Archives May 2010

Homily for Pentecost: Holy Fire Inside You

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

How do you describe the indescribable? How do you find words for your wedding day, cradling your newborn child in your eyes, beating that child at Wii bowling years later?

How do we find words for powerful spiritual experiences: glimpses of the divine?

What does John the Divine say when given an insight into the glories of heaven? No wonder the book of his Revelation is so strange… for words run out when we speak of God.

What could Peter say when in the presence of Moses, Elijah and his Master transfigured before him? Something nonsensical, no doubt…

When we speak of God, we are naturally rendered speechless, for nothing can truely speak of such power.

So, when power is brought down from on high, and the people of God are given a touch of the divine, what language can we use?

A mighty wind, a powerful storm, flames from nowhere which touched our very hearts and souls and enervated the confused, the weak, the indecisive, the ignorant and made them into the voice of the church, the powerful communicators of the word of God.

Strange language used to describe the indescribable.

And you may feel that its time has passed. You may think that God no longer does that. You may think that you will never experience anything like that… ever.

And yet… the flames of the Holy Spirit, can dwell within you. It begins with your baptism and is rekindled at each and every Mass. The flames of the Holy Spirit belong inside you…

That fire. That passion. That power which comes from the Lord can empower you.

Come Holy Spirit, and enkindle within us the flame of your love.

The fire of God is within you…


Sermon: Ascension

Text: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

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

Today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we see an important shift for those who follow Jesus from being turned inward, focusing on their common life and learning at Jesus’ feet, to begin to look outward to the needs of the world.

In Luke’s two books, his Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles, he describes the work of Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit as part of a continuum of God’s involvement and engagement with our world.

The Book of Luke begins in the temple in Jerusalem. The gospel begins the Good News of Jesus with the priest, Zechariah, serving in the Holy of Holies. It is there that the angel Gabriel appears with the news of the coming of Jesus’ forerunner: John the Baptist.

The Gospel of Luke will then continually return to the temple: for Jesus’ naming, and for his teaching the elders when on a trip with his family at the age of twelve. Then through his ministry, Jesus will return to the temple. Finally the gospel ends with the final line verses, “They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.”

The temple has a gravitational pull in Luke’s Gospel, everything is always pulled back to that centre. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke opens in Jerusalem, but then goes outward to Judea, Samaria, and while not to the ends of the earth, he will reach to Rome and beyond through the ministry and testimony of Paul and the other Apostles and Early Disciples.

In Luke, everything was focused inwardly on building up the group. In Acts, that group is shot out from the centre point. Pentecost will come like a bomb going off, which sends out a creative rather than destructive force. Ascension Day is the seam that holds those two narratives together. This is where the inward focused turned and after a ten-day wait for the tide to turn at Pentecost, the outward focus began.

In the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham there is an Ascension Chapel, and above the altar there is an image, a sculpture perhaps embedded in the roof: you can just see the feet of Jesus disappearing through the clouds. You know it’s Jesus, because the feet are pierced. I love that chapel and made a point of taking the children on the children’s pilgrimage to see that, not least because it amuses me, but also to make the point that after the Ascension, we cannot simply continue staring into space at the place to where he has gone, we need to change our focus onto what he wants us to become.

With Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples became apostles. They stopped looking for Jesus here and there, and they began to pray for the Holy Spirit who would be with them always. On that day, Jesus’ followers were given what they needed to begin to change their focus.

Change focus. Change from looking inward into looking outward. What would it take for us to change our focus?  A church does not exist for its own sake, but as a resource for the people of God to engage Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. Although we strive to create a beautiful sacred space, what is more important is that we bring about the encounter between Christ and this community, and that our fellowship, our witness, our very lives are turned outwards to bring Christ into contact with the people in this area who so very deeply need to know the love of Christ.

We are the body of Christ. The word “member” should probably not even be used to describe aligning oneself with a given congregation. We are not to be members of a club, exclusive or otherwise, as if Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were for the purpose of starting a new institution. The institution of the church exists to further God’s mission – reconciling the world to God. We are missionaries working on the front lines of the mission of the church, which is what we each encounter everywhere we go.

This need to turn outward is so crucial, that perhaps at the end of Mass, someone should stand and take the role of the two men robed in white who said, “Men [and presumably women of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” These words were the push the apostles needed to stop focusing on the spot where they last saw Jesus. The words of the angels turned the disciples’ gaze outward to a lost and hurting world and so made them into apostles, ones sent forth on a mission.

After that push, the apostles would be prepared when the Holy Spirit came ten days later on Pentecost to begin the work of taking the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

In the dismissal at the Mass, we have such a moment. The deacon or priest says, “Alleluia. Go in the peace of Christ” or similar words that focus us outwardly. This is no idle moment. This is an active moment, a push to tell us to stop looking toward the altar – that point where we last saw the Lord. The dismissal is a reminder as our Service of Mass is, the service of the Lord in Mission is just beginning. We are sent out from every service to love and serve the Lord through loving and serving others in his name.

This is the transformation of Ascension Day. The tide is turning. Before many minutes pass, we will have been spiritually fed and empowered to act. Flow forth from this place to begin to fulfil that mission anew. This is the day for turning our eyes outward. This is the day for changing our focus to see Christ in the world anew. And having seen, we can begin anew to love and serve the Lord.


Blesséd Rising – A Liturgy for the Ascension – St Mary's, Moseley, Birmingham

We travelled to Moseley in Birmingham yesterday to speak on Creative Liturgy and Mission and then to share a Blesséd Mass with the good people of that place.

The seminar was intended to stimulate the parish into possibilities of Sacramental Alternative Worship, and then to show then a way, with the firm expectation that their way would and should look and feel very different.

About 45 people came to worship, and as usual there was a variety of responses. Many were non-plussed at the idea that you actually had to move, that lemons and honey don’t just appear in your pew, stone cairns don’t build themselves. Liam remarked that we should have had a slide which said “Mass is not a spectator sport” which amused me. However, for a small number of people, it did what we were called to do: God was worshipped, the sacrament was shared.

It was a long drive home and Liam, Emma, Vickie and I are suffering for it now. Please pray for us as we all recover.

It's the 35% who did not vote who are to blame

Credit to Diamond Geezer for displaying these stats

Vote2010Election stats

1a) 2010 election: votes cast

Con 36% Lab 29% LD 23% Oth

1b) 2010 election: seats won

Con 306 Lab 258 LD 57 Oth

2) 2010 government: to be confirmed

Con 306 [363 LD 57 or Lab 258 [315+ LD 57 O

3a) 2005 election: votes cast

Lab 35% Con 32% LD 22% Oth

3b) 2005 election: seats won

Lab 356 Con 197 LD 62 Oth

4) Election turnout: average by decade

1920s 74%
1930s 74%
1940s 73%
1950s 80%
1960s 76%
1970s 75%
1980s 74%
1990s 75%
2000s 60%
2010 65%

5) 2010 election: national support for each party

Con 24% Lab 19% LD 15% Oth did not vote 35%

The problem with this hung parliament is the 35% of you that did not vote. In less than six month’s time, I predict we’ll have to do it all over again, with or without PR. Your apathy has paralysed this country and you should be ashamed for yourself. I heard from friends about their colleagues who wouldn’t vote because “they didn’t understand the issues” (answer=find out – there are lots of websites, the radio and the TV to explain them to you, although steer clear of the nation’s abysmally biased newspapers) or “they didn’t know what to do when they got there” (answer=the nice ladies will explain it to you). No excuse next time, just vote please.

Voter turnout remains embarrassingly small – it’s almost as if we don’t think this matters. 65% turnout for a supposedly sophisticated democracy is pathetic really, and the relationship

Let Go – An Ascension Ritual

Equipment: Stones

The disciples gathered around the resurrected Lord, and from their midst he rose to leave them. They wanted, and we would want to hold on to him, but this is the time to let go.

Nolle Me Tangere – do not hold onto me (John 20:17) he said to the Magdalene. The work of Christ, the man who walked this earth has come to an end, his legacy, his Church, his Holy Spirit breathed through the people of God must now take over.

But we have to let that happen. We have to let him go.

There are plenty of things in our lives which we cling to. Fear forces us to keep them close.

The stones which the builders rejected (Matthew 21:42) are scattered in this space…

Gather one and examine it. As you hold it, you can transfer onto it your reluctance to let go.

Cradle it, and let its hard exterior take on the hardness of your heart.

Your stone carries the marks of wind and water, of weather, of spade and drill. It has history. It has past: just like your life. You carry the scars of your experience, maybe outside, maybe within.

You hold in your hand something unique, something special, something of which there not another anywhere in the world. Just like you.

In places where God is rarely heard, in the dark and dismal places, these stones are ready to cry out in praise of God. Shed onto this stone your hurt, your doubt, your fear, your insecurity, for reluctance to reach out to the God who reaches out to you.

The Lord, who makes all things and draws in unity all things, will take this from you, and release you from your burden…

Holy God, Maker of us all,

Have mercy on us.

Jesus Christ, Servant of the poor,

Have mercy on us.

Holy Spirit, Breath of life,

Have mercy on us.

Let us in silence remember our own faults and failings…

God takes our hardness of heart, and replaces it with a heart of flesh. Let us use these scattered, dismembered stones to rebuild the temple of living stones, and renew this church, this place, this people with our resolution to be reconciled to the God who reaches out to us.

<cairn is built>

As you have helped to rebuild the Church, you have begun to let go. You know that you are to be infused with his spirit, empowered to do his work, if only you will let go.

Let go. And be free.

Let go. And trust.

Let go. And go.

My voting advice to the parish at Mass

Once upon a time, your Vicar would stand in his pulpit and tell his flock how they should be voting next Thursday. Goodness me, the Roman Church still does it, on the basis of the candidate’s position on Abortion and Gay Marriage.

As with the last election, I will be exhorting them to vote, but not who to vote for. In these days of extremism, xenophobia, racism and homophobia (which sounds like the manifesto of the so-called Christian Party), your vote counts, and I want to encourage everyone to engage in the political process. You matter. Go and make a difference.

Font Design 2010

In memory of Isla Foulger, who sadly only lived for a short time in 2008, this font is to be a lasting memorial of her, and a powerful statement about Baptism in this sacred space.

The life-sized dummy was requested by the DAC and has been really useful in seeing how it will work in reality. As you see, we used a variety of people (tall and short!) with a variety of dollies and people to see how it would work.

Having seen it in size and discussing its use in practice, we now await permission from the DAC to apply for a faculty and commission the piece itself.


Sermon: Easter 5, Year C – Love

Found the bulk of this sermon from the excellent Sermons that Work site. Sometimes you find something that says just want you want without having to change it much.

Text: John 13:31-35

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

I want you to think about filling up a cup with water. You can fill it only so far, yes?

Once it has been filled to the brim, what happens when you try to add more water to it? It overflows, of course. The same is true of a sponge that, submerged in water, becomes so saturated it can no long absorb and begins to shed what cannot swell it further.

This applies also to the human spirit. Can we imagine someone becoming so filled up, so saturated with something, that she or he can’t take in anymore? Like a filled-up cup, it can only overflow onto others, beginning to fill them?

Do you recall those posh parties where they have a pyramid of glasses, and they fill the top one with champagne and it pours down upon all those below, filling each and everyone with the best wine ever…

God’s love is like that, isn’t it? Picture God’s love overflows from the filled-up one to the nearby one who benefits from the overflow. In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying to his followers, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The love that our Lord called them to display has a special nature: Jesus-like love. Love like no other.

For those who knew him best, it was his love that produced their love for others. It was like water overflowing from the filled-up glass. Jesus’ love filled them up, and yet he kept on loving them, pouring more love into them, so Jesus’ love could overflow onto others.

In the same way, Jesus’ love fills us up so we can let the continuing love that God sends to us overflow onto others. Thereby we can fulfill his commandment: “Love one another – just as I have loved you.”

Jesus’ love is God’s love – gracefully and freely given, with no strings attached. Sometimes we think of this love as “the peace of God that passes all human understanding.” And yet in another sense, in today’s Gospel, Jesus helps us understand much of that peace-giving love. For God gave us Jesus to show us what divine love looks like in human form.

God gave us Jesus, who is love, as God is love, so we could see it – see it not so much as a feeling, or excitement, or emotion, or the longing of one person for another – but rather love that is known by the life and teachings of one who shares the same humanity with each of us. God’s love is in fact Jesus, the person: love in action; love in life.

It is the love that fills us and overflows from us. It is the sacrificing love of the cross, the exemplary love of the Good Samaritan, the care-giving love of the Good Shepherd, the inclusive love that reaches out to outcasts and the under-served, the difficult love that embraces our enemies, the forgiving love of the prodigal son’s father.

The prayer we attribute to St. Francis focuses on this Jesus-like love. It reminds us that love can make us instruments of God’s peace – the very active expression of God. It gives love rather than hatred. It is love that seeks faith over doubt; love that lives through hope rather than despair; love that promotes joy in the midst of sadness; love that allows us to die to self so we may be born to eternal life.

As soon as Jesus had given his followers this new commandment – to love one another even as he had loved them – he gave them one thing more. He gave them a test to determine if they were indeed overflowing love onto others. The test was to examine the response of those within reach of the overflow. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Many of us know this from the words of the popular hymn “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

As we think about the quality of our lives, as we step back to see how others might view us through our actions, what will they see? Will they see in us what Jesus commanded? Will they see that we are so filled with God’s love that it overflows onto others?

Of course, this testing is not only about us individually. Does God’s love fill this parish enough that it overflows to others? How effectively are we acting for the benefit of those in need of God’s love in action?

How aware are we that God’s love – Jesus-like love – fills us? How well do we help it overflow onto others in the form of active care for others? How well do we measure up to the test by which everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples because of our carrying out his command?

“Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”


respect is due to Ken Kesselus for the inspiration of this text