Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity
22nd Jun 2014
Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity Year A
I sat in this church yesterday afternoon and gazing at our new east window. I stayed awhile and contemplated this beautiful new thing for itself. I looked up to it rather like contemplating a work of art. I opened my mind and heart to what I was seeing and wondered what this new window was telling me? Throughout the process of cleaning and renewal, I had marvelled a few weeks ago at the age and the duration of the glass which was being taken down with its 125 years of accumulated London grime. I remembered the (brief) weeks of living with chipboard and now their replacement with clear, light, translucent panels of glass. They now reveal the faint green shadows of a large tree outside to the left, a part of the terracotta of the building opposite, and the appearance of lovely bordering in greens, purples and ambers. The full beauty of the windows have been revealed to us as if we were seeing them, as a Holy Cross congregation saw them, 125 years ago.
The church glass restorer Mr Mahoney had reminded me that the whole process was simple, and involving dismantling the glass, deep cleaning it with acid, and then the re-leading the glass frames, and reassembling them like a jig saw puzzle. Sitting here and looking at the finished work, I have been amazed that with a little application and skill, something beautiful can once more be restored to something that was made beautiful so long ago. The window we see now contains the same 125 year old glass, but which cleaned and restored offers a new way of seeing. It is now transparent where it was opaque. It can now reveal to us how the inner window, which decorates the sanctuary and protects and beautifies the interior of the church, also manages to give hints in coloured shadows, of the big environment outside. The windows draw both of these interior and exterior spaces together in the one view.
George Herbert, a poet and hymn writer, allows us to explore the nature of the Christian vision in his hymn ‘Teach me my God and King’.
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye
Or if he pleaseth through it pass
And then the heavens espy.
It echoes St Pauls famous teaching in 1 Corinthians 13.12 “We see through a glass dimly, but then, face to face”…
These windows have stood like sentinels over the many decades of King’s Cross life as they have faced into the sanctuary of the Church and have faced out onto Cromer Street and the world beyond. There is the same sense on this first Sunday after Trinity of something similar. The ringing declaration of faith in the Holy Trinity has been ‘overtaken by events’ with the realization that the Christian Faith is demanding. It is Christ who draws us into the sanctuary only to take us back out into the very world that the sanctuary inhabits. I prefer to think of the history of the Christian Church, not just in terms of dates and saints, but in relation to the many folk, who with their countless prayers and concerns, have saturated the walls of their churches with their life’s prayers. It is more telling for me that these lives and prayers remain unknown to us. They represent the most difficult understanding of that relation between the givenness of the Christian Faith as practiced Sunday by Sunday in churches like this one, and the brute facts of life and the myriad and protracted difficulties that life throws up for the many who come, as RS Thomas put it, to ‘nail their prayers to an untenanted cross’.
The Church’s vocation is the one for which it is charged to see and to act from the very heart of things. That heart is for the Church that which calls the Church to realize its true Christian vocation. The window out of which the Church looks upon the world is the one whose vision is actively compassionate. It is the one which sees through a glass dimly but which nonetheless bases its way of life and its view of the world in and through the light which is Jesus Christ and his call. This is a call which draws from us that which we are often so reluctant to give : the gift of ourselves for the life of the other.
Let us hope that the new window which we see in all its beauty may provide a timely reminder of our Christian calling, to look beyond the things we see and know in our churches and church buildings and to be active in welcoming the outside world into the life and the hope that resides in the Christian household. We pray that our plans to open this church to the enquiring presence of the stranger and pilgrim, may bear fruit and that we may become a truly inside out church, which plans its mission for those beyond our own membership.
"Let there be a silence that is full of blossoming hints" says the praying poet Elizabeth Jennings. Here is a garden of light and stone in which contemplation may flourish. The stillness of this Church offers a doorway for people, a doorway deeper into ourselves, a place within which we can discover and rediscover ourselves, a doorway deeper into the world and through these moments the embodied, self out-pouring, in-dwelling spirit of God can touch and heal and transform. The doorway and the window draw us in and beckon us out after the example and pattern which has been set before us : even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
8th Jun 2014
Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost 2014
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2.4.
Some say that The Coming of the Holy Spirit marks the Church’s birthday, and in a way this is true, although the Church was really begun as the disciples were called at Galilee. Even so, our dramatic first reading from The Acts of the Apostles describes a signal moment among those who had followed Christ. This Pentecost moment was singular and devastating. The Holy Spirit had come with power and it had rested upon them.
This had emerged out of their long Eastertide. It had been an Eastertide of waiting and of wondering and of bewilderment. Something might emerge out of all this, but what? What is certain among the loose band of followers was this: The teaching of Christ and the experience of the resurrection had been transformative. They now knew that what they had been given was a Gospel of unparalleled spiritual power. Pentecost had come to them in the giving of spiritual gifts. And the Giver was the Giver of all things, God himself. And the gift was the gift of himself as seen and known in His Son Jesus Christ and in the giving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had asked that it be sent. And so it was. The original spirit of God, which had brooded over the face of the waters before the Creation had now become the life giving spirit mediated in and through the life and death of Christ. And the gift was to be both inspirational and practical.
It is most important to the writer of the Acts of the Apostles that this is a Holy Spirit which is not wil o’ the wisp and elusive. It is a Holy Spirit which takes basic form in the life of the emerging Christian community as a gift from God in Jesus Christ. And the primary fact of this gift is three-fold:
Firstly it is a gift which calls us to think differently about the human family in the breakdown of tribal, national and language barriers. The idea of the proliferation of languages with the one singular understanding burns in our minds as the possibilities that lie inherent in the understanding of different worlds of understanding. We are here called to take on the reality of what lies before us as strange and new and embrace it wholeheartedly, for it is when we meet and greet and accept the new and the hitherto unlearned parts of our experience that we truly grow into God’s likeness.
Little Gidding IV
The dove descending breaks the air
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Secondly, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the one which calls the Christian Church to look beyond itself and its own needs and to see the person of Christ in the eyes of the stranger, the visitor, the refugee, the homeless one, the marginalised, the gay person, the drunk, the depressed and the fatalistic. It is inward in that the Spirit is holy and it is a spirit which gives inner nourishment, but its basic life is one which calls us out of ourselves and beyond the level of our normal horizons. God is to be found there : in the other. He is often called ‘The Holy Other’. In this there may come new life, for the Spirit renews us as it draws us out of ourselves, and into the place of illumination and of hope which is the presence of God and the love of God.
Unless the eye catch fire
Finally, the Holy Spirit lives among us in the life of God’s Church, which is the power of God and the influence of God. This Church, in what it is and in what it manages to be for so many different kinds of people, is that place where God is known to dwell and therefore a place of peace. This provides for a pentecostal peace, the peace of God which passes all understanding and yet one which may be known and shared: that peace which may reach into and beyond the barriers of custom and boundaries set by this or that ingathered community… The message of Pentecost is that the Spirit of God has now entered places where doors had formerly been shut and minds closed. In the breaking down of these barriers, in the love of the stranger and in the power and influence of God, The Holy Spirit has now provided the living flame of God’s love for us, whomever and wherever we may be…It has come to bring all things together in the One Love, the one thing needful.
Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer!!
Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) From chapter 22, Howards End (1910) E M Forster.
Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven
1st Jun 2014
Ascension Day Sermon 2014
After the six Sundays after Easter, in which we have encountered the risen Lord with the disciples in so many ways, our observance of this Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord takes us in another direction. Actually, it takes us to another dimension – heavenward. And for The Church this heavenly dimension is a quite natural way of regarding both the life of God the Creator in relation to us his creatures. That dimension is expressed most fully in John’s Gospel where Jesus’ life is the one which has come from God and goes back to God. And again for the Church, to speak of Christ is to speak of the holiness and the glory of that freedom of movement he has brought about between the heavenly and the earthly places. We have, over past weeks, witnessed the trial, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the weeks following Easter we have witnessed the Christ who comes to the disciples to reassure them and point their lives and their faltering faith forward. He provides hope in the present and the promise of glory for the future. And now he goes back to the Father as he ascends into heaven. One of the Psalms express this poetically and joyfully – (Psalm 19.1-4):
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.a
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
...In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun…
In this meeting and mixing of the heavenly and the earthly there is the hope that is held out for us in Christ. Why is a belief in heaven so much a part of Christian Faith? How are we to believe in heaven in a way that is not “pie in the sky when you die”? To speak of the Ascension of Jesus is to speak of the glory which emerges out of his own self offering, which is one of humility and self-giving, even unto death. It is best expressed in the 1662 Prayer Book’s Eucharistic Rite:
O God our Heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again…
We are reminded in Ephesians 4.6 that Jesus “ascended on high and led captivity captive. And we, who are on this earth as captives, are also as Christians those who follow where Jesus Christ has gone before. And we are promised that what emerges out of the pattern of his and our own struggle and in his life is the glory which is the hope of heaven to come. Like him we come from God and go back to God. He has graciously gone before us to show us the Way. Christianity is above all else a hopeful and heaven directed faith. Our living out of this life in the pattern and likeness of Christ is a kind of suffering unto self, but again, after the pattern of Christ’s own being, the promise made to us is to the glory which is yet to be revealed to us:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey was one who constantly proclaimed the Christian glory in terms of the life of Man to its fullest potential. He wishes that these words, from Irenaeus, a Second Century Theologian and Saint be placed on his gravestone:
The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God.
Some time ago I was in Salisbury Cathedral. It is perhaps the finest example of a complete Medieval Gothic Cathedral that we have, with its spire rising to over 400’ the tallest spire in England, and inside there is the vaulting which carries your mind and heart heavenward. Heavenward not just because the vaults are high and beautiful but because they speak to the heart and the souI. The architecture is spiritual architecture. I attended Evensong at which Psalm 18 was sung “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” and I began to see the cathedral around me in a new light and even a new dimension. It was no longer just a glorious great church building but a piece of living sculpture, full of space and light, and arches and shapes which took the eye in this or that direction. It involved me. And then, too, the music and the choir themselves declared further this glory of which the psalmist wrote and of the many ways in which the Glory of God may be expressed in the lives of us all. The living out 'in perpetual memory' of that sacrificial death which is the pattern and purpose of Christian living, and its hope, too! The glory of God lies all around us and as Christians our eyes open to express that same glory in all we are and in all we do…
And this is where we come down from heaven and into this earth. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, his coming to birth as both Man and Son of God is one complete action. It is one which gifts the glory of God to each one of us in our own lives. It is the promise of his presence and of the potential in our own existences in the promise of glory gifted to us by the One Lord Jesus Christ who has ascended to that place where God is. This is the place where we are headed, too, and there is glory in that, too. As we receive Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the altar, and as we come to give our lives more fully to God, we dedicate ourselves in the service of Christ, who shows us that
“The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God”.