Archives June 2006

Real Clergy

Real Clergy should

* always be on time for services and meetings
* not have to use answerphones or have their mobiles switched off
* remember everyone’s names
* always be available at the Church Door on a Sunday morning
* always be in a clerical collar
* never have to go shopping (or be seen shopping)
* know when to stop
* be willing to take a funeral on a day off
* be willing to respond to any request beginning ‘I know it’s your day off but…’
* stand up to the organist
* stand up to the mother of the bride
* stand up to their wives or husbands
* not know where the church cleaning things are
* not get involved in the flower rota
* sort out all parish arguments
* keep everyone happy
* keep the magazine and notice sheet going
* not be stuck behind a computer
* visit people in hospital, home and everywhere
* not need to make appointments for visiting
* have well-behaved children
* have a well-behaved wife
* have a wife and children
* have a happy marriage
* lead from the front
* consult and ask everyone first
* not worry about their sermons
* not admit to having doubts
* not worry about anything

Do you recognise any of this? Why am I still doing 70 hours a week?

Sermon: Ordinary 11, Year B

Sermon: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Text: Mark 4:26-34

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

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

I have heard it said that Heaven really must be a wonderful place, because no-one has yet come back to complain!

As active Christians, it is something which we think we have an idea about, it is certainly our goal and perhaps through the grace of God, it will be our reward also. But we do not properly know what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like: cartoon images abound of clouds and angels with halos and wings compete with pastoral images of rolling golf courses and big houses.

Christ spoke frequently of the kingdom of heaven and its relationship to this earth, but only obliquely described it in practical terms. It was far more important for him to outline the nature of heaven than its substance. For us, it is the nature of heaven which should be our concern, not the substance.

Thus, this pericope, or gobbet of scripture serves to bring together two explorations of the Kingdom of Heaven by likening it to something familiar to the people of the age. Both times in this reading he uses the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

• Like the growth of plants, which happens without our truly perceiving it
• Like a mustard seed which starts small and grows into something mighty

We should be careful not to overstep our understanding of these similes, for Christ does not say “The Kingdom of Heaven is”. We are not ready yet for what the kingdom actually is, and so it is revealed to us in language and concepts that we mere human beings can handle.

Both of these examples gives us a glimpse of an aspect of heaven, but without the full picture. Christ, who came from heaven to earth is the only one who is gifted with that full picture.

When we are always with our children, we don’t really notice them growing. One moment, they are light and easy to pick up and the next… One moment that blazer engulfs them and in the twinkling of an eye it is halfway up their arm. Those marks on the door post serve to prove what their Aunties remark when they havn’t seen the children in a while: ooooo – havn’t you grown.

Just because we don’t notice something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. How often do people blame God for all the bad things that happen in the world and neglect to praise him when something good comes off? How often do we write off God’s blessings on us as the work of our own skill, our brilliance, and forget to thank He who makes all of this possible?

The Kingdom of Heaven has come to earth, in hidden form, before our eyes and we did not spot it, for it came in the form of a man. That Kingdom will come crashing into earth again in the future, and when heaven and earth coincide, it will be like nothing we have experienced ever before.

A friend of mine was a viticulturist, a grower of vines and the creator of some of the south coast’s best vineyards before he ran away like me to join not the circus, but the priesthood. He spoke of the link between the fermentation of wine and our growth in the spirit: it takes a little yeast, it works in a mysterious way, it works hidden in the dark, and transforms simple grape juice into something so much more.

Just like our love, wine is created in the warmth, it grows under the pleasure of God. It is more than simply for ourselves that we experience this growth, for we have preached this faith for far longer than the modern ‘self-help’ gurus and life-trainers; the faith in Christ moves beyond the personal and into the collective, making us children of God. We are transformed, like wine, in subtle ways, and the ordinary is made extraordinary, fruit sugar becomes alcohol.

Of course, this is what Christ does for us each and every day. He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary; he takes the bread and wine and gives us his body and blood. He takes our ordinary lives and transforms us.

The humble mustard seed is transformed into a shrub, it expands and takes over, filling the area and beyond. That is growth, growth in the spirit, growth in faith and love, growth in our humanity.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Well, like nothing on earth really. The Kingdom of Heaven is beyond our human understanding, but on the authority of Christ it will be better than anything we can imagine. It will be broader than the mustard shrub, when heaven crashes into earth it will be beyond belief. It is not us or our values who will decide who is there – for that is God’s choice alone. For now, we must continue to grow in Christ’s likeness.

This is why coming to church, participating in the mass and receiving the Eucharist is more than a duty. It is more than something we do, because we have always done it so. We continue to do this, and to encourage others to do this, because it is a part of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives; we might not be able to see it happening, but it happens under our very noses – transforming us from a seed into a great harvest. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like!


Sermon: Pentecost, Year B

Sermon: Pentecost, Year B
Text: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11;

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

Have you ever bought something that needed to be assembled? Ikea is of course our downfall. After struggling through the seven circles of hell to actually buy the stuff, and after struggling to get the package into the house, and further struggling to open the wretched thing, the instructions are tucked right at the bottom.

The instruction booklet is in a number of languages, the English translation — for that is obviously what it is – from Swedish, or Japanese is only to be found tucked amidst other languages and alphabets.

There’s a list of all sorts of nuts and bolts: a few odd-looking tools, which look much too fragile for the job, and then the assembling parts, heavy and awkward to manipulate.

One feels lost, confused, and even helpless. “If only Lou were here,” I’d think. She is the undeniable Queen of the flatpacks. She would know how to do this. She ordered this thing and then left us to it, assuring us that we would have the skill to get the task finished.

I often think that the disciples in that Upper Room, after the Ascension and before Pentecost, held a long, long PCC meeting. The task had been assigned. They were to go into the whole world telling about the Good News of the Resurrection, baptizing those who believed. They were to be “witnesses.”

The word for witness is martyros, from which we get “martyr”. Witness is a challenging, dangerous business. Witness is at the heart of our Christian lives. Witness can get you killed: not just back then, at the hands of a stoning mob, but today also. In certain countries, Christian witness means martyrdom.

The witness which is worth so much risk, and continues to be worth it is the witness to be a new race, tribe, a new nation. Anyone who believed could join. It didn’t matter what gender one was, or one’s race, language, nationality, customs, sexuality or religion: all were welcome.

It’s a challenge, and much as when faced with a flatpacked wardrobe, it must have looked so daunting. So what did they do? They held an election. It’s a good way of avoiding the task ahead – a bit like having yet another cup of tea.

It’s a pity we don’t know what they talked about at that first PCC meeting:

• The accounts were in disarray after Judas had gone.
• Someone must have said that there was no way they could afford to go into the entire world.
• Someone else may have suggested that it was dangerous to go outside the Upper Room. They were the chosen: Who would do the work if they were killed or thrown in prison?
• Perhaps another disciple said that they were no good at evangelism, or they were too old, too tired, too poorly educated to speak of what moves them towards God

The Upper Room must have felt so safe, so comfortable. It was in that room that Jesus had given them the Eucharist. If the disciples stayed put, then maybe others would come from outside and join them?

And then something extraordinary happened.

They were all attacked by what seemed to be wind and fire, the ancient symbols of God’s presence. That energy, that being set on fire with confidence, thrust them out into the street, where they were soon accused of being drunk at ten o’clock in the morning.

As we read in the Gospel this morning, all this had been promised, that the Holy Spirit would be received. All those fears and doubts, all those reasonable objections to Jesus’ command evaporated. The Church was on the move.

The Church was intended to be on the move. It was not intended for Upper Rooms. It was intended for the street, for people, and places everywhere.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t given so individuals could have a form of “spirituality” just for them. She wasn’t given to an elite group so that they could practice a religion close to their political opinions, left, right, or centre. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church to enable it to be the Church. In the power of the Spirit, the Church is enabled to put things together and to be together.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t guarantee that the decisions we make together are wise or good. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the Church and the Church’s mission will go on and on until kingdom come. It is the truth of kingdom which is, and is to come, into which the Spirit leads us.

In this parish, we continue to make mistakes, and to feel our way forward as a pilgrim people together. We seek to do the will of God, and to enable this whole community, young and mature alike to move closer to the heart of God. We begin to look seriously at how this building can better serve the Church, rather that be the Church.

The Holy Spirit shows us Jesus Christ and brings us to the Father. The Holy Spirit moves in the water; in bread, and wine, and oil transformed into the sacraments of our salvation; in our prayers: private and collective. Above all, She drives us out of the safety and security of our local Upper Rooms, our parishes. The Holy Spirit pushes us beyond ourselves, our abilities, expectations, and safety levels.

Today we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.” My dear friends, Watch out! Your prayer may be answered.