Archives July 2005

Sermon: Ordinary 18, Year A

Sermon: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Texts: Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35 37-39; Matthew 14: 13-21

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

Returning to the parish this week feels a little like a momentary pause on a whistlestop tour of the world.

As you know, I have just spent the last week standing in the rain in a field in Sussex with two hundred young people, surrounded by all manner of computer, video and public address equipment on the Chichester Diocese Summer Camp.

I don’t know what it is about the names of these camps, but their names often seems to be a portent of the weather we are to expect: I recall that “Hot and Steamy – getting fit for God” was in a heatwave and that “Wind of Change” broke tents and blew away small children. I am fearing the worst when someone suggests a future one should be called “Our God reigns” (r-e-i-g-n-s) lest it be mistaken for “r-a-i-n-s”

Sadly the weather was quite wet, but although sleeping bags may have been dampened, spirits were not, as parishes gathered with their young people to worship God, to learn the good news, and to go deeper in faith. The theme was “we’re all going on a Summer Holiday” and enabled us to consider the needs of the world, extending the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, even having a Make Poverty History song based on the recent hit song “Show me the way to Amarillo” which if I had enough time to give Miss Warren notice, I was going to get us to sing… maybe later in the Summer!

It would seem therefore appropriate in the light of today’s scriptures, where we hear of the feeding of the five thousand. Just as those who gathered in Christ’s presence to be fed, so we gathered to be fed by Holy Scripture. Challenging Scriptures which call us to a life that deals with difficult issues and does not shy away from them but reflects them through the life and teachings of Our risen Saviour. We heard of South America, of Sri Lanka, of homelessness projects in Worthing, and directly from a group which had returned from an IDWAL link with the Cameroon only 24 hours previously.

Just as those who gathered in Christ’s presence to be fed, so we gathered to be fed by the Eucharist. The capacity of young people to be open to God through sacramental worship is truly invigorating – approaching the altar in awe and wonder. I have very vivid memories this year of a meditation written by one of the young people about being on a desert island and reflecting on the stars and the wonders of God’s creation – everyone was given a squirt of suncream to smell and encouraged to lie flat on the floor of a darkened marquee. We experienced worship that at times was transformative.

Just as those who gathered in Christ’s presence to be fed, so we gathered to be fed by fellowship: waking alongside young people in their journey of faith and seeing them deepen their experience of the divine. We need to recognise that we as adults also need to be fed and to learn and one of the reasons I find work with young people so stimulating is that I learn so much from them: profound insights on faith at times coming from fourteen-year-olds – seeing teenagers engaging with God in ways which adults have had beaten out of them – of meeting the challenge of living the Christian life head-on in School, College or University which we as adults never have to deal with – never think that just because a person may be young in years they might be less of a Christian than you who have been to Church all your life – for sometimes we encounter young people with more of a sense of awe and reverence than I have encountered in many adults. I will never forget the words of one young person “people think that I can’t be a real Christian because I am young”. I wonder if they said the same thing about John Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, or Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus to whom Paul wrote two letters…

I move this afternoon from one event to another, as I prepare to take part in the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham, to an even bigger event for young people from all across the country, nearly a thousand young Christians in this small Norfolk village. You may feel a twinge of resentment from here, losing your priest for these weekends, when perhaps he should be here in his own parish, but I ask of you for understanding and the need to see the wider picture, for these events provide a wonderful opportunity to reach out to so many young people, in ways and means and using resources which alone we cannot possibly hope to achieve; so I prayerfully ask you to support my work in these areas.

This year, only a small number of our young people have had the opportunity to come on one of these events: Liam, Emma and Laura; but next year I hope that more will be able to come, to share, to be fed by Scripture, by worship, by the sacraments and by the fellowship of being with other young Christians.

It was tremendous fun, it is always tremendous fun, hard work for those leading it, but fun, and it can only be supported by you – by your prayers and your commitment to allowing me to minister to this wider congregation.

Planning is already starting for next year, so let us share in the rich harvest which comes from this, let us sit together, young and old, like the five thousand and be fed by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.


Sermon: Ordinary 15, Year A

Sermon: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Text: Matthew 13:1-23

The parable of the Sower is one of the classical parables of the synoptic Gospels, but how well do we really know our parables – how often do we allow them to wash over us.

Most interpretations of this parable identify that it is a call to proper hearing – “Listen, anyone who has ears” hearing the word of God and acting upon it, not just hearing the words of the parable story, but digging into the parable and unearthing its true meaning: truth about the kingdom of heaven, the nature of God and the relationship between God and mankind.

So hear it we must.

We have it in our mental image of these stories that Christ was speaking to a largely ill-educated, peasant people: rough country folk for whom an example of sowing would be readily understood. But Matthew places this parable in Capernaum, a city of about 1500 people which is large by New Testament standards: these people are urban, and therefore not necessarily peasant peoples.

In the same way in other parables, Christ challenges his audience with talk of Shepherds – not because devout Jews would identify with them, but because they were pariahs – rough people who had to break the Sabbath to look after their sheep. Asking a pious congregation to think like Shepherds would be like asking a modern, respectable congregation (like yourselves) to think of God found amongst Drug Addicts and Prostitutes (where, of course, he is to be found in reality). Christ comes not to back up our prejudices, but to challenge us and so it is with the use of a farming metaphor for a sophisticated audience.

God’s word is spread far and wide: indiscriminately. The word is spread regardless of whether the soil who receives it is prepared to receive it. In fact, God the Sower appears to appreciate that some of this work will be wasted – but he does it just the same. Christ recognised that many would not follow his ‘hard sayings’, but he did it just the same, and continued through to his passion and death with the same conviction.

I recently read an article on “the failure of youth work” which spoke of the poor return on investment in youth work – time effort and money which puts only a few more bottoms on the uncomfortable pews of the church. It actually did not seek to discourage those who were engaged in coming alongside young people, but to remind them that not everything we do has to be an unqualified success, that people – of all ages – drift in and out of Church, of paying their way and gift-aiding, of being present and being absent.

The bottom-line message was that it was okay to work with this tension, okay to try and to fail, okay to be experimental and that God’s values are not necessarily ours. It is our role – all of us – to spread the seed of God’s word far and wide, and see what sprouts.

If we take discipleship seriously, we will be prepared to take that seed and scatter. This means that we must look beyond our present and into the future, be prepared to invest in somethings which may have negligible impact on the number of people at mass: youth work is a classic example of what I am thinking of. But we should not think of the short-term, but of the investment in people’s lives, and their walk with God. This may be at the expense of a few gift-aid envelopes, but it is an investment I feel we are called my God to make. If we are not prepared to scatter, then we will die.

The parable of the sower is a model for mission – a reminder that we must continue to spread the word of God far and wide amongst this community, regardless of how it is being received. In my dark nights, when I am discouraged, this passage serves as an inspiration. The Sower boldly sows, and so we must boldly sow our mission work in this parish, for only then will we be able to reap that rich harvest.

Amen


Sermon: Patronal Festival, 2005

Sermon: Patronal Festival, St Thomas the Apostle
Text: John 20:24-29

“My Lord and My God”

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

Thomas must have felt that he had a bit of a raw deal. For he really missed out on that first Easter Sunday. Thomas must be the definitive everyman, for there is a little bit of him in each of us, and what he missed has much to teach us.

Firstly, Peace.

“Peace” Jesus said to the disciples in the locked room. What a relief for them, a frightened, persecuted, and bewildered group, hidden away in a locked room “for fear of the Jews”. It could conceivably have been the same upper room that was the site of Christ’s final, most significant teaching: triumph become disaster within only a few days. His first words were “Shalom” – “Peace”. He could have spoken first of his disappointment, of his anger at them for their denial, abandonment, misunderstanding and betrayal. However, Peace is what he bestows on his disciples, and in saying this he echoes what he had said in that same room on the last night he had been with them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”

And Thomas missed the peace.

Next, Pardon. Our Lord had already forgiven or pardoned the disciples when he bestowed peace upon them; but he spoke explicitly of pardon when he spoke of forgiving and retaining sins. What Christ empowered the apostles to do, his Church continues…

The pardon of our Saviour can be available to us, only if we make some concessions: God cannot fill our cup with forgiveness if it is already filled to the brim with bitterness.

God cannot embrace us with forgiveness if our arms are carrying the heavy burden of resentment.

God cannot take our hand in forgiveness, if our fists are clenched in anger.

God cannot forgive the malevolent, shadowy side of our spirits if our minds are darkened by revenge and hate.

In his cry of doubt, Thomas shows his own unwillingness to make concessions to Our Lord, expecting Christ to come to him and show even his most intimate wounds, associated with the world’s greatest humiliation, with nothing given in return.

So Thomas missed out on the pardon of Christ.

Finally, Presence. The real, concrete, Glorious Presence of God came to those disciples. Woody Allen said that “95% of life is just ‘showing up’” Thomas had simply failed to ‘show up’.

And so Thomas missed the presence.

He missed out, and that must have hurt; especially for one so previously intimate with our Lord. Peace, Pardon and Presence, Thomas missed them all. In their place he demanded a substitute for them, something which our cynical society constantly craves, and which we, in our inmost, darkest times before the dawn hanker after, another “P” – “Proof”

And this is why I must conclude that Thomas must be the definitive everyman, because although graced with apostolic sainthood, he is shown to be above all like us. In our struggle to maintain the Christian life, we too miss out on Peace, Pardon and the Presence of Christ, and in return we torture ourselves over Proof.

Despite being promised how blessed we would be if we believe without physical proof, the burden of rationality rests upon our faith like a cumbersome weight – `Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’.

Thomas craves certainty, clarity, proof: an empty tomb and the reports of his colleagues are simply not enough. And these things have not changed: the quest for proof to bridge the gap between us and the living Godhead remains constant through the ages: from the Upper Room, past the Enlightenment and into our present age.

Thomas. How like the rest of us, Thomas manages to be; unwilling to commit to faith, I imagine him being borne by the tide of apostleship: to join the band, caught up but not caught in.

How often we treat our membership of the Church like this: caught up, but not caught in. A central part, a leader of worship and a focus of ministry even, but without having that final act of faith.

So, was Thomas just going through the motions of discipleship? Was he incapable of commitment to faith beyond proof? I think not, for he learns in his shame that his Lord was indeed his God: a shame almost comparable to the remorse felt by Peter when he had denied Christ. Both are forgiven, both are justified by the risen Christ, and they are used as examples to us, we the less immediate disciples: learn from Thomas and believe without having to put your hand into his side.

Recall in your mind that great painting by Carravaggio, where Jesus lets Thomas get right up close to see his wounds. Thomas is bent over – at eye-level with his pierced side, and Jesus is guiding his hand so that he might feel the wound for himself. Most graphically, Thomas’ finger is buried in the gaping hole in Our Lord’s side, all the way up to the knuckle.

We do not have that privilege; but how much we would all like to swap places with Thomas, and to be able to quench those nagging doubts once and for all with a little physicality.

When Thomas was given the opportunity to experience the risen Christ, the Presence of Christ in his life, he was also able to experience the Pardon, a blessing even, and through that he is able to experience the Peace; a true peace which can only come from an intimate, life-changing encounter with the risen Lord. Thomas therefore was ultimately able to catch up with those special events, and through this, to be able to conclude that he was faced by “My Lord and My God”. He did not miss out.

‘Blessed are those who believe when they have not seen’. St John the Evangelist speaks directly to us at the end of this Gospel passage, a ‘direct-to-camera’ piece which reminds us of the purpose of his gospel, the purpose of all the gospels, which is to enable us, nearly 2000 years after these marvelous events, to be able to believe. He says to us that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book”, events which may have been trivial: encounters, comforts, healings even, which the risen Christ took part in during those heady days between Easter and the Glorious Ascension, proof which existed, but which we do not need.

The other passages we have learnt from this morning speak of another “P” – Permanence. Through the resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ he has demonstrated the undisputable permanence of God: more than simply a prophet, more than simply a teacher, more than even a King of Israel like David, who was as corruptible in the body if not the soul as the rest of us. Not merely content with being seen on earth, the incarnation of Christ, and the resurrected Lord offers us an incorruptible place, the route to which can only be found by faith. This was the faith that Thomas was able, at last, to capture. Peter also speaks of permanence, an enduring faith which becomes so real to those experiencing it that it becomes the purest they can imagine: a faith as precious as highly refined gold.

As Thomas discovered, faith is therefore not something which can be scientifically rationalized, and all such rationalizations have been ultimately disappointing in their conclusions. Thomas thought to begin with that he needed a concrete solution, and failed to realize that he ignored the qualitative, the abstract, the core that makes up Faith; for this he nearly missed out, and the danger is that we too may miss out.

Look beyond the Proof – and there is proof out there, if you really want to fruitlessly search hard enough for it – and seek the faith that is found behind this account; a faith that is as pure as gold that has been tested by fire.

We will always remember Thomas as the one who dared to question the reports of his fellow apostles – “doubting Thomas”. However, his one definitive statement is the finest example of New Testament Christology – “My Lord and My God”. How dare we call him doubting Thomas after that: “professing Thomas”, perhaps, “confessing Thomas”, and now, most undoubtedly, “believing Thomas”

“My Lord and My God”. We declare. We bear witness. We believe.

Amen.


Sermon: Patronal Festival, 2005

Sermon: Patronal Festival, St Thomas the Apostle
Text: John 20:24-29

“My Lord and My God”

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

Thomas must have felt that he had a bit of a raw deal. For he really missed out on that first Easter Sunday. Thomas must be the definitive everyman, for there is a little bit of him in each of us, and what he missed has much to teach us.

Firstly, Peace.

“Peace” Jesus said to the disciples in the locked room. What a relief for them, a frightened, persecuted, and bewildered group, hidden away in a locked room “for fear of the Jews”. It could conceivably have been the same upper room that was the site of Christ’s final, most significant teaching: triumph become disaster within only a few days. His first words were “Shalom” – “Peace”. He could have spoken first of his disappointment, of his anger at them for their denial, abandonment, misunderstanding and betrayal. However, Peace is what he bestows on his disciples, and in saying this he echoes what he had said in that same room on the last night he had been with them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”

And Thomas missed the peace.

Next, Pardon. Our Lord had already forgiven or pardoned the disciples when he bestowed peace upon them; but he spoke explicitly of pardon when he spoke of forgiving and retaining sins. What Christ empowered the apostles to do, his Church continues…

The pardon of our Saviour can be available to us, only if we make some concessions: God cannot fill our cup with forgiveness if it is already filled to the brim with bitterness.

God cannot embrace us with forgiveness if our arms are carrying the heavy burden of resentment.

God cannot take our hand in forgiveness, if our fists are clenched in anger.

God cannot forgive the malevolent, shadowy side of our spirits if our minds are darkened by revenge and hate.

In his cry of doubt, Thomas shows his own unwillingness to make concessions to Our Lord, expecting Christ to come to him and show even his most intimate wounds, associated with the world’s greatest humiliation, with nothing given in return.

So Thomas missed out on the pardon of Christ.

Finally, Presence. The real, concrete, Glorious Presence of God came to those disciples. Woody Allen said that “95% of life is just ‘showing up’” Thomas had simply failed to ‘show up’.

And so Thomas missed the presence.

He missed out, and that must have hurt; especially for one so previously intimate with our Lord. Peace, Pardon and Presence, Thomas missed them all. In their place he demanded a substitute for them, something which our cynical society constantly craves, and which we, in our inmost, darkest times before the dawn hanker after, another “P” – “Proof”

And this is why I must conclude that Thomas must be the definitive everyman, because although graced with apostolic sainthood, he is shown to be above all like us. In our struggle to maintain the Christian life, we too miss out on Peace, Pardon and the Presence of Christ, and in return we torture ourselves over Proof.

Despite being promised how blessed we would be if we believe without physical proof, the burden of rationality rests upon our faith like a cumbersome weight – `Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’.

Thomas craves certainty, clarity, proof: an empty tomb and the reports of his colleagues are simply not enough. And these things have not changed: the quest for proof to bridge the gap between us and the living Godhead remains constant through the ages: from the Upper Room, past the Enlightenment and into our present age.

Thomas. How like the rest of us, Thomas manages to be; unwilling to commit to faith, I imagine him being borne by the tide of apostleship: to join the band, caught up but not caught in.

How often we treat our membership of the Church like this: caught up, but not caught in. A central part, a leader of worship and a focus of ministry even, but without having that final act of faith.

So, was Thomas just going through the motions of discipleship? Was he incapable of commitment to faith beyond proof? I think not, for he learns in his shame that his Lord was indeed his God: a shame almost comparable to the remorse felt by Peter when he had denied Christ. Both are forgiven, both are justified by the risen Christ, and they are used as examples to us, we the less immediate disciples: learn from Thomas and believe without having to put your hand into his side.

Recall in your mind that great painting by Carravaggio, where Jesus lets Thomas get right up close to see his wounds. Thomas is bent over – at eye-level with his pierced side, and Jesus is guiding his hand so that he might feel the wound for himself. Most graphically, Thomas’ finger is buried in the gaping hole in Our Lord’s side, all the way up to the knuckle.

We do not have that privilege; but how much we would all like to swap places with Thomas, and to be able to quench those nagging doubts once and for all with a little physicality.

When Thomas was given the opportunity to experience the risen Christ, the Presence of Christ in his life, he was also able to experience the Pardon, a blessing even, and through that he is able to experience the Peace; a true peace which can only come from an intimate, life-changing encounter with the risen Lord. Thomas therefore was ultimately able to catch up with those special events, and through this, to be able to conclude that he was faced by “My Lord and My God”. He did not miss out.

‘Blessed are those who believe when they have not seen’. St John the Evangelist speaks directly to us at the end of this Gospel passage, a ‘direct-to-camera’ piece which reminds us of the purpose of his gospel, the purpose of all the gospels, which is to enable us, nearly 2000 years after these marvelous events, to be able to believe. He says to us that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book”, events which may have been trivial: encounters, comforts, healings even, which the risen Christ took part in during those heady days between Easter and the Glorious Ascension, proof which existed, but which we do not need.

The other passages we have learnt from this morning speak of another “P” – Permanence. Through the resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ he has demonstrated the undisputable permanence of God: more than simply a prophet, more than simply a teacher, more than even a King of Israel like David, who was as corruptible in the body if not the soul as the rest of us. Not merely content with being seen on earth, the incarnation of Christ, and the resurrected Lord offers us an incorruptible place, the route to which can only be found by faith. This was the faith that Thomas was able, at last, to capture. Peter also speaks of permanence, an enduring faith which becomes so real to those experiencing it that it becomes the purest they can imagine: a faith as precious as highly refined gold.

As Thomas discovered, faith is therefore not something which can be scientifically rationalized, and all such rationalizations have been ultimately disappointing in their conclusions. Thomas thought to begin with that he needed a concrete solution, and failed to realize that he ignored the qualitative, the abstract, the core that makes up Faith; for this he nearly missed out, and the danger is that we too may miss out.

Look beyond the Proof – and there is proof out there, if you really want to fruitlessly search hard enough for it – and seek the faith that is found behind this account; a faith that is as pure as gold that has been tested by fire.

We will always remember Thomas as the one who dared to question the reports of his fellow apostles – “doubting Thomas”. However, his one definitive statement is the finest example of New Testament Christology – “My Lord and My God”. How dare we call him doubting Thomas after that: “professing Thomas”, perhaps, “confessing Thomas”, and now, most undoubtedly, “believing Thomas”

“My Lord and My God”. We declare. We bear witness. We believe.

Amen.


Sermon: Ordinary 14, Year A

Sermon: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Text: Matthew 11:25-30 preached on the Sunday after the Ordination to the Diaconate of Mother Margaret

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

How fitting. How fitting that the first Gospel that Mother Margaret should be called to proclaim is this one.

At this point in the liturgy, where she has breathed a sigh of relief that we have got the first part down right – the entrance, the shenangans with kissing the altar and all that, the proclamation of the Gospel itself, and before we stare into the sheer terror of deaconing the Eucharistic Liturgy (I think this is a more a reflection on memories of my first Sunday as a deacon at Holy Spirit rather than a comment on Mother Margaret), we get to hear some of the most profound teaching by Christ, words of challenge and of consolation; an agenda for change and a promise of the future; a realisation of just what Fr. Margaret has let herself in for in a simple, yet profound rural analogy.

I am reminded of almost the last day at Mirfield, my theological college. As was traditional, those of us to be made deacon brought our stoles to the mass for them to be blessed and sprinkled by the Principal. Fr. Christopher quoted to us from a passage at the end of St John’s Gospel:

“Truly, truly I tell you, when you were young, you would fasten your belt and go wherever you liked. But when you get old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten your belt and take you where you don’t want to go.” (John 21:18)

Fr Christopher likened the belt to our stole, reminding us that it is put on for us at ordination, and that as part of our calling first as deacons and then as priests we would be led by others (or perhaps more significantly, by an other) to places where we would not want to go – to seek out the careless and indifferent as described by the words of the Ordinal yesterday and which are quoted in this month’s parish magazine.

But Christ is not speaking just of the yoke of ordination and the burden (and joy, of course) which accompanies it as we seek to make Christ present in word and sacrament, he speaks of the yoke and the burden which is inherent to every Christian.

When we hear today’s Gospel, we tend to think of the yoke as a burden, a burden which will be lifted by Christ for us. But this is NOT what the text says: look again…

“Shoulder MY yoke and learn from me”

Christ calls us, each and everyone of us to ditch the yokes which otherwise weigh us down, which make us weary and overburdened, to discard the yokes of selfishness, of pride, of sin; and encourages us to pick up an altogether more palatable burden.

For a yoke is not just an instrument of burden, it is a tool of guidance. Without the yoke, oxen simply wander and furrows are uneven, heavy loads are left by the roadside. With a yoke, they are harnessed into action, co-ordinated with others and able to bear loads which unaided, would be impossible.

Christ himself offers us HIS yoke, HIS guidance, HIS sacraments and gives us the direction in which we should travel. We still have burden a carry, and Our Lord told us that we must pick up our cross daily and follow him. The burden we must carry now is not one of our sin, but one of our responsibilities: to God, and to Society, to bear witness to the light of Christ and to proclaim his kingdom.

Truly, Mother Margaret, we do not know where God will guide you, yoked as you are in His service, and neither do we know where we are driven by the Gospel, but driven we must be: fired up for Christ and prepared to be open to the Holy Spirit, to be as open as “mere children” to the possibilities of God and not to sit petulantly rejecting what is unfamiliar or different. As you begin your journey in ordained ministry this morning, we give thanks to God for your ministry with us, and we pray that together we can take God’s gentle and loving guidance to wherever he may lead us.

Amen.