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.