Sermon for Lent 4 (Mothering Sunday)
11th Mar 2018
Sermon for Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)
This morning the Church observes not just one but three commemorations, namely the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Refreshment (‘Laetere’ or ‘Rejoice’) Sunday and also Mothering Sunday. It seems eccentric that this should be so, and that a rare liturgical colour, rose , or pink, should set the tone for a Lenten Sunday which provides not for a deepening of intensity in our Christian observance of Lent but for an outburst of what in Latin is ‘Laetere’ or joy. Combine all this with Mothering Sunday and the sense of mid-Lenten eccentricity is complete. In typical English fashion, we keep the tradition of remembering and honouring our Mothers from days when servants, many of them older children or adolescents, were allowed this Sunday in Lent to return home to their mothers. If they worked in a big house, a kindly cook might well have baked Simnel Cakes as a seasonal offering for the servants to take to their mothers.
The Church seems at first to have made things even more complicated by offering us a choice of two Gospel readings. One is Simeon’s prediction to Mary that her child Jesus would suffer and that ‘a sword would pierce her own soul’. The second Gospel takes us to the Cross and to the suffering Christ, who even from the place of agony encourages a new and future relationship between his beloved disciple John and his Mother, Mary, “Behold thy Son” and “Behold thy Mother”.
As we begin to understand these Gospel accounts we find that they are complimentary and speak of all those things which Lent, Mothering Sunday and Refreshment Sunday express. And it is this: Any experience of a close and loving and committed relationship is at some time or another going to demand of us a costly love. The Gospel message swings between love as consolation and as desolation. Any mother or father or husband, wife or lover knows how painful it is to have to have to relinquish, to let go or to suffer the death of one who has been our life and our love. Such an experience strikes at the very heart of what we are. For parents this might commonly involve the son or the daughter who leaves home as a young adult and away from the childhood home, just like the Victorian child servant. Equally there are times when the young, having ‘fled the nest’ themselves feel homesick and very alone. For others in middle age there may come the death of a parent or parents. For some, the break-up of a past relationship continues to be painful and some of its effects do not seem to be relieved with the passing of time. For the elderly there are the many little and bigger losses that come with encroaching frailty and the loss of faculties once taken for granted, and of the deaths of contemporaries.
The two Gospels offered allow for an understanding of human loving which inevitably involves pain. But this is not to be the end of the matter. We are reminded that, even from the Cross, our Saviour Jesus Christ offers new life and proclaims aloud that even out of great sadness and even death, the possibility of new relationships and new understandings and new hope is being promised by the dying Saviour on the Cross. ‘Behold thy Mother’; ‘Behold thy Son’. In the Cross life and death mixes and merges in the one sacrifice.
God’s life and our lives and loves mix and merge in the one faith, the one hope and the one love. In the same vein the prayer for the mixing of wine and water at the Eucharistic Offering outlines Christ’s sacrifice for a deepening of trust in the outpouring of time with the healing of wounds. ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. This is a prayer which perfectly betokens the love of God as one which is always offered to share. The promise of this sharing is that it will be renewing and transforming.
New and refreshed relationships may emerge among those who experience the terrible pain and distress of death and destruction, with those who also stand alongside and with them, ready to offer their trained and disciplined human skills and compassionate care. God’s love remains constant and present in any and every danger but it is heartening to see practical love in action. In it, we see the formation of new hope and trust in our common humanity. We witness such actions as they counter the malicious evil with dedicated care and professionalism.The deepenign of relationships occurs when they hold out the possibility of gracious and committed loving in the journeying on...
Our holy English mother, Mother Julian of Norwich observed that “The dear gracious hands of God our Mother are ever about us”. This might seem fantastical given the disasters that often befall our world, but nonetheless our own instinct as Christians is find love’s meaning in God and to remain steadfast in the faith to which we are continually being called. We are called, beckoned to come to God, just as the servants journeyed out for the day to meet their own mothers and to enjoy the communion of their love. This is the ‘laetere’, the joy-infused, integrated life of love which Christ which this morning speaks to us on the Cross through the lives of his Mother, Mary and the beloved disciple, John. “Behold thy Mother, Behold thy Son. The Cross still beckons us at this time, and through our mid to late Lenten observance, we are being drawn inexorably toward it.
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
4th Mar 2018
The Third Sunday of Lent Year B
The Cleansing of the Temple
“Zeal for your house will consume me” John 2.20
We can only imagine why Jesus became so angry that he overturned the tables of the money changers and drove everyone out of the Temple. He was literally consumed with anger. This is not the Jesus we are accustomed to, the one who appears to be so serene and self-controlled. Could this be Jesus losing it?
Jesus comes to disturb and to establish a new order. The destruction of the Jewish Temple is an historical fact. It happened in AD70. We know that John wrote this gospel in around AD100 - some thirty years after the Romans totally destroyed the Jerusalem Temple. They had raised it to the ground and drove out all its inhabitants. The Temple, which once lay at the heart of Jewish worship and culture, was suddenly no more. Jerusalem lay in waste and ruin. The Temple itself was actually worshipped as a sign of the inviolability of the Jewish religion and the guarantor of its future existence. The destruction of the Temple tore this kind of faith apart. Why then, does John mention this non-existent temple thirty years after its destruction? Could it be that John sees the destruction of the temple as a way of purifying Judaism? This might be going too far, but he seems critical of temple worship for its own sake and particularly its commercial aspects. Its destruction was followed by the so called diaspora, the scattering of the Jewish people across the known world. For the Jewish people there was no longer a religious centre, a place lying at the geographical and spiritual heart of their existence. They were destined to be wanderers, which was their lot until the founding of the State of Israel in 1947.
John’s message goes deeper than this, however. We have a clue in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, written before John’s Gospel and making a reference to the human body as a temple for the Holy Spirit:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3.16
These words were written by St Paul twenty years before the destruction of the Temple in around AD50. Paul uses the temple image to speak about the state of the human soul. The message couldn’t be more direct as the idea of Temple is taken to signify that which bears within it the true spirit of God and then Paul goes on to say to his listener ‘you are that temple’. It is in this way that
Jesus’ own prediction of the temple which is his body, will be destroyed only to be raised up in three days. He comes not to abolish existing Jewish understandings but to bring them to fulfilment in His person. By predicting his death and resurrection he is establishing a new centre of gravity. The Temple is now become the inviolable human soul.
In a world in which body image and body consciousness is so evident it is refreshing to be reminded that the body has a particular kind of sanctity. It has been natural for Christian writers to draw a natural and creative relationship between the body and the soul. Last week’s collect for Lent 2 expresses it best:
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended against all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, we have the idea of the Temple of Jerusalem, the destroyed edifice, being superseded in Christ in the idea of the ‘temple of the body’. It is the body of Jesus which, when sacrificed in the Cross, will be God’s way of drawing us into a new relationship with Him.
“When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself”. John 12.32.
The 2014 film ‘Selma’ remembered the race riots in Selma Alabama, the worst of which took place on March 7th 1965. The police fired tear gas and drenched the black protesters with water cannon. All was mayhem on that day. It was a desperate action on the part of the state police against fellow citizens but it was also a cruel and vain one. Significantly the police violence was being filmed on national television, and the majority of American people reacted against this assault on their fellow Americans because it was wanton, brutal and vindictive. The wake-up call lay in the deep questioning of whether a country that deemed itself civilised actually was so. The brutalising of bodies was a visual reminder of the failed brutalising society. Lying deep within the life of the person is the soul, of which the body is but the outer receptacle. The treatment of the body then becomes a profoundly moral matter in this respect. It was necessary to cleanse the temple or live abjectly.
It was as though they all began to say, with Jesus after Selma
“Zeal for your house has consumed me”.
The Cleansing of the Temple
Come as you came this day, a man in anger
Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through
Face down for me the fear the shame the danger
Teach me again to whom my love is due.
Break down in me the barricades of death
And tear the veil in two with your last breath.
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent
25th Feb 2018
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent Year B (2018)
“He said all this quite openly” Mark 8.34
Three years ago, the former deputy prime-minister of Russia, Boris Nemptsov, was shot dead from a car on a Moscow street facing the Kremlin. We know now that he had predicted his eventual death. He had said some time before that this would happen, and his family spoke of this possibility only the week before it happened. In similar vein, Martin Luther-King and Ghandi both spoke of their own death by assasination as a matter of distinct possibility.
Jesus, too, speaks of his suffering and death quite openly to the disciples, as we learn this morning in our Gospel reading from Mark. And we are bound, on reflection, to admit that such predictions are startling and unsettling. They are filled with intensity and foreboding. When their predictions come true the fact of their death is experienced with added shock but with intense feeling. In such a way the second century church father Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. The martyr’s death was a rebuke those who would have it otherwise and defend their own brand of ‘peace’ by force, rather like President Assad of Syria today. It remains true that
The people who have really made history are the martyrs.
If we follow this line of enquiry in relation to Jesus we would make him a mere adjunct of history, just another martyr, even though one of its great exemplars. Jesus’ prediction of his own death invites us into a deeper relationship with him, and through him, to God the Father. Jesus death is not just to be sacrificial but sets in being a whole new relationship between God and us. In revealing the fact of his death, Jesus is telling us that only by giving himself up to death can that he be revealed as the Son of God. This is a message which is tobe delivered in his own body and not by force of will or argument. Rowan Williams, in his simple commentary on Mark’s Gospel makes this plain:
The God who is going to change everything, change for ever the conditions in which human beings live, is a God who is ‘beyond’ power as we would like to understand it; a God who does not coerce belief or clinch arguments, but who repeatedly demands relation and trust.
This is the secret that Mark’s Jesus wants to disclose.
Rowan Williams, ‘Meeting God in Mark : Reflections for Lent’.
God is trusting us with his very being in His Son, Jesus. In Jesus we are all of invited to go with him and to become what he would have us be. We are to live in Him and not follow the dictates of our own selfish desires and fantasies. In the language of Mark’s Gospel we are to ‘take up our own cross and follow Him’.
Lent reminds us that this relationship will make demands upon us which might involve personal and other kinds of sacrifice. We can no longer behave as we please but receive from God the call to be his servants in the outworking of His salvation in Jesus. For this task we must ask for his grace,, perseverance, relying on God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing. It is in living for Christ and not for ourselves alone that we make his Cross evident in our world. He find our lives in their truest sense, only when we have learnt to let go of our lives and give them to God. But importantly, we do not this through our own efforts alone, but by God's grace.
The Eucharist is God's way of accompanying us, affirming us on our journey of faith and transforming our understanding of his abiding and transforming presence. Five centuries after the last supper, St. Augustine preached a sermon On the Eucharist (Sermon 57) in which he extended this imagery to include even us.
You are the body of Christ,” he said. “In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal love.
As he holds the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood in mind, he tells the people,
“Behold what you are. Become what you receive.”
Behold what you are, become what you receive… Late twentieth century understandings of The Church understood her to be a Eucharistic community, in which all Christian people will become what they receive in Christ and empowered to make their own communities ones of human transformation and of hope.
What might this mean for us at Holy Cross? We all need to wake up to the fact of our being God’s Church in the first place. Church going should give way to Christian action on the ground, and we should be aware that we are God’s agents in the here and now for the establishment of a new world. We need to ask ourselves whether the name ‘Christian’ is for us just a by word or whether it truly informs our daily living and our commitment to this church.
Do I come to church on time and prepare myself to receive the sacrament?
Am I prepared to commit to the Lenten disciplines and services on offer this year?
Am I prepared to give this church more of my passionate time?
Am I ready to play my part in making this church a beacon of light and hope for King’s Cross?
Do I really care?
Jesus’ commitment is unto his own death. Though we can’t approach that kind of self-giving, we can, nonetheless, promise to give ourselves more fully to the church which is His body.
Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Lent (Transfiguration Sunday)
11th Feb 2018
Sermon for the Sunday next before Lent Year B
“And he was transfigured before them” Mark 9.10.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
G M Hopkins
The Transfiguration of Christ on the mountain is not for the Gospel writer Mark, a theatrical effect, but one which introduces notes of awe and of wonder and draws us into itself. For Mark and Hopkins we are ‘falling into the hands of the living God’. It is a meeting with the Jesus who has become Christ. It happens right before our eyes. To see such things with the inner eye is to experience glory. The glory is enveloped in brightness, and yet reveals a terrible secret - of the Christ, the One who has fulfilled all things, even unto death and resurrection. The secret is disclosed in dazzling white and yet within thick shadow and dark cloud. Even though the Feast of the Transfiguration takes place in August, this Gospel reading is deliberately set before us as a key text for the Sunday before Lent. The mountain of Transfiguration the place of amazing appearances, and also of stark realities; of terrible truth. It points to the Cross even as it manifests the glory of God. As we sing the well-known hymn ‘Tis Good Lord to be Here’, there is already a strong sense of foreboding:
Fulfiller of the past,
Promise of things to be,
We hail Thy body glorified
And our redemption see.
This terrible truth-telling in the Transfiguration shows us that there is always the danger of not seeing the other side of things; of the existence and the seriousness of human suffering, of life as a struggle and of the need for forgiveness and the experience of much pain and adversity. This is the Cross of Jesus and it is our Cross, too. Jesus takes this Cross upon himself and it is the Cross of Jesus which is the glory that God reveals in the mountain-top. But this is a strange and difficult kind of glory. It is the one which brings us into contact with the living God. But this is the God who is vital, and whose influence upon us is as the double edged sword,
…piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart…” Hebrews 4.12
No wonder that this reading is set for the Sunday before Lent. It was not easy consolation that is provided here. Instead, there is the invitation to find our truest humanity in Christ and to find it through ‘the changes and chances of this fleeting world’. This is to begin to be honest with ourselves and toward God. To recognise life’s essential contingency. To begin to find in God that active love and the mercy we need to move us on. For we cannot stay on the mountain. It is a place of revelation and a vital and necessary point of departure.
I once went to the Louvre, the French National Art Gallery in Paris. At some point all visitors head towards one great painting, The Mona Lisa. She gazes impassively through bullet proof glass and is constantly surrounded by her own paparazzi – with cameras and continuous flashes of blinding white light. She has become like the namesake Madonna, a superstar. It is difficult to get near her. But with all the adulation, one wonders what is going on? What is it that is happening when thousands of tourists take photos constantly? There seems to be a manic rush to record it all, and while the photographer is snapping away to ignore its real presence. There is the attempt to capture it. To possess it. To take it away. The Transfiguration offers us the opposite of the blinding camera flash and the image you can put into your pocket. The appearance of Jesus in white light on the mountain-top is God’s revelation to his people, you and me, of his merciful love. In all we have to do or to suffer, God’s presence lies before us as and with it the promise of his holiness to surround us and to inhabit our inmost being. His face shines to show us the light of the revelation of the fullness of God…What is real is not looked at from exterior vision but from within the truth of what has appeared…
But how are we to bear true witness, especially as we approach the beginning of Lent? The Church offers us as individuals a way forward in the practice of Sacramental Confession. To tell it like it is. Though it has been derided and caricatured and is less practised by many, its effectiveness is very real. The costliness of our being more honest about what we are and what we do wrong is often too humiliating to bear. But this is a necessary humbling, a Cross, which provides us with an effective remedy. It provides a pathway to the restoration of the soul, often so damaged and maimed by our own essential pride. It is an attempt at an honesty from which new life may emerge. We trivialise this aspect of our lives at great cost to the integrity of the Christian Faith. The Transfiguration opens up on honesty to reality. It is what St Paul called
The light of the fullness of the revelation of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ”. 2 Corinthians 4.6.
It is a revelation of what lies most true for human nature. It provides the marriage between what the Old Prayer Book in its General Thanksgiving called ‘The means of Grace and the hope of glory’.
Sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent
4th Feb 2018
Sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent year B (2018)
“We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
I said last week that this time in the Church’s calendar represents a tipping point. Even while we celebrated the Feast of Candlemass and blessed our Easter Candle, I had to remind you that we were being lead very surely into Lent. Today is now the Second Sunday before Lent and we have left Epiphany behind us. This movement is bound up in the word ‘glory’, which speaks not only of Epiphany joy and wonder but also of the Lenten glory that Jesus must win through his own suffering and death.
Paul, in this morning’s second reading reminds us that this movement has a human outcome. He calls it ‘making peace through the blood of the Cross’. This is the glory which emerges out of the crucible of Christ’s Passion. Out of this will emerge the truer glory which has the power to reconcile and to heal. This is of course is very strong theological language. It beckons us us into the more challenging territory of Lent. As Christians we ‘go with Jesus’. And we go, if we are honest, reluctantly. Despite this, we are being encouraged by our three readings this morning to ‘begin at the beginning’ and to consider the Creator God in whom our whole lives are intimately connected.
For the writer of Proverbs this connection gives ‘delight’ as he speaks of being with God at the moment of Creation. Somehow, God the Father’s creativity, as a ‘master worker’ and the singularity of the writer’s own life come together, and both belong profoundly to each other. As Paul was later to say, with as much joy: “Who can separate us from the love of God?” (Romans 8.35) When John wants to speak of Jesus he cannot escape that word ‘glory’ - he tells us that “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14). This is what determines the Christian life as we are to live it. Not what we can do for God, but what God has already done for us out of his love for us. “To God be the Glory, great things he has done” as the hymn tells us. And when we have admitted this another ‘tipping point’ is to be recognised; the one which places God and not ourselves as the one great determining life influence.
Lent is to be the time not for spiritual self-improvement or expressions of narcissistic pride but for a relaxing and an easing of those tendencies which would have us believe that God is to be acknowledged but his influence shunned. The promise which Lent brings is the one which would bid us respond to God’s grace, God’s loving influence in all our lives. God’s intimacy. We respond as we acknowledge the divine initiative in all things. Of the God who has gone before and has already made complete that which we would imagine can only be completed by our own will power and in our own time. The well worn grace is still most meaningful and effective ‘For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.
It was in thankfulness that this church came to be built and it is in thankfulness to God that it will grow and thrive. It is unusual for our parish meetings, normally given over to business of one kind or another, that today’s council meeting will be full of plans and hopes – of the forging of new partnerships and the transformation of the way in which we are able to use and share this building. He have been given gifts and in this I have become aware of the God, who beyond recourse to our own designs and desires, is experienced as the supreme provider. So much has happened in the past month and there is for the first time that I can remember in this church a remarkable momentum for opportuity. I have been privileged in one week to be a part of four separate community activities representing many different nationalities, and we now have a bid from a Chinese church to come and make this their place of Christian worship on Sunday afternoons.
The Church and its influence is needed in our communities more than ever and the influence of this church is far greater than might be seen with the eye. We communicate the love of God in many different ways. In this respect I want to congratulate Jonas and David on their interview with a ‘Church Times’ correspondent, Madelaine Davies, in which the message of the spiritual riches that can be found in this place was so delightfully expressed. Their witness to Christ in this Church was expressed very brilliantly. Thank you, Jonas and Michael, our Holy Cross ambassadors!
The acknowledgement of God as Creator is so vital because it is an expression of thankfulness from life’s true source, a joyful activity. As our joy in believing finds expression in our reaching out for the enrichment of our local community in committed service, so the existence and the love of God is being very surely proclaimed. We are acknowledging that it is God who gives; God who gives the increase, and once we respond to God’s provision of love, to grace as living truth, anything becomes possible.