I didn’t expect to be able to go to the Coxwold Cyclists Church Service after 2016; being Ordained meant I would be involved in parish church life most Sundays. So I was delighted when Eddie Grainger sent me a letter asking if I’d preach at the 2017 edition, it gave me permission to be absent from my church and be the guest preacher.
Judy Webb, of North Yorkshire CTC, introduces the service with the history of the event: The Coxwold Cyclists Church Service has been running uninterrupted for 91 years – and was the brainchild of the Revd Gibson Black who met two cyclists from Teesside riding through Coxwold, and decided to run a service of thanksgiving to God – on behalf of local cyclists.
I really wanted to cycle up from Hull, and make a day out of the invitation to preach, but an injury to my wrist and ankle has prevented me cycling properly since the beginning of April – so I reluctantly borrowed a car for the day. As I arrived early, I was able to take a seat in Crayke and read through my sermon in preparation.
There are hundreds of cyclists passing through Coxwold on a day like today. Villagers have opened their hall and provided quiche, sandwiches, cake and refreshments to anyone passing by – all great value for money. Many clubs make this temporary-tearoom a go-to ride location on this weekend in May. Additionally, there was an Evans “Ride It” sportive heading through Coxwold and out towards the North Yorkshire Moors. As I sat in the sunshine I was treated to a catwalk display of the latest summer bikes and noticed there is a trend now for deeper section rims as well as disc brakes.
Of the hundreds who pass by, approximately one hundred have made the church service itself the goal of the day, and they gather inside and outside the church waiting for the service to begin at 1:30pm. The Revd Liz Hassall is the Vicar of the Benefice and has referred to us as her ‘most colourful congregation ever’. Our event is known locally as ‘lycra Sunday’, but there is no mockery: Liz has taken up cycling too.
One of the obvious benefits of an gathering like this is the opportunity to meet friends from around the county. As well as seeing several fellow VeloClub167 club-mates it was good to see Keith and Anne Benton, fresh from organising the Wiggy 300 Audax.
I’m very grateful to Eddie for inviting me, to Liz for making me feel so welcome, and to Revd Black for initiating this wonderful event – I hope it continues for many years to come. The following text is a copy of my preaching notes.
Sermon: Coxwold Cyclists Church Service, 14 May 2017
[May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, Lord, our strength and our salvation.]
Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way.” And Jesus replied – why didn’t you print out a route-sheet or download the GPS file before we set off?
Not really – but I’ll come back to that.
Thank you for inviting me to preach at this Cyclists Church Service. I’ve been coming along for a few years now and I love being part of a community of cyclists giving thanks to God for the joy – and the pain – of cycling; as well as remembering those cyclists who’ve died in this last year.
The reading from the Gospel of St John is particularly poignant because it is used so frequently at funerals. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I go to prepare a place for you and I will take you there myself.” In the last year I have had the privilege to serve in many funeral situations, and to offer Christian hope. Sadly, this year, as every year, we’ve see fellow cyclists dying “doing what they loved”.
To name a few:
- Tim Wainwright. Long distance cyclist. Editor of Audax UK Arrivee Magazine.
- Mike Hall. Ultra-endurance cyclist and creator of the Trans-Continental Race.
- Michele Scarponi. Professional racing cyclist.
- In the last few days, a 31 year old woman was killed in collision with a bus in Oxford.
- A 44 year old man collapsed and died during a charity ride in Staffordshire.
In a moment of silence we remember those known personally to us, who we love but no longer see.
It doesn’t help that sometimes cyclists are the victim of hate crime, as Chris Froome experienced in France when rammed off the road while cycling. It is in this context, that we are gathered to give thanks to God for the joy… And for the pain… Of cycling.
I have come to the belief that when I cycle, I’m drawing closer to God. Growing in knowledge of his love, and worshipping him with everything that I am.
When Jesus said, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength – he was reminding us that loving God is not just a “head” activity, although using all of the powers of our reasoning and intelligence to grow in the knowledge and love of God are important too. And it isn’t just a “spiritual” activity, although spending time in quiet prayer and reflection are also deeply valuable. Jesus was asking us to love God with absolutely everything that we are.
So when you are riding your bike uphill and breathing heavily, perhaps praying “oh God help!” – your body is speaking in a language without words. Your body is converting food and oxygen into energy and washing away lactic acid in a way that God understands so much better than you do.
And when you reach your mountain top, and look upon the wonderful ‘creation garden’ that God has given us to live in, and say a prayer of thanks: you’ve used everything that you have to get there and praise God.
Worshipping with all your strength isn’t about being better than anyone else either: the thing about ‘all your strength’ is that it doesn’t have to be compared to anyone else’s strength. Sometimes we have to do things together too – so sharing the load on a tandem, or putting the genius of electric-assist into the equation doesn’t diminish the effort of worshipping with everything that we are.
Of course, cycling itself isn’t specifically a Holy activity. I think a lot of people would be upset if religion hijacked their sport. For many people cycling is just a fun activity, or a competitive sport – or a way of letting off steam.
However, it is perhaps for those of us seeking to understand God better, that we discover the ability to understand God in the everyday activities. And as cycling is an everyday activity for us, we can seek to know God better through this gift he has given us.
Of course – it is important to keep focus – to focus on worshipping our creator and not falling into the trap of worshipping ourselves. Not worshipping our strength, but instead recognising it as a gift. Not falling into the trap of worshipping creation instead of creator.
The gift of God through Jesus Christ is freedom.
At the heart of the Christian message of love, salvation and redemption is this message of being set free to worship God. Free to worship him without fear. Holy and righteous all the days of our life.
I come back to the threats each of us experience while riding our bikes – the very present danger of the careless, impatient or angry driver. If cycling is a form of worship, and if we’re set free to worship without fear – why is it that we get so frightened sometimes?
Perhaps because of the reality of death on the roads. Perhaps because we have all lost good friends to the careless actions of others.
Psalm 23 is often used a funerals too – ‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’. There is a long tradition of interpreting Holy Scripture in context, so in the context of cycling I reworded Psalm 23:
““Even though I cycle along the B-road of the shadow of careless driving; I will fear no close-pass. For your highway code and your radar-gun, they comfort me.”
Being free to worship without fear is not the same as a reckles abandonment, it certiainly isn’t a death-wish. It is Christian hope that ultimately all shall be well. Death is not the end. Jesus goes to prepare a place for us, he is the Way, the truth and the life.
And there, at that heart, is the message I would like to share with you today: that God has given us this gift of ‘being’, this gift of heart, soul, mind and strength. This gift of ‘creation’s garden’ in which to live. Although it can be dangerous, don’t be afraid… cycle free – free to worship without fear.
After all, Jesus is our route-sheet, our ride leader. And when we reach the final control, he will have prepared a dwelling place for us.
My prayer for you all as you head home is the peace of God, the blessing of God, and the speed of God to you all. Amen.