I walked past the famous statue of Winston Churchill in parliament square a couple of days ago. There’s been a lot of interest over the past few weeks as we marked the 50thanniversary of the great man’s passing. I was 6 years old when he died and I can remember watching the images of his funeral on a very grainy black and white TV.

Winston Churchill always features in those periodic opinion polls to discover the greatest Briton. I find it interesting (but probably not surprising) that they always seem to have a modern bias. If you are brilliant but old you struggle to get on the list, but if you are young and famous……….. How on earth do David Beckham and Robbie Williams always get so high up on the list? It’s not just celebrity. Recent and living memory is a powerful thing. The older you are, the less your story connects with people.

I find it fascinating how the passage of time affects our perceptions of people. Take Princess Diana. In her lifetime how was she perceived: rich, vain, a fashion icon, shallow, flighty? On her death, the nation saw an outpouring of emotion which shocked and surprised everyone. Suddenly she was the ‘people’s Princess’, compassionate, accessible, the human face of the Royal Family, someone with a flawed life just like mine. In death she became curiously common property.

I mention this because it displays the inveterate human tendency to talk up our view of someone after they die. This is important for Christianity because, for our understanding and information about Jesus, the founder of our faith, we depend almost entirely on the views, assumptions, reflections and observations of those who wrote about him after his death. And the absolutely vital question is this: Did they talk Jesus up? Or can we trust their understanding and take it on board for ourselves 2000 years later?

If I could transport you 1950 years across time and set you down amidst the Palestine of AD50, what would the social commentators have been saying then about Jesus, the man put to death by crucifixion just twenty years beforehand?

In a way, Paul’s letter to the Colossians lifts the lid on this great debate raging about Jesus at the time. Colossi, 100 miles inland from the western coast of modern day Turkey, was not an important place and it wasn’t an important church. The reason Paul’s letter survives as part of our Bible today is because there was a debate raging in that church about Jesus which was fundamental to how later generations might see him.

It revolved around a group who called themselves Gnostics, from the Greek word ‘Gnosis’ meaning knowledge. They were the Freemasons of the first century ancient Near East, a sort of slightly secret society who believed that God was a very remote spiritual being who could only be reached through a long chain of go-betweens. A bit like a ladder which you climb to escape from the mess and muck of the material world, allowing you to make your way upwards, away from the tawdry sinful material world towards the pure spiritual essence we call God.

In their view, Jesus was a rung on this ladder, close to God and an inspiration to all of us who aspire, like him, to escape the confines of our sinful, earthbound existence and move towards God. That was one side of the debate: Jesus as a wonderfully good, spiritual man who gets close to God by virtue of the quality of his life. And I have to say that it’s not far off from the way that most people today regard Jesus, if they stop to think about it.

But on the other side of the debate were those people, still living at the time, who had lived alongside Jesus and knew him through and through. What did they say about him?

The staggering fact that overshadows all of the New Testament is this. Those who lived alongside Jesus knew for sure that he was flesh and blood, knew that if you cut him he bled, they knew he was no fantasy Jesus, no spiritual Milky Bar Kid Jesus; knew that he was a real human being. YET… within a matter of months after his death, those very same people were not calling him a wonderful, good and spiritual man, they were calling him ‘God’, and that is remarkable.

If we look back to the spiritual giants of recent history and living memory: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa; we might describe them as ‘good’, we might even call them ‘great’, but no one in their right mind would call them ‘God’.

When Paul writes his letter to the Colossians twenty years after Jesus’ death, it’s clear where he stands. For him, Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, before all things. In him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. In him, the fullness of deity dwells bodily.

For those who knew him, Jesus was not a rung on the ladder to God; he was the ladder, a bridge between human experience and God, fully human, fully God, totally us, and yet totally other, so that he could present us fully alive.

If Jesus is just a rung on the ladder then the best we can hope for is to haul ourselves up by our own efforts to reach the unassailable heights where God resides. I daresay, like me, you’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. I’m too earthbound, too carnal. The gravitational force of my material existence doesn’t allow me to soar free in the thin air where God lives. Jesus can be my hero but what he represents is always unattainable, beyond my reach.

But if he is the ladder itself, then God is always in reach, just a step away. Reach out your hand and he’s there. That’s pretty revolutionary for a world that if it does believe in God sees him as chalk to our cheese.

But there’s more. If Jesus as God took on the mantle of human flesh then that means human flesh must be all right. The material world must be okay for God has hallowed it by becoming part of it. So, the spiritual journey isn’t about renouncing my soiled human existence but redeeming it. God likes me, likes you, likes our humanness, likes it enough to become part of it. What is it you say here at All Hallows? Come as you are.

It’s all about distance. The more of God there is in Jesus, the closer it means God has come to us. If Jesus is fully God, then God has come as close to us as it’s possible to come. He has taken our very essence and nature by becoming human. As John puts it at the start of his Gospel, the Word became flesh.

And why is that important? I could talk for months. It means that God is intimately involved with us - from smart wars in Iraq to gun wars in London, from industrial disputes on the underground to political disputes over immigration, from changing jobs to changing nappies, from growing up to growing old, from making computers to making love. God’s fingerprints are everywhere. Everything is spiritual.

Colossians 1: 19 – 20 is the crux of it all. In Jesus, God’s fullness dwells so that everything in heaven and on earth – everything, absolutely everything - can be reconciled to God, brought to peace by the power of his death on the cross.

+Adrian (Bishop of Stepney)
Confirmations 8/2/15



Anxiety is a survival mechanism. I have a goal which I desire to fulfil. When this becomes under threat, in comes anxiety. It helps me run away from the bears by producing adrenaline to course through my body with focussed energy.

Once I’d escaped the bears it turned out there was one waiting at home, and it challenged me to a wrestle. Last time you wrestled someone, your anxiety ushered in adrenaline which helped you to win (unless the bear was particularly well-trained.)

However, traumatic bursts of anxiety or repeated cases of anxiety can drill the experience into our psyche like shrapnel lodged in the walls of our minds, affecting a little bit of our brain which polices your thoughts and decides what to do with them.

My bear fight is over; I’m trying to get on with living my life but I still feel like I’m in a wrestling ring with a bear. And so I experience situations in everyday life as a battleground where my need for survival is won or lost. The battle rages in my emotions and actions. I may be acutely self-aware of it, seeking to cope by escaping my riddled self through drink, drugs or obsessive gaming or fantasy. Or I may more know the symptoms as they spill out, seeking to compensate by taking control of something such as my food intake, my appearance or even my life through cutting myself.

You could even manage both: Friends, porn is a killer - it gives both a sense of escape and control. Which is why it’s the most dangerous drug out there. If you need help, get it. We’ll be talking lovingly, graciously and shamelessly about that and other issues of control in a few weeks’ time.

It might be that 18 months ago you lost your job and it was so traumatic for you that you’ve never been able to look for another job for fear that you’re going go through the same. Or losing your best friend to cancer. Or losing a relationship with someone that you love.

The anxiety of the trauma sticks with us and we end up feeling like we’re constantly in a battle that we’re never going to win.

Anxiety is like a choking vine that grows through our minds, seeping from our memories into our todays; twisting and crippling with its vines growing and gripping into every part of our daily existence. Our lives and the lives of those around us are at stake.

The anxiety switch is rarely felt in itself. In this way, it is helpful. But what about when it stays on or produces too much power - what about when we do feel it? What about worries that won’t go away?


The road to a better life is to actually to step out of the ring.

How do we step out of the ring? How do we help those we live with step out of the ring?

To move forward and step out of the ring we have to put anxiety in context. We know what it is. But why do we experience it as it is?


If you experience this kind of anxiety or you know those who do, one of our first things is to know our context with God.

I want you to turn to Isaiah 35 vs 1-4.

God has this bunch of people that he’s picked out of nowhere. They’re not impressive, they’re not significant, and they’re nomads, wanderers. He’s made a promise to them that through them they will bring his love to the rest of the world.

They’re incredibly anxious and they’ve found themselves in a place where they’ve wandered off after so many other things. Where they feel like they’ve let God down because they have, and they’re afraid of him rather than trusting in him, and everything’s gone wrong. It’s resulted quite practically in themselves being broken down being attacked and overcome by their enemies by the sword, and in desert and famine where they are. And yet in the midst of this comes this remarkable word of hope from a bloke called Isaiah who prayed a lot and God spoke to him. God said this:

‘The desert and the parched lands will be glad. The wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus, it will burst into bloom. It will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon, these fertile lands. They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands. Steady the knees that give way. Say to those with fearful hearts “be strong, do not fear”’.

When I’m worried somebody saying to me ‘don’t worry’ never does any good. In fact I get more worried and anxious about the fact that I can’t stop being worried and anxious. And then there’s a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety and that’s that. Let me finish reading.

‘Say to those with fearful anxious hearts “Be strong and do not fear. Your God will come. He will come with vengeance, with divine retribution He will come to save you”.

God is not at war with you.

He is at war with the mess of the world, with the evil powers behind it. He is at war with what produces anxiety and isolation between us and from him. God is a God of warfare and yet not against us. In fact he comes to fight for us. And this promise that God comes with vengeance, with divine retribution to wrestle us back from the hands of the devil and all of our collusion with him.

Isaiah paints this picture that a day will come when God will come and do something decisive about their anxiety, decisive about their waywardness, decisive about all the effects of that upon them. And this promise is realised when God comes in person to earth. With acts of divine warfare in healing the sick and restoring relationships. But God here on earth ends up being killed by those who say they follow him because they couldn’t stand to look in the mirror and see how far they’d fallen. And yet all he wanted to do was to lift them up, and so when God in Jesus dies on a cross and is executed, and as he conquers death, death could not hold him.

We have this divine retribution - this promise that God could not be kept away from you. He has pursued you. He has chased you down and he is chasing you down here tonight. And he proves it by saying even though you may think that I’m far off in the heavens I’m here with you now by my spirit, my divine company is with you. And this divine presence, his Holy Spirit in us, does two main things, two main acts of divine vengeance and retribution.

First is this: it’s a promise of a better age to come. When Jesus is going to come back and there’s going to be no more death, mourning, tears, pain. I quote that verse pretty much every sermon because it’s so important. We must not forget what’s going to happen. We must not forget the future that is coming. And it’s not just a weird ethereal state at the end of day. CS Lewis says that was we’re living in now is just the contents page of the life that is coming. This is the future that we have for us- everything made right again. But what about here and now?

Second: The same divine presence that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in us, raising us from living death to life. He keeps us growing and going on towards that day.

Because anxiety does the opposite. Anxiety cripples us, stops us moving forward and growing with God and with ourselves and other people. Anxiety cripples us and brings us to our knees. And so Jesus is an all-defining stamp of hope upon your life.

The world seems to be falling apart getting messier and messier, that things seem to be decaying all around, though our minds often seem to be wreaking havoc with us, that here is a hope, that there is a way forward.

This is the context relating to God that we find ourselves in relating to our anxiety. Yes we experience it, but the vengeance and divine retribution of God winning us as his prize means that the final word of anxiety is not anxiety. The final word of anxiety is life. Our lives are not defined by our anxiety, they are defined by Jesus. He is the first-foundation of our existence and he is the aim of our existence - also the power from first to last! No matter how badly I experience anxiety, I am a Christian and not an Anxietian. We will get there in the end.


The next context of anxiety that is helpful for us to understand is in relation to us. How we relate to it, what goes on with it. The baptism celebration in the Church of England uses these words: stand firm against the world, the flesh and the devil. This gives us a remarkably helpful way of accessing the reality of anxiety in all of it’s entwined complexity.


Sometimes things happen to us that embed in us a sense of anxiety.
My parents are amazing. Somehow circumstances conspired that I grew up with an innate sense of anxiety that I was trapped, powerless and not acknowledged in my pain. Then as I moved through life I began reading this into everything and I grew up afraid to make myself known, choosing instead to live life through a lens of escapism and controlling behaviour to liberate myself from my innate anxiety. As I got older I found myself in an extremely abusive relationship through my teenage years. And long after she’d gone I was left with a deep fear of commitment lest I suffer at the hands of my own decision to commit. That’s the world. Many of us have experienced traumatic things outside of our control by and large that have embedded in us deep senses of anxiety around particular issues and emotions, for example: acceptance, acknowledgement, affirmation and provision.


Sometimes our brains are just a bit screwed up. And just as someone can be born with frail bones so too our brains can break as well. The bits of the brain that produce thoughts and police them, which send out the chemicals to deal with them can all malfunction. Sometimes anxiety comes from that route.


The devil is an enemy of God. And when we make ourselves partners with God the devil sets himself up. Not to serve God as he was originally intended, but to fight against him and all who fight with him. So when we say ‘yes God I will follow you’ the devil does his damn best to distract us. To get us caring about things more than we should. The biblical word for this is idolatry. When we put things that aren’t God in God’s place. Rather than care most about what God thinks of us we care most about what other people think of us.

We’ll stake our sense of peace and security not in being loved and being with him and his promises to us to keep us but in our own ability to get the right kind of job or the right kind of relationship. Or the right kind of savings in the bank. Or the right kind of help. Important things, but they’re not God.

When we set these up as our goal, when we stake so much peace on these ultimately wavering things we can experience this kind of acute chronic anxiety. Because it’s all in our hands. If our deepest goal in life is to secure ourselves then we will feel anxious because it’s all in our hands to do. But if our deepest goal in life is to pursue God’s way then often our anxiety subsides; we don’t have a reason to be anxious with that goal because it’s his shout.

I spent so long feeling a real call to pray for people on the streets for healing. And so often I’d walk past people and I’d feel this nudge that I needed to pray for them. And yet I was crippled by anxiety. What if it went wrong? What if nothing happened? What if they told me to f* off? Or what if they did get healed, then what would I say after that? Endless, endless, endless. Then I felt the Lord say, my boy, it’s not about you. For as long as it’s about you you’ll worry- and you need to worry because there’s no way you can heal that on your own. But make it about me and I’ll do it.

And often these things interweave - the world, the flesh and the devil. For example: when it comes to preaching and getting up here on a Sunday or whenever and speaking, these worries go through my head: What will you guys think of me? What if it all goes wrong? What if you don’t deem me worthy of listening to? What if you don’t like what I’m wearing? What if you think my hair’s really dumb or what if you think I need to go to the men’s clothes swap shop? Worries like that. And I’ve worried about these things for so long that they become idols. My way of dealing my experiences as a young’n was to get people to think really well of me. Then I’ll be alright, then I’ll be peaceful. So you see how the world becomes a hook for the devil to get in. And then our brains get so used to experiencing this, that even when I’ve been reassured and pointed by Sarah to keep trusting in God and to pray and give up that idolatry that I was going back to in my heart, I still felt sick. Still didn’t want to eat. Even though I’d dealt with the flesh, the world and the devil, still I needed help.


The devil:

Anxiety from staking our peace on anything other than the Prince of Peace. The simple thing is to simply ask God ‘What am I caring about too much?’, like David prays in Psalm 139. It’s a dangerous prayer to pray because He then tells you. You have to be willing. And then to say ‘God I’m sorry that I’ve cared too much about what other people think of me, I want to repent, I want to turn around and walk away. Take those things out of my hands and place my hands in yours instead. Spend time talking this through with God.

The world:

For others of us a practical way forward would be to face up to what’s happened in our lives. There might well be stuff that we’ve gone through, that we’ve been suppressing, that we think it can’t be linked to that, but it probably is. Because if we don’t process these things they eat us form the inside. Anxiety is a protection mechanism. It can become a block of ice around that which is most hurting.

For example you put your trust in a chair when you sit down. It might be that once you sat on a chair and it broke. It might have been so painful for you that you trusted in something which gave way, that you trusted in something that didn’t live up to what it promised, that anxiety has been the way you protect yourself from it, like a block of ice around it. So it’s become more comfortable (if a little cold) for you to manage the anxiety than to deal with what’s really underneath it. And if that’s you I haven’t come with a word to stop your anxiety - I’ve come with a word to say there is hope and healing for your hurt. I want you to focus on dealing with your anxiety. On dealing with your heart and what you’re most hurting about. God is a father who is holding you and saying ‘My child it’s ok. I know what is hidden in that block of ice, let me weep my tears into that. Because I’m crying about the things that you are crying about’. He empathises. He feels it. God became human, he healed humanity because he knows what it is to suffer.

So we can desire God’s insight for what’s going on. We can seek healing and we can seek counselling.


If it is just simply that our brain is messing us around, medication can be helpful at times as well. And sometimes the trauma that we have been through has offset our mind in such a way that we need help from medication to help us get to a point where we can deal with some of the hurt that we’ve been through. Science is great as long as we’re not using it as a get-out clause to not really deal with what we need to deal with. So there’s no shame in going to the doctor or anything like that.

Quite a helpful scenario to walk through, or questions to ask myself, because even if you’re not a chronic worrier often we experience the dangerous anxiety in every day worry, are to ask yourself ‘What’s my peace in here? Why am I worried about this?’ Actually am I worried what my boss thinks of me? Am I worried about losing my job? Losing my home? Things that might actually be a bit out of proportion. And these questions ‘What am I most worried about here?’ and ‘Why am I worried about that?’ can reveal perhaps some of the idolatry and some of the hurt and suffering at the heart of that, and that’s quite a good way of looking at ourselves and moving forward.


If the heart of anxiety is to separate us from God and isolate us from each other, and the heart of God is to bring us closer to him and closer to one another, then the way that we move forward from this is to commit to each other and commit to Him. To say ‘There is no shame any more in the mistakes that I’ve made that have caused me anxiety. There is no shame anymore in the things that have happened to me that have caused me anxiety. And I’m going to put my head above the parapet of shame and say I need to know that you are committed to me and that we can keep going with this’.

Knowing in this the commitment of God, what will it look like for you and your church family to grow in commitment to each other and God?


Michael Stipe was once asked why REM wrote the track Everybody Hurts (if you’ve not heard it stop now, Google it have a listen and come back.) Michael responded that he wrote the song because nobody writes songs about depression, its not sexy. He’s right; many mainstream songs are positive in outlook, what REM wrote was a song making public what people kept to themselves.

The church is no different to REM’s experience of the record companies. Depression is often to be kept secret and personal, swept under the carpet.

Often what is preached in church is what I would describe as the ‘Triumphant Gospel’. People come away with the idea that if they become a Christian, all will be ok and everything will be glorious. Essentially God is powerful and if you become a follower you too will be triumphant.

If we are to look at the pages of the Bible what we find is a different picture. King David, a hero of the faith spends much of the Psalms speaking of his depressive and anxious state.

“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word” Psalm 119:25.

“I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. …I groan because of the turmoil of my heart” Psalm 38:6,8

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.” Psalm 32:3-4

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. Psalm 23:4

David talks about being in the dust, mourning all the day long, his bones groaning, walking through darkness. David is honest, real and true to life. David is struggling and speaks of this struggle. He’s not the only one to do this, others do this too. What about Abraham (Genesis 15), Jonah (Jonah 4), Job (Book of), Elijah (1 Kings 19), King Saul (I Samuel 16:14-23)?

The Bible is littered with ‘how did that get in there’ passages of people being honest and real about the darkness that they are going through.


  1. Anyone can be affected by depression, worry and anxiety. There is a myth that says only those who are weak minded get affected. In fact its often those who think they are strong that find they are hit the most.

  2. Depression isn’t just being sad, and you can be sad without being depressed.

  3. Christians aren’t bullet proof; just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean your protected from depression. Or because you have depression you’re a bad Christian.

  4. Depression isn’t spiritual weakness or evidence of secret sin.

  5. Depression isn’t a choice someone makes, you can’t snap out of it.

  6. Those with depression aren’t constantly miserable and alone. Some of the most entertaining and funny people to be around struggle with depression the most.

  7. Many with depression present ‘normal’ on the outside but are crippled inside.


The Bible has a lot to say about depression, anxiety and worry.


The Bible makes it clear that weakness and suffering is a human reality. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you will never suffer. In fact in Romans 8:17 we are told that we may well suffer more because of our faith.


We are also told that our greatest need isn’t strength, but Gods presence. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” Romans 8:26. Some mornings I can’t do anything but groan at God. I’m not in a place to speak well worded prayers, or articulate myself well. So I groan, and I’m encouraged that the Spirit takes these groans and turns them in to prayers for me.


God is committed to bringing us through all that we go for. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. God is working for our good even when we can’t see or feel it. This we have to cling onto. When we talk about God we talk in terms of experiencing his presence, sensing him, experiencing him. But when we are depressed the one thing we can’t do is experience his presence, we feel dumb, dead and disconnected. So what do we do when we cant feel our emotions or sense feelings but yet we in the church we talk so much about God ‘touching’ us. We have to hang on to what we know to be true, God is working and he is committed too us according to his purpose.

I don’t always ‘feel’ loved by my wife but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me. Sometimes we don’t feel loved by God but he does. In these moments of not feeling loved I am able to hang on to the moments where she has told me she loves me before. I hold on to what I know to be true even when I don’t ‘feel’ it.


“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Romans 8:37-39

We are more than conquerors, not because we are clever, beautiful, patient, wealthy, strong, powerful, great, well thought of, strategic… but because of Jesus. We can conquer all things through him, not through ourselves.

Depression can’t separate us from God, it feels like it but it doesn’t. Our commitment wavers not his.


The good news of the Gospel isn’t that our prayer lifts us up to God but that God came down to us. Putting on flesh and blood he moved into the neighbourhood. Where is God then in suffering, when we are under the blanket, unable to get from under the blanket of depression where is he? He’s not in the room, or on the end of the bed, but tucked up with us under then blanket whispering ‘I’m here, I’m with you, I have a plan’.



The third person of the Trinity is often misunderstood and confused in our minds. We can end up talking about ‘it’ or describing him as a force. The Spirit of God is in fact a person in himself and enjoys equal standing, whilst being called the third person of the Trinity.

I would describe myself as a Charismatic New Monastic. This Charismatic part of me is the belief that God’s spirit is intending on being powerful and present in our lives beyond a nice idea. When we talk in my tradition about the Holy Spirit we sometimes use the phrase ‘come holy spirit’. I think in reality what we mean is ‘us’ come into ‘his’ presence, but that’s another issue. By praying come Holy Spirit we can end up with an idea of the Spirit being God’s spiritual ‘milk-man’.

The Holy Spirit in no way brings us some container or bottle of his presence, but the Holy Spirit brings his own life that he then beautifully shares with us. This life the Spirit gives is not some abstract thing and it is not primarily something that he gives us at all. The Spirit gives us his very self that we might know and enjoy him and so enjoy his fellowship with the Father and Son.

If we think about the Spirit like a milk man, bringing us bottles each week of this spirit, then we need to keep asking each week for him to do so. This then creates in us this idea that God’s Spirit is only brought in momentary doses and can be consumed as such. The Spirit is not like some divine milkman leaving behind bottles of his ‘gift of life’ on our doorsteps only then to move on to the next door or person.

For some of us this could be a major revelation. The Holy Spirit does not bring us ‘something’ like a power drink, but brings ‘someone’ that is powerful. In giving us this life he then becomes a part of us not something consumed by us. This giving of life comes to be ‘with’ us and ‘remains’ with us. It is in this giving of his life that we then experience a life on some new level, a life with new colour, new tones, new grace, new reality, making life blossom and growing something more real and more solid than we experienced before.

The Spirit does not leave bottles, but breathes… life.