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Preparing to be changed
If the truth be known, clergy only have one or two sermons. We recycle – with almost infinite variations on the same theme.
When it comes to John the Baptist, I often play this trick. After 'In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit', the congregation sit. I immediately ask them to stand up again. And then I ask them to change sides, those sitting on the left move to the right, and vice versa.
They absolutely hate it. The choir don’t know if it applies to them.
Those with their usual seat are grumpy. And the clergy rarely move.
And then the sermon proper starts. Imagine you’re in the congregation: You are now irritated with me because I have asked you to do something so simple like move seats.
I usually make everyone laugh, acknowledging their frostiness. 'The clergy never move', I tell them. They laugh again.
Then I speak about how John is a disrupter. Mad hair, locusts, wild honey etc. But the real disruption is to come. He is pointing the way. And the person he points to will ask a great deal more of you than changing seats. He will ask you to change your life.
Are we really ready for this when we find it so hard even to move around in church? Advent is about preparation. Preparation to be changed. The question is: Are we really ready for that?
And mostly, the answer is no.
By Giles Fraser
Every day, more than half of the 2.2 million school children living in poverty in England miss out on a free school meal. Of these children, 700,000 are not even entitled to one - often because their parents work, regardless of how little they earn. A further 500,000 are not taking up their free school meals because they face barriers, such as stigma, teasing and bullying. Help change this. Join our Fair and Square campaign to help ensure that all children in poverty receive a free school meal.
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