Sermon for Mattins on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, 18th March 2018
Exodus 24:3-8, Hebrews 12:18-29

‘Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ‘judgments’. A little bit of Bible study to begin with. Our lessons today are one of those ‘that was then: this is how it is now’ contrasts. Moses had received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai from God, and they were the basis, the terms and conditions, of the covenant, the contract, the solemn agreement, between God and his chosen people.

Do these things, and I will protect you. So, [Exodus 20.3] Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. … for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. And so on.

But then there are the ‘judgments’. If you think of a contract – one of those things that you pretend to read when you get something on the Net from Apple or Microsoft, or when you rent a car – then maybe the way to look at the ‘judgments’ in the Book of Exodus is, if the 10 Commandments are the terms, the Judgments, sometimes called the Ordinances, are the conditions, the small print.

They are fascinating reading. You’ll find them in the chapters after the 10 Commandments, so in Exodus 21, 22 and 23. There are all sorts of practical rules for civilised life. Try this from Exodus 22:

25 If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.
26 If thou at all take thy neighbour’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down:
27 For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

Don’t charge extortionate interest on loans – just like Archbishop Justin said against payday lenders, Wonga et al. If you take someone’s coat as surety for a loan, give it back at the end of the day, because it is his clothing. He needs it to keep warm. Practical stuff. It’s where ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ comes, in the previous chapter, Exodus 21. You remember, only an eye, for an eye – retribution, punishment, must be proportionate. The punishment must fit the crime.

All that came from a conversation between God and Moses, God speaking to Moses after there had been a commotion on the top of the mountain:

18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

In the Old Testament, mere mortals, except for the priests, or rather the prophets like Moses and Elijah, couldn’t see God, couldn’t be in the presence of God, and survive.

That was then. And then, Jesus came. The picture of heaven, of God’s kingdom, changed. It’s still true that, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, ‘ …our God is a consuming fire’. But in general it is a positive, glorious vision. The original covenant has been carried out, has been performed, and the heavenly kingdom awaits. Jesus said [Matt.5:17] ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.’

In the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is ‘the mediator of a new covenant, whose sprinkled blood has better things to tell than the blood of Abel.’ [Hebrews 12:24, NEB] Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve, had a tragic history. Abel was killed by his brother, who was jealous of him. He denied it – ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ in Genesis 4. Abel’s blood was shed pointlessly. The contrast is with Jesus’ death, his blood shed on the cross, and the idea that by suffering in this way, Jesus had brought the human race back into a right relationship with God. We say, ‘he died for our sins’ – but it’s not obvious what that really means.

The writer to the Hebrews puts it in terms of our receiving an eternal, imperishable benefit, a ‘kingdom which cannot be moved’, as against ‘blackness, and darkness, and tempest’ which Moses found on Mount Sinai. Now, the faithful have come not to Mount Sinai, but to [Hebrews 12:22]
‘ …mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect..’

OK. So that’s a little discussion of how our Bible readings work today. The context, the church context, is that we are nearly at the end of the period of reflection and humble thought about our lives, and about our relationship with God, that we have in Lent. If we have been attending the Churches Together Lent course, this week we explored how relationships can, sadly, break down. Divorce, abuse, warfare: all involve broken relationships: sometimes broken covenants, broken agreements. That can be the case with divorce, for example. Or, where international treaties are broken, war can result.

That is a bit reflective of the world of Moses, of ‘an eye for an eye’. Fair, practical agreements. Reasonable dealings. No rip-offs, like Wonga. Good, so far as it goes. But – but if there is a breakdown, then, in the time of Moses, God is merciless.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me.… [Exodus 20:5; NRSV]

In the Lent course, the Christian alternative, the example of healing love to bind up the broken relationships, was, it was suggested, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s wonderful response to the end of apartheid in South Africa, his Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That was surely inspired by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5]:

38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And –

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

This is practical wisdom. To be able to forgive, means you will be able to forget. You can’t forgive unless you can let it go, forget. Of course there are practical constraints. You need to have contrition, repentance, a sense that what one has done is wrong, and must not be done again. You can’t just forgive people willy-nilly. But the consequences, consequences of breaches of contract, of breakdowns in relationships, need not be simple tit-for-tats.

It’s difficult to draw a line, sometimes, particularly where a criminal is dangerous to society. What is the right thing to do about the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia? So far no-one has confessed to poisoning them, and no-one has been convicted in a court of law – or even arrested. So the ‘truth’ part of Truth and Reconciliation hasn’t been established yet. But if it had been, would we get to Reconciliation? What would happen in ‘ …mount Sion, … the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,’ in the presence of ‘an innumerable company of angels’?

Or what will happen in Syria, eventually? Will the refugees ever be able to go home? I think that the story of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Truth and Reconciliation, is a real cause for hope. And that story came from people who pray, who are inspired by the Bible. We know that no-one reads his Bible better or more frequently than Archbishop Tutu. He takes time every day to sit in his study, to read the Bible and say prayers. We should try to follow his example; then perhaps we too will start to feel that we are entering the heavenly Jerusalem.


Sermon for Evensong on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 11th March 2018

Exodus 6:2-13, Romans 5:1-11 – see

We are getting towards the most important week in the Christian year, Holy Week and Easter. Two weeks to go and then Easter begins. It occurred to me that in the Easter story, there are almost transactional elements, you know, dealings, between us and God, at least in the way that the Bible puts it.

In the lesson from Exodus today, there is a sort of discussion; it is almost like a fly on the wall between two heads of state: maybe not Kim Jong Un and and Donald Trump or any combination involving Boris Johnson, but nevertheless you can see what I mean. Moses is the Jewish plenipotentiary talking to the most important man in the world – or rather, the most important man not in the world.

The trouble is that the Israelites just keep on doing the wrong thing. It’s the other way up from today. It isn’t the rogue leaders going off at a tangent, making nuclear weapons and declaring trade wars, but the people, knowing what the good thing to do is, and then persistently not doing it. Oh, I realise that actually there is a similarity today, but you wouldn’t want me to dwell on the Brexit thing yet again.

I’d better just pause at this point and apologise for the fact that this isn’t really a Mothering Sunday sermon. It is more a fourth Sunday in Lent sermon. I hope that if you are blessed still to have your Mum with you or if you are a Mum yourself, you will have been to our 10 o’clock service today as well, so that the whole family could be together and give thanks to God for the blessings of family life. I hope that my Mum is with us in spirit nevertheless and I hope that she knows that my brother and I still think about her fondly very often.

And of course the thing that we’re talking about at the heart of the Easter story is Jesus as a son. The transaction, the relationship that we concentrate on, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son….’ [John 3:16], doesn’t mention his mother. But of course although Mary, the mother of God, may not be mentioned today, still certainly she has a huge part to play in the events of Easter. So there is some ‘mothering’ in our reflections tonight.

But what about what Paul is talking about it in his letter to the Romans, dying for somebody, having so much love for somebody that you are prepared to die for them, die in their place, take upon them the burden of condemnation for somebody else?

We can imagine what that looks like by reference to stories of bravery and self-sacrifice: Father Maximilian Kolbe in Auschwitz volunteering to be punished by the Nazis when they were decimating the prisoners: you know, selecting at random one in 10 of the prisoners to receive punishment. When a particular man had been selected to be put to death in a brutal way, he cried out that he would never see his family again. Father Kolbe offered to take his place, and indeed did.

There are some amazing stories, often from wars, of self-sacrifice of this type. People are indeed capable of the most amazing generosity and bravery.

However, I don’t think that really answers the question what is going on in the Easter story. Jesus, we say, died for our sins. We would otherwise have been punished for being sinful, but instead he took our place, rather like Father Kolbe, and we avoided punishment.

That’s what we say, for example, in the Creed, but what does it really mean? Who would be doing the punishing, and why? Do we really believe in hellfire and damnation? Dare I say that most of us don’t actually come down on whether they do or do not believe in it, but we just would rather not think about it too much?

The idea of a sacrifice, a propitiation, making up for misdemeanour by giving someone something, making up for it, is a very old one. In the Old Testament there is the Jewish idea of the scapegoat (Leviticus chapter 16), where on the Day of Atonement the sins of the people were symbolically loaded on to the back of a poor goat, which was driven over a steep slope so that it fell down and died in the fall.

There is a similar idea in the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. This starts with the same Jewish Passover sacrifice, although the goat has become a lamb. Αμνός θεού, Agnus Dei in Latin, it appears at John 1:29, where John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s interesting that there isn’t much difference, in the traditional Jewish mind, between sheep and goats here – when Jesus talks in Matt. 25 about the Last Judgement, the great division into sheep, who are saved, going to eternal life, and the goats, the damned, condemned to eternal damnation, clearly there’s a preference for sheep. Here, they seem to be equally – unfortunately – expendable.

Jesus’ Passion and death happened on the day before the Jewish Passover festival. So there’s clearly a kind of cultural carryover going on. If, as the first Christians were, you are Jewish, the sacramental significance of Jesus’ death, of his being put to death, much in the way the poor goat, or lamb, was slaughtered, would perhaps be more understandable.

There is also the story of God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. The ending, and the point of the story, seem to be different from the story of Jesus. Isaac isn’t killed. God was just testing Abraham’s loyalty. Not ‘God so loved the world’, but Abraham so loved God, that he was willing to sacrifice his own son.

But what can we take from this? Surely the idea of a wrathful God who has to be placated, placated even by a human sacrifice, is something we surely can’t accept. God, a loving God, surely would not want to hurt a perfectly innocent person – leaving aside the question whether in Jesus, his ‘son’, God has before him someone He has created, or whether we are right to see Jesus as just being another side of God – and our language is inadequate to express their relationship one with another, ‘God in three persons, blessed Trinity.’ [Reginald Heber, 1783-1826, hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty] They aren’t brothers, so they must be father and son. But really, words aren’t adequate to describe this.‘He gave his only Son’ might even have a circularity about it. In a sense, that God sacrificed Himself for us.

Perhaps we should approach it another way. We don’t really have the Jewish cultural heritage against which to appreciate what happened as a sacramental act.

Look, what are the essentials of why you are a Christian? I would expect that the miracle of the Resurrection has a part in it.

Something extraordinary happened, in 33AD, in 33CE. A man died a horrible death: and he somehow came back to life. You may baulk at that rather stark way of putting it. Plenty of people do, in a way. ‘I don’t believe in it’. It was a ‘conjuring trick with bones’, they say.

(You’ll remember the fuss about the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins. As reported by Andrew Brown in the Guardian, he ‘… said that the resurrection “was not just a conjuring trick with bones”. This was reported, …. as “comparing the resurrection to a conjuring trick with bones”’ [See].)

Not just a conjuring trick. The point that the then Bishop of Durham was trying to make was that the Bible isn’t a photograph album, or a video. David Jenkins’s successor as Bishop of Durham actually did say that, if they had had video cameras at the time of Christ, it would have been straightforward to get a film of the risen Christ. I don’t think many of us would really go along with that.

Putting that contrast surely makes where I’m going with this rather clearer. The stories, about Moses talking to God, about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, about the scapegoat, or the Agnus Dei, are better understood as not being literal statements of fact, but stories, myths. Just as watching a Shakespeare play or a Verdi opera opens your eyes – and ears – to a new level of insight and understanding, so the central miracle-stories work better, make better sense, if you don’t take them literally, but rather metaphorically.

That metaphorical understanding is nevertheless authentic, true. It rings true. Jesus rose from the dead. We have no idea, literally, how that happened. But we believe that his followers were convinced that he had really come back from the dead. How, and in what sense, we can’t now tell. Jesus’ encounter with Doubting Thomas fills in some gaps. He isn’t a ghost. ‘Touch me, feel me’, he says. Something happened. What it was, is something that has kept theologians busy – and faithful people coming back to church – for 2,000 years. Let’s really think about it. Let’s not just put it out of our minds

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 11th March 2018

Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

‘And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,’ [John 3:14]. What on earth is that all about? We will of course get on to ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish…’, but what is all this ‘lifting up’? The story of the serpent is a reference to the Book of Numbers, chapter 21 in the Old Testament. The Israelites had come out of Egypt and complained that there was nothing to eat in the promised land.

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

In Jewish tradition being ‘lifted up’ was usually shameful. The ultimate kind of being ‘lifted up’ was of course crucifixion on a cross, but also it could apply to being hanged. It had connotations of disgrace and it was the lowest form of death, of the death penalty. The fiery serpent seemed to be bad – it was lifted up on a pole – but it had healing power. So would Jesus, being lifted up, crucified, but yet having power to heal and save.

We are two weeks away from Easter now. Holy Week is the week after next. We are beginning to concentrate our thoughts on the momentous events which are summed up in this most famous line in the whole Bible, ‘For God so loved the world…’ in our Gospel reading today.

But I am not going to spend time this morning exploring the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross. I’m using a neutral term, ‘death’ on the cross, neutral in the sense that I’m not talking about a ‘sacrifice’ or ‘atonement.’ Those are the terms which we will have to explore in much more detail, and I will certainly be doing that in other sermons around Easter, starting tonight at Evensong.

But I am interested this morning in the next verse in our Gospel, ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ Talking about whether He ‘condemns the world’ makes this, in a way, another version of the story of the Last Judgement.

During the week, if you have been to one or other of the Churches Together Lent course [D. Gamble and J. Young et al (2004) ‘Better Together’, York, York Courses] meetings, this week you will have had a session about ‘strangers.’ The course is all about relationships, relationships with different kinds of people, family, church, strangers. How we meet, how we deal with, how we welcome, and indeed how we don’t welcome, different kinds of people, including strangers.

One of the lessons which was read this week was the story of the great judgement, the division between the sheep and goats, in St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25, where Jesus says, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in…’ And the righteous asked, ‘When did we see you, a stranger, and took you in?’ And as you will remember, the King answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, as much as you have done it to one of the least of these brothers, you have done it to me’. Well, I suggest that this lesson in St John’s Gospel is another version of the same thing. Think what it says.

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. [John 3:18-19] ‘Condemned; judgement’: they are words from the End Time, from the Last Judgement.

At the Lent course it was pointed out that, in deciding how to separate the sheep from the goats, the question, whether you were going to be a sheep or a goat, didn’t depend on whether you were a good person or not, whether you had done good things or not. The criterion was whether you had followed our Lord’s commands, and in particular whether you had followed the command to love: to love your neighbour. So indeed they could be real sinners, bad people, criminals; but they had repented, and shown love to their fellow man or woman; and, even despite their terrible crimes in the past, they could still be chosen out as sheep, and be saved.

This came as news to some of the people in the group. Indeed when we started talking about strangers, there were one or two people who turned the conversation straight on to immigrants and refugees and who suggested that the government had ‘not been tough enough’ in keeping these people out: that what was needed was stronger government. I was a little bit tempted to enquire whether they were looking for the trains to run on time too. But I resisted the temptation.

But this is rather important. If you are one of those people who want to restrict immigration, I think you have to be very careful, if you are also professing to be a Christian, to examine your reasons for wanting to do that: make sure that you are not in fact disobeying Jesus’ commandment, to love your neighbour as yourself. Because your neighbour, your neighbour could well be an immigrant – even, you know, an economic migrant – or a person with a different faith, a Muslim or a Hindu, and they might not even speak very good English.

Nevertheless, there they are, they are strangers in our midst. They are our neighbours, and Jesus’ commandment is absolutely clear: you are to love them, love them as though they were you. No ifs, no buts, no question whether it costs too much; if you worry about the cost of doing the right thing, then indeed, look again at this famous verse, 3-16 in St John’s Gospel.

‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…’ That must be the most costly gift that anyone could possibly give. God is prepared to spend without counting the cost. What does that mean for us?

Jesus’ teaching, as reported in St John’s Gospel, is that salvation comes through being in the light, and the light showing that what you do is good. At first blush it looks a bit as though this contradicts what Jesus said in the sheep and goats passage. There, it depended on whether you had shown love, whether you have been a good neighbour; but here it looks as though it depends on whether you have done good deeds. Actually this is not the case. The right way to look at it is that if you have seen the light, then you will naturally want to do good things.

And in our first lesson, St Paul writes, in the letter to the Ephesians, ‘… by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works….’ [Ephesians 2:8-9] The idea is that you do not get to heaven by doing good deeds, but rather by your faith, by your trust in Jesus. If you have faith, then you will naturally do good things. ‘…you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works.’

Of course it works in reverse as well. If you don’t have faith, if you are, as St Paul put it in his letter to the Ephesians, ‘…dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air … in the passions of [your] flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses..’, if you behave in that way, your sins will find you out. If you act as though you do not believe, then it is reasonable to infer that you don’t. Although good deeds will not get you into heaven by themselves, doing bad things in a way which suggests that you do not care about other people and have no love to share is a sign that you do not have faith, that you do not believe.

So frankly, my reading of what Jesus, as reported by Matthew, John and St Paul, what Jesus taught is, that you can’t be a true Christian and not want to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the asylum seeker – even the economic migrant – if he is in our midst. It really doesn’t matter how he got there. Give him your coat. Open your door. Welcome him in.

Because, he could just be Jesus himself.


Hugh Bryant

[After I preached this, I learned about a vote in Parliament on 15th March on a Bill to allow parents to join refugee children who are already in the UK on their own. See and Perhaps we should write to our MP Dominic Raab, to ask him to support the Bill.]

Sermon for the third Sunday in Lent, 4th March 2018

Exodus 5:1-6:1, Philippians 3:4-14

In the last week or so, Canon Dr Giles Fraser, who is described as a ‘priest and polemicist’ by Michael Buerk, when he is a panellist on the ‘Moral Maze’ on BBC Radio 4, has been very exercised both in print and, indeed, on the Moral Maze, about the law which Iceland is said to be passing, or is about to pass, forbidding infant circumcision. Giles Fraser says that it is, in effect, an attack on the Jewish people in Iceland, because if you are a male Jew, being circumcised is part of your Jewishness. To deny you the possibility of being circumcised on the eighth day after your birth is to deny you an essential part of your Jewish identity, says Dr Fraser.

Today we had a lesson from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians where St Paul proudly affirms his Jewish heritage: he writes that he was himself circumcised after eight days, and he sets out all his own personal Jewish history. But you should contrast that with the salvation which St Paul said he had gained through coming to faith in Christ. He had gone beyond the Jewish law, and his relationship with God was no longer a matter of a covenant between God and Moses, and his membership of God’s chosen people under that covenant, but rather St Paul had become reconciled to God, saved, simply by his faith, his faith in Jesus Christ.

It’s a consistent theme throughout the New Testament, this apparent conflict between Christianity and the provisions of the Jewish law as, for example, put forward by the Pharisees in relation to Jesus’ teaching: is it lawful for Jesus to heal someone on the Sabbath, for example?

Jesus’s ‘new commandment’, so called, that you should love one another even as he has loved us, has big implications. St Paul’s assertion that he was going beyond the law and that Jesus’s message of salvation was not just for Jews but also was for the Gentiles, for what the Bible calls ‘the nations’, which means the non-Jews, had the effect of turning Christianity from being just a Jewish sect into a worldwide religion; and that implied that the idea of the Jews being God’s chosen people, that God had some kind of favouritism of the Jews over against all other nations, that that idea had had its day.

Jesus himself said that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it [Matthew 5:17]. He affirmed the most important part of the law, the so-called Shema Israel, the first of the Ten Commandments, that there is one God, and that thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and strength – and made it the first of His new commandments; and his second commandment was that they should love their neighbours as themselves. ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ [Matt.22:40]. In a sense, the ‘new commandments’ are actually restatements of old ones. ‘Love your neighbour’ is actually part of the Jewish Law too – it’s in Leviticus (19:18).

So Jesus is not abandoning his Jewish heritage. He is not saying that the Jewish law is made worthless by his coming among us as the son of God, as God incarnate. But we can be reconciled with God, be saved and have eternal life, by faith in Jesus, rather than by carrying out the mechanical requirements of the complicated code which had grown up based on the 10 Commandments in Judaism.

The Torah, the Jewish law, includes for Jews not just the provisions of the first five books of the old Testament, but also the Talmud and the Mishnah, the various teachings and interpretations of the rabbis over the years. It is like the common law in England where law is not just contained in the statutes, the acts of parliament, but also is contained in the decisions of the judges in the courts. In the Jewish law, in the Jewish tradition, (and that is what the Talmud and the Mishnah record), your relationship with God depends on carrying out the Jewish law, so the argument runs.

I think that might be why the compilers of the Lectionary, the people who choose which Bible readings we use each Sunday, have given us this reading from the book of Exodus, showing the various sufferings of the Jewish people under Pharaoh in Egypt, before they were led out of Egypt by Moses, God having answered his prayers and divided the Red Sea so that the Israelites could go through it. That is part of the national history of the Israelites, part of what forms their Jewishness. Against that, in the Lectionary they chose the part of St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, setting out St Paul’s willingness to include the Gentiles, the non-Jews, as well as the Jews in Christianity.

This tension, between nationalism or cultural identity, rather than just narrow nationalism, being Jewish in this instance, and universalism, being a child of God simply by virtue of being a member of the human race, a race of all types, sizes and nationalities, is still very much alive today. A number of commentators have suggested that it is one explanation for Trump and Brexit, and indeed for the sharp divisions that both of those instances seem to have caused, or rather perhaps, brought out, in the people of the United States in the election of President Trump, and in this country over Brexit.

In this country there is tension between people who are more in favour of supranational unification, for going beyond the politics of individual nations towards world government, and those who want to affirm separate national identity and regain self-determination through a wish to ‘take back control’, as they say, by making it the case that only the courts of this country shall decide, and that there will be no pan-European jurisdiction. In the United States the same sort of instincts have championed ‘America first’ policies and protectionism, a wall on the Mexican border, and so on.

So what is a Christian to do? I think it would be unwise for me to come down on one side or another in relation to Brexit or President Trump, at least if I tried to invoke Biblical authority for one or other view. But I think that it is legitimate to point out where, in the Bible, this argument seems to be played out.

On the one hand, you have all the Old Testament tradition and the Jewish law, with no obvious downside to it; no one can seriously say that the 10 Commandments are a bad thing, or that they are not relevant still today – and Jewish identity still exists. You can see the force of what Giles Fraser is objecting to about the proposed law in Iceland against infant circumcision.

But on the other hand, Jesus has added a huge new dimension, which St Paul made it his mission to preach about, to build on that Jewish tradition and to take it out of the realm of legalistic interpretation and into a living faith – love God and love neighbour; loving God including, of course, loving Jesus and loving neighbour, loving the children of God, all the children of God.

So of course it’s okay to heal on the Sabbath. The same with Brexit and Trump: do we concentrate on narrow nationalistic concerns or, if that’s not a fair way of putting it, on love of country, patriotism in a good and noble sense on the one hand or on the brotherhood of man, universal human rights, and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves, on the other?

Jesus’ challenging statement, that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it, might give us a clue towards squaring that circle. In following Jesus we are pressing on towards a goal, which is not in an earthly country but a heavenly one. However serious the awfulness of Trump or the possibility of Brexit turning into a catastrophe might seem, we should focus on something much more important: salvation, eternal life; what St Paul calls pressing on towards ‘the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’. [Phil. 3:14]

Sermon for Mattins on the First Sunday in Lent, 18th February 2018

Exodus 34:1-10, Romans 10:8-13

I confess that sometimes I don’t read things that people give me – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, I don’t read some things properly. You know, all that stuff that keeps on coming. Letters addressed to ‘The Householder’ or worse, to ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. Leaflets; free magazines. And sometimes, I regret to say, things I get given in church.

As some of you will know, I am rather keenly interested in the Bishop’s Lent Challenge 2018: because, I am the lay vice-chair of one of the two charities which the Bishop has chosen to invite us to support this Lent, the Bishop of Guildford’s Foundation.

And I did a good deed for the Foundation a few days ago when I delivered the pamphlets about the Lent Challenge to most of the 12 Deaneries in the Guildford Diocese. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear, and I drove altogether about 150 miles round the Surrey Hills, up to Ottershaw and Egham and down almost to Farnham.

I was delivering these well-produced pamphlets, telling you all about the Bishop’s chosen charities, and giving you a programme of things to do in order to ‘grow and deepen our faith, and to encourage the faith of our family and others around us.’ That’s what Bishop Andrew has written on the flyleaf.

But, apart from quickly flipping through the pages to see roughly what it’s about, I confess that I really hadn’t read the booklet properly. Now I don’t know whether I’m being very rude and underestimating how faithful and dedicated you all are – I bet I am – but I would venture a guess that at least some of you haven’t really read Bishop Andrew’s booklet either.

And I thought that, at least on the first Sunday in Lent, we could look at Bishop Andrew’s suggestions for Lent together, especially as – at the time I was putting this together last night, at least – I still don’t know when the Lent study groups will be taking place this week. I’m sure all will be revealed soon.

What Bishop Andrew is promoting is that we should look at what he calls the ‘Rhythms of Life’, which he says is what is sometimes called a ‘Rule of Life’. He sums up the rhythms in six words, corresponding with the six weeks, including Holy Week, before Easter Day on 1st April. These are, ‘Read, Learn, Pray, Tell, Serve, Give’. I don’t know about you, but that already sounds a bit intense for me. ‘Rules’ of life put me in mind of monastic vows of silence, sackcloth and ashes and stuff. I’ve never been very good at silent reflection or retreats. When I went on the last St Andrew’s one, to Ladywell Convent outside Godalming, I sneaked in a transistor radio and headphones, because I knew we would all have to retire to our rather uncomfortable and narrow beds at 9pm, ready for hours of silence. But then, I devised a plan of escape. After lights-out at 9, I silently snuck out, hopped into my car, and drove home!

My cats were pleased to see me. I listened to Jazz Record Requests and slept the sleep of the brave. I had set the alarm for an early start, at 6. Imagine my consternation when, after an excellent night’s kip, I awoke and looked out of the window to see – dense fog! Maybe it was divine retribution. Nothing for it – I had to drive very slowly and carefully back to Godalming in the fog. I arrived all right and, after a brief pause in my unused monastic cell – I mean bedroom – I pottered down nonchalantly to breakfast – and no-one was the wiser. Naughty me. I’m just no good at too much silence.

So anyway, let’s look at what Bishop Andrew suggests for Week One of Lent, this week. Strictly speaking, the weeks run Wednesday to Wednesday, as Lent started on Ash Wednesday.

Somewhat oddly, the Bishop says, about each of his six key words for Lent – ‘Read, Learn, Pray, Tell, Serve, Give’, that each one is a ‘rhythm’ of life. This is obviously something that you have to be a bishop to understand. They look like common verbs to me – but what do I know?

The first one is ‘read’. Bishop Andrew says, ‘There is nothing more exciting than watching children open up as they learn to read – sounding out the letters to recognise a word: ‘m-at mat’, ‘d-og dog’ and so on. The opportunities are endless once you can read; and so many doors are closed if you can’t.

‘Reading scripture is about much more than simply being able to turn the squiggles into sounds. It’s about interpreting, taking to heart, understanding, and allowing what we have read to transform our lives. We may be able to read the words of scripture easily enough – but understanding them, and putting them into practice, is a lifetime’s work.’

That leads into being given a Bible passage to read, and think about, in this case not the lessons for today – at least not the ones we had – but the story in the Acts of the Apostles about the apostle Philip meeting the Ethiopian eunuch – the senior Ethiopian government official – on the desert road to Gaza, who was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah – called Esaias in the King James Bible. Philip asked him, ‘Understandest thou what thou readest?’ And he replied, ‘How can I, except some man should guide me?’

That’s obviously a reference to reading, and how just reading by itself may not be particularly enlightening. And then Bishop Andrew puts in a throw-away line. ‘The eunuch may be particularly excited by this book because of the promises to foreigners and eunuchs in Isaiah 56:3-8.’

OK – a quick scramble to look up Isaiah chapter 53. In passing, it’s rather impressive that the poor old eunuch, ploughing through 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah, had to get to chapter 56 until he found the ‘good bit’ which he could feel had him in mind. Here it is:

‘Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.’ In Isaiah, the key thing is that the eunuchs and strangers who are welcome in the house of the Lord ‘keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant’. They play by our rules.

As a mere man, of course I don’t really want to dwell on why eunuchs seem to feature so much in the Bible – I counted 26 references to eunuchs in my Concordance – at least, how on earth did they know they were eunuchs? It must be something like the penchant for castrati in Handel’s day, Senesino and the others. Those of you who aren’t opera lovers may not realise that when you hear the counter-tenor – male – voice, singing at least as high as a mezzo-soprano, you might look for a little weedy figure, but instead, the likes of James Bowman or Michael Chance or Lawrence Zazzo are all big blokes whom you wouldn’t want to bump into on a dark night!

In fact it seems that whatever the state of his undercarriage, the point about the Ethiopian was that he was a leading figure, a man of culture. It isn’t explained why, if he didn’t really understand Isaiah, he ‘had come to Jerusalem for to worship’; but no matter. The key thing was that he was reading about the ‘man of sorrows’ in Isaiah chapter 53. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities’. It is a prophecy about the Messiah. Indeed, you can hear in your head that other ‘Messiah’, Handel’s Messiah: the ‘man of sorrows’ is followed by ‘All we like sheep’, a deliciously mischievous chorus.

But back to the reading, to the Bible: the passage in Isaiah about the man of sorrows leads neatly, in Philip the apostle’s expert hands, to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection; that he, Jesus, had been the scapegoat, he had taken on himself the burden of the sins of mankind –

All we like sheep

have turned astray …

But this one in Isaiah was ‘led as a sheep to the slaughter’. It was to be Jesus. Reading this, and having it explained to him, the Ethiopian eunuch suddenly got it. He needed to be baptised, to become a Christian.

So this is the first ‘rhythm’ of Bishop Andrew’s Lent sequence, the first theme, to ‘read’. He suggests that we should read over and over again the passage about the ‘man of sorrows’, Isaiah 53:1-7. He says,

Each day this week, read a verse from Isaiah 53:1-7 slowly. Read it over slowly several times and let the words sink in. Don’t try to work out what they mean. Listen ‘with the ears of your heart’. Is there a word or phrase which stands out? Let this lead you into prayer.’

The ‘ear of your heart’ is a poetic thought. Where does it come from? It is part of the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict. It says, “Listen carefully… to God’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Maybe there is something in this idea of a Rule of life after all. I certainly do like the idea of listening with ‘the ear of your heart’. That’s reading, by the way. According to Bishop Andrew, anyway.

So, in our reading, in the ‘ear of our heart’, let this be, for us all a blessed Lent.

Sermon for Evensong on the Second Sunday of Lent, 25th February 2018

Genesis 12:1-9, Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

‘Faith is being sure about what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’. That’s how one modern translation of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it. ‘… the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen’, as we read it. Richard Robinson, the Oxford philosopher, wrote in 1964, ‘This is obviously unintelligible.’ [Robinson, R., 1964, An Atheist’s Values, Oxford, OUP, p118f.]

He was shooting at Christianity. His challenge was similar to what other Oxford philosophers of the time, in the early 1960s – such as what Sir Alfred Ayer, in his book, ‘Language, Truth and Logic’ was writing. Namely that religious words like ‘God’ can’t be understood in the same way as other words. The word ‘God’ doesn’t stand for anything tangible in the way that the word ‘table’ does. And therefore, they argued, that kind of reasoning, religious belief, wasn’t proper reasoning at all.

Those philosophers would say the word ‘god’ does not have meaning in the same way as the word ‘table’: you can’t say that the word ‘god’ means that there is something, a thing, out there which you can see and touch, just as you can touch a table. Arguably, not. You can’t touch God in the same way you could touch a table.

These philosophers argued that, because the word ‘God’ doesn’t have the same kind of meaning as ‘table’ or ‘chair’ – in particular because you can’t say what God isn’t, in the same way you could, with a mundane non-theological statement: ‘That is a black cat’, say. You can understand what it would mean not to be a black cat: but not, what it would mean not to be God. At least, not in the same way. And that means, they said, that god-statements, religious propositions, are meaningless. They are unintelligible.

But that doesn’t sound very convincing these days. If you recite this wonderful passage from chapter 11 of the letter to the Hebrews (almost certainly it wasn’t a letter by St Paul, and also not really a letter so much as a sermon, or string of sermons, but that doesn’t matter) if you recite this litany of legends about men – and women – of faith, this isn’t a lot of fairy stories. This is people, in history, as Moses and Abraham and the others mentioned were historic figures, doing momentous things because they had a ‘sure and certain hope’, as we put it in the funeral service. They had faith.

‘By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
…. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them…’

By contrast, according to the atheists like Richard Robinson, faith is just a leap, a leap in the dark, to a conclusion which you can’t prove, which you can’t logically reach. But faith, in the Bible, in Christianity, isn’t just some kind of second-rate form of knowledge. The Greek word, πιστις, means faith in, trust, belief in something, or belief that something is the case.

So it’s not the case that a Christian believer has ‘faith’ only in a weak sense, where they can’t prove something.

The letter to the Hebrews harks back to the story in Genesis about the Lord appearing to Abram (Abram, who became Abraham later), when ‘the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land ..’ [Genesis 12:7].

In Hebrews this is remembered: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive as an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went’. [Hebrews 11:8]

And Hebrews celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, trusting, having faith, that it would turn out for the best, and that God had power to raise up the dead: ‘Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead’. That’sverse 19, just after our lesson tonight.Indeed, Abraham couldn’t prove that. But he relied on it. He trusted, he pinned his faith on it. He was sure it was true.

Actually, there are lots of leaps of faith that we make, even in the ordinary course of life. How do you know that you will wake up in the morning? You don’t. But you don’t think that it’s peculiar for someone to expect to wake up in the morning. The expectation that it will happen isn’t unreasonable. So faith in things, faith that certain things happen, isn’t automatically counterintuitive.

I believe, I have faith, that the sun will rise tomorrow. But also ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth …’ Two articles of faith. They are different: but maybe not that much different.

The atheists think of faith as a sort of mental fall-back, when actual knowledge is not possible, for one reason or another. When you can’t know for certain. Then, you can believe. For them, it’s a sort of second-rate knowledge, mere faith.

That’s much more tentative than the tone of the letter to the Hebrews. You wouldn’t organise a mass exodus and resettlement in another country, as Abraham did, just because, on a balance of probabilities, you reasonably expected it to turn out all right. You certainly wouldn’t risk killing your own son with a knife, if you thought it was 50-50 whether he’d make it; if you thought that it was just a matter of luck that he’d be saved if you knifed him. Abraham wasn’t a homicidal monster. He trusted God to make things turn out all right.

Of course we should be a bit discerning. It would give faith a bad name if we said we had faith in blue moons or green beer or ‘somewhere over the rainbow.’ If something isn’t even vaguely likely, or if indeed it’s logically impossible, then we ought not to have faith in it. That’s not what faith is all about. Our faith is, or should be, more like the early Christians, who weren’t there when Jesus came back from the dead and appeared to the apostles, but who nevertheless saw how they had been affected. Something had happened, something momentous. Think of Doubting Thomas. ‘Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’ [John 20:29]

Where does that leave us? In this time of reflection in Lent, how strongly do we believe? The challenge is, that the stronger our belief, the more sure and certain our hope, our faith, the more we can do. Jesus said, we can move mountains. [Matt.17:20]

I would like to think that we can do more about poverty, war and disease. I would like to think that, starting in our own country, we would stop talking about how much money things cost, and started to think what it would be to follow Jesus’ command, to love our neighbours as ourselves.

So, just as I have a roof over my head, there should not be a homeless man dying on the steps of parliament. Just as I live in a house with a proper fire alarm, other people shouldn’t have to live 20 floors up in a block with no sprinkler system and only one stairway to get out. And because we are all made in the image of God, wherever we are born, just as I have a passport and am able to go more or less anywhere, so a Syrian who has no home, no relatives left alive and no means of sustenance, should not be turned away at our border, in case he tries to get a job here. And if he ought not to be turned away, how much less ought his children to be kept out? There are 2,000 children fending for themselves in France, who all have relatives or friends here. Why?

We have faith. We believe. We believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth: and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord. So let us show that we have that faith, that faith which can move mountains. Let us do something to show it.

Sermon for Quinquagesima, Sunday next before Lent, 11th February 2018

1 Kings 19:1-16; 2 Peter 1:16-21

We pray, somewhat vaguely, I’m afraid, for Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. And we listen to the pronouncements of religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury or his counterpart, Archbishop John in York, without necessarily changing our outlook as a result.

I won’t labour those points – I’m sure you will prove me wrong in particular instances, and that some of you have been definitely involved in supporting persecuted Christians, and others have taken to heart Archbishop Justin’s call for new ways of providing finance for poor people, to replace the payday loan companies.

But my point is that, if we read about Elijah, on the run from Queen Jezebel after he had slain the 400 prophets of Baal ‘with the sword’, and after she had sworn to do to him what he had done to the prophets, to spiflicate them utterly; and if we read the Second Letter of St Peter, which reads effectively like a ‘hellfire and damnation’ sermon, are we really very much affected? Do we immediately link the prophet Elijah, on the run from Jezebel, with, say, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Syria? Or do we think about what it might mean to be a prophet today, as the writer of 2 Peter thought he was being? ‘We have … a more sure word of prophecy’, he wrote.

You will have noticed that I didn’t say ‘St Peter’ wrote a hellfire and damnation sermon. That’s a bit of a snag. Because most scholars agree that 2 Peter wasn’t written by St Peter. It looks to have been written pretty late, possibly in the second century, well after St Peter had died.

So what are we to make of it, when it says, pretending to be St Peter, ‘[We] .. were eyewitnesses of his majesty’, and they were with him at the Transfiguration up on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, and they heard the voice of God say, about Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’? If it’s not St Peter talking – or rather, writing – doesn’t it rather lose impact?

In these latest times, when we are covered with stories of ‘fake news’ and apparently respectable politicians saying that we ‘should not trust experts’, where do prophets come in, and stories of revelation – God speaking to Elijah, after a hurricane and an earthquake, in ‘a still small voice’, and appearing to Jesus and some of the disciples – albeit probably not to the writer of the Second Letter of Peter – as a disembodied voice, identifying Jesus as being divine as well as human? Where do these stories fit in? Are they just that, stories, or are they something more serious? We can perhaps overlook the real authorship of 2 Peter, because of course the story of the Transfiguration appears also in the Gospels. This morning we had the version in St Mark [9:2-9].

I suppose one can’t deny that a lot of the Bible has rather lost its power to rule our lives. If you look at the Jewish Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch – take the Ten Commandments as its basic heart – do we abide by them, all of them, literally? Well, you’re doing pretty well if you do. And what about Jesus’ commandments? What if ‘love your neighbour’ meant giving up half your garden for a council house to be built there? That was a dilemma canvassed at the Deanery Synod this week.

But if you read on beyond our passage in 2 Peter, the people who don’t obey God’s Commandments, either those from Elijah and Moses’ time or the more modern versions, those faithless people will be condemned eternally. Rather colourfully the Bible says about the unbelievers, ‘It is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire’.

Just as I don’t see an easy way of persuading a lot of people that their support for Brexit is a massive mistake – perhaps because they believe that there is an alternative set of facts which would lead to wonderful opportunities – so I’m not very optimistic that we would even recognise a prophet today, let alone follow their prophecies. There’s a problem, overshadowing all the other issues, which is, as Pontius Pilate said, ‘What is truth?’

The trouble is, that a lot of the biggest issues today involve looking into the future. It would really help if some of us could go up on that mountain, and get a fresh word from God.

But in another sense, this is a good time to look again, to reflect, and see if we can in fact hear that ‘still, small voice’. Wednesday will be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, the minister will say, Godfrey here at 10.30 in the morning and Peter Vickers at St Andrew’s at 8 in the evening.

It begins that period of reflection leading up to the tumultuous events of Holy Week and Easter. Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus, defines us as Christians. Some people use the symbol of the cross to stand for the meaning of Easter. I personally find it rather difficult to see beyond the cross’ awful function as a means of cruel killing. I know that Jesus’ glorious resurrection could not have happened unless he were dead – and so to that extent one can say that the cross was an essential part of Easter – just as it was essential that Judas Iscariot was a disciple. The good things could not have happened without there having been bad things beforehand. But I still find it difficult to like the cross.

The idea at Lent is for us to take time to reflect, to take ourselves away from our busy daily routines, to listen for that ‘still, small voice’ calling us; calling us to change our lives, to get closer to God – which is what the call to repent of our sins really means.

It sounds good: but how many people will really do something life-changing in Lent? I started out being rather pessimistic. Does anyone today really care if God spoke to Elijah? Was Jesus really ‘transfigured’ with Moses and Elijah on a mountain top, and did a divine voice say that Jesus was his son?

I think that, if it remains just something you read about, Lent won’t be likely to bring you closer to God, and you may well not hear a still small voice. But if you do something, preferably with other Christian believers, I think there’s a much better chance.

I think it’s like the relationship between going to church and the strength of one’s faith. Going to church is like keeping a log burning. If it’s in a proper fireplace, with other logs burning alongside it, it’s likely to burn brighter and longer than if you just stuck it on the pavement by itself and lit it. You are the log, the fireplace is our church, and being left to burn by oneself on the pavement is like being ‘spiritual but not religious’.

That’s why we often have Lent study groups – as we are doing again this year. It’s not too late to sign up – the sheet is at the back – and it looks as though there will be groups during the day and in the evening every weekday from 19th February, Monday week, for five weeks, exploring the idea of being ‘Better Together’ – which is not meant to be anything to do with the Brexit business, but rather with our various relationships, with our families, our churches, with strangers, with people with whom our relationship has broken down, and finally, our relationship with God. Talk to me after the service if you want to know more.

Or, another thing you could do is to follow the Bishop of Guildford’s Lent Challenge, which is a programme of things to do over the five weeks. It’s more doable than giving something up, I think, as it gets you doing something different, in addition to your normal routine. You are encouraged to give as well. The gifts will be split half and half between the Bishop of Guildford’s Foundation and the Anglican Church Tanzania Appeal. As some of you know, I’m the lay vice-chair of the BGF, the Bishop of Guildford’s Foundation, so I do hope you consider supporting the Bishop’s Lent Challenge. There are some really good little prospectuses for you to take on your way out. They explain what BGF does. It provides grants for social projects associated with churches anywhere in Guildford Diocese – things like street angels, food banks (and BGF gave the start-up capital for our food bank), school breakfast clubs, drop-in centres for lonely or needy people, social support workers, holiday outings for poorer and more elderly people, and so on.

Now I’m a great believer in ‘belong and then believe’ as a way into the family of God. I think that if you do any of these Lent things, following the stages in the Bishop’s Lent Challenge or going to some sessions in the Lent study course – which is being organised by Churches Together, so you’ll meet people from the other churches as well – if you do get a bit involved, I would be very surprised if you don’t find that your faith grows. You may indeed hear the ‘still small voice’ of God. You just have to try.