Sermon: Mothering Sunday, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon, 5 March 2005
Based on a thought for the day by the Revd Dr Giles Fraser

Perhaps the best known philosophical sound bite is Rene Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’, ‘I think therefore I am’. What Descartes was trying to do was find some form of knowledge that it’s absolutely impossible to doubt. We can doubt the existence of the outside world or the existence of other people, he argued. After all, we could be dreaming or some higher power could be misleading us. But it’s not possible to doubt that, at the centre of everything, there is some ‘me’ doing the thinking or the doubting. Thus, Descartes concludes, the only thing we can know for sure is that I exist.

This reasoning has become a very influential trap for modern western thought. For in locating certainty within the individual, philosophers have found it fiendishly difficult to describe any sort of bridge that links my own personal reality to the reality of other people. So we become stranded within ourselves, the private self becomes some sort of prison, with the solitary ‘I’ caught deep within. Poets and writers have described this modern condition as one of alienation. They speak of our yearning to find a sense of reality that connects us back up with each other and the world in which we live.

Today is Mothering Sunday. Once we have cleared the decks of hype and sentimentality, we are left to reflect upon the simple intimacy of mother and child. Think about a mother breast-feeding her baby – this isn’t two separate individuals desperately trying to infer the reality of each other. That’s surely why Henry Moore often carved his Mother and Child sculptures out of a single piece of stone. No, the intimacy of the mother feeding her child suggests that the primary reality is not autonomous selves struggling to find each other, but rather that relationship exists prior to a sense of separate selfhood.

Relationship, our fundamental connectedness: these things come first.
For Christians, loving relatedness is the very heart of reality. It’s what binds mother and child as one, just as it binds Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one. For the Trinity is not three separate units trying unconvincingly to squeeze into oneness. Rather, it’s a way of saying that God is fundamentally relational. Simply put: God is the love that binds all things together. And if this is right, then we are not separate units struggling to make contact, but like the mother and child, we are carved from a single piece of stone.

For this reason, we look beyond the four walls of this church and into the world, why yesterday we relaunched the tradition of selling fairly traded goods in this parish with a greatly successful coffee morning and had the opportunity to reflect on how we are all, through our intimacy with Christ, made into one, into the body of Christ. Amen.

Sermon: Lent 3, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon: Lent 3, Year A
Text: John 4:5-42

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

At a time of year when we have just had snow, hail, frost and cold, it seems a little odd to remind you of times of drought, but knowing the competence of our water companies these days, we know that drought of some kind is never too far away, and perhaps the first hosepipe ban is due next week!

Real drought is very different: when your land is reduced to mere dust, the plants upon which you depend to feed your family shrivel and wither away and your cattle and your children become more invisible by the day. Drought is still a reality for much of the world, and our globally-warmed comfort should not distract us from the reality of what goes on beyond our shores.

Even when there is water to be found, it is often channelled towards cash crops and food that the rich West demands (at pitiful, unfairly traded prices) rather than subsistence for the people who actually work the land. This stark reality of the inhumanity of economics and geography can also be a metaphor for us of the spiritual desert: where in our lives there may be an aridness, a dry separation from the life-giving refreshment of God, or there may be adequate supplies of God’s love around, but which is channelled into inappropriate uses.

Christ lived in a land that was chronically dry. Imagining life in a drought-stricken land might help us identify with the people who lived in the Holy Land during Jesus’ time. They recognized how critical water is for life-especially when there is not enough — or when it is difficult to obtain. We identify with them as we remember how good water tastes when we are thirsty. When we are dry — really dry — there is nothing like a drink of cool, clear water. Using that truth, Our Lord gives us a spiritual lesson based on the common image of water for a thirsty person.

Today’s Gospel story takes us to an unlikely setting – we find Our Lord in a foreign region, Samaria, face to face with a local woman at Jacob’s well. The scene is one of two people who would be very unlikely to strike up a relationship in the normal course of events-a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman, religious enemies, two strangers of the opposite sex, alone together. This was an unusual event, even in public, at a time and in a place where there was a cultural taboo against women and men speaking if they did not know each other.

So when Our Lord asked the woman to give him a drink of water from the well, she was naturally startled, and asked, “How is it that you a Jewish man are asking me, a Samaritan women, to give you a drink?” Ignoring the question, Our Lord employed his metaphor: “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying it to you, you would have asked and been given living water.”

The confused woman, thinking he meant fresh water from a spring, replied something about Jacob’s well not having any such water and wondered where Christ would get “living water.”

Our Lord continued with the spiritual imagery, saying:

“Everyone who drinks of this water [from Jacob’s well will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” Still thinking literally, the woman said she’d sure like to have some of that water because it was difficult to draw water from the well.

As the story continues, however, we discover that the woman of Samaria has a deep thirst of a different kind — a spiritual one. Her life had not been good — she had married five times and the marriages had ended either in divorce or with the death of her spouse; each event had no doubt been devastating. Now she was living in an unmarried relationship, a difficult situation in that time and place.

When the woman finally discovered who Our Lord was and what he had to offer, he took her spiritual thirst and connected it with the life-giving spiritual water that only God can provide. That same power and truth is available to us as well. God provides refreshment for our spiritual thirsts.

There are certainly times when everyone is thirsty in spirit, when spiritual drought makes us especially desperate for the water that can give life to our spirits. These are the thirsty times when life seems shallow and without purpose, or when we can find no peace of mind inside a confused soul, or when doubt or fear paralyses us or when anxiety seems to tear us apart. These are times of a deep dryness of the soul.

For such times, Our Lord offers us what he offered the Samaritan woman. We can have it, too, if we share with her a thirst for acceptance and forgiveness and love for our parched lives.

The season of Lent is a time of self-imposed drought that can help remind us that our deepest thirst can mark a time for God’s spirit to become active in our lives.

Our Lord bids us come to his living water. Calls us to him, for he knows we thirst for acceptance in a desert of rejection, that we thirst for forgiveness in the parched land of our sins, and that we thirst for hope in the dry despair of our frustrations.

For us, as for the Samaritan woman, there comes, into the drought of life, the life-giving water of Christ, the one who also pours his love and grace into every crack and crevice of the dried and broken ground of our spirits.

To each of us who comes to him in hope of living water, for spiritual refreshment, For Christ not only gives us more than an ordinary drink, he offers us a spring of living water that can run deep inside each of us as an ever-refreshing source that can see us through the hard times of drought and direct us to the meaning that can be found only in truth of God.

Amen.

Sermon: Sunday next Before Lent, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon: Sunday next Before Lent, Year A
Text: Matthew 17:1-9

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord is one of those epiphanous moments – an episode where Jesus Christ is revealed as he truly is – not merely a fairly special man, or a marvellous teacher, or even a thoroughly good bloke, but he is shown to be God himself, revealed to us in all his glory. ‘Transfiguration’ in Greek is ‘Meta-morphos’ – from which we get metamorphosis – a change from one thing to another.

The Transfiguration was a marvellous experience for the closest of Jesus’ disciples, those privileged to see this revelation at first hand; and it was an experience which they wanted to go on forever. This is why Peter makes that rather embarrassing comment about making three tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus – because if he sets up somewhere for them to stay then by the rules of Middle-Eastern hospitality, they would be required to remain until the host wished them to leave.

Few of us are privileged enough to have such a close, intimate experience of God. Few of us encounter directly the glory and power of God. It may appear like a fairy story, or the sort of marvellous experience that only happens to other people. But the experience of God in these epiphanies need not be so dramatic – God is to be found in the stillness and quietness of your own prayers, in the Eucharist, in the Rosary, in exposition. God is to be experienced in the dark and the quiet as well as the bright mountain top, and that experience of God, with all the comfort, all the reassurance it offers is no less valid.

But what draws me to this episode is not the dramatic. At the end of the great experience, Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountains and returned to the plains and the city. It would seem a little odd at first glance to concentrate on that text, rather than the glories that preceeded it, but this morning, this is what I want us to focus upon.

After the glorious vision, their glimpse of heaven, they had to return to their daily lives, however humdrum, however exciting, however ordinary, and they had to get on with the job in hand – being Jesus’s disciples.

The Mass offers us a Transfiguration, a metamorphosis, it offers us the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Mass offers us the mountain-top experience in the beauty of liturgy and the glories of music. The Mass is the meeting point between normal human beings like Peter, James and John, like you and I, and with God Almighty.

And after the Mass… well, you just have to come down from the mountain, go home and get on with the job in hand – making the Yorkshire Puddings, and being Jesus’ disciples.

The key thing therefore, is not necessarily what happens on the mountain-top, as wonderful as it may be, but what that Transfiguration experience does for us the other days of the week.

The methods through which we get on with the difficult and demanding job of being one of Jesus’ disciples are written out for us in the reading: “Stand up”. “Do not be Afraid” (as recorded in the Transfiguration story of St Luke). “This is my Son, Listen to Him.”

I have not so far spoken openly of the Christian Youth Camps that I have been involved in, but as I am sure you can sense, I see them as a relevant, even essential part of my ministry, both here and to the wider church. For the hundreds of young people who gather for the Chichester Diocese Festivals in May and in the first week of the Summer holidays, and the many more who come to a small village in Norfolk for the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham, it is like a Transfiguration experience, as we come away from our parishes, gather together as eager disciples and are given a glimpse of the glory of God in lively and exciting worship, in fun and fellowship, prayer and games, opportunity to encounter God and to study his word and meet with hundreds of other Christians. It is truly a mountaintop experience, and it can be seen in the excitement and enthusiasm of the many young people I and others have helped along this journey over nearly a decade. If you yourselves were to witness any part of this, you would see why I put in so much work into these each year and why it is such a crucial element of the Church’s mission: it is why I ask you to release me for this important work and to pray that young people in this parish will be able to go to them and experience this transfigurative experience themselves.

And after the week of camp, well, just like the disciples, the young people have to come down from that wonderous experience, and return to the cities and the plains, to their own churches, and not be beaten into conforming, but to get on with the job in hand of changing and enthusing us, teaching us from their transfiguration experiences, for they have so much to teach us all.

Their experiences can feed our own worship, and together we can grow to worship God in a Mass that truly reflects his glory. We follow a Jesus who is not just for Sunday best, and not restricted to those who think themselves worthy of being a Christian, but we follow a Jesus who came to earth with the sole purpose of saving us all, regardless of how good or bad we think we are.

So, enjoy the experience of the Mass, fill yourself here at this altar with the experience from the top of the Mountain, and then do like Peter, James and John and go back into the real world and get on with it.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to Him.” Amen.

Sermon: Ordinary 4, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: Matthew 5:1-11
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two babies were sat in their cribs, when one baby shouted to the other,
“Are you a little girl or a little boy?”
“I don’t know,” replied the other baby giggling.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” said the first baby.
“I mean I don’t know how to tell the difference,” was the reply.
“Well, I do,” said the first baby chuckling.
“I’ll climb into your crib and find out.”
He carefully manoeuvred himself into the other baby’s crib, then quickly disappeared beneath the blankets.
After a couple of minutes, he resurfaced with a big grin on his face.
“You’re a little girl, and I’m a little boy,” he said proudly.
“You’re ever so clever,” cooed the baby girl, “but how can you tell?”
“It’s quite easy really,” replied the baby boy,
“you’ve got pink booties on and I’ve got blue ones.”

Purity in heart, Our Lord tells us, will enable us to see God. Purity in heart is this morning’s challenge to us from the Sermon on the Mount. But purity is not about being scandalised that I was about to tell a risqué joke from the pulpit, but rather about clearing out all those things that prevent us from seeing God properly. Purity is not an attitude, but a way of being; and for all that it is one of the hardest (but achievable) challenges that the Christian faith sets us.

If you look again at the Beatitudes, you can see that they appear in a form of order: an 8-step program to become a true child of God, as one would say in fashionable self-help-speak. One Beatitude builds upon another. Our Lord teaches us first to become Poor in Spirit, and empty ourselves of our pride; to be Gentle to others; to Mourn, mourn our past lives, repent and turn to God for forgiveness and comfort; to hunger and thirst for what is right and to work to resolve the world’s and the community’s problems; to be Merciful, particularly to those who wrong us – a lesson perhaps for those contemplating the introduction of house arrest in this supposedly free country ; to be a peacemaker, at home, at work, at school, as well as between nations; and finally, to be persecuted – the ultimate mark of standing up for Christ in this hostile and indifferent world.

Purity in heart therefore is something to which we can all aspire to, something that is not an unachievable ideal available only to the truly Saintly, but is something which we can all attain with the help of the Church through faith in Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Look again at the simple, contrasted phrases of the beatitudes and you see some of the greatest challenges to mankind ever issued. Christ does not advocate the status quo, or a comfortable haven or a quiet life. His teaching subverts the values of the society he lived in then, and continues to subvert a modern society which values material wealth over spiritual richness, values individual self-interest over community spirit and the hedonistic pursuit of individual pleasure over care for others.

The Gospel is not an easy ride. It is not a place of retreat in our declining years. It is a challenge. One of the problems with the translation of the bible used this morning is the use of the word “happy”, which in the context of what I am talking about appears a bit weak. The Greek word is “makarios”, which means “blessed”. Of course, when one is blessed by God, one becomes happy, supremely happy; but the sense of “makarios” is much more profound, in actually receiving the blessing of God, that supreme source of all our happiness.

The Beatitudes do not call for us to withdraw from the world, to wrap ourselves up in a cosy little cocoon of pleasant music and unchallenging liturgy, but to engage with it – to hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God in our midst. To achieve purity of heart, we must not isolate ourselves from the horrors of this terrible world, but stand up and say “this is what Christ call us to…”

If we want to achieve such purity, then we need to put aside our self-interest, put aside our vanity and our prejudice and open ourselves out to an encounter with God. All the way through the Scriptures, encounter with God – burning bush, chariot of fire, 40 days of the wilderness – was always something challenging, uncomfortable and unsettling. In the stillness of prayer and in the bustle of action to better the society around us, the call of God is a call to work not for what we can get out of it, but for the glory of God, through which we ourselves become holy, become pure.

If you can live out the challenge of the beatitudes: and especially to remain pure in heart, amid all the poisonous self-interest of modern society, then you too, will be ‘makarios’ – truly, truely Blessed.

Amen.

Sermon: Ordinary 3, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: Matthew 4:12-25

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Difficult question: What drew you to church today? What was it that caused you to get out of bed on your day off, go to the trouble of getting dressed and coming to church this morning when you could be slumming it around your lounge with a decent cup of coffee and a copy of the Sunday Times?

I hope when you came to St Thomas’s today, you came because down somewhere in your heart and mind you have heard the call of Jesus to “Come, follow me.” I hope that just as Jesus called Peter and Andrew from their nets, you too are following the Saviour wherever He leads you.

I hope you have come in response to the God that loves you, to praise His name and meet with him in word and sacrament, echoing the worship of the angels and saints in heaven, for you have heard the call, “Come, follow me.”

This call to follow Jesus is not passive following. His call for us to follow was not a call for us to be “Jesus groupies.” It is not like sitting passively at the feet of some Eastern mystic. Jesus knew that He had a limited time on this earth. If the good news was to be perpetuated from generation to generation and to grow in scope, He had to pass on who He was and His purpose on this earth and send each of His disciples to the “ends of earth” to do the same.

My question for you this morning is this: Are you a disciple or a “Jesus groupie?” Do you come to church because you want to worship the Saviour, to receive the encouragement that only his sacraments can bestow: to deepen your faith so that you can be a better servant of Jesus Christ during the week?

Or do you come because you like the music or the fellowship; or out of sense of duty or habit or guilt when it would be just as easy to have slept in or gone to B&Q this morning?

If you find yourself as one of the latter: if the Christian life stops shortly after 11.15 on a Sunday morning, and with the pound coin you grudgingly give, then I’m afraid you have fallen into the trap of just being a “Jesus” or “church groupie.”

It’s easy for us to slip into that kind of habit: to see church as a comfortable pair of shoes to slip on at the weekend, or part of a social life; but which has little impact on your life in any substance. This sermon could be preached at probably every church in this deanery, in this diocese, perhaps in every church in the land, and is a challenge to each and every one of us: how do we avoid being a Jesus Groupie and become a true disciple of Christ.

Are you a disciple? What is a disciple? A disciple is one who follows Jesus and learns how to duplicate the life, spirit and work that Christ came to do. We are called as disciples to become Jesus to the world around us.

A disciple is anyone who follows Jesus. It is not about whether you are a priest or a lay person. It is not about whether you have a degree from Oxford or from the University of Life and the School of Hard Knocks. Everyone who claims the name of Jesus, if they expect to get to heaven, must be a disciple.

Discipleship means following the leadership of Christ, and modelling our actions on his actions.

Firstly, this means engagement. Our faith is not at all an individual one. It is not about my faith, my belief, my salvation, even though it requires an individual commitment to faith, but it speaks of our faith, our belief, our salvation. The Creed begins with “We believe…” because our faith is an engagement – with God and with other people. To paraphrase St Paul, even if you have faith to move mountains, and do nothing with it, then it is worth nothing.

God willingly offers himself in these sacraments, and invites you to enter into this mysterious union. The least you can do is come forward to receive the blessing of that sacrament. Engage. Inaction is as contrary to the teachings of Christ as outright rejection.

Secondly this means involvement. Just as Andrew and Simon Peter were called to follow, to do things and through that to become active, working apostles, so we are called not just to assent to faith, but to become involved with it. Whether that engagement is an active praying ministry – praying daily for the work of this parish and intentions in the weekly sheet, or whether it means digging deeper into your pocket to help pay for the missionary work that needs to be done here, it does not mean that we can simply let matters drift over us. We face exciting times in this parish and every single person in these pews has crucial part to play in it.

In the wider Church, the Kairos process will significantly change the way this parish works in the future. There is no option for us to pull up our drawbridge and settle into comfortable isolation, for Elson needs to be deeply involved in the life of the Deanery and the Diocese if we are to survive; not least because at present we do not pay our way. This means that we need to get out to other events, to share with other Christians at Deanery and Diocese level, whether that means coming to the Lent Course, our own Patronal festival on (horror of horrors!) a weekday night or a major and important event the life of this parish and the diocese such as Margaret’s ordination.

And Thirdly this means action. We need not think that we can respond to the call of God just on a Sunday morning, for the God we worship is a seven-day God. Even if you consider yourself too old, too infirm or too unsure in faith, to be beating the streets of Elson spreading the Gospel, you all have your quiet and most effective ways of action: the word of encouragement to a neighbour in difficulty, the prayer which sustains the work of your priest and readers and the most effective action of all: coming to mass, and bringing others to mass to encounter God.

Remember the words of Scripture from last week “Come and See” said Andrew, and that is our primary action, to invite others to enter into these sacred mysteries.

It is important that Church is somewhere where we belong, where we are welcomed, where we feel at home. However, if we do not allow the Gospel to touch our lives then Church remains just a social event, and its true meaning is absent from our lives. A Social side to Church is important, and I see here many layers of love and care and compassion which extend over the generations and over the years. But the heart of the Church is the Gospel of Christ, the call to discipleship, to “Follow Him”. At the heart of the Gospel is the drawing closer to God and becoming immersed in His love: the love that offers itself our to you in the beauty of the eucharist.

A Jesus Groupie is only concerned with what Church gives to them. A true disciple gives of themselves for the building of the Kingdom.

Difficult question time again: What are you?

Sermon: Ordinary 2, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in parish

Sermon: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: John 1:29-34

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

John the Baptist uses the metaphor of the Lamb of God. It is an odd metaphor when one considers the traditional view of the Messiah of God as a powerful military leader who would free Israel from oppression.

The Lamb of God is the sacrificial lamb, the willing victim, the man of sorrows. John the Evangelist makes this connection clear by telling us that Christ is arrested and is given up late on Maundy Thursday – at the same time as the Passover Lambs were being slaughtered in preparation for the Passover. In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper is not the Passover meal, but the one that precedes it – look closely at the text and you will see this.

When I raise the consecrated elements at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, I always echo these words of John the Baptist directly: “This is the Lamb of God”, not “This is something that reminds me of the Lamb of God…” but “This is…”

As you can tell from my girth: in the past I have been very fond of wine. As the Scriptures say, it “gladdens our hearts” and has been a wonderful source of joy in my life.

The process of making wine is ancient: when Noah found dry land again, he planted a vineyard and got drunk (it’s in Genesis 9:20-21). However, one does not simply plant grapes and get wine, something has to happen to it to make it into that wonderful substance.

The action of fermentation, the work of yeast, to convert sugar into alcohol happens almost invisibly. It happens as it must in the dark, in the warm, and out of sight, and for most of us, how it does it is a mystery.

We start with grape juice and we end with champagne. A transformation in substance.

In the same way, the words and the actions of the priest and the responses of the congregation works on ordinary things: simple bread and wine, and there is another transformation in substance.

In a way that is also mysterious, that cannot be satisfactorily explained, nor indeed should be explained, there is a change in the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary, as God enters into these elements and simple bread and wine become the blessed sacrament and precious blood.

“This is the Lamb of God…” is literally true, it is not a metaphor or an illustration, but a statement of fact. In these changed elements we find God. We find the real presence of Him “hiding” as St Francis of Assisi wonderfully said “under an ordinary piece of bread”. When Jesus took the bread and wine of a meal, he said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. It was not a metaphor, not an illustration, but the institution of a sacrament. We believe Christ when he admits that he is the Son of God, so I fail to understand why some would wish to deny the reality of Christ in these most sacred mysteries.

We start with bread and wine and we end with the body and blood of Christ. We need not look for God in the molecules of the wine, or the atoms of the bread, look not for the change to the elements (which is why it matters not whether the wine is red or white – in fact it maybe even better for us if the wine does not look like blood, for that would be far to obvious for the mysterious workings of God), look not for the change to the elements but look for the change in the people of receive it – the comfort derived from the sacrament. Look not for the wind, but for the action the wind has on the trees.

God takes the ordinary: people like you and like me, and he transforms us into something extraordinary – into the saved. God does this is subtle ways, hidden, in the dark. How he does this is a mystery. We are transformed by the power of God, transformed by Christ’s body and blood.

This is why I have the highest possible regard for the sacraments. This is why the Mass is the cornerstone of our worship and why it is at the heart of our missionary activity in this place. This is why we come together not just on a Sunday but at other times during the week to worship God, and why you should come also. This is why we keep the blessed sacrament safely in that Aumbrey behind the altar and we revere it with a bow or a genuflection, for God is really present here in these blessed sacraments and his holy presence is signified by the candle that always burns above the Aumbrey.

That is why we have the opportunity to pray before the blessed sacrament when it is exposed. This is why is taken to those too unwell to come to Church to receive the sacrament of salvation.

That is why you should all come to this holy altar to partake in these blessed sacraments; for he was prepared to make himself available to all of us.

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Not the sins of a few, or the sins of those who are already good, but the sins of the whole world, the sins of you, the sins of me, the sins of all of us, past, present and future.

We behold Christ on the altar, making the holy sacrifice, we witness the transformation, we ourselves are transformed.

…and it is something far finer than the finest champagne, for this is the taste of salvation.

Amen.

Sermon: Ordinary 2, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in parish

Sermon: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: John 1:29-34

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

John the Baptist uses the metaphor of the Lamb of God. It is an odd metaphor when one considers the traditional view of the Messiah of God as a powerful military leader who would free Israel from oppression.

The Lamb of God is the sacrificial lamb, the willing victim, the man of sorrows. John the Evangelist makes this connection clear by telling us that Christ is arrested and is given up late on Maundy Thursday – at the same time as the Passover Lambs were being slaughtered in preparation for the Passover. In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper is not the Passover meal, but the one that precedes it – look closely at the text and you will see this.

When I raise the consecrated elements at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, I always echo these words of John the Baptist directly: “This is the Lamb of God”, not “This is something that reminds me of the Lamb of God…” but “This is…”

As you can tell from my girth: in the past I have been very fond of wine. As the Scriptures say, it “gladdens our hearts” and has been a wonderful source of joy in my life.

The process of making wine is ancient: when Noah found dry land again, he planted a vineyard and got drunk (it’s in Genesis 9:20-21). However, one does not simply plant grapes and get wine, something has to happen to it to make it into that wonderful substance.

The action of fermentation, the work of yeast, to convert sugar into alcohol happens almost invisibly. It happens as it must in the dark, in the warm, and out of sight, and for most of us, how it does it is a mystery.

We start with grape juice and we end with champagne. A transformation in substance.

In the same way, the words and the actions of the priest and the responses of the congregation works on ordinary things: simple bread and wine, and there is another transformation in substance.

In a way that is also mysterious, that cannot be satisfactorily explained, nor indeed should be explained, there is a change in the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary, as God enters into these elements and simple bread and wine become the blessed sacrament and precious blood.

“This is the Lamb of God…” is literally true, it is not a metaphor or an illustration, but a statement of fact. In these changed elements we find God. We find the real presence of Him “hiding” as St Francis of Assisi wonderfully said “under an ordinary piece of bread”. When Jesus took the bread and wine of a meal, he said “This is my body”, “This is my blood”. It was not a metaphor, not an illustration, but the institution of a sacrament. We believe Christ when he admits that he is the Son of God, so I fail to understand why some would wish to deny the reality of Christ in these most sacred mysteries.

We start with bread and wine and we end with the body and blood of Christ. We need not look for God in the molecules of the wine, or the atoms of the bread, look not for the change to the elements (which is why it matters not whether the wine is red or white – in fact it maybe even better for us if the wine does not look like blood, for that would be far to obvious for the mysterious workings of God), look not for the change to the elements but look for the change in the people of receive it – the comfort derived from the sacrament. Look not for the wind, but for the action the wind has on the trees.

God takes the ordinary: people like you and like me, and he transforms us into something extraordinary – into the saved. God does this is subtle ways, hidden, in the dark. How he does this is a mystery. We are transformed by the power of God, transformed by Christ’s body and blood.

This is why I have the highest possible regard for the sacraments. This is why the Mass is the cornerstone of our worship and why it is at the heart of our missionary activity in this place. This is why we come together not just on a Sunday but at other times during the week to worship God, and why you should come also. This is why we keep the blessed sacrament safely in that Aumbrey behind the altar and we revere it with a bow or a genuflection, for God is really present here in these blessed sacraments and his holy presence is signified by the candle that always burns above the Aumbrey.

That is why we have the opportunity to pray before the blessed sacrament when it is exposed. This is why is taken to those too unwell to come to Church to receive the sacrament of salvation.

That is why you should all come to this holy altar to partake in these blessed sacraments; for he was prepared to make himself available to all of us.

“This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Not the sins of a few, or the sins of those who are already good, but the sins of the whole world, the sins of you, the sins of me, the sins of all of us, past, present and future.

We behold Christ on the altar, making the holy sacrifice, we witness the transformation, we ourselves are transformed.

…and it is something far finer than the finest champagne, for this is the taste of salvation.

Amen.

Sermon: Christmas 1, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon: Christmas 1, Year A, Holy Family
Text: Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

With the birth of the Christ child still fresh in our ears, we move away from the crèche and towards the reality of living in the presence of a living God. We quickly move from the crystal starlight over the stable scene to a scene of warnings, dreams and severe human suffering.

For Mary and Joseph, the consequences of caring for their small infant son, the Emmanuel – the God with us – meant further dislocation and further isolation. This faithful couple, always ready t follow God, were being led away from everything and everyone that would support them while they cared for this child. Our Gospel moves us from the gentleness of the incarnation to the harsh reality of life.

These new parents had to flee from their homeland and their people and go to a strange land that did not know them. They became aliens, immigrants forced to flee away rather than run home to their village. For the families in Bethlehem and surrounding communities the consequences were much worse. Small children were slaughtered because a ruler was tricked by some wise elders from a distant tribe. There was blood everywhere. The awful reality of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents is recalled by the Church on Tuesday, whilst today this genocide forces the Saviour of us all to become an Asylum Seeker. The consequence of human anger with access to absolute power is clear in our Gospel today. The word of God made flesh reminds us today of the responsibility we have to the innocent and the alien. How easily we forget this lesson. The next time we read one of those poisonous newspaper articles about Asylum Seekers we should remember the story of the Christ-Child and his experience.

The harsh reality of the genocide inherent in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents invites us to move our gaze from the pastoral crèche scene, the wise men and sheep, to the world to which God came. We are invited to see the same broken world that is about us today. We are called to witness this same world, full of terror, in which angry and selfish political leaders even today destroy innocent lives.

Jesus came into the midst of terror and enters into our terror.

We, like Our Lady and St. Joseph, are called to move out from soft places, from warm rooms and safe havens, to the places where innocence is challenges, where faithful tender lives are at risk, and carry the God incarnate to alien places so that we might all be free.

A friend was recently in an airport waiting for a connecting flight. In the next row sat a family of six, mother, father and four small children. They were all dressed quite inappropriately for the season and the location: they huddled together, sleeping fitfully and speaking very little. When they did, it was a strange and unfamiliar language. As they boarded the plane, it was obvious that they were very confused by the seating and signs. My friend tried to help them as best she could but there was little was of communicating except by pointing.

This family of refugees were coming to a place where very little was familiar. How could they raise their children, find their way, communicate their basic needs? And yet they came with a weary willingness to protect and care for their little ones, to find a new life, despite all of the challenges and dislocation that were behind and in front of them.

This is what love does within in each of us. It gives us the courage to take on responsibility for the innocent. Love incarnate empowers us to turn away from the comforting familiar, in order to let love incarnate thrive.

Here is our call, our responsibility this Christmastide and all through the year. God with us, Emmanuel, encourages us to face the power of this world in order to protect the vulnerable and the needy.

This Love made Flesh challenges us to see the face of God in each refugee, each alien, each immigrant, every stranger.

The Prince of Peace calls us to look away from the comfortable and the pastoral to see the stark reality of suffering and terror in our world. We are called to see with the eyes of the Word of God – eyes which see everyone as relatives, tribal members, kin, family, equally welcomed at God’s table.

May these days of Christmas be times of looking outward, seeking the family which has been left outside, bringing home those who have been refugees, aliens and strangers.

Later in his ministry, the Christ-Man would say “whenever to visited or welcomed or cared for one such as these, then you did the same to me”. The Refugee, the Asylum-Seeker, the Poor, frightened or destitute remain, and it is our Christian duty to shelter the next Holy Family which flees for survival to our land.

Amen.

Sermon: Christmas Day, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in parish

Sermon: Christmas Day, Year A
Text: John 1:1

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So, we have had all chaos of the Crib and Christingle Service, the beauty and splendour of a full midnight mass, with the bambino placed reverently into the Crib scene and the nativity scene is now complete.

Or is it?

In Catalan homes and Churches there is another figure which I have not spotted amongst our ancient and by-now-quite-fragile crib: I speak of “El Caganer” – who can be loosely translated as “the one who is doing his business”.

The business in hand must be taken quite euphemistically, when I tell you that El Caganer takes his place in the Christmas Crib, besides the Wise Men, wearing a peasant beret and squatting, with his trousers around his ankles.

In the midst of all this solemnity, there is injected a little earthly humour, a little humanity in the midst of all this Godliness.

And I say, that this is a good thing, a very good thing indeed: a little grounding in reality just as we let our pietism loose on flights of extreme fantasy.

The Christmas Crib, like what we have below the altar was first created by Saint Francis of Assisi.

Francis sought to remind people what the nativity actually meant: to ground the event in reality – to remind people that the nativity was not a chocolate box affair of gleaming straw and sterile food troughs, but a dirty, smelly, cold, faeces-covered battle of endurance for a young girl and her much older husband.

The incarnation, the miracle of the incarnation was the choice of a God who was prepared to pour himself out for us: not only at the end of his life in the triumph of the cross, but at the beginning. The incarnation was an act of vulnerable humility, of great risk.

The heresy of docetism suggests that God only appeared in human form, that the incarnation was symbolic, that the crucifixion did not kill, that Christ did not need to eat, drink or even, dare one suggest it, defecate. Such heresy was rightly crushed by the great Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in his writings and condemned by ecumenical council, but I suggest to you this morning, that there is an element of docetism in all of us, an unwillingness to accept the vibrant truth of the incarnation, a temptation to saccharinise the nativity:

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”

…as that Christmas Carol goes. I spoke about this to the Christmas gathering of the Mother’s Union, and recall it now. We so-often willingly collude with the unrealistic, unincarnational concept of an unreal, docetic Jesus, when we should be prepared to grasp that uncomfortable truth: that God-is-with-us, that Emmanuel was incarnated as a human being, and that he became one of us.

What is Away in a Manager trying to prove? That Christ was sinless? Certainly, Christ was sinless, but no child cries because of sin, children cry because that is how they communicate. The word, the divine logos, became flesh and his first communications with us were not the beatitudes, or even “it is finished” but a cry of hunger, of cold and for a clean nappy.

God calls you, to look beyond the chocolate-box sentimentality of the nativity images story: underneath there is reality, underneath there is the incarnation.

Peer through the Christmas Crib and spy El Caganer in the background, for he is everyman, he is us, he is the link between ourselves in our basest moments, and the mystery of incarnation. Remember that even he, us, all of us, is present at this sacred moment. El Caganer may be crude, a little unseemly and perhaps even a little incongruous amid the precious, fragile works of art in the crib, but then again, so are we my friends, and God welcomes us to the crib to worship the Christ-child as well.

Amen.

Sermon: Midnight Mass of Christmas, Year A

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

Sermon: Midnight Mass, Year A
Text: CJM Video – I Want; Luke 2:1-14

The obvious question, we might want to ask ourselves, after seeing that video, is “Is that all there is to Christmas?”

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the oldest traditions for any major festival or event is the giving and receiving of gifts: when the Queen visits some foreign country, she is showered with gifts, many of which subsequently end up for sale on eBay, when we have birthdays, or leave a place of work, we are given a gift, a token which says “you are valued”.

At Christmas, the giving and receiving of gifts is enshrined in the culture of Christmas. The headteacher of our local infant school said to me recently “For our children, Christmas only really, truly begins when the Argos Catalogue is published”; for the focus of Christmas has changed from the giving of gifts, from the saying to another “you are valued” to the demanding “how much do you value me?”

An item on the radio about a week ago told the stories of people struggling through everyday poverty and feeling enforced to spend vast, even obscene amounts of money on their children – a thousand pounds per child in one case, and ensuring that the trap of debt keeps them captive all through the year.

But the giving of gifts is not dependant upon its value. When a gift is most effective is when it is not given with the expectation of a gift or a favour in return. It says “you are valued”, not “I expect…”

At Christmas, we have all been given the most wonderful of gifts. It is a Free gift, given with no conditions, and with absolutely no expectation of anything in return. It is the ultimate statement that “you are valued”.

The gift of the Christ-Child may be free, unhindered or unsullied by ulterior motives, but it is not without value.

For the presents we give each other are so much like our frail world, so much like our short human existence: these gifts break or wear out or the batteries die (often in my experience within an hour of their use), but the gift of Christ lasts for ever.

Like the most thoughtful of gifts, it is a gift which speaks individually to the person receiving it: like that carefully chosen perfume to suit an individual, an item in a favourite colour, a beautiful frame containing a photograph of a happy memory, like those the gift of the Christ Child is a personal gift.

This gift has power: the power to change us, by opening ourselves to this gift, and receiving the really good news of a God so prepared to value us, to be with us, that he should choose to come amongst us as a small and vulnerable child, we are transformed. For the gift of a child, became the gift of a man and his life-changing ministry, and the gift of a man became the gift of salvation through the Cross and the victory of the resurrection. This story does not end with this stable, it does not end at the foot of the cross, it does not end with the empty tomb or the fire of Pentecost, and it does not even end tonight as you receive the body and blood of Christ, but continues its work of transformation and change, as you leave this building with God’s blessing and into the rest of your lives.

This present will last for ever, and enables us to know intimately the one who freely gives us this gift: for God himself is the name on this gift tag.

So, as you receive this sincerely given, beautifully wrapped gift, you should prepared to be changed by the Christ child this night. It is a gift of love. It is a gift for you.

Amen