Your donation helps keep the Cathedral open to God, open to all

No, I'd prefer to donate another time


Sermon: Eucharist 12th July 2015

Sunday 12th July 2015
Sung Eucharist
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29
Download Recording (MP3, 11.2M) Download

Today is a delight to welcome Edmund Katherine and Chloe as newly baptised. We along with their families and godparents promise to support and encourage them in their faith; that their lives may be shaped by God's love.

It is also a pleasure to be joined in worship today by Dame Sarah Goad and many of the Friends of Guildford Cathedral. In so many ways they bless us with wisdom and insight, which enrich our common life. They remind us of our commitment to worship in this beautiful place, and to the wider community in culture, commerce, culture and voluntary service. We rightly give thanks for all that - for faith, service and fellowship.

Our first reading reflects that vision of blessing - poured out on us by God as we become members of one family. It speaks of human life shaped by forgiveness and hope. Our second reading is far darker for it reveals the complexity of our human nature. And it seems as if the fate of all concerned hinges on the response to a dance.


Dancing is part of what makes us human: dance is embedded in our social customs. The couple's first dance at the wedding reception is as anticipated as the best-man's speech and the cutting of the cake.  Dance gives physical expression to human stories; we find identity and meaning in rhythm and movement; in the uninhibited delight of children or the trusting elegance of ballroom. 

Dance sustains conventions of gender, race and class, but also disrupts them.  'It is far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females' said The Times in 1816. This intimate embrace and rapidly whirling nature of the Waltz was shocking.  In 2013 the singer, Milly Cyrus sparked media outrage sparked by the singer Miley Cyrus 'twerking'.

Provocation, desire, dance and power are closely aligned:  Herodias' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests.


It's intriguing tale: the dance itself is a decisive moment.  A young woman captivates her audience. A weak ruler makes a rash promise. A jealous wife demands brutality.  Her daughter unleashes events beyond her control; Herod capitulates.

Herod's flash back reveals the frailty of human nature: our capacity to be seduced by power and popularity; to vent our hostility and jealously; to be consumed with desire or vanity. John had fearlessly spoken out against the chaos of Herod's personal life; his challenge to the double divorce and remarriage chimed with popular opinion, yet following arrest the king continued to listen to John, his holiness was both compelling and perplexing.

Herod is trying to make sense of Jesus on the basis of what he knew about John - he authoritative, charismatic, prophetic. In speaking truthfully about human nature and God forgiveness,  John pointed people to Jesus; he prepared the way for us to hear Jesus' message by inviting us to turn back to God.  The key question for Mark is 'who is Jesus?'.  All that we do today is a trusting response to that question: in prayer and song, in water and blessing, in bread and wine.

As we celebrate the baptisms of Katherine, Chloe and Edmund, we also recognise our human tendency to mess things up. Our desires get misdirected; we wound or undermine others; we selfishly pursue what we want. That's what we mean by sin: it's reflected in broken relationships.  God's response is to love us - not just a little bit, but abundantly. He longs to bless, forgive, restore. That is the meaning of our salvation - to be brought back into right relationship with God and each other.

In the water of baptism we experience God's 'yes' to us. In Christ we are cleansed, refreshed and renewed. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God is with us - taking on our human nature and meeting us where we are. All all that Jesus said and did, in teaching and healing, in his suffering and death, reveals that there is no where where God is not.  Sin is defeated. Death is not the final word. In Jesus' risen life we find forgiveness and peace.  

Therefore, we praise God, the source of life and love, because he has 'blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing'.  We are God's children. He has adopted us. The language of Ephesians is full of hope. It reminds us of who God created us to be. God blesses us - with wisdom, insight, hope and glory. God is generous in forgiving; and lavish in the gifts he gives us. In Christ, the fullness of God dwells with us; at the end of time God will gather all things in his love; here and now God's Spirit gives us glimpse of that reality.

But what does that look like? Very often we think that holiness is a bit dull; a bit too otherworldly.  Yet it when we encounter it, it is irresistible. When we are met with kindness and understanding; when we are encouraged or forgiven; when we see resilience in the face of adversity; in pursuit of justice and the common good. In human lives, we glimpse holiness.

Holiness is more than 'rule book' or merely hoping we will 'do the right thing'. Holiness, within the fellowship of the church, is a matter of practising - just like a dancer.

She rehearses choreography until it looks effortless; muscle memory means her movement is instinctive.  An experienced dancer readily adapts to new rhythms and melodies.

We are called to practice the dance of faith. To be so rooted in God in worship, that our lives echo his holiness; to know the story of God's love and improvise on it in our daily life.  To learn pray as our year 6's did last week: saying thanks, please and sorry.  That dance is compelling, beautiful and inclusive - full of forgiveness and joy, patience and self-control, day by day. We do this strengthened by God's Spirit. We do this for the sake of God's world.

Today, we like Edmund, Chloe and Katherine are surrounded by a community of encouragement. We share gifts with one another - of music and hospitality, or administration and pastoral care. We draw near to the altar to receive communion; to receive God's blessing. Here, we encounter Christ. We are his people, shaped by the Spirit, living lives that reflect God's love. Dance then, wherever you may be; follow the Lord of the dance, in a dance of love.