Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
17th Sep 2017
Sermon for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Year A
Peter went up to Jesus and said “How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?” Matthew 18.21
The question Peter puts to Jesus concerning forgiveness is a piercing one; it startles. Peter knows that there is a whole lot of difference between token forgiveness and the kind of forgiveness which comes from the heart : the forgiveness which transforms and renews our humanity. He will one day be in need of such forgiveness from Jesus Himself. Peter makes mention of ‘seven times’ and ‘seventy times seven’ and of how many times we must forgive… The very mention of these numbers, the latter signalling an infinite amount of forgivenesses, presses in upon the mind, and invites us to consider the kind of active forgiveness which is presented to us in the sacrificial life of Christ. We need to think long and carefully on these things. We might think that there seems to be two ways only we can follow, both in opposite directions. One is the way of stubborn self-justification and the other living that part of The Lord’s Prayer which asks that God forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. One turns inward - the heart and mind pickled in aspic, and the other responds to the hope of new life, the mark of the influence of Christ, and demands moral bravery.
Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a book ‘Written in the Dust’ about his own experiences of evacuating a dust filled building in Manhattan amid the terror of 9/11. This book carries with it a plea for “language that brings into the world something other than self-defensiveness,” language — or maybe silence — that creates (and the author knew from being on the scene how paradoxical was this chosen image) a “breathing space.” And this is the place where understanding and forgiveness can emerge. Understanding always begets forgiveness. It exists as a breathing space… Peter’s recall to the forgiveness to the mark of ‘seventy times seven’ opens up such a breathing space because it recalls the infinite love of God with a human willingness to understand only God can bring together that which has been separated and alienated.
Into the breach of these thoughts for me come the figures of two priests. The first was a 68 year old Franciscan Priest and Chaplain on 9/11 to The New York Fire Brigade. He died from falling masonry and dust inhalation. He was labelled ‘victim 001’. His name was Fr Michal Judge. A photograph was taken of New York firemen carrying his body away from the scene of death in an improvised stretcher rather like a hammock. It is a powerful image because it reminds the Christian so much of the deposition from the Cross. But the photograph is also an icon for the priest on duty, the one who was doing only what he was meant to do, the one who died doing what a priest in such a situation would do: anointing the dead. He had written in his journals his many inner struggles; not least as not being able to express his fuller humanity in the course of his duties. The presence of Fr Michal in this terrible scene, and among so many other helpers, points us to the place of ordinary, deep humanity which brings hope even while the terrible fall-out is suffered. It is this kind of deep humanity which is being demanded of us as God’s Church. It is the action which challenges the world to be a better place in the manner and the meaning of its truer existence. It is the action of the forgiveness seventy times seven in the re-making and re-instatement of the good.
We have in this church over the past eighteen months been praying for another priest, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Catholic priest from Kerala, India, who was captured by ISIS terrorists and has this week been released. Father Uzhunnalil was kidnapped on March 4, 2016 from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four of those Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack. Father Uzhunnalil was rescued last week by Omani authorities “in coordination with the Yemeni parties. Recalling his time in captivity, Fr Tom told Pope Francis last week that although he was unable to celebrate Mass, “every day, I would repeat to myself, in my heart, all the words of the celebration. Father Uzhunnalil said he continues to pray for all those who have been spiritually close to him, particularly for the four nuns and 12 people murdered when he was abducted.
In all the bewilderment that this priest must have felt, the powerlessness and the deprivation and uncertainly, his faith proved to be a reconciling one, one which was not wasted in negativity, but always keeping to that which he was taught, The Christian faith. He was able to offer his condition in prayer for the life of the Church and in thankfulness and solidarity with his fellow workers, many of them already dead. This is the triumph of God’s grace over despair and the true response to the forgiveness seventy times seven. God’s power being made perfect in the powerless state, the one which, beyond all calculation and self-regard, of blame and resentment, determines to be an agent of God’s transforming grace. Let us be determined to show that we can, in our own way and by remaining faithful to our Christian calling, be agents of that same grace, too…
Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
10th Sep 2017
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity Year A
“Love is the answer to every one of the commandments”. Romans 13.10
It is so important to proclaim the existence of The Church as a community of the faithful which is not-self-selecting. When we read from St Paul’s Letter to The Romans, we understand this to mean that all Romans were being addressed. All the people, no matter where they were coming from. It is never a Letter written to a select group. The genius of St Paul lay in his ability to communicate to the largest number of people while remaining true to the basic meaning of the Christian Gospel. The language he uses is direct and basic. What binds the Church together from within itself is no secret or complex set of religious rules. ‘Love’ he says is to be the Church’s meaning and the true mark of its identity. And once he declares this to be so then he lays a great demand upon his listeners everywhere. For there can be no love among us unless there is self-examination and repentance, and the awareness of our own need for healing. God’s intention is sure, and in this is offered Christ’s mercy and the promise of newness of life and the refreshment of our relation both with ourselves and God.
The preeminent ministry of Jesus Christ, the mission given Him by God the Father, was the ministry of reconciliation. To be a Christian is to live in that ministry of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. Forgiveness and healing doesn’t say that there was no sin. It doesn’t excuse hurt or sin. What it does do is heal us. And this is the task we are to set for ourselves as God’s Church. The recognition and the obedience of the call to be active reconcilers. And the best way of understanding the call to reconciliation is to see Christ as the One who takes into himself energies of all different kinds, many of them malevolent, distorted and vain, and through his own being transforms these energies into the good and the true. In human terms, this movement must derive from our own willingness in to be honest with ourselves and honest to God. We must not see our neighbour as a barrier to our own attempts to assert ourselves and our desires apart form them.
Certainly, given the times in which we live, that ways of healing and reconciliation are desperately needed, both in our personal lives, in our national life, and globally as well. If you want to know what God's will is for you, it all begins with the power that Jesus is giving us. The ministry of reconciliation is clearly and centrally God's will for you and for me. We are called to love. And we are called to forgive. Not just as a community of believers, but also as a community of mankind.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
King James Version (KJV)
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Some time ago, I attended a meeting in the Town hall at which two hundred Camden folk were gathered in the aftermath of riots in Hackney. The meeting was marked by contributions from police, politicians and community leaders. It gave different constituents time and space to express their general opinions and grievances concerning our modern society and life in this part of London. There didn’t seem to be a consensus as to what was really wrong; whether blame should be attached to the parents, the looters, the rioters themselves, or the state of our society. And there was a vital ingredient missing in the debate. This was some comment on how people behave if they have no recourse to those moral, spiritual and hopeful influences which enrich and inform an inner life. And particularly, I mean the influence of an active and hopeful faith. One of the tenets of the Twelve step Alcoholics Anonymous is that “I will give my life over to a power greater than myself”. Though this does not explicitly mention God, Christians know this to be the case.
They know it not just as a piece of knowledge, but in the person and the love of Jesus Christ. What the meeting did and perhaps could not address was the question of what a person looks like when they have abandoned any hope in a living, loving God. When this happens a vital dimension in the human experience is lost – the need to ask for and to receive forgiveness. The need to ‘tell it like it is’ and to confess our sins. The need to worship and to acknowledge that power ‘greater than myself’. To acknowledge that we are creatures made in the likeness and being of our Creator. To see the influence of Christ in the life of the world and to enjoy his presence for its own sake. All these elements are healing and reconciling elements. They give shape and body and inner wisdom to lives which without them are fragile shells, falling prey to hopelessness and then where inner disquiet is great, even to violence against their neighbour.
The message this morning is of a love which beckons us in and which draws us together. It is a reconciling love because it demands we see God both as He is and in our neighbour; who is made not in our image but in the image of their maker. Only then do we begin to experience the fullness, the abundance and the plurality of God’s love. Only then can we recognise our neighbour for the persons they really are.
So then, as we approach the Lord’s altar this morning, let us pray for a deepening of love — love for the Lord, and love for the gifts He has given to us, including those neighbours He has placed into our care. Let us pray for a continual re-awakening of that spiritual facility, coming from God, from which love expresses itself from source and from which God’s love can be expressed. Let us never lose sight of the gift of love from the original giver, God Himself….
St Augustine’s Confessions Chapter 10, 27:
Too late have I loved Thee, 0 Beauty so ancient and so fresh; too late have 1 loved Thee! For behold Thou wert within me, and 1 outside; and 1 sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and 1 was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me to break open my deafness: and Thou didst send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me, and 1 drew in my breath and did not pant for Thee: 1 tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee: Thou didst touch me, and I have burned for Thy peace.