Archives May 2008

Sermon: Ordinary 9, Year A

preached at Holy Trinity Church, Gosport 1st June 2008

Text: Matthew 7:21-27

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

Builder’s Jargon, taken from my all-time favourite radio show: I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

This needs pointing
This needs pointing the other way

We could start Monday
Pick any Monday and you’d be wrong

Make Good
Disguise cock-up

A Quotation
One eighth of the final price

You’ll notice there are a few differences from the drawings
We had the plans upside down

African Orange would suit this room
I have a bucket load of it in the van

It’ll be a feature
It’ll be an eyesore

Don’t you worry, you won’t know we’re there
They won’t be there

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

Unlike our dodgy builders of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, unlike those cowboys whose antics fill our consumer-based television programmes, Christ actually knows what he is talking about, and makes plain to us a model for life, for living and for loving that is completely grounded in our understanding: we all know that for a building to be firm and long-lasting it needs a foundation, we all know that no matter how fine the materials used to build it, if it is in a vulnerable location (like a flood plain) then it will itself be vulnerable.

If we know this… If we understand this… how come we are so bad at making the right choices in our lives? How come we always seeks the short cut, the quick fix, the cheap deal and end up in a state of complete collapse like the foolish man who loses everything?

We know what should form our firm foundation, but it does us know harm to be reminded of them, for they are the very foundations, the very tenets of our faith.

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

Firstly, Prayer
The lifeblood of the Christian life is Prayer. Without prayer, without time spent in the presence of the Almighty, then our faith is little more than a social habit. Prayer may be private, or it may be collective, for example at Mass; but it should be regular. The daily mass is the sustenance of faith, being fed in word and sacrament, prayer and ritual and brought closer to the heart of God through his blessed sacraments. Prayer does not have to be the “hands together, eyes closed” list of wants taught in Infant School, but is an active awareness of the presence of God, a worshipful encounter with the sacred, a moment (and it might only be a moment) of stillness in a busy day. Prayer should not be measured by quantity, but by quality; and might be found as easily walking to the ferry as on your knees during Benediction.

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

Scripture
is the second core foundation of faith. The use of God’s Holy Word teaches us so much. The Word of God is Christ himself “In the beginning was the Word”, and the Bible is the word of God caught in aspic in a particular moment in time by a particular culture and age. It must not therefore be taken as God’s final word on the matter, for the Holy Spirit continues to work through Holy Mother Church and through the Saints and even today to continue to reveal the meaning and the truth of Christ. We must be careful therefore to read our bibles with an awareness of context and culture, and to see what is of God, and is timeless and immortal, and what is of man, and shows our folly, our hardness of heart, our inability to follow Him or respond to His love.

In the poetry of the Psalms, the urgency of Paul’s letters, the powerful wierdness of the Revelation to St John the Divine and the beauty of John the Evangelist’s Gospel, we see a loving God reaching out to us through time and space. We see the mistakes of God’s people and his relentless, continued loving forgiveness. We read of our failings, and how the Incarnation of Jesus Christ seeks to overcome those failings through the power of the Cross.

Through Scripture, a little bit a day, heard at Mass or read in Private Study we follow a journey through which the whole of the Church continues to journey, and we come to know the God who seeks us, even when we are far off.

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

Next, we ought to seek an Engagement
with the world and the role of the Kingdom of God within it. This means that besides the reading of Scripture, we should be reading other works which stimulate and challenge our faith, and thus make it stronger.

Our faith, based on Scripture, Tradition and Reason, is one that must be fed by all three, and so we are called to encounter a wide range of stimulus, from both inside and outside our faith.

This does not necessarily mean ‘religious books’ although that is very valuable, but in addition we should be reading a proper newspaper, we should be reading commentary and analysis on world events from a wide range of perspectives, we should be reading blogs and other sources of information and comment on the world; we should be reading classic fiction through from Ancient Greece and the latest works of literature: all of which can help us shape our own faith-based world view: not to be consoled and coddled, but challenged and made to think.

Embryology, Human Rights, Equality and Fairtrade, Science and Politics are issues that Christians should engage in, and not just in a knee-jerk fashion that some Churches expect of us (The Church of Rome springs very much to mind in this sphere). It is not my role to tell you what to think, but my role to call you to think.

Too often, Christians hide behind others and other people’s interpretations rather than seeking to engage with the issues of the day, and yet when they do, they are powerful agents for change and the source of the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid, the gaining of equality for women in many walks of life.

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

Social Justice
This engagement in the world leads us therefore to make a difference in the world: to engage in activities of Social Justice, in works of Mission and Evangelism based on a confidence in God’s calling and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The building of the kingdom on earth is not just your parish priest’s responsibility, not just the Readers or the Churchwarden’s, but the responsibility of all of us, and an integral part of our baptism.

There is not a single person in this church who does not have a positive contribution to make to the Kingdom of God, who cannot touch the life of another, and make a difference. There is no-one too old, too poor, too tired, too sinful or too young to do their bit to spread the Good News of Christ, to free the captive, to help the blind to see or the lame to walk.

You may not be in the mould of a Saint, but Christ did not call Saints to build the Kingdom of God, he called ordinary people like you and I, and through doing that, they became Saints.

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

So: Prayer, Scripture, Engagement and Social Action form a foundation which is not overwhelmed by the traumas of this life. Unlike many of the Evangelical Preachers on US television, I cannot promise you a life of bliss and milk and honey just for believing: life remains hard, life remains a challenge, and redemption and grace are works of a lifetime, not just a single prayer acting like a magic wand to make things better.

Life will always have its challenges: jobs will be lost, parents will die, cancer will happen and the undeserving will appear to prosper. That is life. The Psalmist knew that, and it is as true to today as it always has been; but faith in Christ is not supposed to shield you from life, rather it is faith in Christ which enables you to deal with all that life throws at you.

Padre (now Saint) Pio told his congregation: “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry”. We should take that to heart, and with the foundations of prayer, scripture, engagement with the world and social action, you can take whatever life has to throw at you.

Build your house on solid rock, and when the floods come, as they surely must, you will be secure.

Amen


Sermon: Ordinary 8, Year A

Text: Matthew 6:24-34

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Jesus said we can’t serve two masters, but what did he know? Computers, mobile phones and Sat-Nav equipment enable us to serve three, four, five or more masters all at the same time, and we call it “multi-tasking.”

Of course, multi-tasking isn’t really an improvement over good old-fashioned “serving two masters,” since many people who multi-task are still serving only the god of money.I’m thinking of the man driving to his 18-hour day in the City, recently caught with one eye on the Stock Market Averages displayed by his computer on the passenger seat of his car while he trades shares simultaneously with two mobile phones and steers with his knees. His children have forgotten who their father is.

Most of us, however, don’t spend quite so much of our precious mental bandwidth on good old fashioned greed and getting rich. We’re not about wealth, or what the Authorised Version so colourfully called “mammon.”

The standing joke is that clergy only work on Sundays, but at any point in the day, I can be found on the telephone talking with parishioners, downloading information related to our parish building projects, working on spreadsheets related to our finance, updating the parish database with new information about our people, sending and receiving emails related to the liturgy, interviewing for new teaching staff, sitting in a class ensuring the quality of teaching standards or liaising with the local council as we prepare to build the new Children’s Centre.

None of these is “mammon” as they are related to the work and witness of the Church and its role in the local Community…

Most of them, considered in isolation, are quite godly. But I have to wonder, as I glance with a distracted eye at the icon of Jesus I keep on my desk for just this purpose, if in the middle of all this, that I’m in touch with God at all.

The pressure of life itself makes us value quick study, snap decisions and ready skills. If it’s deep, nuanced or spiritual we might not have time for it; for the multiplicity of information: emails, text messages, phone calls and knocks on the door, paperwork piling up on the desk and a long to-do list is in danger of simply overrunning the task of prayer, worship and following Christ.

We may not be shaped, so much as limited, by the many tasks we do.We cannot serve two masters.

On Thursday, for an hour, on the Feast of Corpus Christi I brought out the Blesséd Sacrament for prayer and devotion, and it was the most simple, beautiful and moving experience. The difference, between my busy, overfilled, administrative life and the call of prayer and devotion cannot be over-emphasised.

And I am sure that if it is like this for me, then it must be even more challenging for you. Prayer, and especially the cycle of the Daily Office – the recitation of Morning and Evening Prayer, Mass as the sustaining food of the week, all of these is built into my prayer and working life. But you also have working lives which seeks to compete with this – the demands of work, family, elderly relatives, children and grandchildren are in danger of crowding out God in our lives.

That’s not to say that we should stop doing the things that feed and sustain us. I doubt any of us wants to trade what we do for hunting woolly mammoth! (In short supply in Gosport, I expect) It does mean, however, that we need to pay attention to the spiritual health of the single person we are at the centre of all these tasks; it does mean that we need to pay attention to the souls of those around us whose lives we touch in such a variety of ways; and it does mean that we need to remember the divine master who asks for our full loyalty before all the other things in life.

In other words, to survive spiritually in a multi-tasking world we must live by the real priorities of life: love God, love your neighbour as yourself. Don’t turn your tasks into your master and serve them. Serve God by turning your multiple tasks into opportunities to minister God’s nearness and love. Let your love for God relieve you of the inhuman pressure you feel as you fall behind in your tasks. God is a much more loving and forgiving master than we are loving and forgiving of ourselves in our slavery to our checklists and our diaries.

And then, my dear friends, we will discover that those things which feed and sustain us become a joyous by-product of our relationship with God, that our work and our play and our families are a metaphor for the love of God, and become not pressure points, but blessings.

Loving God first, however, takes work. Our relationship with God is not something we can put on hold so that we can pour ourselves into more immediate tasks. Loving God takes conscious energy and intentional focus of mind and spirit.

So in your multi-tasking, pour your consciousness into the places where it all comes together. The many things you do for your children come together in your love for them and your desire to see them prosper in body, mind and spirit. The many things you do for your job come together in your commitment to make the world a better place and to put woolly mammoth burgers on the table for your family .The many things you do for yourself come together in a meaningful life as a human being.

God is the one who fills the things we do with transcendent purpose in the service of love, integrity, justice, mercy, kindness. God is the one whose purpose is to turn simple acts into ministry to souls. The meaning of such actions is ours as well when God is the master we serve.

So the question we should ask every minute of every day is simply this: Do I serve the things I’m doing because they demand pieces of me, or do I serve God who reframes them all into forms of ministry?

I recall a lament from the early ‘sixties: “The busier I am the behinder I get.” Maybe we could update that to a 21st century version: “The more I do the less I am.”

A Christianity response is equally simple. “The more I do for God, the more I am who I was made to be.”

Amen


Corpus Christi

Exposition of the Blesséd Sacrament before noon today. Simply, simply beautiful. May our prayers rise like incense. (Ps 141)

Heart of Jesus, think on us.
Eyes of Jesus, look on us.
Face of Jesus, shine on us.
Hands of Jesus, bless us,
Feet of Jesus, guide us,
Arms of Jesus, hold us,
Body of Jesus, feed us,
Blood of Jesus, cleanse us,
Make us, Jesus, your own, both here and in the world to come. Amen

Sr Elizabeth Ruth Obbard ODC

 

My God, and my all

Francis of Assisi, 13th Century

O most sacred redeemer,
Give us wisdom to recognise you,
Intelligence to understand you,
Diligence to seek you,
Patience to wait for you,
Eyes to see you,
Hearts to meditate on you
And lives to proclaim you,
Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Benedict of Nursia 6th Century

My Jesus, my Saviour,
Lord, there is none like You.
All of my days I want to praise
The wonders of Your mighty love.
My comfort, my shelter,
Tower of refuge and strength,
Let every breath, all that we are,
Never cease to worship You
.
Shout to the Lord all the earth, let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King.
Mountains bow down
And the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name.
We sing for joy at the work of Your hands.
Forever we’ll love You, forever we’ll stand.
Nothing compares to the
Promise we have in You.

Darlene Zschech, 20th Century

Let everyone be struck with fear,
The whole world tremble,
And the heavens exult
When Christ, the Son of the living God,
Is present on the altar [in the hands of a Priest!
O wonderful loftiness
And stupendous dignity!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
The Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
So humbles Himself
That he hides Himself
For our salvation
Under an ordinary piece of bread!

See the humility of God, brothers and sisters
And pour out your hearts before Him
Humble yourselves
That you may be exalted by Him!
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
That he who gives himself totally to you
May receive you totally!

Francis of Assisi, 13th Century


Quiet Day – 17th May 2008 – Trinity and Unity

Despite the fact that my team are playing in the FA Cup Final, I am slaving away over a quiet day at the Sisters of Bethany in Southsea. Of course, when I promised to do this, there was no way that Pompey could get into the final, but that’s devotion for you…

As it is the day before the Most Holy Trinity, I am concentrating on the Trinity and the Body of Christ in two separate talks as models of Christian Unity.

Address 1

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

Let us pray:

Come Lord Jesus, in the fullness of your grace, and open our hearts to your will, our minds to your word, and your love to our whole being. May we each find in today what we came to search for, and amid what we search for, may we find you amongst us. O Lord and King, we strive towards you: our goal, our capstone, our eternal high priest, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

Well, we would appear to be the only ones in Pompey not glued to a television set today, as we play in the FA Cup Final. However, this is a quiet day, and I promise that if you wish to be insulated from the football, then this house is probably the best place for it!

Tomorrow, of course is Trinity Sunday, and so it would be most appropriate for us today to consider some aspects of the most holy trinity, and consider the trinity not only in itself, but as a symbol of unity. It would seem appropriate, in the house of a religious order which prays daily for the Unity of All Christians, to consider during the two addresses of this Quiet Day, the nature of Unity, to consider what Unity means, what Unity costs, and above all, with whom we actually seek to have Unity; using the Trinity and other scriptural models of unity to discern it.

Before Priesthood, I worked extensively in the National Health Service, first as a Registered Nurse and latterly as a Manager. In one hospital I worked in, there was a newly built modern chapel, and it had a single Aumbrey: the box in the wall in which the Reserved Sacrament – the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ used for administration to the sick – was kept. Both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Chaplains shared the same Aumbrey, within which was a very tasteful little glass partition, separating the sacrament consecrated by the Church of England and the sacrament consecrated by the Church of Rome. One morning, they found taped to the little glass partition the words: “IN CASE OF UNITY – BREAK GLASS!”

But is it indeed that simple? Can we simply sort out of differences and our arguments, simply break the glass so that all would be one? I would like to take you today, therefore, on a journey through unity and give us all something to meditate on during today’s quiet day; and as we think of unity, we think of all that it asks of the church, all that it asks of us, as individual Christians.

If we are to properly meditate on unity, then we should perhaps look first and foremost to the model of the most perfect unity: the Trinity. It is through the Trinity that we see a unity most perfectly formed – perfect elements combined in a single indivisible one. However, we should recognise that much ink and even much blood has been spilt over the doctrine of the Holy Trinity over the centuries. It is ironic that there should be so much schism, so much heresy and anathema on the fount of all unity.

The Trinity is a perfect model of unity, for the Three are One and the One is Three. They form a single Godhead, and yet they are most definitely distinguishable and differentiated charisms.

A Story:

the Lord High Bishop (clearly of a different generation to our own) imperiously sailed into the Sunday School room to have the children presented to him “I would like to ask you all some things… what is the Trinity” – and little Johnny’s hand shot up “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” he replied. Trying to engage the children, the Bishop tried to lead him on a little further “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean, my young man” “You’re not supposed to, your Grace, it’s a mystery”.

The mystery, then, is how to apply something of the perfect to our imperfection; to take that which has no division and use it to unite that which has so much division. The key problem is this: we cannot ever fully conceive the nature of God, we can only understand that which is revealed to us. The nature of God has never been fully revealed, and so the Trinity must be seen as Karl Barth describes it as, a ‘revelation-in-progress’, the finality of which we shall not see until the Kingdom comes here on earth – an event called the Parousia.

The Trinity first came to our notice around 180AD, in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch. The Trinity is not seen explicitly in the Holy Scriptures. However, strongly Trinitarian themes can be seen throughout the Old and New Testaments, and more specifically the actions and interventions of different elements of the Trinity throughout history.

The Father is clearly the Creator of us all: the one who spoke and it then was. The Father is most clearly identified with the sacred name Yahweh, which was, until the new covenant, blasphemous to repeat, so a number of euphemisms arose: each time a line in the scroll containing the name ‘Yahweh’ was encountered, the reader aloud would substitute “THE LORD”, which is why a number of translations, such as the Authorised Version keep it in capital letters to signify it is a substitution. THE LORD, or Adonai in Hebrew was translated into Kryios in the Septuatgint – the widely used Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. You are probably most familiar with the petition “Kyrie Eleison” “Lord Have Mercy”. It is Yahweh-Kyrios who appears to Moses in the Burning Bush.

The Father has other names in the Hebrew Scriptures, many of them considerably older than the revealed name of Yahweh. Eloihim is responsible for the older creation narrative of Genesis 2, whereas the 7 day creation is attributed to Yahweh. As a wholly monotheistic faith, the Jews have no problem in identifying that Yahweh and Eloihim are one and the same.

The Son also clearly has a clear role in Scripture, for the Prophets predicted his coming and the Gospel proclaims the life and continued existence of a man fully human and fully divine: two natures and three persons, as revealed in Orthodox Iconography.

The Son, even while on earth was fully human and fully divine. We would not wish to fall into the trap of subordinationism, which places Father and Son in a hierarchy within the Trinity. In the same way, Christ was Christ before, during and after the incarnation. He was not a human being who was graced with divinity at some later stage (Adoptionism), nor was he a God which just ‘appeared’ to be in human form for our benefit, and therefore did not actually suffer on the cross (Docetism). It must be of some comfort to us, as humanity, to realise that the Trinity envelops our humanity as it envelops the personage of the Son.

“The Spirit of God which moved over the water” of Genesis 1 (Gen 1:2) and the Word or Logos which was in the beginning with God in the Prologue of the Gospel of John (John 1:1) is the same Spirit which Paul says leads us to confess that “Jesus is Lord” in his First letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:4). In later Hebrew writings, much is written of Wisdom, a feminine noun just like Rauch the spirit which moved over the water, and her actions, motivation and sustaining work can be seen to be directly analogous with New Testament descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit.

We should not be too caught up in the application of gender to these issues, for English is a language poorly equipped to deal with the masculines, feminines and neuters of classical languages: God is all genders, God has no gender. Some languages even have a separate pronoun for God: he, she, it and God to emphasise this point. Our labels of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are those used through antiquity to describe this other, and no more.

Of the Trinity as a combined entity, the three men who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 are seen by many as an early indication of the Trinity. Trinitarian Scripture culminates in the great commission of Matthew 28:19 where the disciples are told to go and baptise all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Note that it is in the singular name of the three and not the plural names: for our God is a God of singularity, a monotheism and not a random selection of the pagan pantheon which was the prevailing religious climate of the Greek diaspora.

The source of much thinking about the nature of the Trinity comes from three Greeks known as the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus and Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, the latter of whom wrote a work the thrust of which is given away by its title: “On Not Three Gods”. We should not be intimidated by the sound of such austere Fathers, for much of their writing is an illumination on the Scriptures in which they were entirely pickled, and an application of classical Greek logic.

Our prevailing view is that which we know from the Creeds formulated by the Councils of Nicea (325AD) and Constantinople (381AD), which coalesced the Cappadocian’s ideas. We recite them each Sunday: that the Trinity is One, and that one is Three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is an eternal and co-equal partnership, “I am the Alpha and the Omega says the Lord, who was and is, and is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8)

It is not really their individual charisms which need interest us at this point, but the interplay between them.

But what does the Trinity say about our Christian lives? Clearly the Trinity can be differentiated: the personae have different actions on the world, as creator, redeemer and sustainer. They can at times operate individually – during for example the Incarnation, but never alone, for the Son continually referred to the Father and to the Spirit (especially in the Gospel of John). In the same way, the Spirit sustains faith today in the hearts of believers, but can only do so with the presence of the Son in a living relationship with that individual, blessed by the Father.

In the same way, our lives as individual Christians and as Churches need to mirror this diversity within a pattern of interdependence. It is simply impossible to be a Christian alone, for even the eremitic Fathers lived alone, together. This is why Communities such as the Sisters of Bethany exist: to provide a framework of Community in work and worship. In our daily lives, our faith is worked out in its interrelationship with others – how we act towards our neighbour (thinking especially of Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan) and how we share the Gospel Commission we have all been given, for Matthew 28:20 applies to all of us. Too often, as individuals and magnified as Churches, we believe that we are the only ones who are able to solve an issue: evangelise a new housing estate, work with young people in the inner city, befriend the elderly and lonely, and we allow our pride to get in the way of our mission as Christians. Collaboration and interoperation are at the heart of this model of unity.

The mutual relationship between the persons of the Trinity is described as perichoresis – mutual interpenetration – an idea with its roots in the Cappadocian Fathers. Perichoresis allows individuality to be maintained whilst insisting on sharing with others. It describes (literally) a divine dance between the persons and is best summed up in the words of Christ himself from the Gospel of John (Jn 14:10-11):

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;”

Trinitarian perichoresis allows us to both hold on to the individual gifts of the Churches and acts as an imperative for us to share together in common lives grounded in Christ. I am reminded of the Scriptural example of Luke 5:2-11:

When the disciples tried to haul the catch of fish into the boat – Peter had to call the others to help – this could be an example for us of perichoresis – a mutual interdependence. When a task needs assistance, we work together, dance together, share the workload and share the rewards.

None of this perichoretic unity calls for a negation of our individuality, but is a call to dance together, in the literal sense of perichoresis. We seldom dance to the same tune, even within our own Churches, and we seldom even have much idea within our own hearts what the tune actually is; but if we were to forget self for a short time, then we could still be able to dance our own tunes, to live our lives as separate and diverse elements of a not-quite-holy Trinity and yet still appear as part of a choreographed set-piece. The choreographer, of course, being the Holy Spirit, herself.

But unlike the dance of God, we stumble and fall, falter in our steps and get our timing wrong. This stumbling is the sin that ever confront us, and limits our participation in this perichoretic dance, no matter how much we are welcome.

To close this address, I would like to bring us some more of the visual. For here I have a copy of that most famous ikon: Andrei Rublev’s Trinity. It was painted around 1410 in Russia.

Let us just examine this ikon for a moment and explore what truths the iconographer is trying to express to us.

In the icon there are three angels, representing the three persons of the Trinity. They are seated around a table. There is a striking stillness, as if the three persons were frozen in time. At the same time, there is in the picture a sense of warmth and life that circulates among the persons of this Trinity, extending out to include the person at prayer.

The three are seated to the left and right of the table, and one in the back who faces the person at prayer. There is a place for one more at the table. There is a place for us. We are welcome here. We are wanted. We have been thought of. We are being drawn into this mysterious relationship.

The Son and the Spirit have their heads slightly bent toward the Father, their gaze fixed on him. The Son receives his being from the Father, from all eternity and with no beginning. The Spirit is this loving bond between Father and Son. In the reverent gesture of the Son and the Spirit, one becomes profoundly aware that all life has sprung from the Father’s giving. This concept is hard to wrap our minds around, and will remain forever the greatest of mysteries. But springing from the mystery of the Trinity, like a fountain, is the truth that the Father is a Person, initiating personal relationships and expressing personal love. The love that exists between Father and Son is so real and profound that it also exists, proceeds as a person, the Spirit.

To guide your meditations this morning, I would like to encourage you to visit this ikon at some point, and to engage with it yourself, to gaze upon the three and the empty place and to reflect on how you might dance with the Deity in the perichoresis of the Trinity.

Amen.

Address 2

This morning we considered the Holy Trinity, and its dance which sweeps up the participants into a Trinity of mutual interdependence, not by sacrificing individuality, but by active engagement with others. The ultimate in active engagement is the interpenetration or perichoresis of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, recognising that we fall by nature of our sinfulness short of such deep mutuality with God. In this second address, I want us to consider another model of unity known to the Church: the analogy of the Body of Christ. It is through this essentially Pauline model that we see how even our imperfect humanity can function in a model of Godly, Trinitarian unity.

St Paul said:

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
(1 Cor 12:11-13)

In Paul’s letter to the ill-tempered, factional and in-fighting Corinthians, he speaks at length of the need for unity in diversity. His imagery of the body in disunity was well known within political circles, for Livy quotes the following in his History of Rome (2.32:9-12):

The senate decided, therefore, to send as their spokesman Menenius Agrippa, an eloquent man, and acceptable to the plebs as being himself of plebeian origin. He was admitted into the camp, and it is reported that he simply told them the following fable in primitive and uncouth fashion.

“In the days when all the parts of the human body were not as now agreeing together, but each member took its own course and spoke its own speech, the other members, indignant at seeing that everything acquired by their care and labour and ministry went to the belly, whilst it, undisturbed in the middle of them all, did nothing but enjoy the pleasures provided for it, entered into a conspiracy; the hands were not to bring food to the mouth, the mouth was not to accept it when offered, the teeth were not to masticate it. Whilst, in their resentment, they were anxious to coerce the belly by starving it, the members themselves wasted away, and the whole body was reduced to the last stage of exhaustion. Then it became evident that the belly rendered no idle service, and the nourishment it received was no greater than that which it bestowed by returning to all parts of the body this blood by which we live and are strong, equally distributed into the veins, after being matured by the digestion of the food.”

By using this comparison, and showing how the internal disaffection amongst the parts of the body resembled the animosity of the plebeians against the patricians, he succeeded in winning over his audience.

Compare it to the key passage on this topic from 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. Paul astutely takes a political idiom (mixing politics with religion – whatever next!), well known in an educated city like Corinth and adapts it to the situation of the body of faith; he writes:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Paul’s desire to emphasise both unity and diversity is a record of the situation of the time. If we read Paul’s letters to the different early Churches, and read some of the debates in Acts, we see not one single coherent ekklesia or church, but a number of quite different entities which had grown up around the different missionary activities of the apostles and their own individual charisms. Clearly, there were considerable differences in understanding, teaching and theology between the Churches, which the letters of Paul only partially helped to calm. Even within a location, different meetings of Christians, most of which were partially clandestine because of oppression and persecution, were still referred to by Paul as “the Church”.

Paul is keen to emphasise that the range of charismatic gifts which have been rained down upon the Churches have not been universal, and recognises that we each have our individual gifts to offer: prophet, teacher, worker of miracles, speaker in tongues. No individual should be tempted to look down upon another’s paucity of charismatic gifts, nor at the same time look jealously at another’s overabundance. I am sure we have all sinned at some time in this way, for that is frail humanity. It is worthwhile to remind ourselves, that this limitation in charism also applies to your clergy, who are not all equally talented at some things: quiet days being one of them.

Another clue of the diversity in the early church is shown in the book of the Revelation to St John the Divine, where seven churches in Asia Minor are identified: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, each with specific problems unique to themselves. John the Divine sees this apocalyptic writing as serving as a warning to these churches, but for different reasons. They operate differently, they have their own episcope, and they have no real central authority – the Christians were in this earliest stage, a missionary faith, and devoted more energy to spreading the gospel than to centralising it: Rome was a mere outpost of believers, with or without the episcopacy of Peter, by 110AD when the apocalypse was written. Working in isolation, with poor communications between them and with an emphasis on mission, which is always contextualised to those to whom you are speaking, it is no wonder that the churches were independent, isolated, different and troubled.

So, we recognise that like the early churches, we are too all different, and that our own charisms, and those of our churches, both within and without the Anglican communion are all different. If this is to become a truly workable recognition of truth, then we need to examine the cost of such diversity.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) has been a long process of dialogue between two strands of Church. It has been an engagement on the basis of theology and ecclesiology, rather than the desperate need to merge because of the threatened implosion of a church, which is never equal or fair as seen in the case of reunion with the Methodists.

At the heart of the ARCIC dialogue is the issue of authority, and the statements ex-cathedra of that authority: for instance, since the 1896 Rome has taught that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and void”. It takes great internal courage to come back from such a position, especially when made from the position of infallibility. Although we are not in the position of making such sweeping statements, at such a level, we each often find ourselves in positions where it is difficult to back away from. Losing face is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, but must be at the heart of being prepared to offer the other cheek.

We need also to accept that as we share the path of faith with others, there will sometimes be convergence and sometimes parting. This requires us to take a wider view of the road of faith than our own narrow practices of it, and to validate and affirm the faith journeys of others.

For example: I worked for many years with a young man called Carl. I recognised his vocation and was overjoyed by his growth in faith. When he went to work on a pastoral scheme, he went to a very different kind of church to the one we were previously associated with, and he became a hardcore conservative evangelical. I had to recognise that this was God’s path for him, and that he would still make a good priest, but not of the model I perhaps envisaged; but another part of the body of Christ nevertheless. At the same time, someone from that conservative evangelical church started to become more interested in more Catholic worship, and also grew in faith. She was essentially rejected by her old faith community who saw her as some form of apostate, and she was forced to leave that church and her friends behind because she had chosen a different path. Some parts of the body find it more difficult to accept that they are a hand or foot, rather than the whole body.

It would appear appropriate that the body of Christ is fed, and the table around which the body is fed is that of the altar. This may be a somewhat simplistic statement, for there is much diversity of interpretation of the significance of this most special act. As a matter of unity, we only need remind ourselves that one of the principle Anglican terms used for this joyful celebration (or Eu-Charis ) is Communion – a coming together, an intermingling.

As Paul said once again to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10:16-17):

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Recent writers have written about the Eucharist as one of the essential legacies of Our Lord: a narrative and an action which has been preserved from within Scripture and to which has become imbued so much significance and portent. However, even within the most basic language of speaking of the Eucharist, it becomes clear that there are many different interpretations of its role and purpose within the Christian journey.

Some would argue that it is a memorial gathering – the wake of Christ, where the faithful gather to remember his final night and to effectively drink and eat to his memory. Others would focus on the meaning of Christ’s words in Greek in the Upper Room, doing this in anemnesis of him which is not about turning to the past in memorial, but bringing the past into the present, remembering his promise that “he would be with us always” (Matthew 28:20).

So when Christ said, as the priest repeats during the Mass “This is my body, this is my blood”, Christians ask themselves whether he was speaking literally, spiritually or metaphorically, and whether there is a real presence in those elements which transform the everyday – the bread and wine – into the extraordinary. One often finds it so ironic that those often quickest to deny the real presence of Christ at the Eucharist are those who are quickest to embrace the all-powerful action of the Holy Spirit moving within the faithful: the two are not incompatible and the Spirit which transforms us is the same Spirit which is made known through the breaking of the bread.

But setting those finer points of Eucharistic theology apart, we need to take a step back and ask what the effect of the Eucharist is, regardless of the signification we give to it.

The Eucharist is quite rightly spoken of as the well-spring of faith. In a recent book called “Mass Culture”, writers from across the churches have spoken of the Eucharist as the overarching narrative which feeds and sustains faith – through its combination of Word and Sacrament. Most people come away from that encounter with some form of spiritual fulfilment, which may range from a sense of calm, a sense of unity with God (of all things!), a sense of encounter, either in a real sense or in a memorial sense.

Few would deny, therefore, that the bread and wine have some significance; some sense of being set apart. The word used for those things set apart is Holy. It is through an encounter with holy things, therefore, that God can be encountered. It is not the only way – I am the first to emphasise that, but it is an almost universal way.

Gathering around the Lord’s Table is an act of unity which is fraught with problems. We must accept that when the priest raises the sacraments and shows them to the people (if he does that at all), the people may have quite different understandings of what is being shown to them. If we are to be truly honest, this is what happens even within a single congregation, and two individuals who have sat next to one another (usually towards the back) for years may have no idea of what the other thinks, knows, understands or feels; let alone what someone from another parish, church faction or denomination is experiencing. In fact, it is not their concern. It is not my concern either, as their Parish Priest. That is a matter for God alone, who looks into the hearts of us all, and takes us for what we are and what we would be.

You may recall at the beginning of my first address, I recalled the Hospital Chaplaincy Aumbrey, with the glass partition and the words “in case of unity – break glass”. My suggestion at the beginning was perhaps that we needed Unity first, before the glass was broken between the Anglican and Roman reserved sacraments. Perhaps, as we conclude today, it would rather better be that we should break the glass first, come together in the presence of the living God, share his holy sacraments, and then, perhaps, from that unity will flow.

On one level, Paul’s writing on the body of Christ, the body of the Church would appear to be divisive, factional, ununified, and at odds with our model of perfect unity in Trinity, and yet, the mechanism for that mystical union is very much in our presence, in that aumbrey and at this holy altar. When we eat of normal food, it becomes a part of us, is absorbed into us and excreted when we are done with it; when we eat of Christ, we become a part of him, and we are absorbed into the mystical union of the trinity, and our place at that table is laid.

To guide your meditations this afternoon, I would encourage you to revisit St Paul’s exploration of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, and to reflect on the words of the Eucharistic prayer, especially the dominical words: the words Jesus himself used at the last supper and reflect on your own response to this act of redemption.

Amen.


Mass of Healing

Every month, our Mass of Healing grows in popularity. More and more people are drawn to these powerful sacraments of the eucharist and of healing. Hands are laid, oil is plastered on foreheads and hands, which are then smothered over each other in the peace.

Mother celebrated with confidence and style, and I had the privilege of smothering them in the oil of blessing. After annointing, they lit floating candles in the font. Simple, beautiful and a powerful statement of the action of God in our lives.

“Thy will be done” is the hardest prayer we ever get to pray. Trust in him still. Amen


Youth talk: Pentecost

1. Introduction

Gather into groups of 6-8, one leader per group. Form big circle and hold hands. Leader initiates with each group a couple of activities – when the leader squeezes the hand of the person next, that person has to pass the squeeze on around the group. Try the ‘electric boogaloo’, the hip hop move that looks like an electric shock passing around the group. Sit in groups.

2. Tell the story of Pentecost

They’d seen him rise up [as I told you last week. One moment, there he was with them, in all his mysterious I-thought-you-was-dead-but-here-you-are-in-the-flesh glory, and the next he was off into the clouds, and they felt utterly left alone. He’s told them what he expected of them: much more than what they’d done when he walked the earth with them, and now they were left to it: where to start? What to do? It wasn’t safe as one of his followers, the authorities were still arresting anyone associated with the Man, and well, they were scared for their lives…

So they sat in the room and waited. They prayed and fretted about it, and they waited. They waited, lost. Just … waiting.

And then room with FILLED with action – the most amazing experience that words just seemed to fall short of the experience, and when they later tried to tell Luke about it, it sounded all a bit weird: flames and noise, and wind and power… just raw power that seemed to come from nowhere: the kind of power that was just authentically of God. And everyone in that room was changed, touched by something which was both scary and yet the most comforting thing they had ever experienced, and they just knew it was right.

They burst out the room, no longer unsure, no longer afraid of the authorities, and they grabbed the first people the saw in the streets and started telling them about what they just experienced and what the Man had done, and now how this spirit, this… holy spirit had made it all clear that everything the Man had said was just so right.

The people in that room were just like you and I: simple, working folk: off the fishing boat, from the north east where the posh folks in Jerusalem laughed at your accent; and yet, when they spoke, it was just so each person, no matter where they were from could understand, could feel, could make sense of what they meant about the Man.

Oh, there were some sceptics: people who though it was all a bit nutty – oh, they’re drunk they shrugged, and went on their way, but Peter, who’d never been brave enough to say anything in public before stood up and said “We can’t be drunk – it’s only 9am! This is because of what they said a long, long time ago. The prophet Joel said: “God would pour out his spirit on all: men and women, young and old, rich and poor – and he has done this through the death and most importantly, the rising of that Man Jesus from death”.

The power of that Spirit is still here, still working, still doing marvellous things. In this place.

3.. Show the video

Acts 2, Pentecost
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6Py-QOT6ks
Created for the National Youth Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2007

Ask them to consider how the power of God might transform them, and enable them to share with others something special, such as the power passed on from one to another by the electric boogaloo, or the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Sermon: Pentecost, Year A

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. My wife 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.

Amen


The end of an era

An announcement from Norfolk this morning…

Fr. Philip North has announced that after six years as Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, he will be taking up the post of Team Rector in Camden, North London:

I’m moving! I have accepted the Bishop of Edmonton’s offer to be Team Rector of the Old St Pancras Team Ministry in Camden and so will leave Walsingham in the early part of the Autumn. I have had a wonderful six years at the Shrine, but it is time now for me to return to the parish setting. The Old St Pancras Team is an irresistibly fascinating parish, combining extreme wealth with extreme poverty and with some really excellent colleagues and laypeople. I will be sad to leave the Shrine but also relish the challenges that lie ahead.

This is truly, the end of an era, when Mission, and especially Mission to Children and Young People was placed at the forefront of the Shrine’s work, and the Shrine ceased to be a backwater of lace and gin and became rightfully, the Nation’s Favourite Spiritual Place.

I consider Philip not only a mentor and a guru of mine, but also an inspiration and a friend. Of course, he will do marvelously in Camden, and they are lucky to have him, but after this summer, we will have to face the future of the Children’s and Youth Pilgrimages with trepidation: will the next Administrator be as open, as creative, as willing to take risks in the cause of the Gospel? Is there going to be space for work such as mine in the new vision? [I sincerely hope so Will there be a conservative backlash or a continued, bold vision forward?

I believe that the Shrine is one of the most important places of Anglican Spirituality, and from where mission and evangelism can spring to rejuvenate the whole church. I pray that through the intercession of Our Blessed Lady, and with a sacramental focus, we can revitalise this land. The Shrine is the fount of that, and must not become the last hiding whole of a church unclear of its message, inwardly focussed and more interested in its vestments than its proclamation.

…I wonder where you can download the application form from 🙂


Sermon: Easter 7, Year A

Text: John 17:1-11

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

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them, protect them in your name which you have given me, so that they may be one, even as we are one. (v11)

Jesus’ last words to his disciples are a prayer. He says the kinds of things we say, in our own prayers: Protect them. Guard them. Keep them. And then he says something that only Jesus could say, something a little out of the ordinary: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:14-16).

Technically, these three verses are not part of the lectionary for today. But Jesus’ prayer loses something important, when we tear it in half that way. Look past verse 11 to these odd words in verses 14-16, and see what the whole of the High Priestly Prayer of John 17 is really about…

Be in the world, but not of it.

Jesus’ disciples, through grace, do not belong to the world anymore than Jesus himself does. But they—we—are in it. We are here. We don’t have the luxury to opt out. So the challenge is to remember where we are, and whose we are. We are in the world, but not of it. We are in the world, but we do not belong to the world.

What could that look like—to be in the world, but not of it?

I know of a family that has given up television. They want to remind themselves and their children: this box does not own us!

I know of a woman who designates one day a week as her “car-less” day. She won’t drive, or accept a ride in anyone else’s car. If she needs to go somewhere, she takes public transport. She wants to remind herself: this car does not own me!

I read of a family that keeps a supply of homemade paper sack lunches in the trunk of the car. The children wrap up cheese sandwiches, and then pack them with pieces of fruit, a mars bar, and so on. If they see someone in need on the way to school, they stop the car. The children offer a paper sack lunch and a smile. They want to remind us: this myth of scarcity does not own us!

I know a priest who sets aside one day a month to visit a parishioner at their workplace. She goes to work with them, listens to them, and learns from them about the issues they think about, the problems they handle. She eats lunch with them, and at the end of the day, they pray together before she leaves. The practice has done wonders to strengthen the relationships between her and her parishioners. It has also deepened her preaching. This gentle pastor of her flock wants to remind us: our work—yours and mine—does not own us!

I know another priest who takes himself on an “artist’s sabbatical” once a week. He sets aside two hours to do something completely zany and arty and un-priestly, like walking around a gallery or a tattoo parlor or going to a movie—all by himself. The practice feeds his soul, and rejuvenates his spirit. It gives him energy to manage his overloaded calendar. He wants to remind himself: time, or the lack of it, does not own me!

I know a man who cooks a gourmet meal one Friday each month for a homeless shelter in London. He does it all himself. It takes a lot of time and energy and money to do it, because every month he creates a different menu. Some are critical of him: wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper and simpler to stir up a big pot of macaroni cheese? Of course it would. But that’s not the point, for this man, or the men he serves. The point is to create something beautiful, for men who do not often eat such exquisite food. The point is to share joy, not practicality. This man wants to remind himself and his shelter guests: this system does not own us!

Be in the world, but not of it.

Each of these examples shows me a little of what that looks like, to be in the world, but not of it. Because each of these persons is staging a quiet protest about what the world leads us to believe, and what we believe. The world says: you belong to the box! You belong to your work, your calendar, this system, and there is not enough to go around!

But Jesus says something different. Jesus says: these things do not own you. You belong to God, and God alone. So keep living in this world, as God’s. Be in it, but not of it.

How would you demonstrate the Kingdom built on earth?

Imagine for a moment: how would you like to show it?

And then, Go for it.

Amen