Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity Year C
23rd Jun 2019
Sermon for Trinity 1 (Year C)
The Healing of the Gerasine Demoniac
The casting out of demons from the man from Gerasa is dramatic for the casting of those demons into the pigs. This story reminds us of the persistence of evil in the life of the world. Our society unfortunately contains hard pockets of extreme violence and it has often revealed itself at times and in places once deemed to be local and friendly. The week marks the third anniversary of the stabbing and the gunning down of the young MP, Jo Cox, outside a public library in Birstall, West Yorkshire by a far-right extremist and psychotic.. It is a commonplace to hear people speaking informally about ‘their demons’, but the fact of the whole area of ‘mental health’ on the one hand, and the presence of severe psychological disturbance on the other, when manifested, is terribly unsettling.
In Jesus’ time, demon possession would have common place, and Jesus’ casting out of the demon-possessed man looks at first like an ordinary enough story. But it has greater significance than the one which simply establishes Jesus’ credentials as an exorcist. There was, then as now, a ready acknowledgement that dark forces were at work in the world and that they should be recognised and named. There was no apparent difference in Luke’s mind between the demon possessed man and the world held under the evil force of Emperor and Empire. Under the Romans, everyday life had become a kind of madness. God had apparently been dethroned and replaced by the Emperor. Jesus, coming from God, knows evil by name and he silences it, making its power null and void. In the words of the Psalm 65.7:
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves,
And the madness of the peoples.
Luke has borrowed Mark’s story and made plain that Christ is come to establish a new Kingdom in which the dark forces of the world, and particularly those of the oppressive Roman occupiers, are soon to be vanquished. Gedara was a town which opposed the Roman occupiers and had their people cruelly cut down. The ‘legion’ Luke mentions is the host of evil power in Man which is being vanquished by Christ. It is also of course also a Roman army company; the ‘pigs’ represented in the common mind with the roman soldiers.
In our own time we are witnessing particular transatlantic upheavals, with the influence of Donald Trump for the Americans and Brexit for we Brits. I am amazed at the way in which, two thousand years ago, there existed such a ready acknowledgement that the powers that be, the political order of the day, should be readily associated, in many of their incarnations, with mental instability and demagogic pretentions. We need to recover something of the strong mind in Luke’s Gospel which invites such a critique. This is the one which recognises the demonic kind of power which manifests itself in a rigid mind set playing on popular fear, which includes and excludes at will, and which feeds the gullible listener with what he wants to hear. The demonic thrives in the realm of its own god-like status and within its own strongly demarcated social and psychic territory. It doesn’t listen except to its own voice. It prizes its own zones of safety and acceptability above anything else. It is vainglorious.
In response to the fact of demonic possession as a means of personal and social control, Jesus heals in Gerasa - in the gentile, Decapolis region. He goes out of his way to include the one man who is most naturally excluded. Jesus reveals that God who combines unimaginable power with equally unimaginable love; a God who holds out his arms to people who never wanted him, and who never asked for him, but who faces down the self-destructive enemy. The words and works of Jesus are the clarion call to sanity and stability in a world which would tend toward the dethroning of God and the imposition of its own will. This is no better expressed than in St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13:
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
One of our former Vicars, Fr John Ball, was a paraplegic, a severely disabled man of small stature, who was loved by the Holy Cross parishoners, and whose life was fraught with difficulties and trials which were kept to himself,. He was a gifted poet and his inner life is etched out in a poem which appears on our website as a parish poem. It is not a poem designed to cheer, because it presents an astonishingly candid account of an inner life which reckons its own place within the order of good and evil, faith and despair, longing and fear…It is called ‘Orison’.
‘Orison’ literally means ‘communication with God’. In the poem, he instructs us that the Christian journey must involve traversing life’s territory as a kind of ‘holding together’ of all those things which pertain to God and to the emergence of the greater good. It is the generous and patient counterpart of the ‘disturbed person singular’. Here is the Jesus who has cast the devil into the sea whilst proclaiming the love which Father has for us all. Here is His and our own Orison, the communication of love (and sanity) from the one true source:
It is the holding together that is hard –
The resisting of the centrifugal forces
Acting on mind and heart
That break the tenuous links of thought and feeling.
And then there is the fear (which on black days
Transmutes itself into a dark seducer
Parodying hope) that the next revolution of the hand
Upon the sadly common clock
Will bring the final, the inoperable rupture,
and burst the dams of past
And future pains.
It is the holding you must help us in:
We cannot enter heaven in fragments
The gates will not allow of that.
And you must give the means to keep it
If you love us, as I fear you do.
Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity 2019
16th Jun 2019
Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
Holy Cross Church Cromer Street
The doctrine of the Trinity calls to attention to the fact that God lives in relation to Himself and to us. The three Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, ever loving each other, ever sustaining and being sustained, constantly circling and moving around each other, are three persons inseparable and mutually sustaining. The Trinity is what community looks like. Genuine community, which exists for the flourishing of all parts in relation to the whole.
Equality and co-operation lie at the heart of the Trinity, and the flourishing of human society will only come through a combination of equality and diversity, a society in which all people can give from their diversity and share the riches of the common life. The doctrine of the Trinity compels us to work for such a flourishing. This is the call to ‘search out and know’ what makes up our own society even as we are ‘searched out and known’ by God. That ‘searching and knowing’ will lead us to examine those parts of the whole which are sick and in need of healing, and for the police forces an ever more sustained and determined searching out of pockets of extremism and blind violence where they are being harbored. Knife killings have shocked us all and torn away at our natural sense of things. The hope for the Church is that we may renew our life and witness in the light of the God whose love is not coercive or dictatorial but relational and kind. This message will remain unheeded unless it is expressed in churches like this one in the maintenance of a communal life which is radically inclusive, compassionate and spiritual. We must never neglect the Christian gift nor underestimate its needfulness and significance in a pressure cooker society straining under the stress of its complexity and living, as it were without God,
Conrad Noel, known as the ‘Red’ Vicar of Thaxted in Essex was infamous for raising the red flag over his church. He had certain extreme views as a communist but was also the second son of an Earl and a rabble rouser. But he could write powerfully and sets the Holy Trinity within our very own human being:
Let us consider the Blessed Trinity as the source of our own personal lives, and of the world. Each one of us is a trinity in unity – body, mind, spirit: the disunity between these is not according to the original intention of the Triune God. The world has in it plenty of variety, but the variety is not always healthy, is often antagonistic and discordant, because it is not a variety in unity, and does not express the ‘Three in One and One in Three’. It cannot be said of the world as at present constituted that it contains no differences or inequalities, or that within it ‘none is afore or after other; none is greater or lesser than another’. We look forward to a world of infinite variety in harmony, of living unity, not of dead uniformity; if man is to create so delightful a world he must ‘thus think of the Trinity’, for it is the will of the Trine God to inspire us all to renew the world in such a way as to make it a perfect expression of his Being.
The hymn “I bind unto myself today”, better known as ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ contains is a statement of Trinitarian faith, coming out of the Celtic tradition. Its text is attributed to St Patrick, and the wonderful hymn has sweeping Gaelic cadences and is difficult to sing. Yet it has its own natural exuberance and is a song which joys in the entire created order set in within its Trinitarian context. It’s a celebration both of life and of the author of life, of God. All life has a divine source. Humans may flourish within the divinely created order in a kind of dance, which draws all together in the recognition of the one humanity. John 15 “…for cut off from me you can do nothing”. The source of this harmony lies in the Triune God, the ‘Three-in-One’ who know and love and are intimate with one other.
The mutual intimacy between the three persons of the Trinity is best captured in the classical icon by Andrei Rublev (c.1360-1430). The original title for the icon is, “Three angels at Mamre.” Early Christian writers saw the story of Abraham welcoming the three angels under the tree at Mamre (Gen 18:1-15) as the precursor to the revelation of the Trinity. It is interesting to note that though the story begins with the mention of three men, actually Abraham speaks to ‘them’ as if to the one Lord God – Yahweh. In the course of the story the number also changes again from the plural to the singular. In any case, the reference of the icon to the story of Abraham welcoming Yahweh, reminds us that our belief in the Trinity is about hospitality which calls for faith and personal sacrifice.
The second aspect to focus on in the icon is that the three figures are enclosed within a perfect circle, the centre of the circle falls where the two fingers of the central figure lay on the table. Representation of the Trinity in a circle, rather than as a triangle or the leaf of the shamrock, is very interesting. The unbroken band of a ring, without beginning or end, is the perfect symbol of the love that exists between the persons of the Trinity. In a sense, we ourselves cannot grasp the mystery of the Trinity without entering into that circle of love.
Among the three figures, our attention first falls on the figure on the right of the icon – the Holy Spirit – dressed in blue and green: the symbols of water and vegetation – the symbols of life. The inclining posture of the Holy Spirit moves our attention to the two others in the icon. That is the action of the Spirit: He directs us and draws us to the Father and the Son in a dynamic yet graceful movement.
The second figure, seated in the middle, dominates the centre of the icon. His voluminous robes – covered in royal blue – gives Him an irresistible prominence among the figures. The second person of the Trinity has His two fingers at the centre of the circle suggesting the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human. Yes, without incarnation there would be no human knowledge of the Trinity. The two fingers might also suggest the two roles of the Messiah: the priest and the king. Yet, despite his majestic posture the glance of the Son are so tenderly and intimately focussed on the Father. Christ the king is our mediator and the way to the Father.
The Father is seated in a receptive, welcoming posture, as if accepting the attention of the other two persons. However, the father is not cast in the role of an authoritative figure but as an anxious Father who waits and longs for our home coming. One cannot avoid being reminded of the father in the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:20).
At the foreground of the picture, there is an empty stool. A space that is ready to be filled. Now if you had a second look at the three persons, you might notice that somehow the three persons are also expectantly looking at that empty space. The more one sits meditatively before the icon the more one feels attracted to occupy that empty place at table and be part of the communion of and with God. This then is the depth of the mystery that we contemplate today: God, who is a communion of three persons, invites me to be part of that communion. Am I ready to take that seat? Am I ready to trust the God whose gentle and understanding agency stands against the forces of self-destruction?
Now is as good a time as any to realize these things.
Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost 2019
9th Jun 2019
Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 2.4.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit marks the Church’s real birthday, though the Church was really begun as the disciples were called at Galilee. Even so, our dramatic first reading from The Acts of the Apostles describes a signal moment among those who had followed Christ. For the moment of Pentecost was singular and devastating. The Holy Spirit had come with power and it had rested upon them. It was the power which declared God to be not only real in the lives of men and women everywhere, but whose presence and Holy Spirit was to lie at the heart of all that might be fulfilled in His Name.
This Pentecost moment had emerged out of their long Eastertide. It had been an Eastertide of waiting and of wondering and of bewilderment. Something might emerge out of all this apparent mess, but what? What is most certain among the loose band of followers was this: The teaching of Christ and the experience of the resurrection had been transformative for their lives. They now knew that what they had been given by Jesus was a living Gospel of unparalleled spiritual power. Pentecost had come to them in the giving of spiritual gifts. And the Giver was the Giver of all things, God himself. And the gift was the gift of himself as seen and known in His Son Jesus Christ and in the giving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had asked that it be sent and foretold its coming. And so it was. The original spirit of God, which had brooded over the face of the waters before the Creation had now become the life giving spirit mediated in and through the life and death of Christ. And the gift for the disciples was to be both inspirational and practical and future providing.
It is most important to the writer of the Acts of the Apostles that this is a Holy Spirit which is not wil o’ the wisp and elusive. It is a Holy Spirit which takes basic form in the life of the emerging Christian community as a gift from God in Jesus Christ. And the primary fact of this gift is three-fold:
Firstly it is a gift which calls us to think differently about the human family in the breakdown of tribal, national and language barriers. The idea of the proliferation of languages with the one singular understanding burns in our minds as the possibilities that lie inherent in the understanding of different worlds of understanding. We are here called to take on the reality of what lies before us as strange and new and embrace it wholeheartedly, for it is when we meet and greet and accept the new and the hitherto unlearned parts of our experience that we truly grow into God’s likeness.
God’s love must lead us where it wills, for the Holy Spirit and its life and operation must have us acknowledge that as a Church we do not get carried away with our own self-sufficiency. God is ever provident and the existence of the Holy Spirit reminds us that what we do we do in His name, in His Way and in His time.
Little Gidding IV
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire. T S Eliot.
Secondly, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the one which calls the Christian Church to look beyond itself and its own needs and to see the person of Christ in the eyes of the stranger, the visitor, the refugee, the homeless one, the marginalized, the gay person, the drunk, the depressed and the fatalistic. To look also to the perhaps unseen and unheeded suffering and need going on in our own midst. The Holy Spirit is holy and it is a spirit which gives inner nourishment, but its basic life is one which calls us out of ourselves and beyond the level of our normal horizons. God is to be found there : in the other. He is often called ‘The Holy Other’. In this there may come new life, for the Spirit renews us as it draws us out of ourselves, and into the place of illumination and of hope which is the presence of God and the love of God.
Unless the eye catch fire
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire
The God will not be known.
From 'Pentecost' by William Blake.
Finally, the Holy Spirit lives among us in the life of God’s Church, which is the power of God and the influence of God. This Church, in what it is and in what it manages to be for so many different kinds of people, is that place where God is known to dwell and a place of peace, the peace of God which passes all understanding and yet one which may be known and shared: that peace which may reach into and beyond the barriers of custom and boundaries set by this or that ingathered community; a tough peace, if you know what I mean… The message of Pentecost is that the Spirit of God has now entered places where doors had formerly been shut and minds closed, and where the windows of our seeing and knowing have grown opaque with wear. In the breaking down of barriers, in the love of the stranger and in the power and influence of God, The Holy Spirit is forever the living flame of God’s love for us, whomever and wherever we may be…It has come to bring all things together in the One Love; the one thing needful, the living fire in the One Livng God.
Sermon for Easter 7 2019 (Feast of the Ascension)
2nd Jun 2019
Ascension Day Sermon 2019
“The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God”.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
After the six Sundays of Easter, in which we have encountered the risen Lord with the disciples in so many ways, our observance of this Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord takes us in another direction. Actually, it takes us to another dimension – heavenward. And for The Church this heavenly dimension is a quite natural way of regarding the life of God the Creator in relation to us his creatures. This dimension is expressed most fully in John’s Gospel where Jesus’ life is the one which has come from God and goes back to God. And again for the Church, to speak of Christ is to speak of the holiness and the glory of that freedom of movement he has brought about between the heavenly and the earthly places. We have, over past weeks witnessed the trial, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the weeks following Easter we have witnessed the Christ who comes to the disciples to reassure them and point their lives and their faltering faith every forward. He provides hope in the present and the promise of glory for the future. He promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. And now he goes back to the Father as he ascends into heaven. One of the Psalms express this poetically and joyfully – (Psalm 19.1-4):
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun…
In this meeting and mixing of the heavenly and the earthly there is the hope that is held out for us in Christ. Why is a belief in heaven so much a part of Christian Faith? How are we to believe in heaven in a way that is not as has been said cynically “pie in the sky when you die”? To speak of the Ascension of Jesus is to speak of the glory which emerges out of his own self offering, which is one of humility and self-giving, even unto death. It is best expressed in the 1662 Prayer Book’s Eucharistic Rite:
O God our Heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again…
We are reminded in Ephesians 4.6 that Jesus “ascended on high and led captivity captive”. And we, who are on this earth as captives, are also as Christians those who follow where Jesus Christ has gone before. And we are promised that what emerges out of the pattern of his and our own struggle and in his life is the glory which is the hope of heaven to come. Like him we come from God and go back to God. Christianity is above all else a hopeful and heaven directed faith. Our living out of this life in the pattern and likeness of Christ is a kind of suffering unto self, but again, after the pattern of Christ’s own being, the promise made to us is to the glory which is yet to be revealed to us:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey was one who constantly proclaimed the Christian glory in terms of the life of Man to its fullest potential. He wishes that these words, from Irenaeus, a Second Century Theologian and Saint be placed on his gravestone:
The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God.
Some time ago I was in Salisbury Cathedral. It is perhaps the finest example of a complete Medieval Gothic Cathedral that we have, with its spire rising to over 400’ the tallest spire in England, and the inside the vaulting which carries you mind and heart heavenward. Heavenward not just because the vaults are high and beautiful but because they speak to the heart and the souI. The architecture is spiritual architecture. I attended Evensong at which Psalm 18 was sung “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” and I began to see the cathedral around me in a new light and even a new dimension. It was no longer just a glorious great church building but a piece of living sculpture, full of space and light, and arches and shapes which took the eye in this or that direction. And then, too, the music and the choir themselves declared further this glory of which the psalmist wrote and of the many ways in which the Glory of God may be expressed in the lives of us all. The glory of God lies all around us and the Christian is the one who has open eyes to express this same glory in all we are and in all we do for God’s sake…
And this is where we come down from heaven and into this earth. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, his coming to birth as both Man and Son of God is one complete action. It is one which gifts the glory of God to each one of us in our own lives. It is the promise of his presence and of the potential in our own existences in the promise of glory gifted to us by the One Lord Jesus Christ who has ascended to that place where God is. This is the place where we are headed, too, and there is glory in that, too.
As we give our lives more fully to God, and as we dedicate ourselves in the service of Christ, let us then declare not only in our lips but with our hearts:
“The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God”.