The Church as a Half-Finished Building: Second Sermon on St Paul’s Letters


Sermon preached by the Rt Revd Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, at our Confirmation Service on 16th July, on 1 Cor. 3.1-15. It is the second of our sermon series on Paul’s letters to the early Christian communities. Bishop Steven’s original title for the sermon is “Christian Nurture.”

Thank you for your welcome and it is very good to be with you this evening.

I spent this morning at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Aylesbury. I was invited many months ago to bless their new building project. The project ran into some problems and is only half finished. But they wanted me to bless it anyway and to baptise and confirm candidates just like this evening.

As part of blessing the Church I had to climb up ladders onto the roof. The builder gave me a screwdriver and I had to fix in two screws as my contribution to the building project. I did warn the congregation afterwards that most of my DIY projects end in failure.

Nobody planned it that way but it seemed to me a very good thing to bless a half finished building. It’s a very good picture of the Church. What are we if not a Church under construction: a half finished community made up of imperfect and half finished people.

Paul would have recognised the picture all too well. He was a founder and builder of churches. He preferred to take the gospel where no-one had been before him.

In Acts 18, we read that he came to Corinth, a sea port on the narrow strip of land joining mainland Greece to the Pelopponese. Corinth is a crossroads of the world. Paul preaches there and founds a church. There is persecution but he is able to hold on and stay in the city for 18 months.

Then Paul travels on his way. But the life of the Church has only just begun. All kinds of people have come together in this new Christian community. They have very little to guide them. Even the gospels have not yet been written down. There are travelling preachers, like Paul, coming through, but some of them say different things. Who are they to believe? They have a huge amount still to learn and understand. Like Christians everywhere, it doesn’t take long before they start to quarrel and fight among themselves.

The tiny church meets in houses all over the city. Before long those houses have divided into factions. Some of the elders get together. They write to Paul and ask him for help. What they want most of all is for him to come and visit them and set things write. But Paul can’t do that.

And so Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these two very beautiful and very honest and at times very painful letters. He is writing, remember, to a church under construction: a half finished, half formed community.

The Letter to the Romans is like a manifesto. It’s written to people Paul has never met and it sets out his gospel from beginning to end.

The Letters to the Corinthians are like a manual for the life of the Church. The letters deal with real every day problems. How do we deal with division? With immorality? With spiritual gifts? How should we worship together? What’s the right way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Is it right to get married? Should we eat food offered to idols? Who gets to speak in a Church meeting? How should we handle our money? What do we say to those who mock the resurrection of the dead?

1 Corinthians answers all of these questions and more. Along the way Paul sets out some clear and wise principles for the life of any Church. I want to look at some of them this evening (not from the passage chosen but a chapter or so later from 1 Corinthians 3).

1 Corinthians 3 is headed divisions in the Church and it is partly about that. But 1 Corinthians 3 is also central to what is happening in our midst this evening as these candidates come to be confirmed.

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul is trying to teach the Church in Corinth and every Church how to share our faith in Jesus Christ with those who want to know more. The Corinthians, like many of us, have become Christians in the recent past. They can remember what it is like not to have faith. But all too quickly they have forgotten what new Christians need if they are to come to faith and grow in faith.

Paul sets out to tell them and he does that by painting three beautiful and vivid word pictures to teach them how they are to be with younger sisters and brothers.

Every healthy church will have people who want to find out more about the church. If we are living as salt and light in the world and living out our faith, then people around us will be stirred up and want to know more.

What happens at that point is very, very important. Many churches, sadly, are really not very interested in helping enquirers and new Christians. There is very little teaching and special provision. People who enquire and ask questions in those churches don’t get very far. Very few people come to faith and in the end those churches decline.

Paul sets out a vision in 1 Corinthians 3 for every church to be a place where enquirers and new Christians find help. That vision is in these three pictures. I hope it’s a vision you can own as a Church this evening.

Each of the three pictures is very, very simple.

The first is a picture of parenting. Looking after new Christians, seeing them come to baptism, is like being a mum and dad.

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food and now you are still not ready.

Paul looks back to his own days with the Corinthians. He reminds them that when he was with them, he created a special diet for them: milk not solid food. He fed them carefully. They couldn’t take mature teaching and some of them still can’t.

It is one of the most common misunderstandings about the life of the church: that someone can learn the faith simply by coming to our normal services. They can’t. People may find it helpful to come to church. Coming to church may raise questions. But all of us at that point in our journey need special provision, milk not solid food, and lots and lots of patient love.

If we want to help enquirers come to faith, to make disciples and to grow the church we have to become like parents to those who are enquiring and want to know more.

The second picture is also very homely. It’s a picture of farming or gardening. It’s a picture taken from the field or the allotment. It’s a picture of partnership. Listen.

I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth. So neither is the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything but only God who gives the growth.

There is partnership first of all between Christians in this work. It’s not something we can do alone. We all have a part to play. Paul will go on to talk about the body in 1 Corinthians and the way we all have different gifts.

But even more there is a partnership between Christians and Almighty God in this work. It’s more than a human task and understaking. In every life represented here this evening, I guess people will be able to point to people who have been helpful. But in every life here this evening, I guess people will be able to point to moments when God was at work in deeper ways than anyone can understand for that is what God does.

This work of nurturing faith and brining people to baptism is the task of the whole church, it’s a partnership, like farming.

The third picture is the one I started with. For you are God’s field, God’s building says Paul.

Again it’s a picture of partnership. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation and someone else is building on it.

But there is even more going on that this. This time Paul is not just building with others. He is teaching the disciples how to build. The ones who build on the foundation here are not simply other teachers and ministers. They are the Christians themselves who take responsibility for their own Christian lives and for their growth to maturity. Together they are building the temple of the Holy Spirit, an enormous and beautiful building, a dwelling place for God.

We don’t build with God in the lives of others so they become dependent on us. We build people who grow to maturity, who are interdependent in the life of the Church, who become fellow builders with us of the kingdom of God.

These three pictures are unfolding before our very eyes this evening as these candidates come to baptism and confirmation.

As a church there are those who have helped them and parented them in faith. There are those who have sown the good seed of the gospel and watered it and seen it grow. There are those who are watching over them and teaching them how to build.

I hope this Church will be a place where many, many people find there way home to God. God said to Paul in Corinth according to Acts 18: “Do not be afraid but speak and do not be silent for I am with you…for there are many in this city who are my people”.

I pray you will set yourselves a vision to be a place where many find faith: where you are like parents; like farmers in partnership with God; a place where people build good and strong lives and that these candidates and many who come after them will be richly blessed.



Writing Home: Sermon Series on Paul’s Letters to the First Christian Communities

NOTE: Sermons from this series will be posted on the sermons page.



Confirmation Service, Sunday 16th July 2017, 6.30pm


Bishop Steven will be coming to our parish to preside at a joint Sung Eucharist with Confirmation service at St Mary and St John Church on Sunday 16th July 2017. We will gather for this joint service at 6.30pm in the evening, and so there will not be a 9.15am service at St Alban’s nor a 10.45am service at St Mary and St John that morning. There will, however, be an 8am Said Eucharist at St Mary and St John, as usual.

We will be joined by candidates and supporters from the neighbouring parish of Cowley St James. Bishop Steven will also preach the second sermon in our series exploring the nature and purpose of the church through St Paul’s letters to the first Christian communities.

Following the service, we will have a bring-and-share supper in the Richard Benson Hall next door. Do join us to witness and celebrate the step of faith which our candidates are taking, to go deeper into the life of God through Christ our Saviour and by the power of the Holy Spirit.


What to Do When We Hate Each Other: First Sermon on St Paul’s Letters

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Sermon Preached by Fr Phil on Romans 15.1-14, the first of a sermon series reflecting on the nature and purpose of the Church through St Paul’s letters to the first Christian communities


When Paul writes the letter to the Romans he is staying in Corinth, he is probably in his early 50s, he has already written a lot of letters. Paul, is turning his energy to a city which is the centre of a world super power. This isn’t Trump’s America, its Nero’s Rome and in many ways it’s a frightening place for Christians. Paul has always tried to focus on starting new communities of Christians in some of the big urban centres but here he is writing to a church which he didn’t found and which is not under his authority.

This is a letter which tries to explain a lot of complex stuff – justification, salvation, reconciliation, atonement, redemption, sanctification. A lot of people love it because it tackles these big theological issues. But the bit we chose to read this morning is all about everyday living, about living together in the midst of our difference.

In the Greco-Roman world letters were important. Just as we still struggle with e-mail etiquette, the Romans thought carefully about the form of letters. You can see the influence of Rhetoric in Roman letters, many having the structure or style of a speech, with an exhortation to get the attention, a statement of the facts, a proposition to be proved by a list of proofs and refutations and an epilogue summarizing the arguments. But letters were also about sustaining or deepening relationships. Christian letters drew on all this but they were also rooted in faith, they began and ended by invoking the blessing of God or of Christ. And although the writer often wrote from a position of authority he also recognised his equality with the Christian Brothers and sisters he is writing to.

Romans is an exciting letter NOT because it’s a timeless compendium of Christian teaching but because Paul writes into a maelstrom of difference and disagreement about what it means to be a Christian in a huge and important city which doesn’t really care either way about Christianity – sound familiar? A Church tearing itself apart in the midst of a huge and powerful non-Christian culture that isn’t interested – welcome to 21st century Britain, welcome to Romans.

In some ways Christianity maybe felt safer when it was still part of a Jewish religious world view, and still lived out in a place and a community where it had roots and from which it gained inspiration. But how does one live as Christians in Rome. in the diaspora – circumcision, Sabbath observance, food Laws – how do we live by these rules in a place which doesn’t understand them. And you might think, wow that must be what it is like for Muslims in East Oxford or for Hindus or Sikhs – having to live by religious rules others ignore or don’t understand, but increasingly this is our situation. Christians in a society which is confidently post Christian. And if you look at the church in Oxford – divided between Liberal, Catholic or Evangelical, fundamentally divided on the position of women in ministry, LGBT rights, Biblical inerrancy, the nature of conversion and of salvation, then you see a mirror image of what Paul saw when he wrote Romans. A tiny community which society as a whole didn’t really rate as important – many people had never heard of this new religion and it had all the down sides of being vulgarly nouveau. The Roman Christian community – if you could call it that – didn’t think lets work together, they thought instead – he’s in and he’s out.

The big division in Romans is between the Jewish and Gentile Church but there were also lots of other smaller divisions. In particular there was the division between what Paul refers to as the weak and the strong. The weak, mostly from the Jewish Christian community abstained from meet and wine and saw some days as more important than others. The Strong were meat eating, wine drinking all days are the same to me kind of people. Some think that Paul is merely re-running his argument at Corinth about whether Christians can eat meat that Pagans have sacrificed – Paul would see himself on the side of the gentile Christian community who felt they could eat most meat put in front of them.

This might seem a rather unimportant argument to be having and you might be wondering how relevant this is today. Well, firstly, we’re not sure this was the big division and most likely it was just different house churches arguing with each other about who was best but secondly, and more importantly, Paul is not about taking sides but about mutual flourishing. The point for Paul is that one group must not judge or belittle the other. God has welcomed both groups into Christ’s house. Paul wants people to live in harmony with one another but this does not mean a single solution to a problem but a single ‘mind set’. If we want to grow as a community following Christ we need renewal – this isn’t the avoidance of conflict at all costs but it is a focus on Christ not on our petty divisions.

In some ways the translation we heard lacks power. It says ‘We who are strong should put up with the failings of the weak’. A better translation is ‘the strong must support the weakness of the weak’. Weakness is not to be tolerated but rather supported and even celebrated. Weakness is not an added annoyance that we bear in order ‘to be nice’ it is the whole Gospel, revealed to us in Christ.

God welcomes Jews and Gentiles, those who abstain from meat and those who don’t – inclusion is doubly emphasised. We might say at this point that we can pat ourselves on the back – we are a church which has a particular desire to reach out to those in distress or need and we consider ourselves inclusive. But Paul seems to want to push us further: to be a community that not only acts inclusively in favour of the weak but which defines itself, in Christ as a community of the weak. That means putting the voice of the weak at the heart of community.

The real scandal of the Christian life is that it passes through, and has to pass through our relations with other human beings. The first properly Christian attitude when we arrive at church is not to turn inward focusing on ourselves and God (that comes later), the first thing is a kind of de-centration – a deliberate taking cognisance of others, recognising them as our brothers and sisters (Chauvet).

Why does the Church exist? To be the place where we meet Christ in each other no despite but because of our differences.

How can we ‘be’ the Church? By living with fundamental disagreements and deep divisions about religious practice in a way which still points to the love of God

What are we to ‘do’ as Church? Support the weak not because we are better than them but because the heart of the Gospel about weakness. Weakness, hope, perseverance and love.

Other people won’t receive the Church if we can’t ourselves; receive the community of the Church as Grace. And in looking for the heart of the church seek out those who fall short of your vision for this church, those who you dislike or disapprove of for whatever reason and find Christ in them. A renewed vision of church life based on Paul’s letter to the Romans is a call to be not passengers but participants, it is not just about what we believe but rather about how we live out that belief in our relationships with others. Not avoiding conflict but living together in love so that all can flourish in a Church which lives like Christ for the weak and those in need.

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Fr Phil's Weekly Message

Fr Phil’s Weekly Message: St Alban’s Patronal Festival and Trinity 2

SEE YOU ON SUNDAY FOR ST ALBAN’S PATRONAL FESTIVAL – 10AM Eucharist followed by fizz and nibbles!

This Sunday we celebrate the Patron Saint of our Church, St Alban. He is the first recorded Christian Martyr in England and as such a reminder that being Christian used to be a dangerous thing, and still is in some places. Alban was clearly passionate about his faith in a way which has inspired many others.

Over the summer we are going to have a series of sermons looking at Paul’s letters to the earliest Christian communities in the New Testament. These were often tiny communities of people who, like Alban, often lived in fear of their lives because of what they believed about Jesus Christ. The sermon series is called “Writing Home: Paul’s letters to the first Christian Communities”. I hope you will come and hear the sermons but we will also post them either on the website ( or on my blog page (

The dates are as follows: 9th July: Rome, 16th July Corinth, 23rd July, Galatia, 30th July Ephesus, (then a break for the Transfiguration and the Assumption), 20th August Philippi, 27th August Colossae, 3rd September Thesolonica. We’re having this sermon series to try to look at the answers these communities might give us to three questions: 1) Why does the Church exist? 2) What are we to ‘be’ as a Church? 3) What are we to ‘do’ as a Church?


First Sunday after Trinity: In the Midst of Tragedy What Does it Mean to be ‘Sent Out to Heal’


Preached by Fr Phil, written on the day we remember Jo Cox MP.

The news this weekend has been difficult to watch – how can we can best respond, best offer support, best understand what we can do?

But in today’s Gospel the disciples are sent out and the whole dynamic of the passage is a sending to heal, to proclaim the Kingdom of peace. And the first thing that strikes you sitting here in this church building that we come to every week on a Sunday is that Jesus sends the disciples out.

The Gospel today is a bit of an inbetweeny place, it spans chapters 9 and 10, but it is also the meeting place of two larger narrative tectonic plates in Matthews Gospel. We are in transition from Chapters 5 to 9 to the mission focused chapters 10 and 11. In the earlier block we have the sermon on the mount and Jesus healing and working miracles, in the later block the disciples are sent out to do the same; to teach and to heal.

Matthew has a very tidy mind, it’s a well organised Gospel. There is clarity here. But for the length of this mornings Gospel reading we are in transition, moving from one place to another, from receiving and learning to giving and acting.

The very first words of todays Gospel – chapter 9 verse 35, are almost exactly the same as the words of Chapter 4 verse 23, just a few lines before the beginning of the Sermon on the mount in chapter 5. It is a beautifully crafted thing – Matthew introduces Jesus the teacher and the miracle worker, Now he sends out the disciples to do the same things.

Throughout Matthew’s Gospel there is a sense that ‘knowing the story of Jesus’ is not enough, but that we, like the disciples are called to live it. We become disciples of Jesus not because of what we know but how we live out what we learn from Jesus. And we need to be able to make mistakes, to try things and get them wrong. We only really share the Gospel when one person embodies for another person the story of Christ.

To be honest I am not set on fire by todays Gospel, by this slightly editorial neatness of moving sensibly but steadily from the teaching to the sending, it all feels a bit organised – but what is dramatic or eye catching about it is that Matthew shows Jesus saying – Go out and get on with it, you are sent to heal and to teach.

For it is true to say that Jesus is the answer, the embodiment of the truth of God, but this is a truth which runs through the whole of God’s creation. God’s love is revealed in Jesus, but then we discover it is everywhere present in creation, in our living and loving.

In the next section of Matthew’s Gospel he will explain further what he wants them to do, to travel light, to tell people the kingdom has come near. Often our concern for the status of the church tempts us to employ desperate measures to ensure that the church remains socially significant or at least on people’s radar. But the church is not called to be significant or large, it is called to be apostolic – sent out! Indeed some have suggested that it might be the case that God is unburdening the church so that we can travel light again (see Hauerwas on Matthew).

The 12 disciples reflect the later Matthean community of the church but they also reflect us and our calling. Yesterday the national atmosphere, that potent mix of grief and anger, felt febrile, disturbing and unsettling. It is, I think right that as a nation we begin to ask questions about the closeness of multi-million pound houses to the poverty of some of the residents in North Kensington. But there is an anger about injustice which avoids some of the scape-goating of particular political figures on the Left or the Right.

The Queen this weekend called the National mood ‘very sombre’ but there are signs of hope in communities across the country. In our own community Monawar Hussein was honoured with an MBE, someone who has worked tirelessly for good community relations here especially between faith groups.

It seems to me strangely co-incidental that yesterday the nation celebrated Jo Cox – across the country, (and in our own community with Pat Green down at Tescos on the Cowley Road), people remembered that we had more in common, remembering Jo Cox’s great speech in which she said of her Batley and Spen constituency:

‘What surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’

Remember her speech supporting the Dubs amendment in which she said:

“Who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing? Children are being killed on their way to school, children as young as seven are being forcefully recruited to the frontline and one in three children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war. Those children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness, and I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole.

But what can we do? And how do we understand ourselves as sent?

It’s the very small things but this week this community purchased all the stuff for the parents bedroom of a family who have escaped war in Syria. This last Tuesday I was in the Benson hall after the Syrian Foodbank at 9.30pm as they broke fast. Food never tasted so good. Later this week I am going to meet with Jon at the porch to see how we can be more involved with helping the homeless here on the Cowley road especially next winter. Alice’s work creating the tea party for those with mental health issues and Bridget’s work setting up the dementia lunch. These are all signs of a community which recognises we have more in common than divides us.

Grief and anger still feels very close, the national mood is sombre, but today in our Gospel reading, we make the transition from receiving, receiving the message of the sermon on the mount and the healing and miracles that follow, to being sent, a call to action and to a new way of living.

(Originally posted at The Iron Church, the vicar’s blog)

Fr Phil's Weekly Message

Fr Phil’s Weekly Message: Corpus Christi and Trinity 1

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever.”

“To enjoy God is to take complacency and delight in him for being what he is, and doing what he does, loving what he loves, requiring what he requires: it is to rest in him, as the compleat and satisfactory Object of all our desires…”
Thomas Traherne

It seems to me that Corpus Christi, which we celebrated on Thursday at St Alban’s, is all about gazing on the wonder of God’s love for us revealed in the sacrament and wondering how it is that we can ‘rest in him, loving what he loves and requiring what he requires’.

The north Derbyshire superior of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield used to tell us that the sacrament, was “for eating, not for waving around”, but Corpus Christi has always involved a good deal of waving around and of prayerful contemplation of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament. And what we notice in this contemplation is that distance between us with all our contorted desires, broken promises, half baked plans and the peaceful, loving completeness of God represented in this sacramental bread. Rowan Williams in his wonderful book on Augustine says: “I know myself as an act of questioning, a lack and a search, perpetually unsatisfied in this life, yet not frustrated.” The wholeness we seek comes ultimately from God and we meet it gazing on the living bread that came down from heaven.

Fr Phil's Weekly Message

Fr Phil’s Weekly Message: Trinity Sunday

“A good that ‘transcends human flourishing’.”
How (Not) to be Secular, James K. A. Smith

“Humans possess an ineluctable natural destiny for the beatific vision.”
The Suspended Middle, John Millbank

‘Human flourishing’ has recently been a very popular concept, ranking alongside words like ‘mindfulness’ and ‘resilience’ as part of the key to successful human living. Trinity Sunday reminds us, slightly unfashionably, that to speak of God is to speak of goodness which is not only human but ultimately divine.

We live in an age which, in the West at least, is powerfully driven by the immanent rather than the transcendent. Jesus is seen as a good man who showed us how to flourish as humans, someone we can learn from about human living. On Trinity Sunday, we are offered a far larger vision, in which humanity is both part of God’s creation but also the recipients of God’s Grace.

Trinity Sunday has often been the time when brighter men and women than me have explained the complexities of the relationships between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But for now it seems enough to suggest that Trinity Sunday invites us to find the source of human flourishing in Divine Love. That we seek the source of the love we see in the God who loves us, who came to us in Jesus and who continually pours his Holy Spirit upon us.


Trinity Sunday 2017: Jesus’ Final Orders to his Disciples


Preached by Fr Phil Ritchie

The Gospel today is often referred to as The Great Commission and it is not a passage that I have ever felt drawn to! Maybe it’s my taste for drama but I have always preferred Marks final lines (before the later addition) which just say: They went away afraid and said nothing to anyone – Now that sounds like an event or the beginning of something worth investigating. By contrast Matthews ending reads like Conservative Party conferences of old or the cricket club AGM – well organised with all the controversy, the fear and the rage written out to avoid arguments. You get the feeling that Matthew felt Mark bungled the ending and he, Matthew, is sorting it out.

Jesus meets his disciples on a mountain – as he did earlier in the Gospel in his famous sermon. You have to hand it to Matthew, he gives us a bit of narrative tension, the disciples worship him – but some doubted. Maybe Matthew knew there was uncertainty, ambivalence, doubting in his own community? However, Jesus’ response is part enthronement hymn and part commissioning. Standing on the mountain before his worshipping disciples he tells them ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ and then that well-known commissioning ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

That’s the section where a community like ours often starts to feel squeamish – we don’t want to tread on anyone else’s toes, our faith is personal and even maybe private. A lot of us may feel more Mark than Matthew, and in fact, we might actively disapprove or dislike Matthean evangelists.

As part of my attempt to break out of my own cosy English bubble of ritualistic, social Justice orientated, evangelism phobic liberal Catholicism I have been reading Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven church – It is quite scary, kind of the Great commission on acid. But it is good on this passage. He points out that the Greek text of Matthew 28 – contains 3 present participative verbs: going, baptising and teaching. And that Baptism features so strongly in the passage because it symbolises one of the purposes of the church – fellowship, identification with the body of Christ. As Christians, we are called to belong not just to believe.

So on this Trinity Sunday I want to talk briefly about Going, about baptising and about teaching.

Going. Go therefore and make disciples. It’s a strange thing but I think it is actually true that we have become terrified of what this might actually mean for us, and that we have created this frightening binary opposition between Christians who help people and Christians who make disciples, we stay in the first and we leave those others to do the second. Often in rather disparaging way we say that they can convert them and then we pick them up when they want something a bit deeper or a bit more socially engaged. The great medieval mystic Meister Eckhardt says that even those who are given to a life of contemplation still cannot refrain from going out and taking an active part in life, those who are given to a life of contemplation and avoid activities deceive themselves and are on the wrong track. Contemplation and action are part of all our callings. And surely part of action is the business sof making disciples. Go, therefore…but how?

Jesus tells us to Baptise people. Our translation of that sometimes seems to miss the point. I have baptised a small number of people at the font at the back of church, not many of those people are still here. But maybe we need to back up a little to look at what it means to re-imagine what Baptism is. That in Baptism we become one with Christ in his death and resurrection, that by this grafting into Christ we become part of the divine dance of God as Father Son and Holy Spirit. That Baptism is both an invitation to live in the mystery of God’s love and also an invitation to not only be a new creation but to live a new kind of life. When we live that life we become a beacon for a different kind of living. The ‘Go, therefore’ bit becomes easy. The problem is we have made too much of the faith about learning how to behave, as if what we told people about the Christian life was just what they can and can’t do. Herbert McCabe writes:

“Ethics is entirely concerned with doing what you want, that is to say with being free. Most of the difficulties arise from the difficulty of recognising what we want”.

To journey ever closer to living through Christ in the dance of the Trinity teaches us true freedom – it reminds us of what we most deeply desire.

Go, Baptise, teach. If we thought Going to make disciples was bad, and Baptising a bit of a tall order, then teaching is in another league! And our fear is, like with the ethics, that it will be rule bound, that it won’t be about freedom, that it will pen us in. For me this is partly because in a society obsessed by immanence we are terrified of speaking about transcendence. One American writer has spoken of the process of ‘immanentization’ in our society. Basically what he means is that we have ditched any notion of the transcendent – of a God out there. There is the material world, the natural world, and humans in charge of it trying to flourish. This secular world view has also taken over sections of the church with a singular focus on the incarnation, on the good man Jesus with an associated fear of the otherness of the supernatural, of a God who exists outside of creation.

Mark Vernon in his lovely little book about Love says it comes in three movements: First we love ourselves, but this is just a preparation for realising that there is another in the world whom we might trust to love and be loved by too. Romantic love tries to tell us that love ends there in that second stage, that love is fulfilled in the one who loves us back. But there is a third kind f love which brings with it the possibility of sharing in circles of love, family, friends, community – and the more subtle capacity to stand back and reflect on life and love itself. But a few pages later he goes on to talk about a fourth shift, an awakening to the transcendent. He ends by saying:

‘It seems as if a final barrier has been dissolved. The most basic truth in life is not that we yearn for more when clumsily we love, though we do, but that the constant unclouded love of God yearns for us. The revelation is summed up in the formula: God is love.

Go, Baptise, teach this simple truth, this is the heart of the great commission, the love that is revealed to us in the mystery of the Trinity.


Vacancy: Caretaker for Richard Benson Hall


The parish of Cowley St John, Oxford seeks to appoint a part-time caretaker for one of our church halls (Richard Benson Hall). 6 hours a week minimum with flexibility. Salary: £10/hour.

Click here to download the full job description (PDF)

Application by CV and covering letter to the parish administrator:

Closing Date: Monday, 26th June 2017
Interview Date: Wednesday, 5th July 2017