Sermon Preached for the Sisters of St Mary-at-the-Cross, Edgware.

28th Aug 2013


Foundation Day at the Sisters of St Mary at The Cross

Wednesday 28th August 2013 at 11 30 am

 

The Feast of St Augustine of Hippo

 

100th year of the death of Fr Henry Nihill on 3rd November 1913.

Foundation of the Community set by Mother Monica’s profession on 28th August 1866.

 

147th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Community.

 

 

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he (first)  loved us…” 1 John 1.10

 

It is a great privilege to be invited to preach on this 147th Anniversary of the founding of the Community of the Sisters of the Cross and also to observe with you this year the centenary of the death of Father Henry Nihill. Thank you Mother and thank you sister Barbara. One good anniversary deserves another, and I come from Holy Cross Church Cromer Street on this our 125th anniversary year of consecration and the centenary of the arrival in our parish of Fr Alfred Hope Patten. Before we say that ‘the rest is history’ we must know as Christians that it is not just past history that we commemorate here, and nor are our remembrances mere lip-service.

 

No, we do much more. For these anniversaries recall us to the first principles of the Christian faith as we encounter the God whose words are from the beginning and to everlasting. As the priest inscribes the Easter Candle he reminds those who look upon it that “Christ is the same yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, alpha and omega, all times belong to him and all seasons. To him be glory for ever”. What is it I wonder that time has us remember above all? More than anything for Christians it is the love of God, which is from the beginning and unto the end and which is indelibly written upon our foreheads in Baptism. The poet W H Auden reminds us that "what wil survive us is love".  It is to that indelibility that Henry Nihill in his now famous ‘Little Boat Letter’ reminded Mother Monica in words she had come to understand,  ‘let the end of your being be GOD, first in Himself and then in His poor’. Let God be God, then. Let God who is love do what God may do best for us and be love for us and for our service in Christ. And may we find that love of God in one another, too, and recognise it as real. May we find that love in our families, friends and the communities we are called to serve. May we find it for our world. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he (first) loved us”.

 

A few weeks ago my parents, both in their early eighties, though now very frail, decided to make the journey from Plymouth to London to visit me. They had been poorly but were now experiencing a window of stronger health and wanted to make the journey to see me, to stay at the Vicarage and to come to Holy Cross Church. “We want to do it before we die” they told me, with impossible good humour.  I had made no more than a cursory mention of this visit to our congregation, but after the Sunday Mass many of our members surrounded them and gave my mother flowers and made speeches to say how happy they were to meet them and took photographs. I was very moved and looked upon this scene not just as the parish priest but also as a son. I was proud of my congregation and their spontaneous gestures of love and I was proud of my parents for having braved the journey to get there…But above all I was aware of the greatness and the depth of the love of God going before me as never before, the love, I am ashamed to say that has so often been taken for granted. The love which has always been there but which so often has lain unrecognised and my own feelings of smallness in the recognition. But I am encouraged too, because  in all these things John in his letter reminds us to be heartened, for, as he says,   “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he (first) loved us…

 

That same sense of the plaintive, piercing quality of the partial and human response to the overwhelming love of God is heard in the words of St Augustine of Hippo, whose feast day we celebrate today:

 

Too late came I to love thee, O thou beauty so ancient and so fresh,

Yea, too late came I to love thee,

And behold, thou wert within me,

And I, out of myself,

When I made search for thee.

 

The love of God not only blesses us it also instructs us and moves us ever on. The image given to Mother Monica by Fr Henry of the little boat is not a cradle for sleep or for fear, it is for us the holding vessel for the Christian mission. It is the living out of risk and uncertainty with a willingness to give our lives expensively. It is an acknowledgement of our own unworthiness but also too of the inexhaustible and saving and restoring love of Christ. It is the journeying through the vagaries of life and often through storms in the knowledge that Christ is with us in the same boat as both the eye and the becalmer of all these storms. I am minded of this verse from the poet Longfellow which was handed to Winston Churchill by President Roosevelt in the dark days of 1941 during arguably the worst storm the world had ever seen:

 

Sail on, Oh Ship of State!

Sail on, Oh Union strong and great.

Humanity with all its fears

With all the hope of future years

Is hanging breathless on thy fate.

 

If the ‘ship of state’ is the fate of humankind then Fr Henry Nihill’s ‘little boat is the one  which is taken up in its slipstream. The ‘Little Boat’ boat letter and its instruction to Mother Monica, certainly reads as fresh today as it did on 27th August 1866. Much depended upon it. ‘Rise early’ said Henry Nihill, ’live hard as the poor’, ‘seek Him in all you meet’, ‘never leave the house without asking for His blessing’, ‘when others behold you, let them see Him in you’….These are still tough but good instructions for all of us and especially for the parish clergy. They would have been watchwords for the parish clergy that have preceded me at Holy Cross and they are still needful. They are a preventative against losing sight of what we are about. They keep us renewed and centred on Christ.

 

Fr Henry Nihill’s words strike at the heart of our common humanity. They are God centred and call forth what lies in all of us to do and become what we are in this place and at this time for the fulfilment of his purposes. They are an instruction in Christian understanding that can only be carried out in the love of God and understood from our own hearts through faith in Christ. The instruction is not reduced to a business model or done out of our own efforts alone. Fr Nihill’s instruction to Mother Monica is spoken directly to us this morning: “Let the end of your being be God”, that same God whose everlasting love is also your ‘union strong and great’. And then St John in his letter  replies to us in words which speak both in time and out of time “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he (first) loved us”.

 

 

Now unto him who is able to achieve in us more than we can we can possibly desire or deserve be all glory and honour, now and for ever.   Amen.



Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday of Trinity

25th Aug 2013


Sermon for The Thirteenth Sunday of Trinity Year C

 

“What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God”  Hebrews 12. 22.

 

 

The wonder of modern travel is that we can experience the great cities of the world as never before. They have all become so accessible. It now becomes possible to clamber aboard a train from King’s Cross Station, a few hundred metres away from here, and find ourselves in the centre of Paris in the space of a little more than two hours!  The visiting of other countries at shorter and longer distances from our homeland  invites an experience which provides not only for ‘a change of air’ but often for a different dialect or a different language, history, architecture and mood. Such experiences of change can ‘take us out of ourselves’ and reinvigorate us.

 

This morning’s second reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, and it takes us to a new and revitalising kind of city destination. The Letter to the Hebrews was written early - in the year 63 or 64 and before the Destruction of the Temple and it speaks about Jesus as the mediator between God and Man. This was new. But it used language and thought forms which were old, Jewish and traditional (‘coming to Zion and to the Temple and its tabernacle) and yet combining them with thinking that was new and radical. The writer sets out the provision for the transformation of the Christian community as it was emerging out of its Jewish inheritance.  Now it had appeared on the world scene as a divine society, and Mount Zion is not just located as a former place name or destination, but now becomes what the writer calls ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’, which now promises a radical social inclusion never before seen. These are the characteristics of a divine society. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, twenty centuries later was to speak of the Church of God on earth as “A divine society, with Christ as the glory in the midst of it and the Holy Spirit as work within it”. In this new city, the city of the living God we are reminded that an understanding of God’s ways does not proceed merely out of our minds. As Tolstoy once said, ‘It is not the mind which helps us to understand God – it is life’. And this city is the city in of radical inclusiveness, where all who have come to God, of what ever estate are incorporated. Its life is divine life.

 

In this church we have an open group which meets here every Friday. What started as a church-sitting group soon turned into one which felt itself closer related to our visitors than we had at first thought. It was decided that we should offer a service and provide for guided tours, offer tea and coffee and even counsel and advise. This grew not from some kind of plan worked out by a separate committee but emerged out of our own keeping of company. The group has grown from two or three persons to a regular 15, not including the many who are passing through. It grows, like the wider church, from the store of generosity which it is able to show, both to itself and to the stranger or visitor.

 

It has become a mark of this group’s recent existence that we regularly find ourselves asking about those who have not come or who are away for a while, and wonder how they are? There is a ‘looking out for one another’ as a community of love and a divine society. This is a small group of people out of whose regular and dedicated meeting has emerged a looking outwards and a genuine reception for the outsider. It has not been planned to the nth. Degree!  There are some American expressions which are not easily translated into (proper!) English language but which nonetheless put things more succinctly and say things in a much more laid back way while conveying the real essence of things. One of these is a favourite of mine:

 

“We just get to hang out”

 

Yea, ‘we just get to hang out’. But for the writer to the Hebrews, this is Christian teaching about the deep and prayerful quality of community life that it expresses. And the influence of God runs through its life as a golden thread.

 

What makes the quality of the worshipping life of the Christian community so distinctive? Well, I always feel blessed by the Eucharist when I go to foreign countries and hear the Mass said in a different language. Despite the language barrier, the shape and form and substance of the service remain the same as for here Holy Cross. Though a so-called foreign language is being spoken, the experience of receiving Christ in the Holy Sacrament is powerful and resonant and immediate.  Despite the difference in sound, and like a blind man seeking inner sight, I see and ghear and feel the familiar sensation of a Church at worship, and I remember these words of TS Eliot from ‘Little Gidding’:

 

 

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

 

 

God has brought us today into the notion of this place, the City of the living God, a place of radical inclusiveness, of generous welcome, and of the wonder that resides in the communal and of its capacity to look outside itself. It is, too, both a place of knowing and unknowing. But its life is sure. Christ has made it so. He gives alone gives the increase!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon for The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

 

“What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God”  Hebrews 12. 22.

 

 

The wonder of modern travel is that we can experience the great cities of the world as never before. They have all become so accessible. It now becomes possible to clamber aboard a train from King’s Cross Station, a few hundred metres away from here, and find ourselves in the centre of Paris in the space of a little more than two hours!  The visiting of other countries at shorter and longer distances from our homeland  invites an experience which provides not only for ‘a change of air’ but often for a different dialect or a different language, history, architecture and mood. Such experiences of change can ‘take us out of ourselves’ and reinvigorate us.

 

This morning’s second reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, and it takes us to a new and revitalising kind of city destination. The Letter to the Hebrews was written early - in the year 63 or 64 and before the Destruction of the Temple and it speaks about Jesus as the mediator between God and Man. This was new. But it used language and thought forms which were old, Jewish and traditional (‘coming to Zion and to the Temple and its tabernacle) and yet combining them with thinking that was new and radical. The writer sets out the provision for the transformation of the Christian community as it was emerging out of its Jewish inheritance.  Now it had appeared on the world scene as a divine society, and Mount Zion is not just located as a former place name or destination, but now becomes what the writer calls ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’, which now promises a radical social inclusion never before seen. These are the characteristics of a divine society. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, twenty centuries later was to speak of the Church of God on earth as “A divine society, with Christ as the glory in the midst of it and the Holy Spirit as work within it”. In this new city, the city of the living God we are reminded that an understanding of God’s ways does not proceed merely out of our minds. As Tolstoy once said, ‘It is not the mind which helps us to understand God – it is life’. And this city is the city in of radical inclusiveness, where all who have come to God, of what ever estate are incorporated. Its life is divine life.

 

In this church we have an open group which meets here every Friday. What started as a church-sitting group soon turned into one which felt itself closer related to our visitors than we had at first thought. It was decided that we should offer a service and provide for guided tours, offer tea and coffee and even counsel and advise. This grew not from some kind of plan worked out by a separate committee but emerged out of our own keeping of company. The group has grown from two or three persons to a regular 15, not including the many who are passing through. It grows, like the wider church, from the store of generosity which it is able to show, both to itself and to the stranger or visitor.

 

It has become a mark of this group’s recent existence that we regularly find ourselves asking about those who have not come or who are away for a while, and wonder how they are? There is a ‘looking out for one another’ as a community of love and a divine society. This is a small group of people out of whose regular and dedicated meeting has emerged a looking outwards and a genuine reception for the outsider. It has not been planned to the nth. Degree!  There are some American expressions which are not easily translated into (proper!) English language but which nonetheless put things more succinctly and say things in a much more laid back way while conveying the real essence of things. One of these is a favourite of mine:

 

“We just get to hang out”

 

Yea, ‘we just get to hang out’. But for the writer to the Hebrews, this is Christian teaching about the deep and prayerful quality of community life that it expresses. And the influence of God runs through its life as a golden thread.

 

What makes the quality of the worshipping life of the Christian community so distinctive? Well, I always feel blessed by the Eucharist when I go to foreign countries and hear the Mass said in a different language. Despite the language barrier, the shape and form and substance of the service remain the same as for here Holy Cross. Though a so-called foreign language is being spoken, the experience of receiving Christ in the Holy Sacrament is powerful and resonant and immediate.  Despite the difference in sound, and like a blind man seeking inner sight, I see and ghear and feel the familiar sensation of a Church at worship, and I remember these words of TS Eliot from ‘Little Gidding’:

 

 

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

 

 

God has brought us today into the notion of this place, the City of the living God, a place of radical inclusiveness, of generous welcome, and of the wonder that resides in the communal and of its capacity to look outside itself. It is, too, both a place of knowing and unknowing. But its life is sure. Christ has made it so. He gives alone gives the increase!

 

 

 

 

 



Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday of Trinity

18th Aug 2013


Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday of Trinity Year C

 

Jesus said to his disciples: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled’. 

Luke 12.49.

 

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we have been learning these past two weeks of the Old Testament people, God’s chosen people Israel. Theirs was a history of struggle to maintain their faith in God at times of great testing. But in all this they knew that God is a God who is nearby and not far off, though occasionally they behaved as though that were not the case. They were very human and often weak. Nonetheless what drove them on was an indomitable faith in their destiny and a courage in following it. And the message of our second reading this morning is that if our Christian faith is real, it will be a faith which will indeed be put to the test. The can be no real relationship with a real God which does not involve passionate struggle. But like the Old Testament people, God is feeding us and encouraging us, and loving us. He is with us in the struggle to feed us and to continually establish us.

 

It is important to speak of God in this way. We come to this Holy Eucharist to receive Christ in the forms of bread and wine. They become for us the body and blood of Christ and so when we receive them we are taking Christ into ourselves. We are in the words of one prayer ‘Becoming what we receive’.

 

As this broken bread was scattered as grain upon the mountains, and, being gathered together, became one, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

 

From The Didache, a First Century Christian Document.

 

As we come to the Gospel reading we realise however that membership of the Church is not only a matter of ‘becoming what we have received’ as though that were our own privileged secret. Christianity is not a private or merely pietistic religion. There is another aspect of the call of Christ which is altogether different and which speaks of ‘bringing fire on earth’ and ‘not peace, but division’. Jesus accuses his disciples of lacking the stuff necessary to realise their baptismal calling. They do not have what we might call ‘fire in their bellies’. “I have” Jesus says “A baptism to be baptized and how I long for it to be completed”. The inference is that the disciples, and we too, are not always ready to accept a Christianity which demands more than our casual allegiance.

 

Linking the two passages is the idea of God’s Kingdom which has already come in Jesus Christ and which is provided for us in this Eucharist. But there is another Kingdom, the one which is in a state of becoming, and which is suggested by Jesus’ words. This involves struggle. The working out and the continual establishment of God’s kingdom on earth will take place both in harmony with the existing state of things and also in strong, fire-like opposition to it.  Its reaction to the world in which it is placed will be volcanic. Our modern world and what is going in in our modern world, including the ruined Arab Spring, the Rise and fall and rise of unchecked money markets, the recent Russian clamp down on free expression of sexual identity in Russia – these are but a tiny fraction of all those elements that exist in a kind of alchemic reaction to the Christian presence on this earth. We The Church are called to love God’s world, not possessively as ‘my little world’ but passionately, as that world which bids us to suffer alongside it, to love it and to speak up and speak out in its defence for what we come to know as ‘Kingdom values’ – of human compassion, of inclusiveness, of the embrace of difference. The Church is called to be God’s presence in the world. That presence is never to be benign but active and involved and compassionate. It stands for the living out of  that courageous baptism which acknowledges all people to be part of the one Kingdom, whether they know it or not, whether they ‘feel’ it or not and even when they oppose that Kingdom. The Salvation Army motto ‘Blood and Fire’ is a typical reference to its own desire to engender a Christianity with real passion, one which has plenty of ‘fire in its belly’ and which fearlessly proclaims God among the poor.

 

I met a Scottish football supporter earlier this week who needed to tell me that he wasn’t a Christian. He wasn’t a Christian because he had his own moral values and didn’t need the Church to ‘improve’ on them! It would have been good to have had what we both wanted -  a long and friendly conversation. But it was not to be… He had to get off to the England/Scotland match and I had to get to Mass. There are so many like him. They have difficulties with the Christian Church and feel that unless these difficulties are allayed, then Christianity must lie as a dead thing before them. Except that I think it does not and can never exist as dead. It is  everywhere alive. The presence of Christ on this earth exists in strong reaction to the world in which it is set and yet also exists as its life itself, and Christian Faith from us must be confident, refreshed by God and his Word, and deepened in prayer if it is to find that fire-in-the-belly doggedness which is the living spark that keeps alight the divine flame. How we wish that the flame would burn brighter, but how we are sustained and given joyful confidence in the fire that has already been lit by Jesus Christ.

 

Onwards and upwards!



Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday of trinity

11th Aug 2013


Eleventh Sunday of Trinity Year C

 

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”   Luke 12.35

 

As a young teenager I remember a Christian mission which hit my home town of

Plymouth and which was called ‘Power for Life’. It was a two week long mission which

culminated in a rally in Plymouth Guildhall. This final act of worship was attended

by all both local and national faith leaders. The leader who struck me most was

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, the Russian Orthodox Primate in Great Britain, a

towering figure wearing long black robes, a white beard and the most piercing dark

eyes you have ever seen.

 

The Russian holy man delivered an autobiographical account of how he had come to offer himself to God in a seemingly all or nothing struggle with his life and its course. It had involved an escape from Soviet Russia and a long and tough training as a doctor. Even as a young man, he felt an emptiness. Even the happiness  he had experienced seemed to have no deeper significance. He was living, however well, on the surface of things…

 

"I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him". "I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier. All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning". "As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year..."

 

His words to the assembled crowd at the mission were these, and I have never forgotten them:

 

“The things of God are very deep and we must go deep within ourselves to find them”.

 

We experience a Christian faith dominated by its externals, and whilst many of these are significant they address the existence of actual faith only from a distance. The real issue is to do with the existence of God and of what kind of God he is. The real issue is our own response in freedom to the God who loves us beyond all telling. He is always and everywhere present as love and we are as his prodigal children to find God in the freedom of our own being and at the heart of our own being. We are to find him no, both as we are and where we are and nowhere else! God is the One who establishes and confirms us in the truthfulness of our human existence. He is no distant God but is closer to us than our own breathing. The psalmist reminds himself of this:

 

Psalm 139 vv.14-18

 

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

    Were I to count them,

    they would outnumber the grains of sand—

    when I awake, I am still with you.

 

There is for the psalmist this overwhelming sense that something never before recognised has suddenly become real. This is a gentle awakening. And when this new reality breaks in life is changed for ever. Its heart beats from a new and deep source, God himself. And it is as Metropolitan Anthony and St Augustine and countless others would have it a powerful experience of having been FOUND. And this has proven to be an experience of JOY, and by this joy we know that surface happiness, the living of life ‘on the surface’ of things now has a deeper resonance. This profound joy has become in the words of St Luke, like treasure.

 

The witness of Metropolitan Anthony is there to remind us that indeed “the things of God are very deep and we must go deep within ourselves to find them”. But equally he would say that God is the One who has always known us.  He may at any a moment in time and when we have (or have not!) been more open to the possibility of his calling, ‘catch up with us’:

 

 

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:

Such a way as gives us breath;

Such a truth as ends all strife,

Such a life as killeth death.

 

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:

Such a light as shows a feast,

Such a feast as mends in length,

Such a strength as makes his guest.

 

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:

Such a joy as none can move,

Such a love as none can part,

Such a heart as joys in love.

 

 

George Herbert 1593-1633

(English Poet and Priest)



Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Scott Coleman, PA at St Paul's Church, Rossmore Road, Preacher)

4th Aug 2013


Trinity X 2013

Sermon at Holy Cross Church

 

‘Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ Our Lord’s words from the 14th verse of the the 12th Chapter of the Holy Gospel according to S. Matthew.

 

 

Family disputes, as we all know, can be terrible acrimonious. All sorts of simmering tension come to the surface and break out. Unspoken jealousies and anger erupt. Memories of previous fights, supposedly long forgotten, come to mind, and are hurled around in a new storm of fighting. Rows can go on and on, and so often get totally out-of-hand. Without all of this drama, our television shows, books, plays and musicals would be nowhere. The writers of Eastenders or Coronation Street wouldn’t make it through a week without including a family feud in their scripts. And it’s precisely because these fights are so overwhelming that they make such good TV viewing for us, such good drama.

 

One lesson that we all learn at an early age, then, is not to get involved with family fights- preferably not in our own family, but certainly not interfering in someone else’s. That is simply a recipe for disaster (and, incidentally, another great storyline for the people who write soaps). When a family’s domestic life comes under discussion, outsiders dread the question ‘so who do you think is right?’ And we know to avoid giving an answer at all costs- by being diplomatic and supporting both parties, by changing the topic of conversation, or even just leaving.

 

This is the situation that our Lord finds himself in in today’s Gospel reading. A man asks our Lord to order his brother to share an inheritance. That awful question has come up. And - even worse – it’s about money. When I hear this reading I can’t help but think of Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House and the legal case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce that runs through the plot. The case involves a disputed inheritance, and has been going on for generations when the novel even begins. It has been before the court so long that no one remembers what the case is actually about. Nevertheless, whole families become involved and develop hatred for each other. Indeed, we learn throughout the book of the involvement of all the main characters in one way or another in the suit. And always the dispute has a detrimental effect on everything save the lawyers’ wallets. Some characters go mad, parents are estranged from their children, and everyone is miserable.

 

And this is the situation that presents itself to our Lord. Sensibly, He avoids the question, and does not get involved with their affairs. He then uses the opportunity to give us some good teaching through the parable of the rich fool. Here His message is clear: that we must focus not on earthly things, but on our heavenly father. S. Paul echoes that, as we heard in today’s Epistle, telling us that we must be raised with Christ away from our earthly obsessions. This is not a command against being prudent and sensible in our affairs, but rather an instruction about our priorities in life.

This all seems well and good - just the sort of thing we would expect Jesus to teach – and good advice that we ought to follow in developing our relationship with God. But if we look back to the way our Lord handles the family dispute, there is one comment He makes that is really strange, and much harder to understand.

He says: ‘who set me to be a judge over you?’ To us, as Christians today, this seems like a nonsense question. Why is Jesus bothering to ask this? Is He trying to suggest that He isn’t God, or that we should question His authority? There are, we can certainly say, a couple of obvious things to point out in response to this question. Our Lord is not set over us by any human authority; He isn’t the sort of judge who is appointed by the Queen to sit in the High Court. We might instead say that He is set over us by God our heavenly Father. But why is Jesus really asking this, when He is God incarnate, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity? Why?

 

I think that perhaps instead we shouldn’t think of this really as a question to receive an answer. We know what the Creed tells us about Him: that He is God and that He shall come to be our Judge. Instead, this is an exhortation, a call to us. We must set Him over us. We must let Him have authority. We must let him be our judge, redeemer and saviour. So His question is not one about political power and whether He exercises it, but an appeal to us to allow Him to fill our lives with His presence. And we do so with joy. This isn’t us being burdened with a despotic judge, or even an irritating big-headed politician. We accept our gentle, merciful, gracious Jesus, whose authority over us is not for his own gain, but consists in His great love for us. When we set Him over us, we are not given lots of extra rules to follow, nor must we follow some arbitrary, personal whim. He knows what is best for us, and wishes nothing less for us than a loving relationship with Him and our heavenly Father.

 

So what does it mean to ‘set him over us’? Well, firstly, we must be devoted to Him as He is devoted to us. We must make time for Him in our daily lives, so that we can hear His voice and what He calls us to do. That of course means engaging in prayer, and really listening during prayer. Whether we find His voice in the Scriptures, in the sacraments, or in still moments of silence, we must listen. Our prayer and worship is not just about us babbling away asking things from God, it is a dialogue in which we listen as well as speak. Often this will just be a little voice, so we really must listen out for it. Something like lectio divina, a meditative reading of the scriptures is very effective, because we listen out for the words or phrases that ‘jump out’ at us. This shows us what is important for us now, what God wants us to hear.

 

But of course, we must set Christ over our whole lives, not just when we’re in Church or praying. We must keep that sense of calmly and quietly listening to Him at all times. Perhaps we can now turn to where I began this morning: with family disputes. I won’t pretend that spending a few more moments in prayer will magically solve all conflict. But approaching situations knowing that Christ is set over us does help us to reach out to others. In payer we are constantly reminded that we must empty ourselves so that Christ may grow in us, and this self-emptying makes room for us to see Christ in others, too. Setting our Lord above us gives us a vital change in perspective, shifting from our own desires to the needs of others. Having this in our minds when we’re in conflict, with our families or with others, can begin to make us realise what is truly important – and petty squabbles certainly aren’t.

So that is our challenge during the rest of this Mass, and as we leave and go out of Church. To set our Lord over us. To listen to His voice.  And to remember, when we’re about to have an argument, that He is our judge, not we ourselves. It is a difficult challenge, to set Him over all parts of our lives, but it is the path He wills for us, for His love’s sake.

 

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



 

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