Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
28th Jul 2019
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity Year C
Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find… Luke 11.10.
In this morning’s gospel reading we meet with the Jesus who is a teacher of prayer. 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. Our spiritual oxygenation. This is to say something about our always being ready to pray, 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 is called for, a commitment to prayer. To be truly awake to these things and active in response to them is 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”. God remains the One who beckons and we the ones who respond in kind. On this week in which we celebrate the Feast of the Founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola, a great teacher of prayer all these things are understood in a refreshing fashion.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer is the one which sees prayer as a life source, issuing forth out of God’s very life. It is vital stuff for the soul’s survival.
The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
St Ignatius Loyola
In the London of today it is no small matter for the members of Christ’s Church to be called to pray. It is not easy to find the right space, the right times, the time to stop, and to come to God. There is so much static and this prevents us from wanting to pray. There are so many excuses! 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 to some. But a life of prayer lies at the heart of how Jesus functioned both as a human being and as Son of God, and his ‘Lord’s Prayer’ offers us his loving guidance in this matter. The Lord’s Prayer is a universal prayer given to provide us with our necessary compass bearings. It is the prayer which lies at the heart of our existence; the prayer for all time. Something of this sense of prayer was present at the time of the moon landings in 1969. Many thought this a supremely momentous event which had meaning beyond anything mere words had the power to express. It was an experience of being caught up in an atmosphere of awe and a wonder which is the prerequisite for prayer. And so we must learn to pray, and to persist in prayer, however awkward it might feel. We mustn’t ignore its vitality. If we do, we will suffer its loss. ‘Pray as you can and not as you can’t…Our PACTS leaflets are a simple guide to prayer.
If as St 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. It’s a great calling. As Carl Yung once said, ‘Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present’.
Closer is he than breathing; nearer than hands and feet.
The idea of the persistent seeker after Christ and the healing power of prayer also recognizes a type of Christian who seeks God in that which lies beyond their 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 integrate those things which so often get in the way and cause us disquiet as we (correspondingly) enter a place of stillness and peace. . 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 between the human and the divine – a door that opens into the presence of God and which, if we did but know it, has always lain open for us at all times, though we so often imagined that it had been closed.
In Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Bell, young Toby climbs over the wall of a convent in which he hears the strong and strange tones of the nuns at prayer. He slips 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 keep people out but to concentrate the spirit of prayer within. He had only needed to open the door and let himself in…
The way in, the entry point, lies in our own glad and willing surrender. God is the One who is a beckoning God, inviting you and me to come to the source of our own life and hope. He is love and so we need not be constrained.
In Prayer, we have merely to seek to find...
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
St Ignatius Loyola from The Spiritual Exercises.
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity
21st Jul 2019
Fifth 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 intimately. 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 intimate. The poet Auden once said that God is always and everywhere present 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 garlic and a jar of oil 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.
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 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,,,
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
14th Jul 2019
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity Year C
The Good Samaritan
“…And who is my neighbour…?’
The Parables of Jesus illustrate in a pictorial way the difficult and challenging messages he is teaching whilst recognizing our humanity and the right to moral choice. We mistake the Bible if we think it forms just a story book, or even a manual of spiritual instruction, though it can be both. 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’. I sang the children’s assembly hymn by Charles Wesley :
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
The Christian Gospels do not portray a Jesus who is ‘meek and mild’. Little children grow up and the parables of Jesus may speak to the adult mind in all their force. The teaching of Jesus communicates a Gospel which is challenging at the deepest levels of our being. They ask questions of our own self-contained worlds; personal worlds which are so often de-sensitivised to the needs of others. “The difficult idea that someone other than myself is real” is what Iris Murdoch observed. However, the parables as teaching stories are also kind, because they admit the great gap that exists between the desire to do good and the will to put it into practice, in other words, the parables admit human frailty. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is typical in this respect. Its teaching confronts the listener with the danger of our indifference to those outside our neat and safe sympathies.
The Road from Jerusalem 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 loaded with valuables were prone to attack by bandits. This was why people travelled in large, well defended groups. But the Samaritan travelled alone and unfortunately he 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 central for our Christian calling. The Parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to a realization of one another not simply as signed up members of a religious organization but as a living body of people who depend and rely upon one another’s generosity and care and who extend that care outwards. This was a model for life in the early church. Each called to fulfil a co-creative potential. In this context, the stranger may come upon us to surprise us and to draw us out of ourselves. 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 in us? A kind of moral epiphany is being called for, a new awakenness:
This is the true joy of life: being used for a purpose, recognized by yourself as a mighty one, and being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw
The Good Samaritan rises out of the ordinary, and in an extraordinary showing 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 one who lies bleeding. 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. They lack imagination. They lack heart. If Jerusalem was the religious capital of the nation, then Jericho must stand for a place of radical action.
How are 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. Above all to realize our co-creative potential. For Christians, the transforming power of disinterested and active love must emerge not just out of a will to do good, but as a response to the God we experience as the ‘mover and shaker’ of our own complacency.
Our Lord Jesus, as he is telling the great parable of the Good Samaritan, is Himself ready to lay 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 being asked of us as the very litmus test of our claim to be Christian at all. And it demands our daily and active and prayerful response.
Our parish is set in the heart of King’s Cross and is one of the most challenging in the Church of England because of its place near the great railways stations of London and at the centre of the maximum commuter foot fall. Because of this there is begging on a much larger scale and drug taking which is reaching phenomenal proportions. The high rise in the number of homeless with the recourse to self-destruction through drugs and prostitution is rife. Many people in this parish and across London are found in the gutter and lie bleeding. Their plight, however it presents itself as intractable, is nonetheless one which must be heeded by our government, our society and by the Church rather than as an inevitable part of lower life in the big metropolis. But this movement must begin with ourselves, and with the ever-present and all important question which Jesus is putting to you this Sunday -
“And who is your neighbour?” A question which will always in Christ invite a committed response.
Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity
7th Jul 2019
Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity Year C
The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead.
In the gospel of today we witness the sending out of the seventy two disciples. This is very unique happening in this Gospel. All the gospels mention the twelve disciples and 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 two. 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 experienced a calling as well as the sure 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 have not the proper qualifications to be missioners of Jesus. There has been for them only a partial and even small realization 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 – for by the fruits of the Christian Faith are we to be known. (Matthew 7.16)
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.
In this Church we have 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-two, 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.
The words of the great Chinese prophet Confucius come down to us from the centuries:
“Where so ever you go” he says “…go with all your heart”.
Thanks be to God.