generation.” Easy to say, but harder to reimagine in the heat of the day. But, the task of doing so much pushes us back into ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’. And at the heart of the main vocation of the Church is worship – principally the Eucharist.

Which, of course, gets rooted in another of our agenda items today: Communion and the Common Cup. Whatever our churchmanship or liturgical preferences, it still remains the case that the only ‘service’ Jesus commanded us to celebrate is the Eucharist. This is where we strip everything back and remind ourselves – re-tell the story, if you like – of who God is, what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, that we come with empty hands to receive the gifts of God’s grace afresh … together, as one body, broken-but-healed, unashamed of the wound marks that accompany resurrection, conscious anew of our need and God’s abundance. Here – in spoken word and simple sacramental action – we recover our story and renew our commitment to take out the life of Christ, in our very bodies that have been fortified by bread and wine, to those among whom we live.

Whatever else we discuss around the mechanics of this, we must not lose sight of its purpose and essence.

So, we pray that God will bless our deliberations together today. Pray also for the bishops of the Anglican Communion as we prepare to meet in Canterbury next month for the Lambeth Conference. Thank God for our own Bradford being named City of Culture for 2025, recognising that culture is about people, collective vision and practice, ritual and celebration, the arts that explore and colour our common life. Book tickets for the array of events at the Bradford Literature Festival at the end of this month. Pray for those being ordained deacon and priest in the next few weeks, and for the parishes they will serve.

Above all, as we face the challenges and opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel afresh in this generation, let us strive – joyfully and generously – to be faithful to God’s call to us at this time and in this place.

This is the basic text of the various sermons preached in Ripon, Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield at civic services for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee over the last weekend.

Did you notice the words in the reading from Proverbs 8: wisdom; understanding; prudence; intelligence; noble things; right; truth; righteous; and so on?

Virtue matters. Still. Knowing our need of grace and wisdom is a mark of strength, not of weakness.*

Legendary guitarist and musician Jimi Hendrix famously said “knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”. Hermann Hesse, in his Siddharta, observed that wisdom cannot be imparted; he wrote: “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” Wisdom, then, has to with virtue and character, honed through experience and offered to those who listen and watch and learn and grow.

Today we celebrate how a young woman, surprised by events, face to face with mortality, accepted the role thrust upon her by circumstance and history. She is also the woman who, because of her awareness of her need to learn wisdom, grew in it over seven decades of commitment. Wisdom grows out of facing whatever the world throws at us – navigating the torments as well as enjoying the blessings of plane sailing.

The monarch whose platinum jubilee we mark today is the Princess Elizabeth who, on her twenty first birthday in 1947, made a speech in which she said this: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Yet, she could have no more idea than anyone else what might lie ahead for her.

It is a remarkable statement of personal commitment. But, it is more than a mere noble sentiment.

Having emerged from the Second World War and the devastation it wrought across the world – over 50 million people dead – the divisions between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies were already evident. Peace was not a given and there was little certainty about what the future might hold for an exhausted people. So, Princess Elizabeth’s commitment was made in ignorance of any political or economic developments that might occur.

In other words, she was ready to face whatever the world threw up, and to do so with one single aim: to serve not herself or her own interests, but, rather, her people and their best interests. This was not naïve; it was rooted in a clear understanding of virtue.

Of course, the years that followed saw considerable change and challenge. Just think of the creation of the Welfare State and the National Health Service – rooted in a radical vision of mutuality (for rebuilding a nation and state) which should never cease to draw admiration and never be taken for granted. Yet, this was also the beginning of the end of the British Empire (which she refers to in her statement); the intensification of the Cold War; the development of the nuclear threat (remember Mutual Assured Destruction – a nightmare with which many of us grew up as children or young people?); the swinging sixties, pop culture, drugs, American cultural hegemony; the eventual end of the Cold War, the growth of the European Union, and the hubris attached to the ‘monopolar world’ – the so-called New World Order; the optimism of the new millennium, and the rise of neoliberalism, followed swiftly by 9/11 and its response: invasions, war, the decline in public trust of institutions, regime change, terrorism, and so on; the digital revolution and its impact on communications, economics and politics; and then Brexit, the rise of the Far Right in Europe, a global pandemic, and challenges to the norms of public life and discourse. Afghanistan, Ukraine and the mass migration of humanity across the globe.

And I bet none of that was in the mind of the young princess when she made her personal commitment to service.

So, her accession to the throne in 1952, ahead of her coronation in June 1953, was not a predictable outworking of a series of convenient events that culminated in some fairytale “happy ever after” dream. Personal trauma, the shock of a different life irrupting into the stability of an emerging world. What matters is that, although not in control of events, her commitment to service proved through time and circumstance to be the leitmotif, the strong guiding hand that steered her and steeled her, come what may.

It seems to me that this is pertinent to us in our own lives as we navigate ever-changing circumstances and pressures. Through the Covid pandemic we have learned – rather rudely in some cases – that we are not in control of everything; that life can change in an instant; that “anything can happen”; that we are mortal and we all shall die; that we need to sort out what holds, roots and steers us through whatever the particular circumstances of our crazy world and our lives.

The Queen has been explicit about what this means for her – never fearing mortality or contingency. This is what she said in a broadcast following her coronation on 2 June 1953:

“When I spoke to you last, at Christmas, I asked you all, whatever your religion, to pray for me on the day of my Coronation – to pray that God would give me wisdom and strength to carry out the promises that I should then be making. Throughout this memorable day I have been uplifted and sustained by the knowledge that your thoughts and prayers were with me. I have been aware all the time that my peoples, spread far and wide throughout every continent and ocean in the world, were united to support me in the task to which I have now been dedicated with such solemnity.”

Note the passive tense there and what it suggests about dedication being mutual.

There is a slight irony with this. Until the then Bishop of Bradford set off the abdication crisis on 1 December 1936 with a narky dig at the uncrowned King’s lack of awareness of spiritual need, Elizabeth was set for a very different life as the niece of the monarch. Edward VIII’s abdication changed everything. And Elizabeth knew from the beginning God’s wisdom and strength and the support of disparate peoples. Humility is strength.

And it is this faith that has sustained her during the seven decades that she has reigned in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

Again, in 1992 in the wake of her children’s marital breakdowns and various scandals, she spoke openly of her ‘Annus Horribilis’, commenting that it was “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” But, she thanked those who had prayed for her and her family, referring to those “whose prayers – fervent, I hope, but not too frequent – have sustained me through all these years.”

At Christmas 2014 she boldly stated that “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.”

In her Christmas address of 2016 she was even more explicit about her personal faith: “Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me to see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”

At the covid-restricted inauguration of the General Synod in November 2021, the Queen was represented by Prince Edward who read her address. Commenting on the more than fifty years since she and her husband had attended the very first General Synod, she said this: “None of us can slow the passage of time; and while we often focus on all that has changed in the intervening years, much remains unchanged, including the Gospel of Christ and his teachings. The list of tasks facing that first General Synod may sound familiar to many of you — Christian education, Christian unity, the better distribution of the ordained ministry. … But one stands out supreme: ‘To bring the people of this country to the knowledge and the love of God.’“

Which brings us back to the point. From before her accession to the throne she knew her need of God, God’s grace and wisdom; of the support of those in her domain, especially by their prayers; of the need for humility in leadership; for love in the exercise of power. As the world has changed around her – for the better in the end of colonialism and Empire, for the worse in increasing conflict following the war that was supposed to end all wars – she has not moved from the central convictions and rooted humility that has sustained her for more than seventy years.

So, as we celebrate this remarkable and unprecedented – and probably never to be repeated milestone, we can rightly give thanks for her faith and witness, for her commitment to democracy and the rule of law, for her discipline and selfless service, for her resilience and humour, for her courage and constancy, for her character, virtue and dignity, for her love of God and world.

Joshua set out into the unknown territory of Canaan, confident only in the promise that he would never be forsaken. His people grew a culture of wisdom, hewn out of the rocks of change and adversity, of suffering and hope – learning through centuries that wisdom matters and that service must always be rooted in humility and faith.

Here in Yorkshire, whatever life throws at us or in our way – personally, socially, politically, economically, and so on – we, too, can be grasped in our imagination by an example of character and service that shines a light on how a good life can be lived.

May God bless and save the Queen.


* In several of the five occasions I added observations about (a) Paddington Bear being about how an outsider/immigrant teaches Brits how to be better examples of civility and generosity, but is upstaged this time by the Queen; and (b) how in the House of Lords, when the Queen does her Speech, she sits before the three legs of parliamentary democracy (the Executive, the Legislation and the Judiciary) who do their work in the name of Her Majesty … and she does her work ”in the name of God”. While doing this, she looks up to see the statues of the barons of Magna Carta … and there you have the UK constitutional arrangement in a single chamber. However, the conventions that hold that arrangement are fragile and depend on trust, integrity, consistency and wisdom.

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:


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.