Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
30th Aug 2020
Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
“God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all”
The graphic story in today’s gospel tells of a Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite woman who as a foreigner, successfully challenges Jesus’ intention to minister to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’ only. This woman is a rank outsider. She crashes into the party where the invited and the included are those deemed to be righteous and for whom the inheritance of faith in God was sacrosanct. The Jewish inheritors of the old covenant covenant which had given them exclusive rights and access to Rabbinic teaching. But the woman’s presence reveals the down-side of this righteousness. For it excited in them feelings of ethnic cleanliness, which hardened itself against any who stood outside the community of the chosen.
Jesus, as a rabbinic teacher, stands awkwardly in the middle of these racial tensions both as a Jew himself and as an inheritor of the Jewish tradition. But crucially we discover that he is ready to give ground. He knows from deep within that the gift of faith; the Kingdom of God is latent in all and possible for all. It has not been parcelled out to the practising religious alone. This woman, comes from a territory unvisited by strict Jews. But she is bold and confident and is not put off. She gives Jesus due respect, using the title ‘Lord, Son of David’. She contradicts his assertion that he has come only to Israel and that the good food of the inheritance should not be thrown to the ‘dogs’. And in a gentle play on words like ‘dog’, which were and still are in the middle east used as insults, the woman turns the play on words to her own good use and appeals to the witty idea that even (real) dogs are permitted to eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table. Jesus commends her for her faith. The word faith here is being used as a kind of forthrightness, a kind of keen wit and intelligence borne of necessity; a kind of passion. One comedian once said that in order to have a sense of humour and to make humour work you need also a strong sense of proportion. She might be saying, even to Jesus, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’.
This Gospel reading and this strange, insistent, interesting woman provide a timely reminder of the need to challenge the forces of prejudice, hatred and anger that bedevil our world even as we commemorate the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. The shocking and terrifying footage of a black man, Jacob Blake, gunned down in his won car with his children in the back seat is a depressing reminder of how little has been achieved from the promising message delivered all that long ago. We may say that this is a problem for the gun toting USA but the Church of England has had to own up to institutional racism and re-examine its own perhaps subtle but nevertheless innate prejudices also. Meanwhile, the hope of the black community and for others who feel outraged and excluded day by day lies bleeding on the world’s pavement.
The summons to defend basic human freedoms is as urgent now as it was at the time of Jesus. In a multicultural and perhaps fractured world, Jesus, like us, was immersed in the potential conflict of interests that such a situation threw up.
The Canaanite woman prompts us to consider the enlargement of the household of faith. She reminds us that such widening of understanding and trust is necessary to the very integrity and honesty of the Christian Church, and ultimately for the freedom of the world.
Jesus is manifestly Son of God. In him, we come to know that it is the Creator’s will and purpose that all are given free access to his love and mercy, beyond the imposed confines of human will and the vanity of fundamentalist ideology. As the hymn reminds us, there “There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy”, not just for we of the household of Christian Faith but for all who, seek God from the bottom of their hearts. Human freedom, the freedom to live and to thrive, in peace and harmony, must never be taken for granted. It must be proclaimed daily, defiantly and fearlessly. All are ultimately included. We must welcome the critical stranger as Jesus did, for she will always deserve our attention.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
F W Faber (1814-1863)
In August 1963, Billie Jean Brown knew that Martin Luther King Jr. had just delivered a powerful, momentous address.
Her then-employer, Motown Records, recorded King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 57 years ago today at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., releasing it later that year on an album titled “The Great March on Washington.”
Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
23rd Aug 2020
Sermon for The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves, and take up their cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save their life will lose it. Matthew 16.25.
This time last year I was staying in the convent of the Consolata Missionary Community in central Italy. During this stay it seemed as though the normal course of life was being lived in reverse. I mean this in relation to the existence overwhelming silence. In the convent, a God-filled silence seemed to pervade everything. The life of the convent worked its way around the existence of this silence as it offered a real means of communication in a generous space. The second aspect of my convent experience lay in the company I was keeping. The sisters are brave souls, missionary sisters, who do not stay in their Mother House for long, but are sent, directed to mission fields across the globe, from places as far apart as Liberia and Mongolia, London and The United States. They are multi-lingual and outward looking. But importantly these are sisters who have taken vows of stability of life. And the established silence of this community gives one the impression of life lived intensely and yet in peace and in freedom. It may often seem that women and men who live like this have ‘turned their backs’ on life or that such a life is a kind of waste. Our readings this morning remind us that The Christian Call is one which acknowledged a paradox, a contradiction which nonetheless proves true: ‘…anyone who wants to save their life will lose it’. The sisters have made this visible and knowable to us. They make Christian Faith real and apparent.
The rejection of this kind of life as an absurdity fails to acknowledge the necessary living out of the Christian paradox. Like Peter in this morning’s Gospel, in our ignorance and fear, we erect defensive barriers and create our own distinctions. We accept and reject certain realities so that our worlds may be made in our own image and likeness and not in God’s. This is only human but can become self-justifying. When Jesus foretells his destiny as one involving death and resurrection, Peter remonstrates. He can’t cope with this. He responds in the negative: “This must not happen to you!” And we can sympathise with him. We know that Peter was fearfully protective of his teacher. But it was a protectiveness which was misguided because possessive. Jesus’ astonishing reply to Peter is “Get behind me, Satan!”. “Your way is not God’s, but Man’s”. Jesus admonishes Peter as he challenges the idea of the Christian way as predictable and safe. Jesus has come for the opening of human hearts and minds and for the realisation for the Call to live our lives more truthfully. He has come to bring a message which is demanding. He has come to challenge each one of us in the deepest parts of our being. To call us into question. This involves St John the Baptist’s call for real repentance. It is also to say that we may find God both in the stability of a quietened mind and as much in the call to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. To let go rather than to possess. This is what makes the Call of Christ so searching. The Spanish mystics lived in the late sixteenth century and spearheaded the Catholic resurgence after the challenges of the Reformation. Their emphasis lay most definitely in the direction of this same letting go:
This is the advice from one such Spanish Mystic, St John of the Cross (1542-1591):
To reach satisfaction in all
desire satisfaction in nothing.
To come to possess all
desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to enjoy what you have not
you must go by a way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by a way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not
you must go by a way in which you possess not.
To come to be what you are not
you must go by a way in which you are not.
Our Church of the Holy Cross in King’s Cross stands as a witness to the place and the time and the society in which we live. It has always taken seriously the care and respect for those persons, from whatever type or background who live in this small parish and who experience the full ‘King’s Cross ‘Effect’ as a place of brief or not so brief transit. But this Church also exists as a spiritual oasis, a centre for Christian teaching, a place of prayer and a witness to Christ within the deep places of the human soul and psyche. It stands for an acceptance of the particulars of contemporary life with the embrace of what one theologian called a` ‘passionate and active inwardness’. It is the living out of the divine paradox and it stands alongside a secularised society as more counter-cultural than ever.
As Christians it becomes the duty to find the courage and the healing words and works that proclaim the Christian message. This is the way of life which is founded on the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a Church turned inside out so that what is met and beheld in this place becomes the means by which this parish, and those we meet may truly receive the divine Consolata, the message of hope for our distracted existence. This to exist within what someone has called ‘the groove of hope’. It is to embrace the strange paradox in and through which the truth of our human being is being revealed.
Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity
9th Aug 2020
Sermon for Trinity 9 Year A
“Take Heart, It is I; do not be afraid” Matthew 14.27
To remain faithful and steadfast in the midst of all that life can throw at us, requires enormous amounts staying power. The story in the Gospel in which Jesus, walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee encourages Peter to do the same is a story about that same keeping of faith, with faith’s working partner, trust. The story depicts Jesus having prayed alone on the mountain, the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee and the crowd on the shore. Each, from their own perspective, like us, are challenged and tested to keep the faith. And this is not what we call ‘blind faith’ or an act of our own will power but ‘faith in God’ involving self-surrender. The same God who brought this world into being is the God who works with the faith we have to offer and at the same time grounds it and makes it more real. And so the question of the day by day ‘keeping of faith’ is central to our discipleship as Christians. Ours in the ‘faith in…’ …faith in God through Jesus Christ. As the chorus of a rousing old hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold?” puts it:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.
Life must test us. It can do no other. Life gives none of us a holiday from its trials. And sometimes life will test us to the very limit of our own felt capacity to meet that test. And I don’t know a reason why should we be exempted from that testing? One of the translations of the Lord’s prayer substitutes ‘lead us not into temptation’ with ‘…and do not bring us to the time of trial’. No one would be foolish enough to willingly invite the time of great trial, but to refuse or ignore or circumvent the reality of human trial and suffering would be a profound denial.
The keeping of strong faith has been revealed this week in Beirut, where the populace, devastated by loss and destruction and rightly angered by corruption in their society have nerved themselves to support the thousands of homeless, to provide food for the hungry and, by these acts, have offered encouragement and hope for the greater number of citizens. To rebuild, to angrily challenge the dead hand of the state whilst re-establishing bonds of peace and trust. This is the keeping of faith in our basic humanity, which, though often blown off course by the machinations of the few, has declared itself to be strong, united and hopeful. The faith dynamic is the one in which Jesus, the love of God in human form, comes toward us as love and says “Take heart; it is I, do not be afraid”.
From the Christian point of view our own lives are, each and every one of them, journeys of faith. Faith in God, and, by natural extension, journeys of faith in one another. This morning we will be reading the marriage banns for Tor Garnett and Tom Parker. Out of an old and very traditional ecclesiastical custom comes the Church and congregation standing alongside the couple and cheering them on. That special group of couples who marry at Holy Cross Church will want to hear their banns read, and have considered these three Sundays very special acts of dedication. For they declare before God and the gathered church a great desire and intention. That the love which has been found in these two persons now becomes the key commitment for a startlingly real journey of faith and hope and trust. In this sense this morning’s gospel teaching on the need for faith is so apt. We know, all of us, whether married, single, in partnerships or otherwise, that we need great resources of real love that is buttressed by equal resources of faith and trust and hope. We must all know that in the words of the song from Queen, life is ‘no bed of roses’.
But it's been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race...
Our Gospel reminds us that we will of course rely upon our own strength and the strength of our primary relationships to see us through. But for the Christian another vital dimension is added, and that is faith in God, who in Christ has not only shown us the way, but also feeds in our inward selves as we continue the journey. Jesus tells Peter and us as he walks toward us “Take heart, do not be afraid, it is I”. God is the One who beckons. He the one who shapes our truer destiny.
The shortest word that Jesus speaks is in fact a letter, and the letter is “I”. Whenever Jesus speaks in the first person singular his hearers, most of them versed in the Jewish religion, would have immediately know what was being said. For in Jewish tradition the personal “I” when spoken by the prophet means God; Jesus then proclaims that he is Son of God, and the disciples recognise this and accept it. They accept that individual personal strength will never be completely adequate to the vocation for living and loving unless their own “I” has its spiritual root and grounding in Jesus. The Church must continually remind us that our lives and loves owe all their meaning and purpose to the God who made us and who keeps us. This is primary. We cannot with any possibility of true surety, run our lives as our own directors.
And so now on this day, we pray for the people of Beirut in their hour of need, we pray for Tor and Tom as they embark upon their journey of faith and hope and love and trust and we pray for us all, and for the increase and the deepening of our faith. That Christ will meet us as and where we are, to provide us with that deep trust and assurance which is faith’s natural outcome. As Jesus tells us this morning, “Take heart, It is I!”
Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
2nd Aug 2020
Sermon for Trinity 8 Year A
The God who gives himself for us and who feeds us…
In Matthew's account of the feeding of the multitude, Jesus is moved with compassion to heal the people (v. 14). In Mark’s he is moved to teach them (Mark 6:34). Both aspects are important and interrelated. The Lord loves us and wants to heal us and to realise his loving presence in us. This he does supremely in the Eucharist. He feeds and teaches us at the altar of Christ’s love. We cannot grow spiritually unless we are being taught - through the Word of God and through the teaching of the Church. In the Eucharist the Lord also feeds us with his own body and blood, healing us and giving us new strength. It’s marvellous that this morning this text comes to us as we come to receive the sacrament of the eucharist for the first time in months.
The monastery and church at Tabgha on the shores of Lake Galilee, the site of the Feeding of the multitude, was destroyed in the 7th century, probably during the Arab conquest of the country, and then buried beneath a thick layer of silt and stones. In the 1980s, after excavation, the church was restored, incorporating portions of the original mosaics. A woman pilgrim named Egeria in the year 380 wrote about the Tabgha Chapel and of the wonder that its site on the banks of the river Galilee manifested in the pilgrims of her day…
In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The stone upon which the Master placed the bread became an altar. The many pilgrims to the site broke off pieces of it as a cure for their ailments.
From the very beginning of the Church’s history even before Egeria, in fact from the first century onwards, the early church saw itself as a Eucharistic community – that is to say a community which was united with Christ in the Eucharistic meal. To be a eucharistic community was to draw sustenance from the one source, Jesus Christ, and to receive the bread and wine which was his body and blood. This powerful identification tells us that the church was distinctive and like no other community of faith. It was passionate for Christ, obedient to his word and faithful in to the Christian calling.
St Paul, in prison and at the point martyrdom, delivers up a poignant and powerful cry for the God who remains present to us and for us at all times and in all places
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
(2 Timothy 2.8-13).
Written only decades after the death of Christ, we are given some sense of the intensity in which the faith of Christ was upheld from earliest times. Another passage from the earliest Christian work The Didache offers a Eucharistic prayer which is vivid and bristling with confidence:
As grain that was scattered on the hillside was gathered together and made into one loaf, so too, we, your people, scattered throughout the world, are gathered together around your table and become one. As grapes grown in the field are gathered together and pressed into wine, so too are we drawn together and pressed by our times to share a common lot and are transformed into your life-blood for all. So let us prepare to eat and drink as Jesus taught us: inviting the stranger to our table and welcoming the poor. May their absence serve to remind us of the divisions this sacrament seeks to heal, and may their presence help transform us in the body of Christ we share. Amen
The Didache 90 AD
I once knew a woman who had lost her son. He had committed suicide. She was beside herself with grief. She herself was a devout churchwoman and made her grief worse. She was in a state of great confusion. She felt the expectation that she should be able to bear all these things as befitted her well-known status as ‘a pillar of the Church’ and a proper Christian. But this could not be the case. People kept on asking her about how she felt. In her grief there was to be ready-made set of consolations. But at a crucial point, early on in her grieving, her Vicar, whom she had known for many years, arrived at her home one day while she was out shopping. He left on her doorstep a beef casserole which he had taken hours to make, and with it a small message.
That woman recalled to her Vicar many months later that it was that gift, of the casserole dish with its food waiting on her doorstep, which spoke louder than words could at that time, and remained for her human and memorable. Its kindliness stood for that sharing of loves, that staple diet, informed by the Word of God and of his teaching, which blesses and gives hope. It is the grace for loving, which is the gift of God to the one who, within the Eucharistic community, has truly become what they have received in Christ…. A small act of human kindness may contain within it the seeds of great healing for others and a greater good for our world. We may not know, we cannot tell what graces are given as our bread is cast among the waters shared among and within our common lot. The Eucharist in action. God in Christ nourishes us in all goodness...