Sermon for the Ninth Sunday of trinity
28th Jul 2013
Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find… Luke 11.10.
1. Prayer as Awakenness
In this morning’s gospel reading we are presented with the Jesus who is a teacher of prayer. And his teaching opens up for us the necessity of prayer not only from the point of view of saying prayers but of prayerfulness as a way of being; akin to breathing. This is to say something about a sensitivity to the elements, an awakenness, a persistent waiting, and the image used of the opportunity for prayer is as a door which opens for the one who knocks. Asking and searching are suggested. And a certain amount of discipline and daring are called for, a commitment to prayer. To be truly awake to these things and active in response to them is to pray and to say to God in the words of the old spiritual:
“It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer”.
2. Prayer and Persistence
In the Gospels, honest persistence is rewarded. Remember the crippled man at the Pool of Siloam, The Syro-phoenician woman, those examples of people who push their way through the crowd into the presence of Jesus. And getting to him they are not afraid to make demands. They are those whose intention far outweighs the dictates of polite manners. And in their approach lies the human instinct for survival. And Jesus is always receptive to this struggle for survival and the instinct for direct language ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ “My daughter lies sick at home – come quickly. And always powerful, the blunt and angry and accusing words of Mary, the sister of Lazarus to Jesus “If you had been here my brother would not have died!”. But in all these examples God’s teaching on prayer is the one which is the reaching out for God in prayer as a life source, and issuing forth out of God’s own being of his very life. Vital stuff for the soul’s survival.
The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
St Ignatius Loyola
3. Prayer and the Vitality of the Soul.
In the London of today it is no small matter for the members of Christ’s Church to be expected to pray. It is not easy to find the right space, the right times, the time to stop, and to speak to God. Never before have we been bombarded with so many images, so much news and information, so many concerns, a surfeit of so much life and so many choices. In this context the suggestion of a prayer life might seem slightly absurd. But a life of prayer lies at the heart of how Jesus Christ functioned as a human being, and the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ offers us the profoundest insight into the being and the person of Jesus Christ. It is the prayer from which issues out of the relationship he has with the Father. And so we must learn to pray, and to persist in prayer, however fumbling or awkward it might feel. We mustn’t ignore its vitality. If we do, we suffer the equivalent of spiritual dehydration. Try in a spare and distracted moment on the tube to say The Lord’s Prayer for your fellow passengers.
4. Prayer as Work
Several years ago I spent some time in a monastery, at which prayers are said seven times a day, beginning at 5 am without let up, and in which the ringing of the bell dominates the daily existence. It had always seemed to me that the monk’s existence was a heroic one, and extraordinary. But it really is ordinary. The life of prayer is only daunting if you accept is as such. It is really ordinary. It is something which is just, well, done! Pray as you can and not as you can’t!
Above all else this is a prayer life which is dogged and persistent and something of a job of work, and a real sweat. This is how it can be. The attempt to erect a barrier between spirituality and reality is always misguided. The prayer of those monks, once viewing their lives from the other side of the cloister was a job of work, and it is out of the life of prayer as work, in ways beyond our knowing, that prayer’s answer is being worked out, and is being seen and heard, and however unfathomably, known. But in a vital sense this prayer is not done because of anything that can be achieved through it, but because it begins and nurtures in us a vital kind of self-emptying. If, as Ignatius says, ‘The Goal of our life is to live with God for ever’ then God, who is always and everywhere present for us, is beckoning each one of us to inhabit that presence and to live and thrive in it to our soul’s own well-being. As one of our prayers for the preparation for prayer tells us:
Closer is he than breathing; nearer than hands and feet.
5. St Ignatius Loyola : Prayer and the surrender of the self.
The idea of the persistent seeker after Christ and his healing has also become a type of Christian who seeks God in that which lies beyond his own devices and desires. In the writings of St Ignatius are various vital ingredients which are as necessary today as they were when he wrote and thought and prayed five hundred years ago. One of these marries prayer as a kind of radical attentiveness with the accompanying idea of prayer as a radical letting go or leaving off of our own preoccupations. In our self surrender we leave behind those things which so often get in the way and cause us disquiet and enter a place of peace. The attentiveness is the prayer as both a waiting and a letting go of these things. We let them go in prayer as we recognise them and leave them behind, if only for a while… It is in this state of being that we understand Ignatius’ greatest prayer in its own context. It is a prayer which knocks at the very frontier – the door that opens into the presence of God and which, if we did but know it, lies open for us at all times.
Young Toby discovers climbs the convent wall in Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Bell, and falls badly, injuring his leg. The kindly nun who takes him in and bathes his leg wound informs him gently that the massive doors, which seemed closed were in fact always kept unlocked. The enclosure was there not to concentrate the spirit of prayer within. He had only needed to try them and see…
And so what we seek when we knock and seek to open the way into prayer is discovered to be something that has remained open for us all along. The way in is through our own glad surrender. A kind of trust…
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
St Ignatius Loyola from The Spiritual Exercises.
Sermon for the Eighth Sunday of Trinity
21st Jul 2013
Eighth Sunday of Trinity Year C
“The mystery is Christ among you; your hope of glory”. Colossians 1.27
The Gospel shows us the Jesus who is at close proximity to the people who surround him. We are left in no doubt that the presence of Christ is felt spiritually and is lasting. An encounter with him is an encounter with the Creator Father who is present in the outpouring of spiritual grace. And it is in the nature of this presence that it should be hospitable. The poet Auden once said that God is always and everywhere present to us and for us, and so there is no need seek him apart from every waking, waiting, listening moment. We seek him as he is found in the present moment; we seek him just as we are and just as we are found and we do not seek him elsewhere.
I once went shopping with my stepfather, and after several hours we finally arrived home, and I was anxious to get the bags out of the car and get in, but he stopped and said, ‘Look up at that overflow pipe. Look at that bird up there sipping away at the drips of water”. It was mildly irritating to be reminded of this stillness but even so it at reminded me of the possibility of a greater observance of the beautiful and fine detail of the created order in an attitude of openness to the elements. St Paul in writing to the Colossians expresses this as a Christian understanding. It is the close proximity of the person of Christ dwelling within you. And he likens this spiritual presence to a mystery. “And the mystery is Christ among you”… he says, “…your hope of glory”. (Colossians 1.27) The presence of Christ is an indwelling presence, which blesses and gives life.
God is a hospitable God who welcomes us into his presence at all times, and this is being outlined in two of our readings. The first is taken from Genesis Chapter 18 and details the reception of three strange guests at the Oak of Mamre. Abraham goes out to offer them hospitality but strangely addresses them in the singular, calling them Lord. And it is from this encounter that the guests promise that his elderly wife Sarah will give birth to a son. The presence of God is shown as a mysterious guest, offering us a foretaste of the post-resurrection meal at Emmaus. It remains true that the sharing of hospitality, the careful preparation of food and the conversation over the meal table can transcend the sum total of its parts. The presence of God himself, the writer of Genesis reminds us, lies at the heart of gracious hospitality, even though this may have been sentimentalised in the God who is likened to the silent guest at every meal. The Genesis account has famously been transposed into the art of the icon painter, as the Russian Andrei Rublev depicted the three strange guests spoken to as one in his icon of the Holy Trinity. Rublev gives the most powerful significance to the Genesis account, and we are permitted as we gaze upon this icon, to encounter the presence of the God whose love for us his creatures is and will for ever be a hospitable love.
In the Gospel account of Mary and Martha we have what seems like the showing of a sharp division of kinds of hospitality. Of pious Mary who ‘has chosen the better part’ and stays with Jesus and is in his presence, and the apparently distracted and overworked Martha, who is understandably angered by her sister’s apparent laziness. Is Mary pious or lazy; is Martha a put upon worker or simply distracted? In a painting by the Spaniard Velazquez, Mary and the Christ are seen as a reflection through a mirror or(or a serving hatch) from the kitchen. Standing in the foreground and pummelling away at some herbs with huge forearms and fists through a pestle and mortar is the angered Martha, much the most important figure in the picture, dominating the scene as she glowers out at us. In a fine details we see fish and eggs and bits of garlick on the table. Mary and Christ are seen from a vague distance. And Velasquez is approaching the story from Martha’s point of view. The story and its theological importance still holds good. Even Abraham got up out of the noon-day sun to serve the strange visitors, and he did this before conversing with them. Their significance as holy visitors is allowed only in the context of their being at the table and of their being waited on. Martha remains for me the most interesting figure because she matters too. She cannot sit at Christ’s side even if she would have wanted too, because she has work to do! The disharmony which Martha’s glowering presence sets up is the one which has not allowed us to see that both work and prayer are both apart of the one needful offering. In this Eucharist we “do this in remembrance of Jesus” and the doing element becomes an inseparable part of the worshipping and the adoring element. Both are part of the one offering.
To abide in the presence of the living Christ, to enter into close proximity to Christ, is to live according to the Holy Spirit rather than our own force of will. We might yield a little to the life-giving presence; to allow Christ to unlock and to heal those old fears which have inhibited us, and which require of us more than mere religious lip service but a risky melting of the human heart, a surrender to the life-giving principle which is Christ. To risk in those precious moments in which, as we wait on God we feel the rawness of that encounter, but also experience the joy of inhabiting a place of love, where old angers are, however painfully slowly, being healed. Mary has indeed chosen the better part but Martha doesn’t do badly! The promise is made to us this morning in the strangers who pass by and in the service of Mary and Martha, that before all else the love of God is for us for ever open to us, ready to meet us where we are and how we are. God is waiting for us to come into his presence that we might find in it the healing which is the mystery of Christ among us; the hope of your glory and my glory and the Church’s glory.
Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
14th Jul 2013
Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Trinity Year C
The Good Samaritan
Luke 10.25-37 “Who is my neighbour?’
We mistake the Gospels if we think they are they form a work which we might only call a story book, or even a manual of spiritual or pious intstruction. As a child I thought of the whole Bible as an exotic and glorious story book full of wonderful tales and holding for me a kind of wonder which I could not find in any other book. I took all my reading from a Children’s Bible which was richly illustrated. I marvelled at the way in which Samson brought down the walls of the Temple, and of how David slew Goliath – much better for me than ‘Batman and Robin’, or even ‘Thunderbirds’. And so I sang the children’s assembly hymn by Charles Wesley :
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
But the Gospels do not really portray a Jesus who is ‘meek and mild’ And little children grow up and the parables then speak to the adult in all their force. And in this full force Jesus lays before our minds and hearts a Christian Gospel which is challenging at the deepest levels of our being. No longer meek (‘piously gentle; submissive, inclined to submit tamely…’ OE Dictionary) but containing expressions which find us wanting and find us out. They ask questions of us and of our tendency toward the default position which is our own self-contained worlds; personal worlds which can so often de-sensitise themselves to the needs of others and to the love of my neighbour. This is inescapably a questioning which bears witness to the Christ who lays his life down for the sake of this very Gospel. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is typical in this respect. Its teaching confronts the listener with the most uncomfortable truth of all as it holds up a mirror to our own self - and the danger of our acquiring and acquired indifference to those outside our tendency toward human indifference.
The Road from Jersalem to Jericho is seventeen miles long, but during that journey the road takes you 3,600 feet down. At the time of Jesus it would have been a treacherous journey, because for centuries roads carrying people carrying valuables of all kinds were prone to attack by bandits. This was why people travelled in large, well defended groups. But the Samaritan travelled alone and paid the price. He was robbed, beaten and left for dead.
In this church we have to regard the question “Who is my neighbour?” as absolutely appropriate for our life together. The Parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to a new realisation of one another not simply as signed up members of a religious organisation but as people who depend and rely upon one another’s generosity and care. If we as Holy Cross Church are not to have this care for one another, how can we show those who live around and beyond this church the love of God made manifest:
Grant us grace to see thee, Lord,
Yes, the Good Samaritan rises out of the ordinary, and in an extraordinary showing or epiphany of practical and no-nonsense love, he has revealed the bleakness of the Priest and Levite and their religious indifference to the manifest suffering and pain of their neighbour who lies bleeding. Perhaps they are the politically correct of their day and don’t help because they refuse any kind of human involvement and the risk of ‘losing’ themselves? If Jerusalem was the religious capital of the nation, then Jericho must stand for a place of radical action. The journey which has taken the priest and Levite and Samaritan down by 3,600 feet has also been the journey upon which the radical demands made to us to recognise the neighbour in our midst and to respond to him is being made.
How our we to respond? I do not subscribe to the view that our reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan sets a gulf between the religious Jews and the Samaritan outsider. Rather it is there to provoke us into thought and then into action. For Christians, the transforming power of disinterested but active love must emerge not just out of a will to do good, but out of the heart of our Christian worship.
In and apart from all this is Christ himself. The very Christ, who even as he is telling the great parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of Christian love in action, is Himself laying down his life for us. He is going on ahead, and leading us into a profound response to the question “Who is my Neighbour?” – a question which is only answered by us and by our response to his self-giving. But it must be answered in the NOW.
Downstairs in the Crypt there are people who metaphorically lie bleeding. At one of Friday night’s ‘Open Mic’ evenings a woman who was suffering and crying and telling me of her terrible troubles could nonetheless get up, take the microphone and sing a beautiful and musical ballad for the others. I wonder; if she could do this for others, could we not find the time and the imagination to do something similar? God help us in all these things, and may God move us toward loving actions and bless them. Amen.
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of after Trinity
7th Jul 2013
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Trinity Year C
The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead.
In this morning's gospel reading we witness the sending out of the seventy disciples. This is a very unique happening. All the gospels mention the twelve disciples and of their being commissioned by Jesus to continue his mission. However it is only Luke who makes specific reference to the sending out of the seventy. There must be a reason for this. Jesus reminds us that the harvest is rich and the labourers few - there are never enough respondents to do the necessary work. In the same manner Luke wants to tell us that the mission of Jesus is carried forward both by those who have a specific mandate as well as the the true responsibility of every Christian believer. Here we can see that the emerging Christian community existed not only as ecclesia or structured, hierarchical church but also as koinonia or fellowship of men and women each empowering and reinforcing the Christian discipleship in one another in the power of the Holy Spirit of the continuing work of witness in the one Faith. In Galatians, Paul refers to such koinonia when he reminds the church to ‘bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6.3)
How are we in the Church to equip ourselves to do this? Very often I have heard people say that they feel that they do not the proper qualifications to be missioners of Jesus. There has been for them only a partial and even small realisation that the work of Jesus does not require a specialized set of skills before first it requires a heart that is rested on God and which is confident and compassionate enough to share with others what it has in fact already experienced in Him. The mission of Jesus is also accomplished by ordinary people doing ordinary things and being faithful to their responsibilities. But the ordinariness is fed by the extraordinary gift of faith and its outpouring in and through the source which is Jesus Christ.
‘Deacon’ is a name which from earliest Christian times has been the name assigned to a concentrated form of Christian witness and a specific ministry. In the Church of England all candidates for priesthood are first ordained deacon, and to a first year of ordained ministry which is focused on practical service. The focus for this service is of the Christ who washes the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. It is always good for priests and especially bishops to be reminded that they have also been ordained to the diaconate, whose call to service is perhaps the most simple and direct expression of Christian witness. Their ordination to a higher sphere does not make their diaconate less indelible. But as members of Christ’s body, The Church, we too are called to spend our time and energy in diaconal service for the physical care and well-being of our neighbour. This is a different kind of spending to the one which associates itself with consumerism. This is a spending of the heart and the will in active response to the love of God that we experience in this Eucharist. This is a spending of the heart that introduces the idea of a new kind of economy, based not on money or calculation but in response to the Christian call in a life of active and radical compassion. Its effects will be seen in lives and communities which have experienced the healing power of the Christian faith and the outpouring of human gifts in the one fellowship or koinonia. This is a Christian ministry called to actions which speak louder than words. This is what makes the Church known to those who would stand outside – by the fruits of the Christian Faith are we to be known. (Matthew 7.16) Active compassion is always transformational, but even more so when nourished by faith.
What are the fruits that we are speaking of? Jesus shows us that to listen carefully to someone’s story, to go out of your way to give someone comfort, to give of your time, especially when you have other things to do, to hold your temper, to serve and to offer yourself and your loving, to show kindness under pressure, to give and not to mind the cost, to feel helpless and vulnerable – these are the responses of faith which speak louder than words. It is by these means that God is seen and felt and known. This is the antithesis of the 'tick box' approach to social care under the guise of inadequate funding. This is a dynamic economy based on the gifts of the many in the service of the many in the one reaching out.
In this Church Tom and Julia are helping us to produce a Mission Action Plan (or MAP for short). This is a document which can be periodically worked out and added to and which sets out for this parish our basic missionary intention. It outlines what we do best and of how we do it, it explores the shifts and changes in our congregational expression and also looks at the challenges that face us. But this MAP is more than a document. It will involve all of us in taking a stronger and more committed pledge to serve this church more effectively and to act upon this pledge. It will involve giving ourselves and our time. We, like the seventy, recognize that the growing of a church like ours is both God inspired and also a proper job of work. It cannot happen accidentally. We hope to explore and establish new ways in which we can be fed in smaller groups and in which we can better equip ourselves to serve God and our neighbour in this place. This is an opportunity for us all to make Holy Cross Church a mission station in King’s Cross every bit as real as the Judaean towns were for the seventy-two. The original Christian witness became broader and broader in its scope and more daring in its endeavor because its strong fixed point was Jesus Christ and the possession of a Gospel of unparalleled integrity and influence. We here at Holy Cross are being called to exercise that same passion and daring in the service of King’s Cross and those who have visited us from across the whole world and to respond more fully to the need to grow in stature and in ever deeper koinonia and care.
The words of the great Chinese prophet Confucius come down to us from the centuries and spur us on to koinonia:
“Where so ever you go” he says “…go with all your heart”.
“Lord Jesus Christ, I thank you for my life and for all the good qualities that you have given to me. Help me to use these qualities for my own growth and in helping others and in helping my own church. May I be a witness of your resurrection wherever I may be. I know that you honour and bless whatever good I may do in your Name. May I be a source of blessing to anyone whom I meet every day of my life. Amen”
Thanks be to God