Monday, 25 April 2011

The acute discomfort of proclaiming the Resurrection - An Easter Sunday meditation

MP3

So here we are together once more on an Easter morn - a day that, for many people, remains utterly puzzling. To many others it is, of course, a day whose central theme is simply errant nonsense. It might be tempting to think that there was a time when such scepticism did not exists but this is not so and we must not forget that this was always the case. In Luke we read that, when told by Joanna and the two Marys of the empty tomb, even the apostles felt the "story appeared . . . as nonsense and they would not believe" (Luke 24:11). And, in Acts - also written by Luke, when Paul addresses the wise men of the Athenian Council at the Areopagus by telling them of the "raising of the dead" - i.e. of Jesus - we hear that some of them scoffed and said "We will hear you on this subject some other time" (Acts 17:32).

There were, of course, many good reasons why the philosophers of Athens and even Jesus disciples dismissed the Resurrection claim as nonsense and, today, given the way the world shows up to us, there are clearly even more.

However, I have to say that year after year I continue to find myself compelled towards taking the Resurrection claims seriously - especially as they are given to us by Paul - and publicly to declare their truth because I believe, along with Alain Badiou (himself a professed non-believer in Christian metaphysics), that it is possible "to draw upon [Paul's letters] freely, without devotion or repulsion" (Alain Badiou, St. Paul: The Foundations of Universalism, Stamford University Press 2003 p. 1) in order to help us shape a wholly new, creative, abundant and unsuperstitious way-of-being in the world.

But it has to be said that it remains unbelievably hard to proclaim that you take the Resurrection claims seriously and many of my liberal, scientific minded friends and acquaintances have said, and no doubt will continue to say, "But, come on, really, how can you?!" But I do even though it's a burden and a scandal to me and others.

A few years ago I would have responded very quickly to my friends' incredulity by saying, "Ah, but that depends on what you think the resurrection was" and I would have then gone on to say things like "the Resurrection was/is just spiritual"  or that the Resurrection is "a simply metaphor for such and such" - usually new life (Spring). In this view the spiritual truth to which Easter's metaphor points need not be attached to the Resurrection stories. I would have said these things because I felt lying behind the story was a graspable, provable, empirical, historic and scientific truth, namely, that Jesus the man was executed and was buried and that that, was that. Only a fool would lay claim to the truth of the Resurrection in any other way than this. I cannot deny that I continue to feel the full force of this position even as I feel the ever-present tug of another way of way of being-in-the-world, namely an Easter way. But this thought comes too soon in my address for I cannot yet *show* you what I mean.

During a life spent in one kind of ecumenical encounter or another I have noticed, oddly, that something similar goes on in more conservative, literalist circles. There, of course, the claim that the Resurrection was "just spiritual" or "a metaphor for such and such" is rejected roundly but, like liberals, it is believed that behind the stories (or better in this context, in *front* of the Biblical witnesses who are telling the stories) there is also a provable, empirical, graspable historic and scientific truth. Not, of course, that Jesus was dead and buried and that was that, but that he was truly and physically resurrected.

The particular point I want you to see here is that both liberal and conservative approaches feel there is an accessible empirical truth "out there" in the world to which they believe the Biblical writers pointed, either metaphorically or literally, and that this truth is capable of being grasped by us as sure knowledge.

This last point should alert us to the fact that both these approaches are ways of *mastering* the world through the acquisition, ownership of some kind of factum, that is to say hard knowledge. This also means that both are approaches to life which place their adherents at some considerable distance from the world. First of all there is you, the subject, then there is the object of knowledge somewhere out there in the world then, finally, there is you seeking and then grasping (owning) that object of knowledge which, in turn, gives you *the* truth. If at any point you feel you have failed (or are told you have failed) properly to grasp this object of knowledge then you do not have the truth and you are less than the full human you could be. So, if you do not (cannot) fully grasp scientific paradigm a, b, or c then you are fundamentally deluded and wrong about the world; if you do not (cannot) fully grasp the religious paradigm x, y, or z then you are also fundamentally deluded and wrong about the world. And, in both cases, there are plenty of experts and institutions about who are prepared to tell you how wrong or right you are.

As I say this I want to make it absolutely clear that there remains, of course, a real place for genuine empirical knowledge and for the need for genuine scientific or other technical experts in teasing out and handling it. There are more than a few in this congregation today in fields ranging from biology to nuclear physics, from mathematics to civil engineering, from history to philosophy and I wouldn't dream of claiming any expertise in these disciplines. Many of these subjects are beyond my grasp.

But in today's context - in this church at Easter - we are concerned with something other than empirical knowledge, namely, how to begin living a full and abundant life which is not about having a certain kind of mastery of certain kinds of empirical knowledge but rather, to cite the final verse of our reading today, so that we may have a sense of how "God may be all in all" (I Cor 15:28). In other words we are here to help us to create, embody and live out a universally accessible, radically egalitarian way of being-in-the-world in which all human-kind can be brought together as sons and daughters of God and in which we discover ourselves all to be "God's fellow workers . . . God's field, God's building" (I Corinthians 3:9). Here we are seeking a new life in which heaven has come down to earth and which has raised earth up to heaven; which has given divine life to the human and human life to the divine.

I hope it is clear that in this new way of being-in-the-world there can be no place for the mastery of one person over another for here even God is now seen to be with us sharing our joys and our suffering, our life and our death - even death upon a cross - and also, therefore, the Resurrection. The Resurrection is a new paradigm in which old knowledge is not precisely lost, but seen under a new light.

When Paul talks about the Resurrection it cannot - by definition *must* not - be understood as an *object* of empirical knowledge - some kind of analysable, studyable, knowable *thing*. No, Paul wants to speak of a world that cannot be mastered by us - i.e. owned, described, ordered, packaged and sold as truth or, and this amounts to the same thing, untruth. It is surely significant that in Paul's letters and in the Resurrection narratives found in the Gospels we are never shown the resurrection itself and we only ever hear about its affect upon people.

You see the Resurrection is not an 'it', a 'thing', but an *event* to be lived and experienced which, whenever we find can declare it to be true, at once it releases an energy which throws us into a completely new way of being-in-the-world - in this case a way of being which suddenly frees us from the old logics of mastery and which opens up before us the very possibility of the kind of truly egalitarian world which we saw embodied most clearly in the person of Jesus.

To declare and then to live out of this Resurrection *event* is, as Alain Badiou brilliantly sees, to be made a son or daughter of the event. We are sons and daughters of a radically new, reborn way of being-in-the-world.

But this way of being-in-the-world mustn't mistake itself as being some kind of third, alternative, way of mastery (as Christianity has often made it) because for it to remain powerful (in its own terms) it must remain, as Paul says elsewhere in I Corinthians, radically foolish and weak. Why, because it cannot be seen as proof of anything  - even Christianity as we have known it for centuries - because when the Resurrection *is* understood as a proof of anything we are immediately taken back into the realms of discourse that are about mastering some thing, some idea or someone. Our way of talking - of declaring the Resurrection - must, therefore, come from nowhere and must speak of nothing but itself and its nothing - i.e. the declaration of the truth of its nothing, its 'no-thing' - is what must remain central in our lives. For the Resurrection to be true - true in the fashion that Heidegger uses the word to mean an "unconcealment" - the Resurrection has to be understood as a pure *event* made visible (unconcealed) only by the individuals in community who embody it by living out of that way of foolishness and weakness which challenges the countless dysfunction and damaging ways humans continue to try to master, themselves, each other and the world.

But remember - and never, never forget - you cannot learn to swim without getting in the water and you *have* to do that and you have to do it despite all your fears, doubts and misgivings. As with swimming, so too with the Resurrection. One way by which you throw yourself into the Easter way of being-in-the-world is publicly to declare, as I have every Easter of my life, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" I have never found this easy to proclaim - I agonise about it every year not least of all because this proclamation has continually been hijacked by groups who want to use it as proof of their own particular form of religion, their own mastery of the world, of me and of others.

But I remain compelled to proclaim it because it is the only way I have found to enter into the radically egalitarian society that we call the kingdom of heaven which knows no separation between God and us (cf above I Cor. 15:28 and also John 17:20-23) and, as Paul also said, knows no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female' (Gal. 3:28) and, I would add, no separation between theist and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain or Zoroastrian. And that's why I'll conclude today, after a deep breath, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Palm Sunday - betraying Jesus at the grand clearance sale of neoliberalism

Reading: Mark 11:1-11. (NB - there is no MP3 this week as I forgot to turn it on. Sorry about that.)

Today, Palm Sunday, is when we remember Jesus' entry into the city of Jerusalem where he is welcomed by cheering and, apparently, supportive crowds. As we know this welcome and support lasted but a very short time and, when the time for real support came, the members of that same crowd were nowhere to be found. Today I want to pull together the themes from my previous two addresses (here and here) given on this day.

Sermons given today will often concentrate upon our own betrayals of Jesus and his programme. These betrayals are generally seen as being either of practical import, i.e. betrayals of the social and political message of Christianity or of metaphysical import, i.e. the failure to bear personal public witness to Jesus as Lord, Saviour or Messiah (Christ). Within Christian thought these two are, of course, intimately connected but, although the latter question still concerns me it is the former, the betrayal of the social gospel of Christianity, that I have tended to stress in my own preaching and I'll do so again today. On this matter at least I follow Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) who said: 'The ideal of the Kingdom of God is not identified with any special social theory. It means justice, freedom, fraternity, labour, joy. Let each social system and movement show us what it can contribute, and we will weigh its claims' (The Social Principles of Jesus, Ch. 5).

To help us today both to weigh the claims of our own present social system, namely neo-liberalism, (see also this link) and to highlight a particular difficulty that we face which wasn't present to our forebears I want to begin with an observation I made a couple of years ago which is that, when placed before the name Jesus, the word 'betraying' can be understood either verbally or adjectivally. Verbally, of course, it relates to the crowd, the disciples and us, i.e. we who are actively betraying Jesus. But I also pointed out that, adjectivally, it can speak of Jesus himself. The question I posed myself was where would it lead if I were to think about him for a while as a 'betraying Jesus' - Jesus the betrayer?

It is clear that for many members of his own faith - especially the Temple authorities in Jerusalem - Jesus' understanding of in what consisted true religion was a betrayal of a tradition which, it was believed, stretched back to the creation of the world itself. To them it would have seemed as if Jesus was seeking nothing less than to overturn the divine and fixed order of things. It is no surprise that it seems some of them became involved in the arrest, trial and eventual execution of Jesus.

In the wider Roman political sphere - though here too, of course, religion was always present - it seems likely that the authorities felt something similar because if Jesus were allowed to continue to preach his message of the kingdom of God (over and against the authority of the divine Emperor) it was possible to imagine the overturning things far more substantial than a few money changers' tables in the temple - indeed, the authority and ultimate stability of the Roman Empire may, itself, have been at stake. It is no surprise that they, too, acted to forestall that possibility.

But the story of Palm Sunday doesn't only concern what the religious or political authorities thought about Jesus' teachings and acts. It also concerns, and perhaps more importantly, what the wider population thought - the crowds. As is often the case the Monty Python team in "The Life of Brian" pointed brilliantly to some of the dark ambiguities of this latter matter. In this case I refer to Scene Nine when, during a rant against the Romans, Reg (played by John Cleese) asks the assembled members of the People's Front of Judea: "What have the Romans ever done for us?" I'm sure you remember the replies: well the aqueduct, sanitation, roads. Reg responds: "Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads . . ." The replies continue to come: irrigation, medicine, education, wine, baths, safety in the streets. Reg, exasperated says: "All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?" Do you recall the final reply? It was the startling "Brought peace?"



To many of your average first-century Joes and Josephines living in first-century Roman Palestine were Jesus left to continue his self-proclaimed mission he could seriously threaten the peace and stability they felt had been brought by Roman rule. OK, maybe things were at times a little tough and unfair under the Romans but let's not forget the sanitation, the medicine, education etc. . . Don't get me wrong, such things are important considerations and we kid ourselves when we try to ignore them but film points to the dark underlying truth that for most people then, as now, their own many material comforts and securities continually trump any ongoing desire to pursue truth and freedom and justice for all.

Anyway, it should be clear to us all that even a rotten, corrupt and dysfunctional system can still make a lot of people 'happy' a lot of the time and, in giving us, and people who we are taught to believe 'are like us', great personal comfort such a system can very effective at blinding us to the true levels of injustice that exists and which is a direct result of this same system.

In such circumstances, in first-century Palestine as today, the young and fearless prophet (and perhaps even some of us older and somewhat more timid prophets) who choose to say that things have to change are inevitably not going to be liked because it is clear that the kind change that would really better things for everybody is not only going to have a profound effect upon our own material comfort and security but will also radically disturb our internal belief that we are living in a basically good society that really doesn't need to change - except in very small ways every now and then.

So it was always hard to be a prophet but uttering such challenging words in our own neo-liberal system, which has for so long achieved a high levels of comfort and superficial stability for many in the West and North America, is going to face a profound problem that Jesus never had to face. For, when Jesus, his disciples and the early Christian communities acted the threat they posed the established order was genuinely felt by everyone to be real - to matter - and so this threat was clearly responded to and often violently. The early Christians knew they were a threat but they could also use the violence of the establishment's response to remind them they were justified in their actions and to encourage them to continue to protest. So, for example the author of 2 Thessalonians could say: 'This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering' (1:5). (To some extent we are seeing something similar occurring in North Africa at the moment).

But we who live in the heart of neo-liberalism find that our internal challenge to the patent injustices of our present system - and for me, despite my metaphysical disbelief, it remains a Christian challenge - this challenge is dealt with far more effectively and efficiently than did the Romans. Although today it appears we are given the freedom to protest against the system and openly to express our views and to get out our palm fronds or placards (a secular equivalent?) we find that, in truth, our protest groups are really simply given a lease on single retail unit in the huge shopping-mall of ideas and lifestyles that constitutes the neo-liberal system. The only course of action available to us in our little retail unit is to persuade passing customers to buy our wares rather than those on offer in the other shops along the mall. On our shelves we have on offer the key traditional wares of the Christian faith, namely the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, restraint or temperance, and courage or fortitude, and then the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love or charity. These virtues, when taken seriously, can only encourage in those who live by them a life of voluntary simplicity - the kind of life that is surely necessary in this age when we are facing dwindling natural resources and a potential ecological disaster. But what chance do have we to sell such wares when we find that neo-liberalism places us alongside other shops which are selling very different, sexy, exciting and, it has to be admitted, highly tempting lifestyle choices that not only often consume huge quantities of natural resources but which also rely upon sweatshop, even slave, labour?

We, in our little (Christian) retail unit, may be deeply committed to our 'goods' (the virtues) and the lifestyle they promote - indeed we are allowed, even encouraged to be so committed - but so, too, are the those in other retail units. The underlying logic of the neo-liberal game is, of course, not really anything to do with the various deeply held commitments of those in each retail unit but simply to keep the consumption up and to keep the capital flowing to ensure the success of the über-Mall and its owners. As James C. Edwards notes, shop-keepers and shoppers in this über-Mall (über-Mall is my coinage - I can't blame Edwards for that) are, indeed must be, left with:

'no intellectually respectable way to dismiss the disconcerting thought that other, and radically different, forms of life have just the same claim on some sacred ground as does ours; namely no such claim at all. Our 'highest values' compete with the 'highest values' of others on what is looked at philosophically, a perfectly level field of battle' (James C. Edwards, Plain Sense of Things p. 47).

You will remember that Kierkegaard saw all this coming and imagined all these different sets of values on sale together and he believed our culture had been busily putting on a "ein wirklicher Ausverkauf" - a real clearance sale. Edwards comments on this by saying:

'Prices have been cut to the bone. Crowds move through the market hall of European intellectual history, fingering the bargains displayed there. Yet the goods - [that is to say] the 'highest values' of European civilisation - are strangely slow to move. "Everything can be had at such a bargain price that it becomes a question of whether there is anyone who will make a bid" (Fear & Trembling). Why should anyone live or (more sharply) die for something that is, after all, only a value, only a structure of interpretation posited by some passing form of life?' (James C. Edwards, Plain Sense of Things p. 59-60).

And here we have the hard, hard question we must ask of ourselves today, right now on *this* Palm Sunday: 'why should anyone live or (more sharply) die for something that is, after all, only a value, only a structure of interpretation posited by some passing form of life?'

But a world of infinite lifestyle choices such as we are today being encouraged to buy into (dark pun intended) is not a just world at all - it is in fact a world which is committed to hiding injustice (so we are not disturbed during our days of consumption) and it is one which we find has devalued even our own highest goods and greatest virtues.

So, at the beginning of Holy Week, I leave you with a difficult question. What will persuade us to betray the unjust neo-liberal system we live in so that we do not betray the form of life Jesus envisioned two millennia ago, a life based on radical commitment to justice for all? As Cliff Reed wrote in his Palm Sunday prayer we used earlier today:

Where traffic thunders in the city streets,
Where people crowd and swirl in ceaseless busyness,
Can we still hear the sound of a donkey's hooves?
Can we still hear the echo of 'Hosanna!' cries?
How long ago that was, how far we seemed to have come
- and yet the players are still here,
with only the costumes changed.
The drama has not ended - the time is now
for us to choose our part.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mothering Sunday and Utopia

MP3

As most of you will be aware the local shops, almost without exception, have been announcing the imminent arrival of Mother’s Day but, as I hope most of you already know, today is in fact Mothering Sunday.

Mothering Sunday is always celebrated on the Fourth Sunday in Lent and was also known as Refreshment Sunday because on it the Lenten fast was temporarily broken and traditional Gospel reading for the day is the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand' (John 6:1–14). The service often ended with a distribution of blessed bread – which is why some German traditions called it 'Brotsonntag' - Bread Sunday. This year it coincides appropriately with our bring and share lunch. The epistle for the day is from Galatians (4:21–31) Like all the Biblical texts just read cold they can appear odd to us today but, with just a little thought, how they have influenced us can still be sensed:

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birthpangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married." Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? "Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman." So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.

This is the reading which provides the day with its central theme, namely, the Mother Church – i.e. in the early Catholic church the cathedral or mother church of the diocese. It was only later when, for various reasons, actual return visits to the Mother Church were discontinued and gifts began to be presented instead, that these gifts slowly came also to be offered to our human mothers - a move which, as long as we don't forget at the same time the value of supporting non-family communities, seems to me a good one.

Indeed, during the last couple of years I have concentrated on exploring this latter aspect of the day using the example of the mother mouse to talk about mother love being an emergent quality of nature. But today, especially since yesterday we had a church away-day exploring themes of community, I'm going to consider again the day's central motif - the Mother Church.

The first thing I would say is that most of us, if not all of us here today, became members of, or have chosen to attend, this church or religious tradition after leaving another behind – sometimes with a natural ease but often with some pain, distress and disappointment. Returning to, or regarding, such a church as our Mother Church would be neither pleasant nor spiritually rewarding. For all their beauty personally, as one born into the Church of England,  I cannot see myself going to Canterbury as a pilgrim travelling home. I could certainly go as an inquiring and curious individual and I would, no doubt, be able to delight in aspects of the history and worship of this place (I've never been) but I know it couldn't be for me my religious home or Mother Church.

I suppose for this church tradition our own earliest churches, in Poland and Transylvania, would be the closest equivalents to Canterbury because churches such as our own were born out of the Radical Reformation which occurred there. But many of Radical Reformers - in their desire to reveal a more universal belonging - tended to have a very different view of where the Mother Church could be found. Their ideas were certainly influenced by Jesus' teaching that the kingdom of God was to be found within or amongst us and it was one, the coming of which, could not be pointed to; you could not say of it 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' (Luke 17:21).

A key figure in development of their ideas was St Paul. He is much maligned in liberal circles, not least of all for his attitudes to women and the way his theology has been used by conservative Christians, but there is much about St Paul's way of being-in-the-world, that remains radical and worth considering even today. In relation to today's theme he believed that we should be careful to distinguish between the visible and clearly flawed *human* church and what he thought was the invisible perfect church of the *Spirit*. In the reading from Galatians we see this when Paul distinguishes between the 'present Jerusalem' and the 'Jerusalem above.' It is the latter, the 'Jerusalem above,' that is for St Paul the ultimate place of belonging and return – the place of true universal Mother Church.

This idea of a universal home, always important to those of mystical inclination, became very powerful amongst the radical reformers. The reason for this was very simple – people were killing each other over the question of which church was the visible expression of the true church. Was the True Church visible in Rome, Geneva or in Münster? We need not here rehearse the dreadful centuries of conflict that unfolded over this question. But, in the midst of these dreadful times a number of thinkers saw one way out of the impasse. One such was Sebastian Franck (1499-1542) who, in 1534, published his '280 Paradoxes or Wondrous Sayings.' His whole theology was based upon the idea of a true inner belonging that transcended time and space and this is summed up in a passage found in the preface to his book – and remember, astonishingly, that this was written in 1534!:

'The church is not a special group and sect, bound to element, time, person and place, to which one may point with one’s finger, but a spiritual, invisible body of all the members of Christ, born of God, and of one mind, spirit and faith. It is not at all outwardly gathered in one city or place, so that one could see or point to it. Yet, we must believe in it and we cannot see it in any other way except through the equally spiritual eyes of the soul an inward being. It is the gathering and communion of all truly godly, good new beings everywhere in the world, bound together by the Holy Spirit in the peace of God and the bond of love, outside of which there is no salvation, Christ, God, understanding of Scripture, Holy Spirit or gospel. In and with this [church] I am. I long for it in my spirit whenever it moves about, scattered among the heathen and the weeds, and I believe in this communion of saints. I am actually not able to point to I, but I am certain that I am in the church wherever I might be. Therefore, like Christ, I do not seek it either here or there. For I really do not know whose stones are in this building and whose kernels are in this field. God alone knows them. For this reason he ordered his angels only and not us to undertake the separating of the sheep from goats and weeds from wheat.'

Now, when I originally gave this address in Lent 2007 I went on to say:

'We have come to share with these radical thinkers the belief that one’s true home church can never be truly found in any physical place but only an transcendent, inner mystical place – The Mystical Heart, the New Jerusalem or the Kingdom of Heaven. This 'place' is genuinely accessible to all souls who live lives dedicate to the good, the true and the beautiful. The best visible home church one can hope for is a church that genuinely tries to enable each individual in through a life of prayer and devotion continually to access this Universal Church.'

I certainly hold absolutely to the utopian *spirit* of what I uttered four years ago but I have found that I, personally, no longer find compelling the idea that such a 'transcendent, inner mystical place' - a 'Jerusalem above' actually exists. In fact I don't think it does. But, and it is a very important but, I find myself increasingly compelled to say that this 'New Jerusalem' is found in what Ernst Bloch (whom I spoke about last week) called 'concrete utopias', i.e. those actual brief glimpses, and tiny concrete touches of the kind of world we know we could create and which we recognise in the countless acts of human wisdom and kindness and in our arts, musics and sciences. Utopia in this sense is real, if incomplete and not yet, BUT it is on our human maps of the world. As Oscar Wilde memorably said in his 1891 essay 'The Soul of Man under Socialism':

'A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of utopias.'

All this should serve to remind us - and here I return more or less to my original text - that no single earthly church can express the fullness of God/Divine. Indeed, in our own pluralistic age, liberal Christian churches such as ours are careful to insist that no single denomination, nor any single faith tradition, can truly express this fullness. All we can do, within the particular limits of our own confession, is to witness to its reality and to try, as best we are able, to make just a little of it visible in our world to ourselves and others.

So, if any of us is truly desirous today of making a pilgrimage to our true Mother Church then we have no choice but to support any community that seems to possess just one or two bricks of this Universal Church. Even the best of churches can only provide occasional glimpses of our true Mother Church and our task, especially on Mothering Sunday, is to recommit ourselves to making this a church which will help as many people as possible see beyond the 'present Jerusalem' with all its bitter factions and discord to the 'Jerusalem above' in which only love and justice holds sway. And this city is on our human map. Go and visit it.

Happy Mothering Sunday.