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Perfection from the pulpit

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. So I discovered last Sunday morning, dozing in bed, with Radio 4 in the background. On came Sunday Worship from St John’s Church, Buxton and with it a sermon from Bishop Jack Nicholls which made me literally sit up and pay attention. (transcript below) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b037s2rc – 1315 mins in to the programme.

Only about 5 minutes long, it encapsulates many of the things I teach in my presentation training – a strong opening, appropriate humour, simple language, good use of pauses, clear chapters, a clear and strong single message and use of concrete examples to illustrate abstract ideas. It really was perfection from the pulpit!

“I was born at 20 Booth Road, Waterfoot in the Rossendale Valley of East Lancashire. The house is no longer there. It was demolished in a slum clearance project when I was ten years old and we were moved to the brand new council housing estate nearby. Nothing remains of 20 Booth Road. It is just an empty space. There isn’t even room for one of those blue plaques to denote that someone as important as me was born there!

We do like to have something tangible to remind us of the important occasions in our lives. Nowadays the simplest way to capture the moment permanently is by photograph. We can then show our families and friends and tell them that this is where it happened and talk about the significance of it all. But there is a danger in this. Sometimes we can be so busy recording the event that we miss its impact and its meaning, something that can never be recaptured. I heard of a young father who recorded the first minutes of his new child’s life. He took great care to get everything right so that he could share the good news with his family and friends but when he got home he realised with great sadness that he had been so busy marking the moments on film that he had forgotten to hold his newborn child in his arms. It was a moment that could never be repeated, it was lost forever.

Today’s gospel story is about a very special moment in the life of Jesus and a chosen few of his disciples, Peter, James and John. The disciples never forgot that moment, it was life changing. Peter said “ It is good Lord to be here” but then ruined it as he often did, having a mouth like the Mersey Tunnel, by adding “Let us build three shelters here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” In other words let’s capture the moment and keep it. His words broke the spell and they were covered in a cloud. They almost missed the glory by trying to capture it and keep it.

Glory comes in glimpses and the glimpses are always unexpected, never prearranged by us. I am always suspicious of religious experiences, which are manufactured by experts in religion.

For most of us glimpses of glory are few and always unexpected. They happen in the strangest places, often the last place one would expect to encounter the Glory of God and they cannot be recorded.

I suppose the desire to mark the spot with a blue plaque or the occasion with a photograph is a way of possessing the place or the occasion when real freedom comes not from possessiveness but in letting go. This is the most difficult of lessons for us humans. Letting go of people, things and occasions is a way of laying down our lives, of losing ourselves in order to be found by Life with a capital L, Life in all its fullness and the possibility of glimpses of Glory here and Glory to come.

So let’s not try to pin down God into a box or even a Church. Let God be God, a God full of surprises and Transfiguring glimpses of Glory. Amen”