Archives April 2005

Sermon: Easter 5, Year A

Sermon: Easter 5, Year A
Text: John 14:1-12
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled”

I have preached on this text quite a number of times recently. I would like to think that it has honed my thinking on it, but there is a distinct chance that many of you will have already heard some of my reflections on it recently; for it is one of the principle texts read at the Funeral Office. Perhaps there may be an opportunity for some of you to join me in the familiar chorus at some stage…

However, I think that many of the things I have repeated at some of the many funerals we have celebrated in Church since Easter, bear repeating again; for there are some familiar stories which need to be repeated over and over again for their significance to be truly revealed.

This passage of Scripture speaks to all of us about that which we have no control. Death will come to all of us, and yet we so seldom speak of it. I heard it said that a hundred years ago, the Victorians were obsessed with death: long periods in mourning, complicated family rituals and a gothic sense of the spiritual – obsessed with death and afraid to talk of sex. Where as today… society is obsessed with sex and afraid to talk of death. Even when Christ spoke of his impending arrest and passion, the disciples could not comprehend it. But speak of death we must, because it is not unspeakable, but an integrated part of life. We begin our lives with God, we travel through this earthly life (which may be only a small part of it) and at this point we return back to God, and that is the promise – the promise made by Christ himself – that we must hold onto whenever this sadness and loss confronts us.

Funerals are sad occasions, and the loss of someone loved is never easy. Bereavement is one of the most unpleasant emotions, but is a necessary one: for bereavement is one of the emotions that make us truly human: to sense the loss of someone in our lives and to seek to be healed emotionally. Christ himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. However, as Scripture tells us so very clearly, this sadness should be contrasted with the hope that Jesus Christ promises to us in these times of sadness and loss. It is a powerful hope for all of us, whether we actively proclaim our Christian faith, or whether faith is, a private matter, kept to oneself.

The Gospel gives us the consoling words of Christ addressed to his own disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled”. Christ has gone before us and through his experience of death, through his overcoming of death in the triumph of the resurrection, he has opened up the way to eternal life for each and everyone of us.

For death, although a physical loss to those of us here, is very much a part of life: death is not an end, but merely a change in relationship, and a change in perspective which we on this earth find difficult to perceive, but Oh yes, the departed are still very much with us, in our memories, in our love and in our prayers.

I have, throughout my priestly ministry conducted many funerals: of those of great age, dignity and social standing, with a packed church and a wailing, tearful congregation; of those isolated and alone – indeed where myself and a next-door neighbour were the only ones there at the graveside; of adults cut short in the prime of their life; and of children, died before they had to opportunity to reach their prime. For all of these, Christ says “Come. I shall return to take you with me. Follow”. The dignity of the Christian Funeral is there for all, from the mightiest to the least, the youngest to the eldest. God’s welcome is for all of them, and so are our prayers. This is why I always include the prayers for the faithful departed and those whose anniversaries of death (known as ‘Year’s mind’) occur. Remember the words: “Rest Eternal Grant unto them, O Lord / And let light perpetual shine upon them / May they Rest in Peace / And rise in Glory” is a powerful prayer. Prayer for the departed is of benefit for them, and of great benefit to us, for it provides us with solace and links us with them, whether we knew them or not, God knows them, and they ALL deserve our unselfish prayers for their immortal souls.

Christ himself declared that he was “the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by him” and it is with this sure promise that we meet at a funeral to assist the faithful departed on the next part of life’s journey.

It is with this promise that we gather to re-enact that one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction in the mysteries of the sacraments and as we do this, as Jesus Christ assured us, “Let not your hearts be troubled”

Amen.


This week I mostly bin readin'….

The Rite Stuff: Ritual in Contemporary Christian Worship and Mission

by Pete Ward

For Catholics, ritual is nothing to be scared of, but I recognise that for many evangelicals, post-evangelicals and charismatics, ritual and liturgy is a strange land. This book calms them down and gently says “there, there, it’s all right”. Our lives are formed of rituals and we respond to God in ritualistic ways. Even within the most ‘free church’, they have rituals, it’s just that they don’t involve the sacraments

I welcome this book as I am a ritual-obsessed anglocatholic, I respond to God best in the symbolic and I think that we best evangelise in an emotive way: let the heart reach out to God and then let the mind follow. The middle-class intellectual approach of Alpha turns me off – I don’t want proof (not even proofs which Nicky Gumbel plagarised from John Stott) in lawyers terms, but I seek God in an emotive encounter, for God to move me. That is why symbol and sacrament are so closely tied to worship, why Blessed is primarily an emotional journey and why we seek to belong before we believe.

Now, who has borrowed by Copy of ‘Mass Culture’ – I’d like it back, please


Sermon: Easter 4, Year A

Sermon: Easter 4, Year A
Text: John 10:1-10

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

Two sheep were standing in a field.

“Baaaa” said one.

“Bother” said the other one, “I was going to say that!”

The real challenge of Good Shepherd Sunday is to make it real for an urban and sophisticated congregation like yourselves. I suspect that the flow of this sermon would be made so much better if we were surrounded by sheep and rolling hills, rather than concrete, pavements and the interminable roadworks on the A32.

Sheep simply do not enter into our mindset, and so to fully understand the significance of our Gospel this morning, we need to understand some country ways.

We often think of Shepherds as people who drive sheep, from the rear with their snarling but canny sheepdogs, pushing the flock of sheep to where the Shepherd wishes them to go: to safety, or to the market or even the abattoir. I recall watching on holiday once a demonstration of shepherding. One man and his dog, a whistle and a large field, it was amazing to see man and dog working together as one to guide and drive these sheep. If only my own dog, Ruby, were so obedient!

However, it would be quite incorrect for us to assume that when Christ spoke of being a shepherd, and we in the language of Psalm 100 as the sheep of his pasture, he was thinking of driving us poor creatures to where we didn’t want to go. That is a metaphor for the west, and the modern age, not the Middle East at the time of Our Lord.

Out there, a shepherd does not have the advantage of a sheepdog, and so rather than driving his sheep forward, from the rear, a shepherd leads his flock, leads from the front. Indeed, the text of the Gospel makes explicit reference to this:

“The sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. He goes ahead of them and the sheep follow because they know his voice”

With this metaphor in mind, we can see the role of Christ much more clearly: to lead us towards God, not to drive us; to guide and inspire, protect and save rather than to coerce, bully or harass.

The Good Shepherd is a challenging illusion. We tend to think of Shepherds as being part of the biblical scene, as they are referred to frequently by Christ; they were witnesses of his birth, we recall. We grace them perhaps with the dignity of the working man, and see them as perhaps a representative of us, the common people.

That is, however, not how the original hearers of Christ’s words would have interpreted them. Shepherds were required to spend long periods of time away from their homes. They lived uncomfortable lives in the semi-wilderness confronted by the dangers of wolves and thieves. They did not have the luxury of a day off, and so Shepherds were seen as disreputable and scandalous because they had to break the Sabbath Law. We have lost our awareness of how scandalous it would be for Christ to liken himself to one who broke the Sabbath – would Christ today say “I am the Good Prostitute?” – would we be equally scandalised by such a suggestion? That sounds outrageous doesn’t it? It would have had the same impact in the first century.

And yet, time and time again God proves to us that his ways are not our ways, and many of our concepts of scandal are misplaced. King David was a shepherd: a loyal, good and effective shepherd as well if his prowess with the slingshot was anything to go by. His descendant, Our Lord identifies himself with the scandalised, he was revealed to these poor-quality Jews at his birth, and uses them to teach us something very significant about his mission.

Christ, of course, was frequently the subject of scandal: he ate with sinners as well as likening himself to them, and he died a criminal’s death. The lamb of God is not an image of a pastoral ideal, but the image of a sacrificial victim – the lambs sacrificed for the Passover on the night we call Maundy Thursday.

For Christ be the Good Shepherd to us, we need to accept being his sheep. Today is also Vocation Sunday; a day when we pray not only for vocations to the sacred priesthood or the religious life, although that is both necessary and welcome. We pray for the discernment of a vocation for all of us, to respond to God’s call to be whatever he leads us to. The Good Shepherd has a vocation in mind for all of us, a ministry for us all to perform, a response to Him as one of his flock.

I spoke last week of those preparing for Confirmation, and I repeat my call for you to hold them in your prayers. When we think of vocation, we usually focus on priesthood, on the religious life. But what about the other vocations that being a Christian is all about. What about visiting that otherwise lonely elderly person. What about enabling a harassed single mum have an afternoon to herself. What about the friendly smile to the disaffected youth on the street corner? These are all part of our vocation as Christians and vocations that we can all aspire to.

In participating in God’s holy sacraments at this altar, and doing God’s work here on earth, building the kingdom of God, we are responding to his call, the lead of the Good Shepherd: our vocation as Christians is to be the Sheep of God’s pasture – to follow where he leads us, to be protected from harm by him, to be nourished through him, to join with him as one body.

There can be no greater vocation: the vocation to be a Christian, to be a sheep for the lamb of God. Amen.


Cell Group

You need support. You needed it when you became a curate and boy, do you need it now.

Phil, Toby and I got together in Chichester, had a decent lunch and talked and talked about the issues which we all face:

* Leadership
* Change Management
* Conflict Resolution
* Workload

and

* Visiting

… or ‘why I should do more visiting but havn’t got the time’

We are ALL in the same boat. TheFirst Responsibilityu Course taught me that much. Also, I do too many hours. 75 this week. Euggghhh!

It was really worthwhile, however, and I have a pile of new ideas to try.

Interestingly enough, Toby has come up with a new structure for his PCC which looks surprisingly like my thoughts on Ministry Teams. Maybe I’m not so radical and outlandish and I feared and that it might just work – especially as Toby uses much better words than me.

Thinking about the Battle of the Bands at the weekend. Hope I have the right kit to make this work… gulp!


Sermon: Easter 3, Year A

Sermon: 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A
Text: Luke 24:13-35

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

I have not had the opportunity, quite regrettably really, to travel the world extensively, to visit exotic places and encounter strange cultures. In a strange reversal of how things really ought to be, rather than it being me who took off to foreign parts, it has been my Mother who has been to the Caribbean, to the Far East and to India – blowing what remains of my inheritance no doubt.

And yet, whether we have a passport filled to the brim with customs stamps or whether we have remained in Elson all our lives, we are still engaged on a journey – a journey travelling in hope and prayer to a destination beyond compare.

This morning’s Gospel is the metaphorical journey of life expressed in the post-resurrection narrative. It has much to teach us about our own spiritual journeys and the ways in which the risen Christ is revealed to us.

St. Luke places his narratives within the realm of the known: we are told of the exact journey: Jerusalem to Emmaus which would be as recognisable to early hearers as a journey from Fareham to Gosport. We are told the name of one of the travellers: Cleopas; not an apostle, but perhaps one the 72, one of the many who stood on the periphery of the early Christian Church. One of us, perhaps?

They fail to recognise the risen Christ. Was it because it was just so unexpected? Were they so wrapped up in their grief? But Christ is always alongside us would we but know it? How often do we think we are travelling a lonely road, abandoned by all; and yet Christ has been there all along, beside us, guiding us, comforting us and leading us to green pastures.
When Cleopas and friend are asked to explain the top news story of the last few days, they show their appreciation of Christ, but not his true nature: they describe him as “a great prophet”, but fail to spot his Divinity. By ourselves, through our own intellect, our own philosophy, our own science, we cannot truly grasp Jesus Christ: God is beyond us. We need him to reveal himself to us: just as Jesus explains the Scriptures to his comrades.

Which texts does Jesus explain for his companions? We are not told, but Luke suggests that it does not matter.

Later, Jesus Christ reveals himself as he breaks the bread with his friends: a mirror of the last supper and a reminder of the Mass. Which text does he use? What Eucharistic Prayer does he employ, and does he use inclusive language? It does not matter. These are trivial, human-scale issues compared to the glorious self-revelation completed in the inn at Emmaus.

Jesus Christ is revealed to us this morning in two complimentary ways: in the exploration of Scripture and in the breaking of the bread: without these two there can be no Mass this morning – Common Worship comprises of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament, each balanced and linked by the sharing of the peace.

The story of the Road to Emmaus is therefore one of the models for our thanksgiving this morning. As Jesus Christ reveals himself in the Holy Scriptures, he reveals himself in the Holy Sacrament. As he walks and explains the foretelling of Christ’s passion in the scriptures and then reveals the glory of the resurrection in broken bread and wine outpoured.

The Eucharistic feast is therefore central to our lives as Christians, and we all come to this place to witness the living Christ made known on this altar in, to paraphrase St Francis of Assisi, the hands of a priest, hiding under and ordinary piece of bread.
The crucial importance of the mass in our Christian journey (further than Jerusalem to Emmaus) leads me to think of those who are preparing to enter into this mystical relationship through the sacrament of Confirmation.

As you are probably aware, the Parish Mass on Whit Sunday – Pentecost – will be celebrated by Bishop Kenneth, which is a great honour for us. The Bishop is our focus of unity, and so the 10am Mass will be the only mass of the day, and one that I hope will be fully supported by all the congregations here at St Thomas’: standing room only is what we want to see – a visible statement of our faith and dedication, to God, to this church and to this parish. There will be room, I assure you, and I call on all of you to make that effort to show the Bishop our allegiance to him, and our visible declaration of Jesus as Lord.

At this special mass he will also confirm those who have been prepared for it, from across the deanery and especially from this parish.

Confirmation is a true sacrament: the laying on of hands by the Bishop is an outward visible sign of the inward spiritual grace which is manifested by the Holy Spirit, and which was revealed on the road to Emmaus.

Confirmation is an important step to make, it has required commitment and a willingness to become open to God, as well as come round the vicarage and drink my coffee!

As you can see, Confirmation is not something just for the children of the church – it is an essential sacrament for all in this Church so if you come to this altar rail with any frequency, and receive a blessing, then come and talk to myself and we can speak of confirmation; we can speak of a full and complete welcome into the body of Christ which is the Church. It isn’t hard, there isn’t an exam, nothing to write up, and as I hope both the adult group and young person’s group will agree, it can be a few weeks of fun as well! Do not simply sit there and not participate in one of the most important sacraments of our salvation: get confirmed, receive the Holy Spirit, receive the Bread of Life. Some journeys in life may appear a little daunting: Oh it’s such a long way down the road to Emmaus, I’m a little too tired or otherwise busy, I’ve left it too late to set off now, or I’m a little self-conscious about what others might think of me when they see me on the road. Some journeys in life may have been halted or diverted at some point, or things in your life may have happened which make you think you’ll never get to the Emmaus Arms. The journey down the Emmaus Road is the journey to the sacramental encounter with Christ. It is a journey we all continue to travel down, and Christ walks alongside us, every step, revealing the scriptures to us, making our hearts burn within us, giving us a glimpse of resurrection joy.

So, in our run up to Pentecost, I ask you to hold in your prayers the Christian journey of all to be confirmed: <names>, and possibly also from other churches in the deanery, and pray also for yourselves. For their Confirmation takes each and every one of us back to our own Confirmation – our own personal declaration of faith, and entry into this sacramental union with Christ.

We all travel down the highway of life, passing through points which are unfamiliar, sometimes even a little threatening, we often take detours which are can be difficult or arduous; but with Christ walking alongside us, walking as he walked alongside Cleopas and his companion, our ultimate destination, at least, is known; and we will know him, at our journeys end, in the breaking of the bread.

Amen.