Maranatha – 27 November, 2022

Welcome to the start of the Church’s year. For Christians, we start the year now, with the season of Advent, when we look forward to coming of the Lord. So, in today’s Gospel, we read about the Second Coming of Our Lord; the great, awe- inspiring day, when the Son of Man returns.

First things first, the heresy of the day is the heresy of the Rapture. This is an American invention that on the the Lord is going to take up all the worthy suddenly on the last day and leave the rest of humanity to rot. The elect will just disappear from view.

This is not what the Church expects. Now Our Lord spoke Aramaic and maybe Greek, but we don’t have many traces of Aramaic after two thousand years of Greek, Latin and English. The only Aramaic left are Amen and a short prayer called Maranatha — which means “Come, O Lord!” It is a prayer literally begging Christ to return ASAP! That’s all that is left, and both survive because they are deep in the faith.

Instead of praying to be raptured away and not have to face Christ’s return, the early Church prayed daily “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and Maranatha, Come O Lord. None of this rubbish about just disappearing out of view

Maranatha reflects what the early Christians saw about the return of the Lord. The end of time is not about the terrible destruction of the world, nor a sudden abandonment of it by Christians, but its restoration, its healing, its perfection. In this life, we catch only fleeting glimpses of the nature of God: in an embrace, in a joyous conversation, in a beautiful object, in a delicious meal: in these, we have shodows of what pure goodness, what pure love, or what beauty is.

But at the end of time, God, who is the actual source of all joy, all peace, all light, all love, will infuse every fibre of creation. St. John tells us that on that day there will be no light from the sun nor moon, because they will be as nothing compared to the light radiating from the face of Christ, from the throne of the Father, from the presence of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the glory of God will radiate from all things and fill the New Creation. Christians look forward to the end of time not to leave and let everyone else suffer, but for Our Lord to come and make all things new.

In today’s gospel passage, Our Lord is reminding us that not even he, nor the angels, know when God will come. Some like to think that God will come in terrible retribution with flames and violence. These people look for signs in international politics and weather patterns that God is coming to judge and destroy the world. This is the Day of the Lord, the great apocalyptic coming of God to be with the creation fully. The reason that so many doom-sayers with signs that say, “The End is Nigh,” say what they say, is because the prophets and gospel writers, even Our Lord, used language like this: great tribulation, division, floods of fire and water.

The point they are trying to make, is that when God comes to be fully wedded to creation, the existing order of things will be reversed. Instead of violence and oppression being used to secure economic and political flourishing for some, the Kingdom of God will be established so that peace and justice will walk hand-in-hand.

These reversals of the worldly ordering of life is a trademark of God’s presence and it always comes as a surprise because that kind of life, one marked with peace, justice, presence and love can be achieved in the here and now.

Our Lord, in today’s reading, is calling us to be awake and prepared for it. Our Lord is reminding us of the importance to be in a ready for God’s coming. This is part of what Advent is all about. Advent, it turns out is not, is not, a countdown of shopping days until Christmas, or a hoped-for escape to heaven to watch the suffering of the damned, but a reminder to be ready, a call to training our spirits for God’s arrival.

The Christian tradition recognizes that God has come, and will come, to be with us in three distinct ways.

The first coming of God was when God walked with us in Jesus of Nazareth. We will celebrate that coming in a few weeks at the Feast of the Incarnation, otherwise known as Christmas.

Another coming of God is the final coming which Our Lord makes mention of in today’s reading, when God and creation will be as they were meant to be, fully united. The strongest image the Bible has for this union is a marriage between God and creation and, make no mistake, heaven is coming to Earth.

The third coming of God happens between the first coming and the final coming of God, between the coming of Our Lord and the final marriage of God and creation. This coming of God is the daily visitation: God with us in our prayers, finding God in our neighbours, seeing God in those we are privileged to serve.

What we see in these three visitations is that all of them are the hoped-for Day of the Lord. Each of these visitations carries with it the reversals of the normal, worldly order but also the loving and just presence of God.

There is a telling portion of Scripture that happens when the disciples have just seen Our Lord ascend into Heaven. The disciples are looking up, dumbfounded. Finally, some angels appear and ask, “Why are you looking up, trying to find him?” The implication is, “Don’t look up to find Our Lord, look out, look in.”

Our Lord is always one step ahead, going into the city, into Galilee, into life, we are meant to seek and find him there. That’s how we stay ready for God’s coming, we daily, hourly stay on the lookout for God, not in the clouds, not in the powerful events of the world, but in the quiet, domestic ways that God visits us. God may indeed someday come in the clouds but it more than likely will come in your life.

Advent is a reminder to be awake and ready for God. This is why Advent tends to be described as preparatory, not just for the great celebration of Christmas but for the final coming of God and also for the ever-present daily visit of God with us in the here and now.

God is disruptive to our normal hard-hearted ways. Be ready, be awake because the love of God will disrupt and turn over our comfortable notions of how things ought to be. God will send us into the waters of justice, peace, presence and love. It can be disorienting, but if we have trained ourselves to be ready, then we might work with God to establish God’s Kingdom more deeply in our hurting world. Maranatha indeed!

Christ the King – 20 November

This morning we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Now in our calendar we have many special feast days. Some are very ancient – Easter and Pentecost for example which goes back to our Jewish origins. Some came in the Middle Ages, such as the Feast of the Trinity, which moved in during in the dynamic 14th C.

For a festival that is so well established now, the Feast of Christ the King has a surprisingly late origin. It was introduced by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Now festivals introduced by popes in the 20th C usually don’t become widely popular with the rest of the Christian churches so easily, specially in the first half of the 20th C when the rivalries between the churches was much more heated.

In the 1920s the world was recovering from the effects of the Great War of 1914-18. The devastating effects of that war, which saw the destruction of most of the ancient kingdoms in Europe and the tentative establishment of new countries and new democracies, which were being undermined by the uncertainties and disillusionment of the post-war years. There was a growing interest in fascism, that would lead to the establishment first of Mussolini’s regime in Italy in 1922 and his adoption of the title of El Duce in 1925. This establishment of an absolutist state would be followed by many other countries and lead to the start of World War II. In Russia, the Communists were cementing their hold on power with the death of Lenin in 1924 and the rise of Stalin.

So the 1920s was a period of political instability and yearning for new certainties. The old monarchies were gone. The new absolutism was rising.

Pope Pius wanted the new festival of Christ the King to speak to Christians about the role of Christ as our King and leader. Earthly kingdoms may rise and fall, but Christians had to remember that in all things Christ was their king.

Our King, Christ, was murdered on a Roman cross, condemned by the authoritarian regime of Caesar, still offering God’s love and compassion to another so condemned. Mocked by the empire as a so-called king, Our Lord exhibits the characteristics of a true king anointed by God. Remember what the penitent thief next to Our Lord asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Our King then gives the greatest and most valuable kingly gift of all: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The message of this feast was popular, and it has been adopted by Anglicans and some other denominations, and is now placed at the end of the church year by another pope, Paul VI, so we remember Christ as our ending and beginning, our King for all times.

However, the theology of kingship is important as well. The 20th C French theological and Cardinal, Yves Congar, who was at Vatican II Council with Paul VI, pointed out some of the implications of this in his theology. Christ as King is the model for the Church. As King and Priest he draws the Church into a teaching and sacramental union. We live in the body of Christ in the Church. The ordained ministry in particular, takes on a special role as the person of Christ in the Church. The clergy lead and teach in the place of Christ, imperfect and flawed though we may be.

However, Congar also pointed out that in the New Testament, the words priests are not applied to the early ministry. Priesthood is a reference to either the Aaronic priesthood of Judaism or the Priesthood of the Baptised.

So, the real model of priesthood and kingship is that of the Church and the world. As the Old Priesthood led the people in sacrifice, the New Priesthood of the entire baptised make the model of Our Lord’s kingship clear. It is the Baptised who make Christ’s kingship and sacrifice clear in the world. That is, is the whole church who show how Christ is King, how Christ is their leader and guide in the world.

The implication is that the Priesthood of the Church, that is the ordained ministry, is a reflection of the priesthood of the baptized in the world. The Church has as its model our Lord Jesus Christ, our King. By the gift of the Spirit, we are moved as one people to modal that love to the world: as Our Lord is King and servant of all, so the Church must also be king and servant of all.

This leaves us with two questions to ponder: how is Christ our king? How do we find that kingship in our Church? Secondly, how do we model that kingship to the world?

The kingship of Christ for each of us is a question – that question that Our Lord asked Peter and asks each of us, but who do you say that I am? That is oen we ask time and time again in our lives as our love waxes and wanes, hen we repent and try again, always heeding that question in our lives.

Our model of kingship is also important. Now this year we have also seen the death of one monarch in the form of Our Queen. Her model was one of a constitutional monarch, advising but never interfering. But each of us are called to be monarchs in our own way, with our families, with our homes, with our jobs with our resources. In the same way we are called to question how we exercise our kingship over all these gifts: is it with power, control, love servanthood? What model do we use?

Finally, remember, what we want to hear is what the penitent thief finally heard, that we too might be with our one king in paradise.

The Penultimate – 13 November

The word for today is “penultimate.” It’s from the fine old Latin word paenultimus that means “next to the last.” Not the last, that’s the ultimate, but next to that, before that. The penultimate things are not the ultimate things, but the things that are a step down from them, things come before them.

Penultimate is a great word to hear and ponder as we listen to these wonderful Biblical stories about the end of all things, about “dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” and the day of the Lord burning like an oven, and how not one stone will be left upon another. We always hear stuff like this as we get close to Advent; it’s good for us, and these saying are really all about that little word.

Let’s start with the temple in Jerusalem. In the first century, the temple was absolutely the centre of Jewish religion, history, culture, civilization, and civic pride. Here all the Jews could go. In its thousand-year history, the Temple had never been as glorious, as extensive, or as popular as it was when Our Lord and his disciples visited. Herod may be remembered as a tyrant from the Scriptures, but he was also a great builder and he had significantly rebuilt the courts around the Temple and made it a magnificent centre of Jewish worship.

Yet Our Lord was ambivalent about the Temple. At times he seems almost hostile: he drove out the money changers and the animals, causing the sacrifices to stop. The Tempe was a centre for Jews: but still a place where divisions mattered: Gentiles were separate from Jews; men from women, and priests from laity. Even God was separate: hidden away behind the curtain in the holy of holies. Our Lord continually taught about a kingdom of heaven where Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles could enter, certainly not a temple. Also, he seems to want to end the whole notion of sacrifice, that blood offering of animals can transfer our responsibility for hate.

There are two things that Our Lord predicts in the Gospel today. The first is, that the Temple would soon be completely destroyed – that not one stone would be left upon another – which is exactly that the Romans did about 35 years later, after an unsuccessful Jewish rebellion.

That’s the first thing Our Lord says. The second is more subtle: as he predicts the destruction of the temple, and the chaos that goes with it, Our Lord also says, (again quite correctly) “the end will not follow immediately.” The Temple will crumble, there will be problems, but things will go on pretty much as before. There will still be much to do. There will be people to help, and evil to resist, and prayers to say – just like before the Temple was destroyed. So, the Temple falls, but “the end will not follow immediately”.

That must have been a hard thing to hear. It was almost impossible for any Jew to imagine the destruction of the Temple. What would be even harder to imagine was the destruction of the Temple and the rest of the whole world not coming to an end right then. After all, everyone knew that the Temple was the ultimate thing, the final thing: if it went, everything else was sure to go, too.

But that was wrong. The Temple was not the ultimate thing after all, it was only one of the penultimate things, something that was next door to ultimate, maybe, but that’s all.

All of creation did not hang on it. The main thing, the one truly important and indispensable thing, is God, and what God is up to. Everything else is penultimate.

Everything else takes a back seat. Everything else can – and will – crumble to dust. Anything else can, and will, crumble to dust. The fate of creation hangs on none of them. Who God is and what God is up to: this is what abides, this is the main thing. This alone is ultimate.

It can be difficult to remember this. When the Temple actually fell, (and the world did not end) the fledgling Christian Church in Jerusalem (as well as many Jewish groups) faced a huge crisis of faith.

Many people then simply could not separate what was most important and most valuable and most immediate to them from what was most important and most valuable and most immediate to God. For many, the Temple’s fall was devastating, and seemed to prove God false. They had confused the ultimate with the penultimate.

But Our Lord left something instead of the Temple – a new way of living through his body, through his sacraments. It was a way that all people could enter, as St Paul puts it, Jew or Greek, male or female, free or slave. The Temple made distinctions: Christianity was not meant to do so. The Temple meant transferring our guilt and hate into sacrifice: the taking of bread and wine was meant to overturn sacrifice and make us a community based on love.

Now, of course we failed. But we can never forget that at the heart of our faith is our God as the victim, making it impossible for us to persevere in our prejudices.

We all also have our temples, our penultimates. We all have our own ideas of what is indispensable to creation – these may be personal things, or religious things, or social things, or cultural things, or election results, things we cannot conceive being otherwise, or doing differently, or losing – things we cannot imagine that either we or the world or God could ever live without.

But also, every now and then, we need to be reminded that these things are not quite ultimate.

It’s very important to be able to make this distinction—to be able to realize that our special concern, our pet project, our current passion, is not really the same thing as the kingdom of God, nor the will of God. This whole business of the last things, the end of the world, all of that is here to remind us that our stuff, no matter how important it may be, our stuff is not ultimate. It will all pass away. Remember that word…penultimate.

Instead, it is who God is and what God is doing, right now among us, that is of ultimate importance. Nothing else matters nearly as much, nothing else will matter for so long. The point is not to hang on tight to what we have. The point is to keep our eyes and hearts open, and our hands busy at what we need to be about.

Partly based on a sermon by Fr James Liggett. Liggett of Midland, Texas, USA.

All Saints & All Souls – 6 November, 2022

Let’s ponder grief and joy. We all know what they are and have felt them: grief at losing something or someone, joy in finding and loving.

They are opposites, but of course related. We need both to be able to tell the difference. We also cannot escape them in life, but will feel both.

In one sense this is why we organise the calendar of the Church in a particular way. Wednesday was the feast of All Souls, when we remember and pray for the dead, and also remember our grief. Today we keep, in the octave from Tuesday, the Feast of All Saints, when we remember those in heaven now.

Christians have had a long theology about these two days. In the early Church people just remembered the faithful dead as the saints. After all, saints just means holy ones, and all who have persevered in faith are holy. In the early centuries there were no Christian cemeteries, the Christians were buried with their pagan neighbours in the cemeteries, and on the days of anniversaries of the dead the relatives, pagan or Christian, would gather at the grave of a beloved and have a feast there. Pagans would pour libations to feed the soul of the dead. Christians developed the feast of the mass in memory of the departed.

But gradually, at the ending of the Roman age, people started to worry more and more about the nature of the departed. In part this reflects the growing social disruption of the age, when pagan barbarian hordes invaded and disrupted settled life. One tends to be complacent about death until one lives with the fear of sudden death from a barbarian with a large sword turning up in your backyard unexpectedly. Was everyone going straight to heaven? Even all the nasty ones? Most people were prepared to believe the obviously good go to heaven and the obviously evil go to hell; the sheep and the goats that Our Lord had talked about. But most people also realised that the vast majority of people did not fall automatically into either camp, they were the almost good and the almost bad, the middling people for whom most of us categorise ourselves, a bit of sheep and a bit of goat.

It was in this time that a change started to happen in our theology and burial practices. People wanted more assurance that they could get to heaven. Christian cemeteries sprung up to show assurance that we would all go to heaven together. Also ideas about purgatory were developed: people who had not grossly sinned could be purged of their last imperfections and find entry into heaven.

In line with this grew the two festivals of the Church, All Saints and All Souls. All Saints commemorates those we remember in heaven. They see God now. All Souls were for those we were not so sure about, those perhaps in what is called purgatory. The dates for these festivals partly reflect the dedication of early churches to All Saints, such as the Pantheon, in Rome. All Souls grew around the need to help the dead in purgatory, by saying prayers for their release and freedom from the last pains before entering heaven at the end.

However, these festivals also reflect earlier beliefs, that still shadow us in things such as Halloween, the fear of the dead, as if the dead were envious of us and seek to possess us to live again. Against these fears Holy Mother Church has long been opposed. Our Lord Jesus went down to the dead and rose again to show that the dead were not some closed evil company, but a place where even God has been. This is what we sometimes call the harrowing of the dead. Death ultimately is not a place of fear for us, for our Lord, the God of love, has been there. Do not be afraid, the dark realms can have no hold on us.

Nowadays, there is not the same obsession about the afterlife. People certainly still fear death, especially a long painful death, of that I am sure, but they don’t want to talk about it. Many just believe in oblivion, a wiping out at the end, and no life beyond. The sense that they can help the dead by prayers on All Souls has diminished. Even at the few non-church funerals I go to, all fear and grief is kept away by happy pictures and a glowing report card on their life that often hides the reality that many people are just difficult and not easy to live with. But the presentations like to show we are all going to the Good Place.

But we still need to grieve. All Souls, and the customs of Christian funerals are designed to make the reality of death clear. It hurts. We will not make such friends again. We will not know such love again. Grief is part of the human condition and needs to be dealt with. We have to learn in our lives that grief is there, so we can face the tragedy of the world and help others in need.  All Souls, with its black vestments, names of the departed and imitation coffin, are part of that process. We do not forget those whom we loved: and neither does God. These are who we continue to pray.

All Saints is the other part of that process: we grieve, but not without hope. All Saints is the joy of believing that God has a place in heaven for all that is created. Today, All Saints, we think of the endless blessed in heaven whom rejoice in the presence of God. This is what we hope for. These are who we ask their prayers to help us now. In contrast to the black of All Souls we have the white of joy and celebration, the colour of Easter and Christmas. We know that even the thief on the cross was promised paradise by Our Lord as he too died in pain. In the same way, we to, thieves and other sinners, look forward to that same paradise.

Salvation has Come – 30 October, 2022

Being in a crowd is always an experience. Everyone wants to see something, and there is a jostle and push to have a good view. At this time of the year, I remember once going to the Melbourne Cup. I joined the vast crowd in the position well away from the end, where the wealthy had the members stand. Being where I was, I did not see much – I remember only seeing the tops of the jockeys and a lot of dust as the race went by. Usually, in a crowd, there is a sense of companionship and rivalry as all strive for the best position. Yet usually, the crowd is not malicious. Children are let through to the front so they can see. There is a sense of fair go to allow all to see.

That is what is unusual in the Gospel reading this morning. Zacchaeus was a short man, yet the crowd froze him out. They used his shortness to gang up on him. The reason was because he was disliked. The crowd disliked him for his job and money. I suspect usually they did not get a chance to dislike him openly, but in a crowd they could push and shove and little disliked Zacchaeus was pushed away – no one was to blame, but no one was sorry that he was left at the back with no chance to see.

Now normally I suspect that Zacchaeus would not have bothered competing with a crowd. With his money and influence he would have arranged things otherwise to get a good view, some sort of members stand elsewhere, some window of a friend who was happy to oblige a rich and important man. This time there was no time, and Zacchaeus was left in the cold.

A man like him would usually just walk away. Yet Zacchaeus did something unusual. He climbed a tree.

Now they may have been a few catcalls to Zacchaeus that day – wealthy men don’t climb trees, and I wonder how long since Zacchaeus had climbed a tree. But Zacchaeus was desperate, so desperate that dignity did not matter. He wanted to see.

And he was seen. He was welcomed by our Lord. He was to have our Lord to his house.

I suspect that crowd was not happy. Here was this man of faith going to eat with the wealthy and hated. Maybe our Lord lost a few friends that day who thought he was not being holy enough.

Yet Zacchaeus continues to surprise people. After climbing a tree, now he gives away ill-gotten gain. It is a day of the unusual for him. He knows that this is his chance, this is his moment to put things right. He will never be a tall man, but he can be a good man. That is why he wanted to see Our Lord. He knew that his life, though comfortable, was wrong, and he knew that he would never be content. This Jesus was a chance in a lifetime to make a lifetime change. He might have been a little man, but he stood tall as he made his promises for a better life. Our Lord knew this and knew that this was the moment when a good man could be born. So, he stopped with Zacchaeus and had lunch, and a soul was saved for the kingdom. That’s how St Luke in his Gospel delights to show people: the most improbable, the most unlikely people, are all called into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Luke ends by pointing up something which is also pointed out in that passage about the Road to Emmaus. There the two travellers thought they were the hosts and Our Lord their guest, only to find that he was hosting them. Part of what the presence of Our Lord in the midst of people feels like, is just this curious inversion of perspective. At the beginning of our story here, it is Zacchaeus who seeks to see who this Jesus is, working around all the complexities of his relationship with the crowd so as to get a glimpse. But from the moment that Our Lord looks up at him, calls him by name and tells him he must spend the night in his house, it is clear that the whole relationship has been inverted. Not only is it, once again, the apparent guest who is the real host. But all along, it was Our Lord deliberately seeking out this particular person, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’s seeking of Our Lord had been real, if still embryonic; it was the seeking of someone who was tied up in a very complex pattern of desire. Perhaps the beginning of Zacchaeus being found lay in the fact that, as part of his lostness, he had had to begin to detach himself from the immediacy of crowd desire, just so as to be able to get a look at Jesus. Even that detachment, leading to his moment of unexpected vulnerability, is part of the process of his receiving the love which recreated him, is part of what being sought and found by our Lord feels like.

Now for each of us the story also applies in some way. For we too stand on the road each day as our Lord walks by. We may be the crowd, wanting to see the spectacle go by. Or we may be like Zacchaeus, desperately aware that something in our life is wrong and we need to touch the holy to change. Or we may be a bit of both, a little Zacchaeus, going down a track that gives us worldly comfort but spiritual death, and a little every one in the crowd, not too bad, not too good, not too interested.

But our Lord still walks by, seeing not the crowds but a soul in need. Our Lord still walks by; wanting to stop with those who need is most. And the crowds still grumble, because our Lord does not stay with them, but stays with those who seem the strangest choice.

When is the Lord staying with you?

Modern-Day Donatism and the Gospel – 23 October

Let me tell you today about my heresy of today, Donatism. This goes way b back to the church in North Africa in the fourth century. Between around 303-312, the Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians throughout the Empire, including North Africa, which was then Roman. During the persecution, any Christians who renounced their faith, made offerings to the Roman gods, and turned over any sacred scriptures they had were spared. Those who refused, especially those caught with Christian texts they refused to hand over, were usually killed. While many Christians resisted and were martyred, many others did not. They renounced Christianity, allowed their books to be burned, and were spared.

Now, let’s fast forward a little bit. The persecutions died down and with Diocletian’s successor, Constantine, it became a lot easier for Christians., as he became a Christian himself, the first Christian Emperor. So many of those who had denied their faith returned to the Church. But what really upset some people was that a number of clergy, who had lapsed or renounced their faith, returned to the church and were functioning again as clergy. Many Christians in North Africa did not want to allow lapsed clergy to return. They considered it offensive to the memories of those who had the courage to become martyrs. They believed that such priests might return to the Church as laymen, but not as clergy ever again. This issue split the Church and a person named Donatus became the chief spokesman for the rival church. Donatus said lapsed clergy were ineligible to perform the sacraments, and that any which they may have performed were invalid. So, for example, if you were baptized by a lapsed priest, you weren’t really baptized. They thought the impurity of the clergy somehow infected the whole Church. They wanted a pure Church, led by pure clergy, composed of pure members. The opposing Church, which became the mainstream Church, responded by saying that lapsed clergy could be restored to full authority after having performed appropriate penance. They based this on the concept of forgiveness for all. They claimed that the holiness of the Church is not based on the purity of its leaders or the purity of its members. All are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. The holiness of the Church rests entirely upon the holiness of God who graciously forgives us our sins in Jesus Christ. This became the orthodox Christian position. It was a question of what is orthodox – to be orthodox was to believe in the right dogmas, but what we call orthopraxis was right behaviours, and we all fall short there.

Now Donatists, both ancient and modern, are people who are really worried that the impurity, moral failings, and erroneous beliefs of others – or perhaps better, what they perceive as the impurity, moral failings, and erroneous beliefs of others — will somehow corrupt or infect them. It’s not just in the Church. People can become really concerned with their ideological purity, political purity, nutritional purity, moral purity, you-name-it purity these days. And this modern-day Donatism affects people of all-stripes. There are liberal Donatists and there are conservative Donatists. The incivility of our public discourse is a manifestation of this modern-day Donatism. People treat others with whom they differ not just as people who they think are wrong, but as abominations that can be abused. It’s a relentless search for orthodoxy and orthopraxis, we must not only believe in the right things we must be purer than pure in what we do.

Now, if we are concerned about the Church, we should be troubled by the ways in which Donatism is affecting it. Sadly, the Donatism in the Church often mirrors the modern-day Donatism in the broader culture. Christians simply adopt the rhetoric of the broader culture and then use it in their fights against other Christians. Name a hot-button issue and you will find a group people claiming that unless you agree with them you are corrupting the faith and the Church, and that either you should leave, or they will in search of a purer, more doctrinally correct, more liturgically correct, more politically correct, more you-name-it correct church.

It seems to be everywhere these days. It’s in our broader culture, it’s in our churches, and, God help us, it’s in our souls. It’s everywhere, perhaps, because it’s a manifestation of human sinfulness. As St Paul tells us, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It’s the sin that wants to point out the speck in our neighbour’s eye and ignore the log in our own. It is the human tendency to put ourselves in the place of God, to be the judges of good and evil, of who’s in and who’s out.

Remember, Our Lord had to deal with a similar issue in his day. The Pharisees thought that Our Lord and his followers would somehow catch evil by eating with sinners and tax collectors. But Our Lord said that you’ve got it wrong. Our Lord doesn’t get corrupted by coming into contact with sinners: rather, sinners get healed by coming into contact with him.

So, our Gospel today tells us, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” It’s the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

So, Our Lord then tells the story of the Gospel today, the Pharisee giving a progress report to God on how well he has done, and the tax collector seeing his sins and asking for mercy.

The surprise ending of the story is that the Pharisee, who gives a wonderful performance in the temple, goes home empty. He came asking nothing of God; and he goes home getting nothing from God. The tax collector, despicable fellow that he is, shows up empty-handed asking for God’s mercy; and goes home justified, that is, in right relationship with God. In other words, both were orthodox, as they were worshipping in the Temple, but only the tax collector was othopraxical, reflecting on how he acted.

Donatists always go home empty. They are so sure of their holiness and purity that they don’t think they need anything from God. Perhaps the only thing they might ask is if God could keep the tax collectors, the impure, at a safe distance so they don’t get infected.

Tax collectors and sinners paradoxically go home full. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When we come into God’s presence not trying to puff ourselves up by putting everyone else down, but with an honest and humble acknowledgment of our emptiness, God fills us with his love and forgiveness.

The Church’s answer to our Donatism then and always is the good news of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. None of us, none of us, is worthy or deserving of God’s grace and mercy. Our Anglicanism, our liberalism, our conservativism, our environmentalism, our vegetarianism, our good works, our acts of piety, our love of puppies will not get us into heaven. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Good News is that while we were yet sinners, God sent his Son Jesus Christ who through his life, death, and resurrection has made us acceptable in God’s sight and through his holiness has made us holy and acceptable in him. My purity or goodness, your purity or goodness, human purity and goodness has nothing to do with it. It is all about God’s choice, God’s good pleasure, God’s grace freely bestowed on us, through the cross of Christ by which we have received forgiveness.

This, my fellow Donatists, is good news. We have no purity or holiness apart from the grace, love, and mercy of God. Now, how we respond to this good news ought to make a difference in our lives. In gratitude for the free gift of God’s grace, we ought to lead better lives, good lives, indeed, holy lives. Now if that sounds like a paradox, it’s because it is. It is the paradox Martin Luther describes when he says we are simultaneously sinners and justified, sinful and righteous at the same time. It is the paradox that we are utterly dependent on the forgiveness and grace of God, and that we are also called to a devout and holy life. But the Church, in its wisdom, has said that the call to a holy life ought not to lead to Donatism, the tendency in flawed human beings to purge and purify, to cut others off, and to retreat into enclosed communities of the ideologically pure.

All are one in Christ Jesus our Lord: Jews, Gentiles, Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, Greens, Collingwood supporters; even modern-day Donatists. In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace that he lavishes upon all of us. My purity, your purity, the Church’s purity has nothing to do with it. And for that, we say, thanks be to God.

Based on a sermon by Fr Joseph Pagano of the College of Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa. 

Persistence – 16 October

We can all sympathise with the the persistent widow in the Gospel reading today. If you have ever had to deal with an insurance company or a government agency, or in some cases even a child’s school or a hospital or the justice system, you might know how it feels to wonder if anyone is listening or responding to your needs. Let alone being stuck on a phone waiting, waiting waiting, to get through to a real voice.

We all experience the micro-aggressions of bureaucracy, but sometimes our needs are serious and the experience of feeling unheard in the middle of an emotional or desperate situation can be devastating. There is a famous Greek myth about a man called Sisyphus: struggling to lift a heavy weight up a mountain, and just when he has thought he has reached the top, it rolls all the way back down and he is forced to start at the beginning again. More often than not, it is our persistence, our unwillingness to let things go by, our unwillingness to lose hope, that eventually leads to success.

It isn’t always comfortable to keep advocating for what we need, and of course, it would be much easier if everyone with the authority or capability to do so would help, but at the end of the day, our constant reminders, our relentlessness, make a big difference in getting the job done. Like the persistent widow in the Gospel, if we keep making our case, we may eventually get a response: even if only because the people in charge are so annoyed that they just want to get us off their backs.

History is full of people whose success can be directly attributed to their persistence. Tradition claims that Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to sell his chicken recipe 1,007 times before it was eventually picked up. More heroic figures like William Wilberforce, Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela sought justice and social change through careful, thoughtful, bold persistence. William Wilberforce tried bringing the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire for twenty years in parliament, and only succeeded a week before his death. If any of these figures had gotten tired or burnt out and had given up, which likely crossed their minds from time to time, the world would be a very different place. The pursuit of justice requires perseverance; the ability of individuals and communities to persist in seeking justice can change the world.

In the parable, the widow eventually gets what she wants even from this judge who, in his own words, had “no fear of God and no respect for anyone.” To be a widow in the ancient Near East was to be among the most vulnerable of society. As a widow, this woman would have had no advocate, no social standing upon which to plead her case. She was helpless in the deepest sense of the term. All she had was her will to persist; to not give up; to demand that someone listen to her. Sometimes, when we are most vulnerable, when we have the least to lose, we are also most likely to be bold. Despite the widow’s marginalised status in society, she exhibited great strength.

The unrighteous judge eventually does what is right, but only because this nagging woman has made him feel trapped. He does not respond out of a changed heart. Very often social change is like this, too. The present discussion about the indigenous voice in parliament is part of a long conversation about Colonialism and our responsibility about the poverty of our Aboriginal neighbours to this day. It’s just part of a long journey, another step in finding equality.

Achieving justice is sometimes easier than changing the heart of a society. There is hope in getting justice, but there’s always more work to do. We don’t know what kind of justice the widow in this parable sought, but we can imagine that whatever social circumstances led her to be treated unfairly did not immediately disappear at the judge’s ruling.

The Gospel assures us that God is not like the unrighteous judge. God does not respond to our needs only when we have pestered so much that it would be easier to just give in. The Gospel says that God will vindicate us. or bring us justice, “quickly.” So, how does God bring justice? How does God respond to our prayers? God did not settle a court case for this woman. God did not end slavery in the British Empire, blackbirding in Queensland, colonialism in India or apartheid in South Africa.

That’s our work. It’s our job to persist, to advocate for ourselves when we feel helpless; to advocate for others when they are the most vulnerable. God’s justice is much more comprehensive than what can be achieved through legislation or courts. The Gospel promises us that God will respond to our prayers much faster than the unjust systems of society. If even an unrighteous judge can be merciful in the face of a persistent woman, then how much more merciful is God who loves us and created us and knows every inch of our being?

The promises of God in Scripture are hard to grapple with. When justice in society comes so slowly and is often so limited, how can we believe that God is at work, providing us with unbounded love, mercy, and speedy vindication? Where do we see that? God’s vindication is not necessarily courtroom justice or even change in society, though God is with us in those struggles. We believe in a God who came to be with us and suffered alongside humanity. Our Lord himself experienced injustice at the hands of a government that neither feared God nor regarded man. We believe in a God who is always at work, changing hearts and minds, transforming lives, bringing the dead to life, turning the normal systems and power structures on their head. making the weak strong and the vulnerable powerful and giving resounding voice to those who have been ignored for too long. Just listen to the words of Mary in the Magnificat!

God is in the cries of the helpless. Imagine the widow in the parable going to the judge again and again to plead her case. The judge ignored her, but God was with her the whole time. God knew. God watched. God judged. God gave her courage. God gave her hope. God kept her persistent. As God can for each of us.

The hope that we have in God is not the same as the hope we have in society. Society will change; injustice will eventually end, but our hope in God is that God is with us through it all; that God hears us when we first cry out; that God’s love for us will give us the strength to persist; and that God’s justice will transform our lives and the hearts and minds of everyone in the whole world.

Contentment and Healing – 9 October

There are some awful whingers in the world. You probably have met a few as well: perhaps in the supermarket, when they carry on long and loud conversations that make you heartily glad you are not part of their family. If they are part of your family, you have my sympathy. People who feel they need to complain about everything and anything: the whinger.

Well today is a day to give thanks that Christians are not naturally whingers. Today’s gospel is all about giving thanks for what is given to us.

The ten lepers in the Gospel today all plead for healing, and Our Lord tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. In faith they turn and go, and on the way, they find themselves healed. But only one, a Samaritan, then turns back to give thanks to our Lord for the healing.

So, what’s the difference with this one. He not only finds that he is healed, but he sees it, and understands it, in other words he is converted, he gives thanks to God: he recognises God’s action in the healing. Our Lord then assures him that his faith has made him well, a slightly different word that implies saving as well as health.

The Samaritan is different in that he takes his healing to a different level – he reflects on it and is moved to give thanks. Not only is he physically changed, from a leper to a healthy person, but he is spiritually changed, he sees God in the healing and is moved to give thanks.

The other nine are still healed – but they have not spiritually changed. That is the difference.

It’s interesting that Our Lord says to the ten to go and show themselves to the priests, not priest. Is Our Lord seeing already that they are different beliefs: nine would go to the Jewish priest at the Temple and the Samaritan would go to his priest. But then consider what the Samaritan does: he does not choose his priest, but returns to Our Lord, seeing in him, his new priest. Also consider the fact of the healing of the ten. When they are all lepers they live together ignoring their differences. When healed they are restored to their religious differences: healing in the body exposes the fault lines of their religions. Yet the Samaritan is the only one who takes the healing in gratitude and gives thanks, seeing Our Lord as his new priest.

The Samaritan leper has become instead a modal of the new faith in Christ – he is filled with the grace of thankfulness of what God has done. That is why the Gospel uses a different word here from when the leprosy left him: he is not only cleansed, but also healed and saved. He has had a double healing.

This is the point about having a sense of thankfulness and grace in our lives: it makes us different. We can, at times, obtain health, but we rarely obtain thankfulness for where we are. Yet thankfulness is the secret of contentment in life.

There is a dreadful curse in our consumerism to take more and more. The greediness comes form a sense of inadequacy, a lack of contentment. We are not content within ourselves, and therefore we revert to rivalry with each other to show superiority. We therefore need the bigger car, the better house, whatever that helps who we are better. Yet we do this by discarding what we have already. We do this so easily because we do not give thanks for what we have already. We know that this system is unsustainable, yet we seem to be locked into this disease.

Obtaining a sense of thankfulness is the escape. When we find the presence of God is who we are and what we have, we find the contentment of peace. Not only that, but we also become more readily an instrument of God, able to do God’s will. We learn to be grateful for what we have and not obsessed by what we do not.

So, learning to give thanks is important, and we can teach ourselves this by prayer. One of the old simple ways of prayer that we are taught is to remember the letters ACTS: that is when we pray we should adore God in A, then confess our faults in confession in C, then give thanks to God for what we have received in T, and finally ask God in our supplications for what we need, in S. For thanking God is an important step before we can really work out what we need. If we don’t appreciate what we are given, how can we use whatever new gifts our Lord can give. Our God is a rather frugal God – he only gives his Son once for all, and tends to expect us to make good and durable use of the gifts we are given. We cannot do that, unless we appreciate them, and we can only do that by reflecting on what we have and learning to praise God for those gifts and continue to give thanks.

It’s a horrible thing to end up in life as a grumpy old thing whinging and boring our friends and family. But that’s not how God wants us to be. We need to continually learn to give thanks for all the gifts we are given, the beauty and the friends and the life and our faith in Jesus. We can do this if we remember to search and see the wonderful things the Lord has given to us every day and give thanks for those wonderful gifts.

An Act of Love – 2 October, 2022

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” This is according to G.K. Chesterton, who found Christians, including himself, did not put their faith into action. Chesterton was a great writer, perhaps best remembered today by his Father Brown stories, the original ones, not the banal tv versions. But even Chesterton would agree there was a notable exception.

Let’s think about St Francis of Assisi, the saint who launched a million birdbaths, hundreds of thousands of statues, including our one here, and the occasional service of Blessing of the Animals, who was, for Chesterton, the one Christian who actually lived the Gospel.

Francis was the son of a wealthy textile merchant and as such part of the new Italian middle class that was coming into its own. His father’s wealth and Francis’ own natural charm made the young man a leader of the youth of his town. Francis gained a rock-star like following by the early 1200’s. He remains famous today not because of his own words and actions so much as because his words and actions conformed so closely to those of Our Lord.

As a boy Francis dreamed of earning glory in battle. He had his chance at an early age when he enlisted, along with the other young men of Assisi, to fight in a feud against a neighboring city-state. Assisi lost the battle and Francis was imprisoned for a time. Defeat in battle and serious illness in prison caused Francis to turn away from his visions of glory on the battlefield.

Francis’ path toward God took a series of turns closer and closer to God, rather than an all-at-once conversion. However, the course of Francis’ life was profoundly changed by at least two formative experiences. On a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis saw a beggar outside of St. Peter’s. The Holy Spirit moved him to trade places with the beggar. Francis exchanged clothes with a beggar and then spent the day begging for alms. That experience of being poor shook Francis to the core.

Later he confronted his own fears of leprosy by hugging a leper. Leprosy was one of the great feared diseases of the Middle Ages, with no known cure. Like trading places with the beggar in Rome, hugging a leper left a deep mark on Francis. Shaped by his experiences with the beggar and the leper, he had a strong identification with the poor. Francis cut himself off from the opulent lifestyle of his father and sought out a radically simple life.

By the time of his death, the love of God had compelled Francis to accomplish much toward rebuilding the Church. He could look on thousands of lives transformed by his call for repentance and simplicity of life. His Franciscan friars travelled and preached a simple message to those who felt the church no longer reached them. Yet, Francis of Assisi was simply a man transformed by the love of God and the joy that flowed from a deep understanding of all that God has done for us.

Francis’ approach to his life of Christian service fits with Our Lord’s words to us in today’s Gospel reading which tells those who follow him that they are to serve with no thought to reward. Our Lord said, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?’ Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

So, when you come in from doing something for God, don’t expect a reward, only more work. It’s a wonder the crowds followed Our Lord at all. But what exactly is the work of God? In what way are we to serve him? We have the example of Francis, to add to that of Our Lord’s own life and ministry. Yet, how can we in our own time and place attempt to live more fully into the Gospel?

Scripture teaches that all Christians are ministers of the Good News by virtue of their baptism. Then as ministers, each of us has a wide variety of jobs to do in the kingdom of God based on the gifts God has given us. While congregations benefit from the ministry of priests and deacons, the real work of the church happens when the people in the pews live out their faith in their day to day lives. This includes many thankless tasks, showing love and mercy in even small ways and even if no one notices.

You know how thankless these tasks are because you have the same issue at home. Do you get thanked every time you do the dishes? Or mow the grass? Or wash the laundry? Or make your bed? Probably not. But permit time to pass without doing the dishes, cutting the grassing, washing the laundry, or making your bed and you are sure to hear about it. These are thankless tasks, and you take them on with no thought to getting praise for doing them.

Notice that in this Gospel reading, Our Lord tells of the servant who does what he or she is supposed to do, in response to the disciples asking for more faith. Then he tells them the parable of the mustard seed and how the tiniest amount of faith is enough to accomplish great things for God. Then he goes on to describe the thankless task of serving God his Father. It is in serving God that we find our faith strengthened.

We are not to serve others for the thanks we get. We are to serve others as serving Our Lord, because that is the life God calls us to, knowing that we will benefit more than the people we help. We will benefit in increased faith and increased love. Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to trust that he could hug a leper, though he was terribly afraid. In the process, he found the faith to work among lepers. So, again and again, his steps of faith emboldened Francis to trust God more. It is the same for us. Each step of faith strengthens our trust in God to follow even more boldly.

To come back around to G.K. Chesterton, he advised, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” That was Francis, living out a love affair with God. When we are living into the love of God, then Christianity will have been tried and not found wanting, nor will it be a series of thankless tasks.

Walking the life of faith then is not done in search of thanks or praise but is simply an act of love. Then you and I can join Francis in saying that we are merely servants doing what we were called to do. We call ourselves servants knowing that what we do, we do for love, for the one who knows us fully and loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

Based on a sermon by Bishop Frank Logue of USA. 

Michaelmas – 26 September

Let me tell you a little bit about the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, or  Michaelmas. Michaelmas has long been observed as a significant day in our history. It is one of the four quarter days, along with Lady Day, John the Baptist and Christmas, each of them linked with the course of the sun, the two equinox days and the two solstice days. Quarter days were the traditional times for paying rents and dues. There used to be a great tradition of cooking and eating a goose on Michaelmas day, as well.

Michaelmas thus marks the beginning of spring for us, when the days get longer and the nights shorter, it’s the equinox for us. Remember too, that Daylight Savings starts next Sunday, a sign of the changing season. Summer is before us. It’s fascinating that, while the observance of Michaelmas seems to have begun in Rome in the seventh century, in cold, northern Britain, there was a kind of inculturation or cultural adaptation to that British climate, going on, and Michaelmas was always a popular feast there. We took it with us here to Australia, and we have churches dedicated to him here, such as Mitcham, and our chapel here as well. For this is the changing of the season, the days of growth and abundance are before us now, and so there is a natural looking for light, consolation, and warmth. Three great themes to talk abut today.

Light, consolation and warmth; all these things are associated with angels.

First, “Light.,” for the days of light are ahead of us. Biblically, angels are associated with the presence of God; they are spiritual beings who dwell in the realms of light.

St John is the great writer about light, and there is a great contrast between light and darkness; the latter symbolises unbelief, sin, evil, death. The Archangel Michael, in the Book of Revelation, is a warrior angel, fighting against the dragon, who symbolises the Satan and all evil; in other words, all the forces of darkness: “And there was war in heaven.” That passage is the heavenly equivalent of what was happening on the Cross; Michael’s victory is the victory of Our Lord. In the fourth century, when the Church, free from persecution, began to celebrate daily morning and evening prayer, the evening service, when darkness was falling, began with the lighting of the lamps, accompanied by a prayer and hymn of thanksgiving – we still sing the hymn “Phos hilaron,” “Hail, gladdening light.” The joyful kindling of light celebrated the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness; it witnessed to the fact that Christians live in eternal day, for darkness has been banished. Angels add to this sense of the victory of light, the victory of love.

Second, “Consolation,” for the days of abundance are ahead us. In the northern world, the long days of winter were before the Church with the dark nights, when the curtains are closed so early, and the lonely evenings seem interminable. The beautiful collect for Michaelmas says, “Mercifully grant, that as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us on earth.” The Collect makes an important point. Angels are sent by God’s appointment; they are emanations of his Presence. They, as it were, watch over us, hence, the tradition of “guardian angels” in Our Lord’s teaching. They mysteriously communicate God’s presence and will to us, hence the messenger role of angels that we find in both Testaments, exemplified by Gabriel, in Luke’s Gospel, or the angel of the Lord in Matthew’s Gospel, who announce the Incarnation, the vocation of Mary, and the role of Joseph as the protector of Messiah. In Mark’s Gospel, after his temptations, angels came to minister to Jesus, while in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he wrestled with his vocation, Luke states that an angel appeared to him to strengthen him. The point is that God is present to us, and sometimes he makes himself especially present to strengthen, console or reassure us.

Third, ‘Warmth’, for hot summer is sneaking up upon us. Angels are associated with fire, especially the seraphim, mentioned in Isaiah 6 and the cherubim in Ezekiel 1. Indeed, the seraphim seem to be fiery serpents, and fire is a common symbol for theophany, the revelation of the Presence and power of God.

Indeed, the role of angels can be to bring us reassurance and warmth when spiritually we feel the cold, when we still feel the winter, or even when we reduce God to the merely rational and earthly. Angels bring a little of the warmth of heaven to our cold earth.

We should never have any difficulty in believing that God’s creation is infinitely greater than anything we can conceive, and that his creation is multi-dimensional. There are invisible realities that we do not see, hear, or perceive in the normal round of life. But sometimes, we catch a glimpse, we hear a fragment. The great hymn we will use as the processional at 10 am is Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones catch some of the poetry and majesty of angels. I always love that hymn, with the line “Raise the glad stain, alleluia!.” It was written by a wealthy Anglo-Catholic with the grand name of Athelstan Riley, whose wonderful house near Kensington Place had a private oratory decorated by Charles Kempe, who was a great stained glass maker as well, and whose pupil was Charles Tute, who migrated to Australia and lived for a while in Adelaide, and made the great west windows here, replete with the angels, especially Michael on the left, fighting Satan, censing in heaven, and holding the scales of judgment, and on the right, Gabriel. One of those little connections that help bind history together.

So today, the angels elbow their way into our worship through hymnody. The ministry of angels merges into that of the risen presence of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. All these things speak to us of a God who is not remote and absent from us, but engaged in our lives and in our world; heaven and earth are close to each other; the invisible mingles with the visible, the spiritual with the material, and if we can’t grasp that in St George’s, we never will.

Lord, give eyes to see and ears to listen, and as we turn towards summer, even as the cold still makes us shiver, may the angels of Our Lord bring us light, consolation and warmth. And if you are cooking a goose this week, enjoy!

Eulogy for the Queen – 19 September

Like most of you, I suspect, you have been swamped by images and stories of our late Queen over the last week. Photos, endless documentaries, and then the coverage of the movement of her coffin from Balmoral to the great Hall of Westminster, that ancient building over 900 hundred years old. Tonight, we are looking forward to another fest.

One of the most touching images for me, and for many people it seems, has been seeing the video of the Queen with Paddington Bear for the recent Jubilee. It has appeared time and time again, and I think it tells a good story of Paddington Bear going to tea at the Palace.

There are only three characters in the clip, and we can discard the role of the footman for now, although he did play the stiff upper lip so well when the cream went everywhere, including his face. Then there is our Queen, and then Paddington Bear. Think about it though, our Queen is a real person, playing herself in an imaginary situation, of having tea and marmalade sandwiches, with an imaginary character, Paddington. Now Paddington Bear is from most of our childhoods, a refugee bear that never ages. In contrast, the Queen filmed this in the last year of her life, in her 90s, and had considerably aged from my memories of her in my youth. Paddington never ages, but the Queen did.

This touches on one of the great yearnings of all people: the yearning for constancy and stability. Christians believe this yearning is hard-wired into us: we worship a God who is eternal and never changing, ever-loving. As we are made in that image we too yearn for that same ever-loving stability, we yearn for a constant love and stability, a timelessness that will only exist outside our world.

For here in this world, we are subject to the whims of time, yesterday has past and is unalterable, tomorrow is unknown, and now we are subject to change and decay.

But at the same time, we yearn for that constancy. When we see it we identify with it and see in it something of the divine.

So it has been with our late Queen. For seventy years she has been a factor in our lives, always there. Yet more than that, always constant. She has ruled over changes and tempests, a steady constant voice of authority and concern that has marked her reign. Not for her public tantrums and fights that mar so much of our ruling elite, but a devotion to duty that was constant and never ending. Constant, but aging, we all knew her.

Her yearly Christmas messages, which were here reflections on the year past, were also a Christian message each year, taking the chances and tribulations of the year, and giving it a constancy by seeing the presence of faith that she declared in her public witness, year in and out.

She may have aged over the years, but like Paddington Bear, her messages remained timeless.

Yet Paddington Bear is ageless and constant as well.

Now, you may think it strange that I take Paddington Bear as part of the image of God. But God is not shy on using the smallest and most humble thing to teach his message. After all, God used a humble poor girl called Mary to bring his own Son into the world. God is also not shy in offering his love and presence in all our lives.

With our Queen he also did that. She was one of the greatest in the world – but not because she featured in the newspapers every day because of her fights or dramas, but because she was the same. Slightly dowdy maybe, but dependable and constant, greeting person, after person, with a sure smile and concern that would bore most of us to death. She did this out of loyalty to her belief in her role as queen and the strength of her faith. I could tell you a lot more about her faith, but I am reminded of one comment by a bishop who preached for her, the former bishop of London Richard Chartres in a very good article about her faith in the Spectator, was that the best advice he received about preaching for her was that she didn’t Mind high church or low church, but she did like short church. Advice that I will take.

Therefore, when she met the immortal Paddington Bear, she touched the symbol of constant love and the presence of God in that sense of duty and love that never wavered.

At the end of that meeting, after Paddington had drunken all the tea, stood on the cream cake, and offered a marmalade sandwich too here, to only find that she, too, kept one for after in her ever-present handbag, Paddington said a simple thing, thank you for everything. That simple statement is what we all year for in many ways. A thank you for being constant, a thank you for giving love, a thank you for being something constant and good in our lives over seventy years.

And she replied, that’s very kind.

The Shrewd Steward Confusion – 18 September

Sometimes, we get the lovely easy parables in the Gospel. Other times we get the hard difficult ones, and today is one of those days, with what is called the Parable of the Shrewd Steward.

The Parable of the Shrewd Steward takes the cake for being one of the most confusing and difficult to understand parable of Our Lord.

Even St Luke seems to have difficulty with it. This is clearly seen by his tagging onto it four different and contradictory endings. Each of those punchline-endings completely changes the story.

Let’s start dealing with this parable by thinking, what did Our Lord mean by this story when he told it? Keep in mind that this is a parable where a dishonest steward defrauds his master and gets commended! In the end, he comes out on top! Is Our Lord telling us to emulate this man? What kind of lesson would that be?

Let’s start by remembering that Our Lord’s world was agrarian, quite alien to our post-industrial society. What is important in that world is the mastery over the lands and its products.

Let’s break down the characters from the parable of this Gospel.

Consider: if Our Lord was telling this story about a “rich man” primarily to a poverty-stricken Galilean peasant audience, what do you think would be their reaction? Peasant villagers would understand this greedy man, one who refuses to be a patron and share his surplus, to be a shameful villain. He belongs among the urban elite. Whenever you see “rich man” in your Bible, scratch it out and write in “greedy man.” “Rich” in the Bible, or anywhere in the ancient Mediterranean, evokes a social code. The “rich” are those who stand against the interests of peasants.

Then we have the Stewart. A steward manages the agricultural production of the greedy master’s property. Stewards belonged to the retainer class. They had massive responsibilities and were constantly being scrutinized. To be a steward was a dangerous occupation in the ancient world, debtors and tenants could destroy you with gossip and slander.

Despite the troubles endured by all stewards in their difficult employ, don’t expect any sympathy for them from Our Lord’s peasant audience. After all, stewards represented the greedy city-dwelling elites who stole their ancestral lands via debt foreclosure. In the world of the Bible, a man’s representative is to be seen as the man himself. So, it’s likely that Our Lord’s peasant hearers would think negatively about this character as well.

Then we have the debtors in this story, who cannot be peasants.  A hundred jugs of olive oil and a hundred containers of wheat implies vast olive groves and fields. The average peasant plot was between one and six acres. The cumulative debt of these people would be that of an entire village!

Who were the debtors, then? They were wealthy peasants or merchants, people detested by poor peasants. Here also don’t expect any sympathy for the debtors by Our Lord’s peasant audience.

Now, let’s think about the parable.

The steward is fired on the spot and commanded to give a full accounting. However, he’s not fined or thrown into prison, which could have happened. In a way, the greedy landowner has acted mercifully toward this miserable steward.

Nevertheless, the situation is still dire, and the steward grapples with what to do. So, cleverly, he concocts a plan.

Shrewdly, the steward summons all his master’s debtors, “one by one.” He inquires about their enormous debts. Then he cancels huge portions of what they owe. In effect, he is giving away his former master’s wealth. This dishonesty and fraud is coupled with the reality that his position of management has been removed!

On discovering this, what does his master do? Does he have this wretch seized and thrown into prison? Does he murder him on the spot for this theft and malfeasance? No! Rather, the landowner commends the steward for his prudent actions.

Why would the Master do such a crazy thing? And why would Our Lord tell this story? What does it all mean?

Let’s put aside the four different endings that come after this parable here, which don’t really help. They instead suggest, “You followers of Jesus are not as bright as other people,” and imply that followers of Our Lord should behave as the Steward did. What is this about about “eternal dwellings”? Can you win “eternal life” by cheating your employer? In what way are we to be like the Shrewd Steward? The next just doesn’t seem to seem to work well either with being faithful with what belongs to another, which the Stewart doesn’t seem to be doing. Then finally we have, “No slave can serve two masters.”

Many commentaries on the Parable of the Shrewd Steward claim that the focus is on his prudence which saves him. But Our Lord came to preach good news to poor people. What sense would it make to tell starving peasant audiences, “I want you all to be prudent!” Would they celebrate that advice as being Good News?

Let’s think about the Steward again. Recall that the master is informed of his steward’s mismanagement. But was he actually doing mismanaging? The story is silent here. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but whatever the case, it’s irrelevant, and if you understood the role played by the cultural values of honour and shame, you will see why.

Imagine that the public complaint brought to the master about the steward was a wicked lie. Let’s say this steward was really a loyal and faithful servant, always honest with his master and responsible with his affairs. Who cares? All that matters is there has been a public complaint that generated great shame. The public sees the stain of shame, that is what matters. The rumour mill and the gossip network matter more in the world of the Bible than any dispassionate investigation.

It’s not the steward who is on trial – it is his master! Consider: if this elite landowner has someone under his roof whom he has no control over, what becomes of his reputation, his honour? He will be seen as a fool, a laughingstock! Therefore, this humiliation challenges and threatens his social standing.

The key matter to this parable never was the doom of the steward but how the master needs to save his honour. The master’s family would be utterly destroyed should he lose his honour in this scandal.

Public comment says that the master has been dishonoured by his steward’s actions. Shame or dishonour is a public reality. The correction or remedy must likewise be public. The public knows of and is commenting on the dishonour of the master. Therefore, the steward can only right things in an equally public manner. Otherwise, the master’s honour cannot be saved.

The steward wisely ensures that everyone, everywhere, will praise his master. He does this by cancelling the enormous debts owed to his master. In doing so, the entire social dynamic of the parable is reversed. Not only is the master’s honour restored, but it has also been improved. Now the rich master will be seen and proclaimed as being a generous patron.

Understanding this explains why the master commends his steward. He has received a treasure far more valuable than any lost wealth. Please understand: if the master refused this arrangement, and attempted to reverse the cancelled debt by destroying his servant, this would bring against his house unforgettable shame! So, he is completely trapped by his steward.

But being backed into a corner is a small price to pay for the riches of honour the master is reaping! While his servant really did give away his wealth, he nonetheless rescued his far more valuable reputation. Well done, good and faithful steward!

This story is not about being clever, or prudent, or being quick-witted, or decisive in action. Rather, this is a story about cancelling debts.

Consider the celebrations what such debt relief would cause! Not only the master’s reputation saved, but he will be celebrated as benevolent patron. Not only the steward and his family saved, but the debtors will know it was the steward who had arranged their forgiveness, and they will be his propaganda-machines. And in turn the village tenants who pay rent to them and live beneath subsistence level, this year at least, will live equal to subsistence or even above it.

Here is where the peasant audience of Our Lord would find Good News worth celebrating. This parable is about cancelling debts, some very good news to poor Galilean peasants. Think of the honour brought about by such debt-forgiveness and the celebrations at all social levels because of it.

Think of the Our Father and its petitions:

Give us this day our daily bread.

Remember, forgive us our sins as we forgive others also means Cancel our debts as we cancel our debtors.

We pray these lines, petitions that bleed the very starvation realities of Galilean peasants. What Good News is there telling a person starving to death, “Be smart! Be prudent! Think quickly! Act now!” But for a peasant’s debts to be cancelled so as to also cancel debts to those who owe him, surely, this must be very Good News indeed!

Perhaps the Parable of the Shrewd Steward should rather be called “the Parable of the Merciful Master,” because in it we learn of a greedy man capable of cancelling debts. If a wicked, greedy, elite can cancel debts, what about the Patron God of Israel? Thus, every peasant hearing Our Lord can likewise afford to cancel the debts owed to them. Finally, it asks us, how we can cancel our debts as well, so others may rejoice.

The Death of the Queen – 11 September, 2022

Today we come together in grief as we remember the life Our Queen.

Not many of us here can ever remember a time before she was part of our lives, or the time of her father, the King Emperor, George VI. Even titles like that seem these days to be almost mythical, from a vanished age.

For myself, I have been moved greatly by her Christmas messages over the years. Her messages were always wonderful sermons, that never failed to mention her Christian faith. They touched on her year and the life she led, but like a good Christian she then reflected on how her faith inspired her and gave her the strength to carry on her hard and public life.

One of her quotes from these speeches I particularly like:

“Some cultures believe a long life brings wisdom. I’d like to think so. Perhaps, part of that wisdom is to recognize some of life’s baffling paradoxes such as the way human beings have a huge propensity for good, and yet a capacity for evil.

Even the power of faith which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice can fall victim to tribalism. But through the many changes I have seen over the years: faith, family, and friendship have been not only a constant for me, but a source of personal comfort and reassurance.”

The Gospel passages today reflect on a life of faith as well. The images of a shepherd seeking a lost sheep and a woman seeking a lost coin, are both images of Christ seeking out those who are lost in the world. They are images of a God who seeks those in need, and does not stand aloof from our lives and our wanderings.

In the same way our late Queen was one who, though distant and aloof in the trappings of monarchy, found ways to reach ordinary people to show her concerns about how we lived, and for myself most notably in these Christmas addresses over the year. She looked after the found sheep and the found coins, but she also encouraged the endless charities that seek the lost sheep and lost coins in this world.

One of the important things we do in prayer, especially at the end of the day, is to take our experiences of the day before our God so that our Good Lord can take them and offer them in his life. Giving our day to the Lord is giving our day a purpose and hope. We do not dodge the burden or troubles, but let the Good Lord take them and transform them by prayer with his love.

In the same way we heard in those annual address by the Queen, how she took the experience of the year, and found in faith a way of finding God’s purpose there. It was so beautifully Anglican and British – never the great dramas, just a solid and sensible reflection how God had helped her.

It was very much the seeking of the lost sheep or lost coin – by taking the risk of seeking out that which was lost, we find God with those in need. That, after all, drives our charitable purposes, to give to those in need, as the Queen and the Royal family have been patrons of countless charities to help those in need. There is no earthy reason why a monarch should look for those who are lost or in need, just a heavenly reason to be like Our Lord who seeks the lost sheep and the lost coin.

We worship a God who does not change, whose love and care for us never diminishes. We live in a world that changes rapidly, very rapidly at times, so that many struggle to deal with new moralities, new technologies, new gender classifications; sometimes not very well at times. As the Queen put it:

“None of us can slow the passage of time; and while we often focus on all that has changed in the intervening years, much remains unchanged, including the Gospel of Christ and his teachings.”

Our lives change, but God remains a constant in our lives. That’s one of the reasons we come here, to find again the constant never altering love of God for us. At times, most times I hope, we are the ninety-nine sheep who stay behind or the nine coins that are treasured, who know the constant never ending love of God for us. But we pray for the lost sheep and lost coin. At times, when we are the lost sheep and the lost coin, we then know that Our Lord is seeking us and trying to bring us back to his care.

The last two years with the pandemic we have had a deeply disturbing times with lives disrupted by lockdowns and restrictions. It has not been easy. Here at St George’s, we have daily taken these worries to the altar of prayer, asking for God’s help. The Queen put it this way in her Christmas address:

“While Covid again means we can’t celebrate quite as we may have wished, we can still enjoy the many happy traditions. Be it the singing of carols (as long as the tune is well known); decorating the tree; giving and receiving presents; or watching a favourite film where we already know the ending, it’s no surprise that families so often treasure their Christmas routines. We see our own children and their families embrace the roles, traditions and values that mean so much to us, as these are passed from one generation to the next, sometimes being updated for changing times. I see it in my own family, and it is a source of great happiness.”

“The Bible tells how a star appeared in the sky, its light guiding the shepherds and wise men to the scene of Jesus’s birth. Let the light of Christmas — the spirit of selflessness, love and above all hope — guide us in the times ahead.”

An era has ended with her death. The second Elizabethan Age saw prosperity and peace since the end of World War II. We were blessed to have lived in those times. We were blessed to have had a good and faithful Queen, who was a woman of faith. We will pray for her soul, and we will pray for our new King, Charles, and all who have the burden of government that they may rule in wisdom.

Finally, as we grieve, we remember her own words:

“Grief is the price we pay for love.”

Dedication Festival – 4 September, 2022

Often when I, as a priest, enter a church, I think of all those clergy who have been here before me. Our parish, St George’s, is only some 119 years old, but has been blessed with many great priests, the most notable being our Fr Wise, who for forty years taught the faith, fought the bishop, so much so that Bishop Nutter Thomas would not even step inside our church it was so tainted with Catholicism. It’s a standard I try to keep up.

Besides those whose ministry here was to be your priest, there were countless others who came, served, or visited. Some preached and touched people. Others may have made you snooze. The ghosts of preachers past populate any church.

Then consider all those who have sat in the pews over the years. You may see here ghosts around, some of you may still think of that particular seat over there being Mrs So-and-sos, or dear What-ever, who prayed there for many years. Yet there are many more timid ghosts, those who snuck in over the years, maybe hiding away at the back, who came and went and never could make a full commitment yet still yearned and sought God in this house.

For this Church is a house of God. It is a witness to the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a holy place that has called to the world around it to find God and follow that call. It is the place where so many have come into and prayed over the last century.

Churches are built on the foundations of hope with their spires touching heaven. The hopes of people that there is more than the world, that they can find God in the confusion of life around. This hope touches us through life, with the incessant calling that cannot be ignored. Some may ignore it. Some may pervert it into ways that attempt to satisfy cravings. Others may follow that hope and find, in faith, the love that does fulfill all. When faith is found to fill that hope, we find that we do touch heaven. That is the Church.

For Churches mean two things, as you know. A church is a building and a people who are the body of Christ. They are reflective meanings – the building reflects the faith of the people, and the people create the building to show their faith. Buildings that so often are filled with beauty to show our love of God in the mystery of worship. Our hope is that through this teaching of the love of holiness, faith would be shown to others who would find the fulfilment of their yearning in this way. That people could come here, regularly hopefully, or even flitting in now and then, find God here and touch heaven. All the ghosts who have come into the Church, who we pray, that they may be now in the courts of heaven.

Yet we are not a place that lives only with ghosts – we are a Church that stands and marches into the future. We have tried to teach and show a faith that would provide a future and not bound into the past.

Now that may sound surprising in a Church like ours that is so bound into Catholic tradition. Tradition at its best is the inheritance of the past, the living voice of how others have reached God. It advises us and provides and an example of how God has shown love to our ancestors in faith. We worship God in this particular way because the ghosts of the past have found that this is a way that God speaks.

So, what is it that makes us Anglicans in the Catholic tradition today? We can say it is a love of tradition, a love of worship and a hundred other ways of saying how we have lived the faith in Christ. The one I like best is that is a realisation that there are holy things in the world. That God lives and sanctifies the things around us if we open our spiritual eyes. Being Catholic is the calling to look beyond what we are to the incredible richness of God working around us and asking to work in us. It is the appreciation that holiness exists and can be recognised. It is a boldness to take the holy into a world of poverty outside.

That is why we find a church such an important place. It is not a place that can be a throne of God one moment and a cup of tea dispensary the next. This is where we find holy things. This is where me meet God. This is where past, present, and future meet in the sacrament of the altar. This is where the ghosts still whisper in the pews of devotion past as we await the end of time. It is a place where we search for our completeness, our fulfilment with Christ. It is a place that we use to convert others, by showing them the holiness and love of God.

Buildings and people reflect each other: each is church. What we do here should be our way of evangelising for the future, showing others the love of God, and the glimpse of holiness. Our buildings and people should be a sign to the community of the presence of God.

However, there is another celebration today, for today is the feast day of the translation of St Cuthbert, which I admit, is not a well-known feast day. Let me tell you about Cuthbert, Abbot of the Holy Island Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria, England. He was a famous missionary and died there near the island in 687. However, before his death, he warned his community that in the event of the calamity that they should fall under the rule of infidels, they should depart and take his mortal remains. Eventually, the Vikings did come, so after the pillage of their monastery the good monks took his remains and left in 875, nearly a hundred years after his death. They then wandered to several sites, avoiding Vikings and then Danes, before reaching Durham another hundred years later, in 995. Those of you who have been there know the great Cathedral, dominating the town and river below, and they started building that church so that finally his remains were buried there, in new robes and a wooden coffin, on this very day in 999. At the Reformation his shrine was destroyed but the body remained, and the tomb was opened again in 1827 and he was placed in a new coffin. Some fragments of that coffin were taken later to London, to a new church there, St Cuthbert’s, Philbeach Gardens, just next to Earls Court. One of the wardens there later was Thomas Lyon, the brother-in-law of our Fr Wise, and the builder of this Church. Lyon was the architect of this building. You can see a memorial to Lyon in the floor of the baptistry. Somehow, a fragment of that coffin and a thread of Cuthbert then came to us and is inside the altar here, entombed, as we call it, in the altar.

So, when in this place, we give thanks for the love of God that has been given. Here, we say prayers for ghosts of the past, those faithful and not so faithful, who have sought here a place of love and forgiveness. Here, we remember also our saint, Cuthbert, a ghost of this earth and a saint in heaven, who abides with us now. Here in this place priests have tried to teach the faith and live the life that is a mirror of Christ. Here in this place, we continue to seek the holy in a world that rushes by with no time for the present and no hope for the future. Here in this place, we find the strength, the courage, and the boldness to go outside and proclaim again that we are not afraid, that we believe in the love of God, and we will take the risk to show it to those around. Here in this place, we give thanks for the presence of God that still converts and blesses. This place has many years of the past, but we look with eager longing to our eternity together.

Augustine – 28 August, 2022

Today, as well as being the 12 Sunday after Pentecost, which is a remarkably boring name, is also the feast of St Augustine of Hippo. I am going to talk about him today, because he is one of the giants of theology.

First things first, I must tell you who he is not. There is a second St Augustine, this one of Canterbury, after whom the church at Unley is dedicated. This was the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and by extension that of the Anglican Church. Our Augustine this morning lived earlier and died at the very end of the Roman era, in 430, in the long vanished Roman North Africa, now Algeria, at the city called Hippo, which has nothing to do with hippopotamuses or hippopotami. We also call him Au-gustine or Aug-ustine, and the name Auston comes from that as well.

Our Augustine was born in 354 in that province of Africa and spent his childhood there with a Christian mother Monica and a pagan father Patricius. His mother also was recognised as a saint, and we have a window dedicated to her at the back of the church. He was from what we would call a middle-class family probably from the native Berbers of that area, although his family were Roman citizens and spoke Latin as a first language. He never mastered Greek though, then a requirement for education, as his Greek teacher was a brute who beat students regularly. He taught in Cathage, before moving to Rome, and finally taking a position in Milan. Milan at that time was the most important city in the Empire, because it was the seat of the Emperor.

It was at Milan he met a brilliant bishop called Ambrose and he returned to the faith, being baptised there. He moved back to Africa, and was ordained at Hippo and became the bishop there till his death. He died while the Vandals were besieging the city at the end of Roman rule.

Now, we remember him still because of his great and extensive writings. He was a famous preacher in his time, preaching around 6,000 to 10,000 sermons; however, there are only around 500 sermons that we have today. When Augustine preached his sermons, they were recorded by stenographers. Some of his sermons would last over one hour and he would preach multiple times throughout a given week.

As well as this he wrote, and wrote extensively. We have more material written by Augustine than any other Roman author. He wrote an autobiography that is telling in its frankness and unusual for the Roman period called the Confessions. His major work was called the City of God. This was in response to the fall of Rome and its sack by the barbarians. The old pagans argued that this was a punishment from the gods – Rome had been safe before it was Christian, but the abandonment of the old gods had led to the punishment of the city.

Augustine looked at Rome and its history and noted that it was always a city founded on force and evil. When the pagan gods were worshipped it was not a better city by any means. He instead looked at the problem from a different view. He saw that we are always citizens of two cities. One is our earthly city, Rome or wherever, even Adelaide for us. That city is always imperfect, always dealing with our baser desires. But we as Christians are also members of a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, the city at the end of time. That is our final citizenship.

Augustine’s most important thought was on what we call the atonement. This is the question on why Our Lord had to die for us. Why could he not just have been a teacher, like the Buddha, wandering around and telling parables. Instead, he made it quite clear that he would be killed and would rise again and return to his Father. Why did this have to happen?

Augustine developed the idea that humanity was bound into evil by its actions: we have what we call original sin, a tendency to sin no matter what we try. We cannot change our evil attitudes by our own efforts. However, By Christ dying and rising for us, and then ascending into heaven, he joins his divine nature with ours, and takes our nature with his death through to his resurrection and by his ascension shows God accepting our new nature. Augustine developed the idea that Our Lord’s death was not only redeeming us from evil, but it was a satisfaction for the evil we had done. We had sinned and broken God’s commandments, and only the death of the Son could provide a satisfaction for that trespass. This became one of the defining ideas of Western theology.

H was also a great writer. Phrases of his words still infuse our liturgy. One of my favourites is:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace., and now I hunger and thirst. You did touch me, and I burned for your peace.

Another few short ones:

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”

“If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

“And people go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

I hope today that you have learnt a little about one of the greatest thinkers of the Church. Saints like Augustine still inspire us by their writings some sixteen centuries later. This is one of the gifts of tradition. Tradition is not the dead past, but the advice of those who have gone before to help us live better lives now. Saints like Augustine help us to think and ponder the great gift of faith and what the love of Our Lord means. We can never underestimate that great gift of love, and Augustine helps us to see that love.

Power and Control – 21 August

In today’s Gospel we deal with one of the central themes of the Gospels: the nature of Our Lord’s authority. This is a struggle here that is seen between the leader of the synagogue and Our Lord, but we will see this conflict over authority over and over again, with the local religious leaders, with the powers in Jerusalem, and finally, and fatally, with the Roman authorities, most notably Pilate. Conflict is about power and control, and in fact, a great deal of most human activity involves power and control in one way or another.

The Gospel’s central issue focuses on the application of Sabbath rules – specifically whether it is forbidden to heal on the seventh day, the day of rest. Actually, ancient Sabbath restrictions did not include a ban on all work. For example, the giving of sacrifice in the Temple was work, but that was allowed, and also acting to save human life was another permitted exception. We might wonder about this detail: whether the compassionate act of Our Lord healing the woman with a crippling spirit could have been understood as an acceptable form of work.

Nevertheless, such a technicality is not the essential point of this encounter between Our Lord and religious authority. Rather, it is about power and control. It is really about the way the leader of the synagogue tried to use Sabbath rules to discredit Our Lord, regardless of the good he had done. He made a power move over and against Our Lord, as he indignantly and repeatedly insisted that Our Lord was wrong in not waiting for another day to cure the woman.

Understandably, the synagogue leader may have felt threated that he might lose control of his congregation and would probably be left with diminished power as a result. He ignored the benefit to the woman and employed a literal, self-serving interpretation of the law in an attempt to control Our Lord and protect his own institution. This, of course, foreshadows grievous, even deadly, uses of power for control, demonstrated by the persecution of early Christians described in the Book of Acts.

Today’s gospel clearly reveals the tendency for humans to resort to methods of power and control to achieve what they want or feel they need.

Furthermore, a review of church history reveals many instances of power and control – sometimes in tragic detail. Group after group attempted to use ritualistic and legalistic power to gain control. This took place between the Church of the West and the Orthodox Church of the East. It erupted in bloody wars between Protestants and Catholics. It continued in the verbal and political fights of Anglicans that even last week has resulted in a new splinter group in Australia.

There is a natural tendency for us to maintain control of familiar institutions that support our priorities.

Admittedly, the use of power and control is not always bad. It can be an important self-protective mechanism when we are in harm’s way or a way to produce justice and defend the helpless. Despite the fact that power can be used for good in other ways, we are called to resist negative use of power for control and rather to look to the model of Our Lord for direction.

Today’s tendency to centre so much of our lives on power and control – especially in selfish ways – is as dangerous a trend as in any era. Sadly, we seldom dare to admit this truth within and among us. We repress it, cover it up, hide from it, ignore it, and sometimes are simply unaware that it is a part of what drives us.

For Christians, the bottom line about power and control is best understood in this way: its negative use, like that of the leader of the synagogue, is a function of power over and against. Whenever we use power over others in the absence of love, the action leaves us separated from God and the values of God. It denies access to God-given-ness within each of us. The leader of the synagogue attempted to preserve his own power and control of the community by using the power of his authority and a literal expression of Sabbath law to dishonour and weaken Our Lord and control those present so they would not follow a rival.

But the Gospel story also provides an example of the better way to use power. Today we witness Our Lord acting out of compassion for the plight of the crippled woman and employing for her benefit the greatest power in the universe, the power of love. He used that power for, not against, not to control, but to help and heal and give life. Our Lord used his power – the power of the Holy Spirit – the power of compassionate love – to heal the woman. This is the Our Lord about whom St Paul wrote in Philippians as the human Lord who did not misuse the power of God, did not exploit it with selfish purposes, but humbled himself in obedience to God – giving himself away, even unto death on a cross.

He drew a circle large enough so it would not exclude anyone or seek power against anyone. He used the power of love to unlock the God within each of us, a power through which we can follow him in giving ourselves away and caring for others.

Our Church is facing a crisis for its future, that makes us want to even more use what power we have to support and uphold it. Perhaps we are becoming like the leader of the synagogue, trying to keep the rules and ignoring the use of power to give life. These are not easy questions. But what we have seen as the church in the past is dying, and we cannot hold to rules and ignore the signs of God’s love and power around us.

To each of us here today the Gospel challenges us to consider how much we have invested in rules and ignored the love and power of God coming to us in unexpected ways.

Obituary for a Fool – 31 July, 2022

Obituaries are more than death notices, obituaries are about the life, not just the death of someone. The death is the occasion, but it’s usually reported in just one sentence, maybe with a detail: a disease, a condition, a struggle, an accident, and an age. We make the comments: so young; a long life; so sudden; a shock.

Of course, when we know the person, there’s more emotion as we read the details: the birthplace, activities, schools attended, occupations, associations, and the list of those closest who are bereaved. “She is survived by her loving…” – “Survived.” That’s obituary-speak that softens the phrase’s meaning, “outlived by,” and hints at our hope that the life of the deceased will be lived out by the memories, commitments, or family of those left behind.

But written about a stranger, a celebrity, or a public figure, an obituary is a summary of a life that we already know a little about. Obituary writers collect facts, write drafts, and file them away, waiting for the when and the how. When the time comes, as it will, details are updated. Maybe an agent or spokesperson makes a statement. The death releases the facts of the life into view.

We read the obituary of someone we’ve admired, and we may feel appreciation, maybe sorrow. For someone unknown to us, but impactful, we may feel like we’re getting an answer to a question we didn’t know we had—oh, that’s who . . . In the case of the infamous, we may feel a rekindling of aversion or anger. The most engaging obituaries can entertain or instruct. Some function like a window; others like a mirror.

In today’s Gospel, we read an obituary of sorts. It’s a parable, that Our Lord puts it before us. Do we see through it to some truth? Do we see ourselves? Some of both?

“Mr. Rich Man died last night of unspecified causes. Known as very fortunate, some neighbours even called him blessed because his land produced abundantly. Mr Rich Man made plans to build bigger storage facilities for the wealth produced by his land, but he died before building could commence. No spokesperson could be reached for comment, but God, in a written statement, called him a Fool.”

In the parable, God talks to the man. “You fool,” God says. “Your life isn’t your own, and neither is all that stuff. You poor fool.” The fact of the death releases the details, shows them for all to see. The rich man’s wealth wasn’t his, a fact his death makes clear. Just when he was trying to expand his tight grip on what he thought belonged to him, death loosened it, permanently.

But the rich man isn’t the first person to have his plans interrupted by death. Why call him a fool?

It’s not because he’s wealthy. At least, that’s not stated in the parable, and in Our Lord’s time, it was the same as in ours: money is a tool. Money funds, builds, clothes, and feeds. Money builds hospitals, helps the homeless, teaches our children, supports the arts, feeds the hungry. Our Lord depended on the money of others, especially the women, to support him and his disciples. Our Lord praised the woman who poured expensive perfume on him, preparing him, he said, for his death. Our Lord was buried by a rich man who placed him in his own tomb. In the Book of Acts, a mark of Christian community is not communal poverty, but communal wealth, where through people’s sharing with one another, everyone has enough. The fool’s foolishness is not that he is rich.

But let’s be realistic: wealth can also divide, distract, lure, occupy, and possess. So, Jesus gives the rich fool’s obituary this introduction: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” The word is “pleonezia,” literally “much-having,” the having of a lot and wanting more than one’s share, the seeking to possess a whole lot of anything, because in seeking more and more, in the greedy quest for “much-having” there will never be enough, and we know the unjust lengths to which people will go to do that. We can spend our lives building bigger and bigger barns and using others in their construction. When we die, our obituary can report we left behind a whole lot of earthly power and prestige and storage units full of stuff, but we can still be impoverished toward God.

Rich toward God or poor toward God. Before we think that’s just a quaint way to describe how we and God have a relationship, or how we’re missing out on something that would improve our lives, biblical literature seems to take the idea of a godly banking system very seriously.

If we think that treasures and saving them have only to do with accumulating things, money, whatever, for ourselves, we’re missing our most important savings option. If we think that treasure and how we accumulate it have only to do with our time on earth, we ignore a whole realm of possibilities for genuine wealth. There’s a whole other banking arrangement, a whole other treasury where riches can be stored and accumulated. We all have access to it. It accepts deposits of all kinds. Also, it’s insured by God.

Our Lord himself advocates this savings plan and tells us its benefits extend beyond this life: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).

The fool looked rich, but he was putting all his investments in a plan that was critically short-sighted. It was the vanity of vanities.

Fool. He missed what was going on right before his eyes. His land was producing abundantly. There he was, living on the fat of the land, and all he could think about was “I,” “me,” “mine.” Not, a thanks! Not, what can I learn from this? Could this be replicated? And certainly not, how can I share?

Fool. Even in this life, his major goal was shallow: his own ease, enjoyment, the passing pleasures of food and drink. And he didn’t even get that.

Fool. The man is the only person who inhabits his universe, or so he believes. The man can only talk about himself and to himself. In his obituary, no one else is mentioned. But of course, there were others in his life. Who planted, pruned, and harvested? Who laboured, toiled and sweated?

What is it like to be the child of this man? The wife of this man? Did he have time for them?

Fool. All those things: whose will they be? Has he left a will that just guarantees that a family that already has more than enough will continue to have more than enough? Rich Man, Jr. will continue to live an over-stuffed, over-indulged life, with nothing saved in the bank account that actually matters? Couldn’t this at least be a time when he thought beyond those with his own last name, those left to carry on some pathetic and passing legacy? Fool.

How we use things, giving thanks for everything entrusted into our care, sharing what we have, caring for others, not just by warm feelings, but by using our things and money, gives us a wealth that uses no physical storage space, does not need to be worried about, managed, or guarded. Those riches will be there when we arrive in heaven. Being rich toward God won’t end when someone writes our obituary and people remember with fondness or contempt and turn the page.

Based on a sermon by the Rev’d Dr Amy Richter of Pasadena and Cormack in Newfoundland, Canada. 

The Lord’s Prayer – 24 July 2022

We have some great readings today. I love the first reading particularly, Abraham haggling with the Lord over Sodom and Gomorrah. He gets it all the way down to a promise that if ten righteous people can be found, the towns would be saved. Well, we know that ten aren’t so it’s curtains for Sodom and Gomorrah. I would love to go into this story in more detail, as it’s fascinating, and there is a rabbinic tradition even that Abraham should have pushed harder and even gone for a lower number, but that’s another story. The basis for this is also used for the famous Orthodox icon of the Trinity, a copy of which I have on the lectern at the back of the church today.

But today we also deal with the Lord’s Prayer, the Pater Noster, in St Luke’s version. Nothing is more central to our prayer life than the Lord’s Prayer. It’s usually the first prayer we ever memorise, and it is used in all our times of need, from baptisms to deaths. I’ve said it with families with the last rites, I’ve said it at baptisms, I say it several times a day with the offices and mass.

However, the version we all know is from the Gospel according to St Matthew. The reason for that is St Matthew became the definitive Gospel version for Christians early in our history, which is another interesting story for another time.

One of the most important parts of the prayer is the need to forgive: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. The ability to forgive is the core of our faith. At the heart of the mass, the words of institution that the priest says every mass, Our Lord says “this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness of sins lies at the heart of the mass.

Sometimes it is said that modern people have lost their sense of sin. But this is a mistake. It has shifted. There is a whole new way of understanding sin. In fact, the many young people have a very high moral idealism. There is a deep sense of the equality of all women and men. Prejudice against people on the grounds of their colour or their sexual orientation is abhorred. There is an acute sense of the damage we are doing to the environment and of the horror of sexual abuse. It is all very idealistic. But this idealism can be crushing. Also, so much is permitted. How can we hear these ideals if there is no forgiveness for all our failures? Paradoxically, when practically everything is permitted, practically nothing is forgiven.

For our world is unforgiving. A single mistake, one moment of madness. will stay on the record forever. Social media forgets nothing. YouTube will record your failures forever. We are even tainted by any association with the wrong doings of our ancestors. Statues are torn down; schools and buildings and roads are renamed, former heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi are denounced as villains. The heroes that I was taught about as a child, Captain Cook and colonisation has a very different interpretation today. That may be a good thing. But the the modern world wants us to be pure, untainted, uncontaminated. This is the purity spiral. People work harder and harder to disassociate themselves from the impure, the offensive. So, people are weighed down with the failure to achieve moral perfection, and often have no conception of forgiveness. And the authority of the Church to preach forgiveness is profoundly compromised by the sexual abuse crisis. Who are we to tell other people that sins must be forgiven! How dare we?

But we are Christians, and the heart of our message is that we are a people who fail, and seek forgiveness. That’s why before communion, we say, Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. The message of our God is not that we are perfect, but that forgiveness is offered. That does not mean forgetfulness, but it means facing our sins, and learning that God’s love still shines. It’s not that you can say: “Oh, I am awfully sorry that l murdered the the archbishop” and then I tell you, “Oh, we all get carried away. Let’s forget it.” Forgiving means something very different. After all, the cross was a barren, sterile and meaningless act of destruction. But on Easter Sunday, Jesus met Mary Magdalene in a garden. This was God’s irrepressible springtime. The dead wood of the cross flowered. In that moment, everything is forgiven. We do not need to forget. Our Lord still died, but he rose, and we remember that death and resurrection each time we come to the mass.

Sometimes the spring of forgiveness takes a long time to arrive. One cannot force it. We pray every day. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” but we cannot demand of other people that they forgive. That would be another form of abuse. When people are lost in the wilderness of hurt, they must be given time for forgiveness to emerge. The wounds of decades, even centuries, cannot be healed at our command. any more than can our wounded bodies. Think how long your body took to recover from your last operation. Think of the time that will be needed before the Ukrainian people will be able even to begin to contemplate the forgiveness of those who are even now bringing about their appalling suffering.

Forgiveness is inseparable from patience. So, becoming forgiving people is not about being forgetful. It is opening the door for God’s creative grace. It is inseparable from learning to talk to the other person who has hurt you. So that the desert of hurt be touched by spring of understanding.

We share our faith by the way we live, and the way we live as Christians means learning about forgiveness. We believe that Our Lord gives himself to us in the sacrament so that we can become his body, but this is only done by the forgiveness of sins. We say before communion “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, but we conclude we “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us your peace,” because that is the goal of forgiveness. Not a forgetfulness, but a forgiveness that acknowledges our sins and mistakes, but finds the healing power of peace and forgiveness. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

 Based partly on a reflection by Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Sermon given by the Rev’d Dr Joan Riley, for Catholic Renewal Sunday, St George’s Goodwood, 17 July, 2022

It is my privilege to address you on this significant event of Catholic Renewal Sunday. I must say that being with you here at St George’s presents me with an opportunity to reconnect with the foundations of my faith and vocation. It is in the context of Anglo-Catholic liturgy and worship that I recovered an encounter with God that happened long ago when I was a child in the Roman Catholic Church. Being a child, I was not aware that God was calling me to know him more deeply and serve in the church. However, being in a Roman Catholic church was not going to lead me far in a priestly vocational way, and as we all know, God’s time is the right time. Therefore, it was in an Anglican church, two decades later that I heard God’s call, reaching through the deep sacramental traditions of Eucharist and benediction with the blessed sacrament, through morning and evening prayer, and in the giving myself over to the power of something far greater than my will.

And so being in this church today is like a homecoming for me, and I thank you for having me here.

I must say upon reading the profound words of John Keble in his sermon on National Apostasy I was drawn back to the lectures I studied myself as an ordination candidate in Anglican Studies at St Barnabas College in the early 2000s. Slowly this stuff was coming back – the Tractarians, the great movement originating in Oxford which transformed worship across the World Wide Anglican Communion and shaped the way mainstream churches conduct services to this day, especially the central place of the Eucharist. I remember myself as a student longing for the resurgence of something like the Oxford Movement to nurture my faith and vocation, to feed my soul with the substance it is longing for.

On first reading, Keble’s text from the First Book of Samuel might seem an unlikely choice of scripture to provoke him to speak in a way which contributed to the beginning of such a significant movement in church and theology. While the precedents for the movement in Oxford were already built, indeed the Caroline divines of the seventeenth century, grafted onto the teachings of Richard Hooker from the previous century, had prepared the way for the Oxford scholars to restore the church as catholic and reformed, colourful, and deeply devotional. It was hearing the sermon Keble preached in St Mary’s Church, Oxford on 14 July 1833 that inspired John Henry Newman to later remark in his Apologia pro vita sua that “I have ever considered and kept that day, as the start of the religious movement of 1833.”

That movement was of course the Oxford Movement. Keble’s sermon was intended to address issues of indifference in the church and disbelief in Christian faith. These issues, Keble saw, were undermining the integrity of public life and it was from the Old Testament that the lessons on teaching the faith could be drawn. The reading from 1 Samuel we’ve read today is an example of an Old Testament text which provides a model for godly action in public life. Keble and others like him perceived the dangers of a declining significance of the church in the public space. In his sermon he dug deeply into the apathetic religious spirit of the nineteenth century. He addressed the political situation and took issue with the passing of the recent Irish Church Bill and separation of the Church of Ireland from the Church of England.

Keble made clear that within the Old Testament texts such as this one that God was dealing with the disobedience of nations, whereas in a Christian context God is dealing with individual souls. This changes the orientation of the text. Many times, have I heard people complain that the Old Testament has nothing to do with Jesus and with us, that it is violent, and we should cease reading it in church – especially in a church which is desperate to claim new members. At times like this I am drawn to recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s teachings on cheap grace. When the church in our time in many places seems to be on its knees, how tempting it is to give in, to cheapen the value of scripture and sacrament, shield people from the sharp edges of discipleship just to get them in the door.

Even more tempting is it to sanitise our faith as we continue to journey through the pandemic which has afflicted the global human population for the last two and a half years and through which the church has taken a huge hit.

The individual Christian soul nonetheless has a corporate responsibility that extends beyond personal obedience in faith to God. There are similarities now in our very own context with the issues of nineteenth century England. There are always similarities between eras which makes scripture so enduring, relevant in every age and to every people. Keble draws our attention to the demands of the Old Testament, set out clearly here in 1 Samuel chapter 12, extending its original influence, that Christian conscience expects a civil response. At one time the Christian voice mattered in public affairs. Now, it seems in the public sphere the bishops are asked for a brief comment at Easter and Christmas, or they are in the media spotlight for some scandal or another, to continue to be called to public account for the crimes of those who have abused their sacred office.

Samuel hears the cries of the people who fear what they have done in misplacing the Lord God for a human king, even a king from the number of their enemies. They long for salvation. Theirs is public sin, from which Keble draws the notion in his own era of National Apostasy, the title of his sermon. Keble considers his own Christian nation which is made up of individual Christians who have tired of the demands of discipleship which have rested upon them since baptism. They longed for freedom from the regulations of devotion and moral restraint. They replaced God with other things as primary importance, making king to them the things which accounted as idolatry. They had forgotten there was a King of kings and that they may expect divine retribution.

Keble challenged his hearers to consider their own nation as alienated from God and Christ, and what were the personal responsibilities of recognising this condition. The same may be said to us today – to what extent do we hold responsibility for the failure of civic authority to serve the people to achieve their best interests? Perhaps it is much easier to say, there is nothing we can do to change anything. We are powerless to change things. What can the church do anyway? No one listens to the church anymore. What can we be expected to do?

Everyone of us is affected by the current and sudden economic changes. We all pay much, much more for everyday items than we did a few months ago. Fuel, fresh fruit and vegetables, grocery items are just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. People are going hungry and when they can eat, they cannot afford nutritious food. House prices are absurd. I live in Para Hills, which is a quite ordinary suburb with a range of mostly ordinary homes built in the 1960s. The current selling price of homes way exceeds what they are worth and the outcome of escalating interest rates for those who have been forced to pay such prices is yet to come. No doubt we all could name the same stories from our various suburbs. Vacancies in rental properties in Adelaide is the lowest in Australia which has opened the way for unscrupulous landlords to hike up rent prices. Energy and utilities prices have escalated. As Christians this ought to disturb us. Social welfare agencies cannot keep up with the surge of homeless people – and this winter is very cold.

The public voice of our leaders, bishops and ministers, upholding the poor and disenfranchised has been very hard to hear through the clamour of agenda driven media, subdued and inward focussed.

In the nineteenth century the corresponding issues in public affairs which drove Keble to deliver his powerful sermon led to the Oxford Movement. The movement was a theological response. The text from Samuel provides the context, and it was Keble’s leading verse: “Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and right way.” (1 Sam 12.23) The scholars who led this movement devoted themselves in prayer, concerned to recover and model holiness of life, to recover traditions of worship and liturgy which had become dormant. Clergy in the movement were led to the streets in the poorest of areas when bishops refused to pay them. This was the fieldwork of Anglo-Catholic clergy and faithful followers of Christ. Their actions among the poor influenced social policy in England and around the world.

And so today in this church on a Sunday devoted to Catholic Renewal we recall that the movement which began in Oxford in 1833 continues to provide opportunity for reconnection with the deep things of our faith, spiritually and outwardly in practice. In a modern context we see the Catholicity of the movement as both traditional and inclusive of all people, claiming the beauty and sanctity of the sacraments and alignment with the poor and outcast. Faithful people must look outward and take up their Christian responsibility to pray for the failures of a nation, challenge and be challenged, make changes when they can, and seek opportunities to teach the faith. The movement is alive. The Catholic response calls it into the public space to feed new generations who long to connect to God and come alive in Spirit and soul.

Go and Do Likewise – 10 July, 2022

This year we are looking at the the Gospel according to St Luke, and he has some wonderful unique passages, such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of Dives and Lazarus, and today, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Interestingly, two weeks ago we had the passage about the Samaritan Village not receiving Our Lord, yet here we have one of the most positive stories about any Samaritan.

Now there are two ways of looking at the parable. In earlier times, this was one of the most popular allegorical parables. One of the early of the Church theologians, a man called Origen, who died around 253, wrote about it as an allegory from an earlier source, so this tradition goes way back. In this interpretation, an allegory, all the figures stand for some other figure. So, it can be read in this way:

The man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is Adam — the first man, and representative of humanity.  He leaves Jerusalem — interpreted as Paradise — when he falls into sin. He then travels through the dangers of the fallen world (represented by Jericho), beset by demons — who also represent sin and human passions — and is overcome by them. The priest and Levite and symbols of the old Law and prophets. The one who stops, the Samaritan, is Our Lord. Jesus treats the man’s wounds — the effects of sin — by pouring on oil and wine, which are interpreted as the New Testament and the mercy of God. Our Lord brings the man to the inn, which represents the Church, and the innkeeper the clerics and teachers of the Church. In the morning the Samaritan leaves and promises to return. The morning is interpreted as the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and his promise to return is seen as the Last Judgment, when people will be recompensed according to their deeds. It’s used in icons in this way, and I have put a print of that icon on the lectern at the back of the church if you ware interested.

But we are not so fond of allegory in this age, so let’s look at at how we can understand it. It’s important to start by looking at the question, the lawyer asks what must he do to inherit eternal life. Note that it is to inherit. This is the fault – he sees eternal life as something that is given to him as his right, not as a gift. We inherit by who we are, as a child for instance, not as a gift. The very question shows his lack of understanding.

So, Our Lord tells this story. A man was going down the road. The man was attacked and left half dead. The priest goes by and does nothing. The Levite goes by and does nothing. The Samaritan is the one who helps.

Now, our sympathies are naturally with the Samaritan and against the priest and Levite. We think what rotters they must have been to go by and do nothing. Yet we forget one point – what they were doing was right in terms of their Law. For priests and Levites were associated with the temple, and they had extra obligations of purity. If they went and helped this half-dead man, they would become ritually impure. That meant that they would not be able to go into the Temple. Which meant they would not be able to serve God. So, what they did was right, according to the Law. They kept themselves clean by not touching the man, so they could serve God. The point of the parable is that not only did they not do anything: but they didn’t have to. It like inheriting, it’s a right, not anything extra.

Our Lord is making the point to the lawyer who asked him the question, who is my neighbour, by not only saying it was someone who felt compassion on a stranger, but so much compassion that they stop, take care of him, take him to an inn and pay for his accommodation. Our Lord contrasts it with those who were following the law. Loving a neighbour means more than just having a duty to do something, but feeling pity. It means inconvenience, stopping a journey, or not doing one’s work – it means giving up time and money to help. It means doing more than we are requested, it means doing extra where it is not expected. The Samaritan did this – he did not worry if the person was Jewish or Samaritan, he just helped out. He did not have to – the person, on the main road from Jerusalem was certainly not a fellow Samaritan. Yet he did so out of compassion. The priest and Levite obeyed the rules and did right in a legal sense, but were morally wrong by ignoring the plight of this man.

Then you start to think of how we fare. For the same command of loving your neighbour applies to us, if we are to follow. That means giving more than we have to, giving in compassion to help those in need that are really no concern to us at all, except that Our Lord seems to think that anyone in need is a neighbour. Sometimes I think about all the names of the memorials around this church. Some I don’t know, some I know very well. Yet excepting the cats on the memorial by the hall (Carol, Bobs and Twopenny), each name is about a soul of some person, a soul that struggled with life trying to find God and follow the command to love God, and love their neighbours. Every one of them was challenged in life by helping someone else. They are now in God’s hands. Some of the stories I know are where that soul made a difference because that person saw God in one’s neighbour and made an extra effort. That was God acting. They were the Church Militant, as we call the Church in the world, which we are now, fighting and struggling to make sense of it by loving Our Lord.

We don’t get eternal life by inheritance. That’s not how it works. We get eternal life by having pity, by seeing each person as a child of God, equally beloved.

The parable today is relevant whenever we face a situation where we don’t have to help. Whenever you see something, or are involved with something, where you see an injustice, or where you can see you can help, but you know you don’t have to, or can just remain silent, then you are on the road from Jerusalem. Whenever you don’t volunteer, or remain silent, as you are entitled, then join the priest and the Levite. Don’t say this doesn’t happen, for challenges like this happen to us all. The parable is for all of us who do just enough, but not enough to show love.

Dedication Festival at St Mark’s Fitzroy – 3 July, 2022

Often when I enter a church, I often, as a priest, think of all those clergy who have been here before me. My parish, St George’s Goodwood, which is only some 119 years old, so definitely lagging behind your 169 years, has been blessed with many great priests, the most notable being a Fr Wise, who for forty years taught the faith, fighting with the bishop so much that the bishop would not even step inside the church it was so tainted with Catholicism, so I try to keep myself up to their standard. I was so proud when I came to Fr Stuart’s induction here some years ago that one of our Evangelical fellow priests had to process out of the church at the end so his ears would not be contaminated by such dreadful catholic devotion of the Angelus.

Besides those whose ministry here was to be your priest, there were countless others who came, served, or visited. Some preached and touched people. Others may have made you snooze. The ghosts of preachers past populate any church.

Then consider all those who have sat in the pews over the years. You may see here ghosts around, some of you may still think of that particular seat over there being Mrs So-and-sos, or dear What-ever, who prayed there for many years. Yet there are many more timid ghosts, those who snuck in over the years, maybe hiding away at the back, who came and went and never could make a full commitment yet still yearned and sought God in this house.

For this Church is a house of God. It is a witness to the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a holy place that has called to the world around it to find God and follow that call. It is the place where so many have come into and prayed over the last century.

Churches are built on the foundations of hope with their spires touching heaven. The hopes of people that there is more than the world, that they can find God in the confusion of life around. This hope touches us through life, with the incessant calling that cannot be ignored. Some may ignore it. Some may pervert it into ways that attempt to satisfy cravings. Others may follow that hope and find in faith the love that does fulfil all. When faith is found to fill that hope we find that we do touch heaven. That is the Church.

For Churches mean two things, as you know. A church is a building and a people who are the body of Christ. They are reflective meanings – the building reflects the faith of the people and the people create the building to show their faith. Buildings that so often are filled with beauty to show our love of God in the mystery of worship. Our hope is that through this teaching of the love of holiness, faith would be shown to others who would find the fulfilment of their yearning in this way. That people could come here, regularly hopefully, or even flitting in now and then, find God here and touch heaven. All the ghosts who have come into the Church, who we pray, that they may be now in the courts of heaven.

Yet we are not a place that lives only with ghosts – we are a Church that stands and marches into the future. We have tried to teach and show a faith that would provide a future and not bound into the past.

Now that may sound surprising in a Church like ours that is so bound into Catholic tradition. Tradition at its best is the inheritance of the past, the living voice of how others have reached God. It advises us and provides and an example of how God has shown love to our ancestors in faith. We worship God in this particular way because the ghosts of the past have found that this is a way that God speaks.

So, what is it that makes us Anglicans in the Catholic tradition today? We can say it is a love of tradition, a love of worship and a hundred other ways of saying how we have lived the faith in Christ. The one I like best is that is a realisation that there are holy things in the world. That God lives and sanctifies the things around us if we open our spiritual eyes. Being Catholic is the calling to look beyond what we are to the incredible richness of God working around us and asking to work in us. It is the appreciation that holiness exists and can be recognised. It is a boldness to take the holy into a world of poverty outside.

That is why we find a church such an important place. It is not a place that can be a throne of God one moment and a cup of tea dispensary the next. This is where we find holy things. This is where me meet God. This is where past, present, and future meet in the sacrament of the altar. This is where the ghosts still whisper in the pews of devotion past as we await the end of time. It is a place where we search for our completeness, our fulfilment with Christ. It is a place that we use to convert others, by showing them the holiness and love of God.

Buildings and people reflect each other: each is church. What we do here should be our way of evangelising for the future, showing others the love of God, and the glimpse of holiness. Our buildings and people should be a sign to the community of the presence of God.

Let me tell you a story of my church, St George’s. Every two years or so, we take part in history month in Adelaide. For us that means we have the church open and a display of part of our considerable collection of vestments around the church. A few years ago, it was the last day, and it was getting dark, and it was cold and wet, and it was about fifteen minutes to go before I could shut up the church and go home to the Rectory and warm myself up. My church is a very cold church in winter, and it was winter, and I did want to go home. Then, sure enough, in those last minutes, a lady came in accompanied by an older woman on a frame, daughter and mother. They wanted to look around, and of course I lied and said it was no bother. So, they slowly went around, and they seemed to enjoy it, and eventually they thanked me and departed. And I went home and warmed myself up.

Then, several months later, at an early morning midweek mass, which is never well attended, this unknown woman came. After the mass she said to me, “you don’t remember me.” She was right. Then she explained she was the daughter who had come in to see the church that late cold afternoon those months before. She told me that her mother had so enjoyed the visit and had been so struck with the beauty of what she say that she had talked about that evening so vividly, the visit had meant so much to her.

Then, that night, her mother died.

The daughter had come that morning to thank me, to thank this church, for making her mother’s last day so special, and giving her mother the presence of God before she died.

Places matter.

So, here in this place, we give thanks for the love of God that has been given. Here, we say prayers for ghosts of the past, those faithful and not so faithful, who have sought here a place of love and forgiveness. Here in this place priests have tried to teach the faith and live the life that is a mirror of Christ. Here in this place, we continue to seek the holy in a world that rushes by with no time for the present and no hope for the future. Here in this place, we find the strength, the courage, and the boldness to go outside and proclaim again that we are not afraid, that we believe in the love of God, and we will take the risk to show it to those around. Here in this place, we give thanks for the presence of God that still converts and blesses. This place has many years of the past, but we look with eager longing to our eternity together.

Preached at St Mark’s Fitzroy

The Way – 26 June, 2022

In one way, every journey is a quest. At least, that’s what story tellers like to say. It doesn’t matter if you are King Arthur in search of the Holy Grail, Burke and Wills in search of the inland sea, or Dorothy just trying to get home form the Land of Oz. If our lives, from birth to death, from ignorance to wisdom, from exile to return, can be described as a journey, then we are also on a quest, and no quest is easy. Every time we set out on a journey, we will face trials and tribulations. These may come in the form of a dragon, or desert instead of seas, or flying monkeys and witches, but by confronting these challenges, we will be transformed. We will not be the same people we were when we set out on the journey.

Our Gospel lesson for today comes from the beginning of what scholars call Luke’s Travel Narrative. It is the story of Our Lord’s journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, a movement from the north to the south. It is a journey from the life he knew in Galilee to the death he will experience in Jerusalem. It is a story in which Our Lord will be transformed from a prophet into the crucified Messiah, and Our Lord’s followers will be transformed from bystanders into disciples. On the journey to Jerusalem, we explore the mystery at the very heart of the Christian faith, the mystery of who we are called to be and what we are called to do. It is a quest.

The early Christians used to refer to themselves as “The Way.” St Luke, our Gospel writer, is actually the first person to record this name for the early Christian movement. It seems that by calling themselves “The Way,” the early Church was saying something important about who they were. This was not a static and settled community. They did not refer to themselves as “The Immovable Fortress of Faith” or “The Mighty Temple of the Lord,” rather, they referred to themselves as “The Way.” That is a name for a group of people who see themselves on the move, who find their true identities on the journey, who discover their deepest and truest lives as they follow Christ on his way of self-giving love; and this journey, like all journeys, will mean facing trials and tribulations. There will be risks and there will be conflict. But there is also a promise. The promise that on the journey we will be transformed. The promise that in losing our lives, our lives will be saved. The promise that on “The Way,” we will find new and abundant life. St Luke tells us, “When the day drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” and some of his disciples followed him on “the way.” It has been one of the great gifts of Vatican II to redefine the Church as the pilgrim people of God, to catch that idea of movement.

The first episode of this journey occurs in Samaria. It is a fascinating story that we might think of as a bit of First-Century, Middle-Eastern Road Rage. Our Lord and his disciples are traveling through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. Now, that Our Lord chose a route through Samaria is itself an interesting detail, because Jews and Samaritans did not like each other. Like so many Middle Eastern neighbours, then and now, they had a centuries-long conflict going. One of the flashpoints had been the destruction of the Samaritan Temple around 128 BC by the Jewish ruler, John Hyrcanus, because he saw it as an unholy rival to the true temple in Jerusalem. A sure-fire way to get a group of people to really hate you is to destroy their place of worship! In fact, the dislike between Jews and Samaritans was so bad that in Our Lord’s day, many Jews avoided travelling through Samaria altogether. They would take a long detour around the whole country. There was sort of an unofficial travel advisory saying it was unsafe for Jews to travel through Samaria. Then, as now, there are just some places in the world where it is not safe to go.

But Our Lord does not take the detour around Samaria. He resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem, and he begins traveling south on the road through Samaria. Not surprisingly, because he is on his way to Jerusalem, the site of the hated Temple of the Jews, he is not welcome. St Luke tells us that they “did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”

At this point, his disciples, James and John, become enraged. They are travelling along, and the Samaritans basically tell them to get lost, and they completely lose their temper. True to their nickname, “the Sons of Thunder,” they turn to Jesus, veins bulging and hearts pounding, and say, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Now, this is some serious First-Century, Middle-Eastern Road Rage. A village does not welcome them on their way to Jerusalem and the disciples want to call down fire from heaven! They are very much in the model of Elijah in the Old Testament.

Sometimes, we may wonder where Our Lord found these disciples! For goodness’ sake, they honestly asked Our Lord, the Prince of Peace, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Of course, Our Lord says, “no” to the disciples’ request for violence and vengeance. In fact, he says “no” in the strongest possible terms. St Luke tells us that Our Lord “rebuked” them. In the Greek text, the verb “to rebuke” is what Our Lord does when he encounters demons. In the disciples’ request for vengeance, in their request to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Our Lord sees something demonic, and he rebukes them.

In some ancient versions of the Gospel there is even an addition that Our Lord says to them, that the Son of God came not to destroy the lives of people but to save them. We also know that Our Lord will later also tell in Luke that most telling of parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the very people who do not accept him now. Our Lord is not going to go for a massacre; Our Lord is not going to identify those at the village with the prophets of Baal that Elijah so happily put to the sword.

No more vengeance. No more First-Century, Middle-Eastern Road Rage. The way of discipleship, the way of being a follower of Christ is not to be the way of hatred and revenge. Traveling with Our Lord, on the road to Jerusalem, the disciples learn a deep truth about the Christian life: no more hate; no more retaliation; and, definitely, no more fire from heaven. Our Lord had taught his disciples to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, to pray for those who mistreat him. In fact, Our Lord had taught James and John, those sons of thunder, these very lessons in the Sermon on the Plain before they had begun their journey through Samaria. And yet, we know there is a big difference between understanding the words and living the truth of the words. Travelling with Our Lord, on their journey to Jerusalem, the disciples learn the hard truth of loving their enemy.

It is easy to say, but hard to do. It was hard to do then, and it is hard to do now. But we are called to follow a Lord who did not call down fire from heaven on his enemies. We are called to follow a teacher who told us to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who spitefully use us. We are called to follow Christ on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, where he did not curse his enemies, but rather prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

The Christian life is a journey, a pilgrimage to God. It is a journey in which we discover our deepest and truest lives, the truth of who we are called to be and how we are to live together in this world. On the road to Jerusalem, following Our Lord on his way of self-giving love, the first disciples learned that they must die to the old ways of anger and hatred, and rise to the new life of forgiveness and love. This may not have seemed like a realistic way for first-century Jews traveling through Samaria to live. It may not seem like a realistic way to live in our present-day world, either. Yet, it may be our only realistic hope for the future.

For you see, it’s not God who needs to change, but we need to change if we are to travel along our Way to God. That’s how we follow him. That’s our quest.

Based on a sermon by Fr Joseph S. Pagano of Pasadena and Cormack in Newfoundland, Canada. 

Corpus Christi, 19 June, 2022.

Some sixteen hundred years ago a Bishop of Jerusalem called Cyril addressed some converts, about the Sacrament of Communion that they were to receive for the first time. He said, “When you come up to receive, make your left hand a throne for the right. For it is about to receive a king. Cup your palm and so receive the Body of Christ, then answer ‘amen.’ Take care not to lose part of it; such a loss would be like a mutilation of your own body. Why, if you had been given gold dust, would you not take the utmost care to hold it fast. Not letting a grain slip through your fingers, lest you be so much the poorer.”

Sixteen centuries later, we gather here to do, what the Christians of Jerusalem did, and what the Apostles did in the upper room three centuries before that. On this special feast called Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, we shall do what the Lord commanded, take and eat, take and drink. Today in this church, the first century, the fourth, and the twenty-first come together. The details differ, from the room of the last supper, to the church of the Cyril of Jerusalem, to this church here.

But the reality is the same, the basic truth that was expressed simply and profoundly by Our Lord. “This is my Body; this is my Blood.” Incredible words that not all could accept. Our Lord once told his followers, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” For many of his disciples, this was too much. They drew back and no longer walked with Him. How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

Down through the ages great minds have pondered this question. Again, we can listen to Cyril of Jerusalem in his sermon on the Eucharist. He said, “Do not judge the reality by what you see and touch and taste. Judge by your unwavering faith for when the master himself has, explicitly said, ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’ will anyone still dare to doubt?” This is the Eucharistic truth that the bread and wine are really the Body and Blood of Christ.

And the truth also, that this sacrament gives life. St Paul would echo this when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We become what we receive, Christ and I become one.” What should that say to us in our daily lives, what does this mean?

I have a friend, a priest, who after many years left the Anglican church and became a layman with our Roman friends. I heard many sermons by him, but I confess I only remember one. I once told him that, and he laughed and said that many people have said that they remember only this sermon.

In that sermon he preached about Corpus Christi, and what it means to take the body of Christ. He said that we become what we eat. He started by telling us about the women he saw at his local coffee shop in lycra trousers eating the croissants. There is a rule, he said. The more croissants they eat, the larger the lady. The larger the lady, the tighter the lycra. It’s a very vivid image of large ladies.

But the point is there. If you eat too many croissants you will become like a large croissant yourself. But it’s also true about eating the sacrament. You become like Christ. That is because Our Lord said, I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. Furthermore, he tells us that we will be in him. How – by eating his flesh and drinking his blood we will live in him. By eating him, we can become like him.

We are called every day to live Christian lives. I do not underestimate the burden that so many of us live under. We don’t all, if any of us, have glamourous lives. For some, we have elderly family for whom we must care and with whom have endless patience. Other times it is the worries of our own failing health. Other times it is the worries of jobs, difficult work situations where we live and work with people and situations that are not godly. Other times is it the worries of money, or sex, or the more prosaic, but more deeply worrying paperwork, of this world. We wish at times for a simpler life, perhaps in our youth away from the complexities of different affirmative actions, transgender politics, wokism, or perhaps live in another era altogether.

Well, good people, Our Lord didn’t put us there. Our Lord didn’t give us a Roman theatre to die in, but he did give us now, complete with the deadening world with its structures of evil powers. This is where he has put us to live, but he has not left us alone: he has given, and continues to give himself, in the Sacraments of the Altar, so that he may live in us and we may live in him, and that we may be Christ in this sad world.

So, ask some questions that after receiving the Sacrament for so many years, has it made a difference? Or has it become mundane, ordinary? Have I forgotten that this is Christ giving himself to me? Do I prepare to receive this gift, think about it?

Or do I just get in line because everyone is doing it. Does it make a difference in my day-to-day life? Again, this week when we receive the Lord the priest will say, the Body of Christ. I invite you again to say “Amen, Amen.” Amen: yes, I believe in Christ is present and Amen to my commitment to become what I receive. Come forth in wonder and gratitude for such a great gift and recall the words of the Psalmist, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

As the world returns to the “new normal” and we slowly recover from the fears of a global pandemic, let us remember that the Good Lord gave us his flesh to eat, his blood to drink, and that we become what we receive; Christ and I can become one. Let it provide us with tranquillity and inspire us to embrace the new way of the world.

Today as you come forward to receive your Lord and Saviour, can you say to Him, “This is my body given for you?” Can you echo the words of Mary, “Be it done unto me according to your word?”

Seeking the Spirit – Pentecost, 5 June, 2022

We have finally come to the end of the Lent and Easter cycle. We celebrate two seasons over that period: one of forty days, the other of fifty days; one before the passion and the cross, the other after the resurrection; one in discipline, the other in dedication of spirit and the alleluia of festival. There is a deeper level in that: the first season of Lent is that of our present life; the second is the future joy of the saints. So here we are, at the end of the fifty days with the great feast of Pentecost, when we hear again how the Holy Spirit becomes present and fills the entire room, and fills the frightened company of the disciples to become the Church.

There are two things to ponder today on this feast of Pentecost: three if you want to consider the colour red as well. The first is how Scripture, in particular the reading from Acts, is re-writing itself, and then how the Spirit works in us today.

But let’s first just enjoy the red of the day. Red is used in the church for the shedding of blood, hence the feasts of the martyrs, and also for the Holy Spirit, as it was recorded in Scripture that the Spirit came down in divided tongues of fire. We therefore use the red theme today: in vestments, such as this wonderful chasuble made by our own guild here many years ago, so long ago that swastikas were not controversial! In some churches they deck the place with red – in some churches in Italy they often put red hangings around the pillars for high feasts and in the Parthenon in Rome, that ancient building dating back to Roman times, they throw red rose petals down this day from the great opening in the roof. It makes our efforts much more restrained and Anglican indeed.

Let’s look at the reading for today. The first reading from Acts describes the day of Pentecost. Now we need to remember two things as we read this. Firstly, what Pentecost meant for the Jews – it was the feast when they commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai. Secondly, we are meant to remember the origin of having many languages, how in Genesis the story of the Tower of Babel when they peoples came together to rival god and make a tower to heaven and God gave them different tongues and they abandoned the work and went away. So, keep these things in mind.

Now St Luke presents the story of the new Pentecost as a reversal of the old Tower of Babel. Whereas the Tower had been built to rival God, this time it is God giving the Spirit. Whereas the giving of languages at Babel had been a curse to divide, here the disciples are given the gift of understanding languages to unite. Once again there are two things happening. The first is that in Genesis, God is seen as someone who thwarts humanity’s desire: God stops the building of the tower to rival heaven. Here God gives the Spirit to ennoble humanity. God is no longer seen as putting down humanity. The second is that languages, which had been seen as a curse to divide people, causing them to misunderstand each other and lead to conflict, is now overcome by the gift of understanding, when they disciples through the Spirit can speak other languages and understand. God brings the Spirit to overcome divisions of languages.

Then remember also how Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses. This was the way the Jews were to live; by keeping its commandments they could lead lives that were pleasing to God. But this Pentecost will be the giving of the Spirit that allows a new way to live, a way outside of the rules of the Law. By the gift of the Spirit Christians were to live outside the old rules: they were instead to live lives in the gift of the Spirit, conscious of God’s presence.

Now this would take some time to work out how individuals could live in the Spirit. St Paul spends quite a bit of time in his letters reprimanding those who don’t get it. It’s not a freedom to do what one wants – the Spirit is not the preserve of any individual. Instead, the Spirit lives in us all as the Church, and we test our understanding of the call of God within that community. Rampart individualism is the absence of the Spirit, as it breaks down community.

Now the Holy Spirit has been blamed for a lot in Church history. Some say the monastic movement, or the Crusades, or the Reformation, or the revivalist movements in the US, are all the work of the Spirit. Well, we don’t know, we have to judge by the fruits of these movements, which are often fairly mixed. But all this makes the Spirit seem like it’s only a player in the great events of our history. The Holy Spirit is much more than that. The Spirit is the presence of God in our midst here keeping us as community, causing us to reach out and help each other and those around us, even in making sure the cup of tea is made after mass so we can have friendship together. The Holy Spirit is also the great gift of beauty we share. We love and see beauty from God, the maker of all that is good. This whole church, with its wonderful furnishings, such as those on display today on the side altar, and beautiful vestments are all proof of the sense of beauty of the Spirit that we have sensed over time. We have never done things on the cheap here: we want to give the best to God. Now, this is not to say that ugly churches filled with enthusiastic people are devoid of the Spirit: far from it. But the reverse holds true as well: beautiful churches filled with quiet prayerful people are just as filled with the Holy Spirit even though we don’t put our hands in the air or play guitars. I often think we neglect this sense of the Spirit: the senses of beauty and music and good food are all gifts of God that are manifested and created by the Spirit working in the world. That’s one reason why we should always give grace at meals and thanks for beautiful things – we have been touched by the Spirit at those moments as well. This Church is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit just as much as everyone holding up their arms speaking in tongues.

So, I encourage you to be Spirit filled this morning. Enjoy this beautiful church and be proud of it. Have a look at our display over by St Lucy. Look at the red we have here and wear and enjoy its symbolism. Remember that the gift of the Spirit calls us into community: and if you live in division from someone, question in your heart how you can have the Spirit of God to heal that division. Taste the nice cup of tea later or lunch and savour this gift of food: the Holy Spirit is with us.

Ascension – 29 May, 2022

Today we celebrate the 40 days of Eastertide, when Our Lord finishes his earthly ministry. Our Lord has risen from the dead, and has appeared to those around him, alive, eating and being touched, yet mysteriously vanishing and passing into closed rooms.

Having shown that death itself could not hold him back, Our Lord’s disciples thought that there would be nothing left which could get in his way of being the messianic-king. They expected he would finally reveal himself as the true, king of Israel and establish his messianic kingdom. This is why they asked Our Lord, as we heard in our first reading, if he would restore the kingdom of Israel. Not only did they believe that it was time for Israel to be set free from Rome, they thought it was time for Israel to take central stage in the world, taking the place Rome had and making it its own. Their hopes and dreams were still far too limited. They were right to view Israel was significant, but the restoration of Israel was not meant to have it merely replace Rome and then do to the rest of the world what Rome had done to them. What was to be restored was the relationship the world has with God, and the people of the world with each other. Gods not into setting up kingdoms of oppression.

But even more: it was the acceptance by God on how we are, frail and sinners, yet worthy of God. By coming down to live as one of us, in Bethlehem he showed that God did not distain from entering into our humanity with all its pains and problems, but by ascending into heaven in his body he honours us by taking our humanity into heaven, showing that God accepts who we are, and honours it. He could have shed his body and become some sort of sprit, but instead he ascends bodily. By that he shows that we are all part of him, and we are all offered the resurrection, in fact we start our entry into resurrection by being part of him.

It may be tempting to see the Ascension as a sad occasion, for Our Lord in the flesh has left us and we can no longer physically look upon his holy face, but the New Testament lists several reasons not to lament but to rejoice.

Firstly, Our Lord tells us that it is good for him to leave in order to send the Holy Spirit, who guides us unswervingly back to God (John 16:7).

Secondly, Our Lord not only does not leave us orphans by sending the Holy Spirit, there is a way in which he never leaves us in the first place. While it is true that Our Lord ascended body and soul into heaven, it is equally true that he is really present in the Communion. Saint Luke, whom we heard today in Acts and in his Gospel, includes the story of the disciples of Emmaus encountering the risen Lord, where they recognise him “in the breaking of the bread.” When Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the earth, he was only visible to a handful of people. When Our Lord is present in the Eucharist, billions can look upon his holy body behind the sacramental veils.

Thirdly, there is a way in which the Ascension was not the end but the beginning. When Our Lord was raised up to Heaven, there was no “Mission Accomplished” celebration, after which the Son of God took a well-deserved holiday. No, his work was just beginning. After passing through the Pearly Gates, the High Priest Jesus Christ entered the Holy of Holies with his own precious blood in atonement for our sins. He then took his seat at the right hand of the Father where He continually intercedes for us, prays for us, pleading for us and showing his merciful Father his still-open wounds. The Ascension is the final—and ongoing—step of the Paschal Mystery, for which we spent all of Lent preparing and all of Eastertide celebrating.

Fourthly, the good news about the Ascension is that Heaven is now open to us. Heaven was closed to us after the fall of Adam and Eve; indeed, they were even kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But when the Son returned to the Father, he brought with him his entire humanity (which he assumed when He became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Indeed, it is likely that he brought with Him a whole comet tail of souls which he rescued from the dead when “He descended into Hell” on Good Friday. As St. John Chrysostom notes:

Through the mystery of the Ascension we, who seemed unworthy of God’s earth are taken up into Heaven …. Our very nature, against which Cherubim guarded the gates of [earthly] Paradise, is enthroned today high above all Cherubim.

Our humanity is in Heaven, which makes us sharers in Divinity. Not a bad deal, that!

So now we wait for Pentecost, which we will celebrate next week, completing the fifty days of Easter. The coming of the Spirit is what makes Our Lord known to all people. When he was on earth, we could see him with our early senses. But now we need spiritual senses, and we get that by the giving to us of the Holy Spirit, which warms our hearts and opens them to God. Our Lord is still with us, in heaven, in the sacraments, in our lives, but we need to open ourselves to that presence. That’s where we need the Spirit, to come and open our limited selves, to see God, to find the burden of sin so it can be lifted, so we can be truly the children of God.

Revelation – Easter 6, 22 May, 2022

One of the little things I always like teaching is how to remember the number of books in the Bible. Well, if you look at the titles “New Testament” and “Old Testament,” there are three letters in “new” and “old” and nine in “testament.” Then all you have to remember is that the Old Testament has 39, the New Testament has the multiple of the letters, so three nines make 27. So 39 books in the Old and 27 in the New. I’m going to skip the Apocrypha at the moment like a good Protestant, but there are 14 there. That number is harder to remember.

Now another curious thing about these numbers is that if you add them, 39 and 27 make 66, and the number 666 is talked about in the 66th book of the Bible, the Book of the Apocalypse, or the Revelation of St John. By the way, this St John is almost certainly not the same writer St John of the Gospel and letters. We are using the Book of Revelation during the end of the Easter season, as the Church starts to look forward to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. This book was perhaps the last book to be taken into the Bible as we know it: and even then it’s had a history, being loved by all the wrong people. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther described it as “neither apostolic nor prophetic. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.” Martin Luther was very heavily into Romans and justification of faith, and as a result didn’t like Revelation or the Letter of St James either which didn’t fit into his theology as easily. He even called James “an epistle of straw.” John Calvin, who we very ecumenically remember this week in the calendar of holy people and saints despite being a heretic, wrote commentaries on every book in the New Testament, except Revelation. Today, among Eastern Orthodox believers Revelation is the only book that they don’t read in their public liturgy. But there is a sort of poetic balance here – we start in Genesis with the Garden of Eden and we finish in Revelation in the City of God, and our journey is from one to another.

But amongst the loonies Revelation has been well loved. The two churches most common for sending its members knocking on doors to “evangelise,” Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, nearly always begin their door spin with Revelation.

More troubling is the extent to which Revelation is fascinating larger numbers of contemporary evangelical Christians, especially in the United States, as seen in the Left Behind series of books. That view that Christians will be taken suddenly, the rapture, is one that only originated in the 19th C and was popularised in the late 20th but has no place in mainstream Christian belief.

But that’s not what the book is about. The Book of Revelation shows us a picture of the beastly powers of violence finally collapsing into their own hell-hole of violence, together with a plea to the faithful to maintain their faith. In the midst of relating his vision, John of Patmos pauses to speak directly to those faithful:

Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Rev 13:9-10)

Could the call to nonviolence be any clearer? Yet the images of violence, including the possibility of divine vengeance, seem to overpower such a call to nonviolence. How does one sort through this barrage of images that are rather foreign to our modern worldview? For those who see the New Testament as a call to nonviolence, being able to interpret the Book of Revelation as part of that overall message depends primarily on a strategy of seeing how Revelation takes violent apocalyptic imagery from the Hebrew tradition and means to subvert it from within, primarily through the dominant actor in Revelation, the Lamb slain. It’s that Lamb who was slain who is the light of the Temple that we heard in our second reading today.

The point of Revelation is that it is conveying to us, that the terrifying violence that we so often face in this world is decidedly not God’s violence but the violence of empires under the deception of Satan, the dragon. Earthly empires need to resort to violence: heavenly ones do not. God’s defeat of that violence is not one of superior firepower, of simply having more of the same kind of violence to subdue that of the empires. God’s defeat of violence is to expose it through the love of the Lamb slain, whose self-giving love lets itself be slaughtered by the violence, and the Lamb’s resurrection shows its power of life to be victorious. Disciples of the Lamb follow, not in a hope that there would be a different kind of victory someday, a victory in which the Lamb became a Lion and devoured all its enemies. That’s not what it is about. But followers of the Lamb believe that his slaughter and resurrection have already won the victory, so that we wait with endurance and hope, following in the Lamb’s loving nonviolence if we must, until the day when Satan’s violence finally becomes its own defeat, collapsing in on itself.

Revelation begins to subvert this hope right from the very beginning with the one who has truly won God’s victory on the cross, the Lamb slain. And the Lamb is never portrayed as someday coming back like a lion. Even the great battle in heaven, when Michael fights against the dragon makes the point that the victory is not by force, but by the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 12:7-12)

This is why in Our Lord’s ministry he does not fight. It is the self-giving of Our Lord through his death for us that brings about the resurrection. Exposed by the greater power of loving self-giving, human beings need no longer look to the Satanic powers of violence as heavenly powers. Duped by the beastly deception, we will continue to be led astray for a time. But the battle has already been fought and won, signified by Michael and the angels throwing Satan out of heaven. And was this victory won by superior divine firepower? No, the nature of the victory is made crystal clear: “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” It is a continuation of the ministry begun on this earth by Our Lord and furthered through his disciples – his witnesses (martyr in the Greek) – who continue in his way of loving self-giving instead of hate-filled vengeance.

This way of discipleship is obviously not an easy choice. It requires great faith indeed. We love the idea of a sacred divine violence, a Lion of Judah, to attack and destroy evil-doers, is a hope deeply engrained in our way of creating gods to justify our own violent actions against enemies. The Satanic powers of violence have been our heavenly powers since the foundations of our human worlds. But God the Father doesn’t work like that. He gives his Son, Our Lord, into the hands of those who make him a sacrifice. Then that Son, Our Lord, the Lamb, rises again at Easter to unveil that violence. We are then shown that God is not about violence, not about legality, but about the heavenly power of unconditional love and forgiveness, a revelation that continues to take place through the work of the Holy Spirit that we now turn for and wait at Pentecost. We worship the Lamb slain, the great symbol of Revelation.

Based on a paper by Paul John Nuechterlein of the Lutheran Church in the USA.

Love – Easter 5, 15 May, 2022

If you knew you were about to die, what would you tell the people you love? What cherished hope or dream would you share? What last, urgent piece of advice would you offer?

In our Gospel this week, we hear Our Lord’s answer to this difficult question. Judas has left the Last Supper in order to carry out his betrayal, the crucifixion clock is ticking down, and Our Lord knows that his disciples are about to face the greatest devastation of their lives. So he gets right to the point. No parables, no stories, no pithy sayings. Just one commandment. One simple, straightforward commandment, summarising Our Lord’s deepest desire for his followers: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Then, right on the heels of the commandment, a promise, or maybe an incentive, or maybe a warning: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What doesn’t Our Lord  say? When death comes knocking, and the Son of God has mere hours left to communicate the heart of his message to his disciples, he doesn’t say, “Believe the right things.” He doesn’t say, “Worship like this or attend a synagogue like that.” He doesn’t even say, “Read your Bible,” or “Pray every day,” He says, “Love one another.” That’s it. The last dream of a dead man walking. All of Christianity distilled down to its essence so that maybe we’ll pause long enough to hear it. Love one another.

What’s staggering about this commandment is how badly we’ve managed to botch it over the last two thousand years. It’s simple, and we can easily memorise it, yet we fail so badly at it we remain embarrassed how poorly we comprehend it and put it into practice.

It’s not too hard to name why we perpetually fail to obey Our Lord’s dying wish. Love is vulnerable-making, and we would rather not be vulnerable. Love requires trust, and we are naturally suspicious. Love spills over margins and boundaries, and we feel safer and holier policing our borders. Love takes time, effort, discipline, and transformation, and we are just so busy.

And yet Our Lord didn’t say, “This is my suggestion.” He said, “This is my commandment.”

For the St John in this Gospel, for the word “commandment” he uses the word “entolen” that means precept, advise, instruction and prescription. It is like the prescription that a doctor writes to get the medicine needed to cure an illness. It is up to the patient to follow or not to follow what it prescribes. In this case a command is not a peremptory order or something we must do. When the Gospel talks about the Law of Moses, he doesn’t use that word“entolen”, but “nomos,” which we translate as Law. But this is not what Our Lord is talking about. To follow and to serve Christ we don’t need that sort of rigid law. Our relationship with God is much more than to follow some rules even if they are good. God has given us commands (entolen) that guide us, shape us and takes us on his path, indications that manifest his willingness for our salvation.

We do this commandment therefore not out of fear, but because this is what we need to do, like taking medicine, to live lives full of health.

But what does it mean that Our Lord commands us to love? We fall in love. Love is blind, it happens at first sight, it breaks our hearts, and its course never runs smooth.

But we know that true love can’t be manipulated, simulated, or rushed without suffering distortion. Try commanding children love each other never works. The most we can do is insist that they behave as if they love each other: “Share your toys.” “Say sorry.” “Don’t hit.” “Use kind words.” But these actions — often performed with gritted teeth and rolling eyes — aren’t the same as what Our Lord is talking about.

Our Lord doesn’t say, “Act as if you love.” He doesn’t give his disciples (or us) the easy “out” of doing nice things with clenched hearts. (I doubt that the people who flocked to Our Lord would have done so if they sensed that his compassion was thin or forced.) He says, “Love as I have loved you,” for real. The whole bona fide package. Authentic feeling, deep engagement, generous action. Doesn’t it sound like he’s asking for the impossible?

Maybe he is. G.K Chesterton once wrote that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” Imagine what would happen to us, to the Church, to the world, if we took this commandment of Our Lord seriously? What could Christendom look like if we obeyed orders and cultivated “impossible” love?

We may ask these questions fearfully, because we don’t know how to answer them, even for myself. We know fairly well how to do things. We know how to make care for the homeless, or send money to my favourite charities. But do we know how to love as Our Lord loved? To feel that depth of compassion? To experience a hunger for justice so fierce and so urgent that we rearrange our lives in order to pursue it? To empathize until our heart breaks? Do we want to?

Most of the time, if we are honest, we don’t. We want to be safe. We want to keep our circle small and manageable. We want to choose the people we love based on our own preferences, not on Our Lord’s all-inclusive commandment. Charitable actions are easy. But cultivating the heart? Preparing and pruning it to love? Becoming vulnerable in authentic ways to the world’s pain? Those things are hard, hard and costly.

And yet, this was Our Lord’s dying wish. Which means that we have a God who first and foremost wants every one of his children to feel loved: not shamed; not punished; not chastised; not judged; not isolated: but loved.

But that’s not all. Our Lord follows his commandment with a terrifying promise: “By this everyone will know.” Meaning, love is the litmus test of Christian witness. Our love for each other is how the world will know who we are and whose we are. Our love for each other is how the world will see, taste, touch, hear, and find Our Lord. It’s through our love that we will embody Our Lord, make Jesus relatable, possible, plausible, to a dying world.

This should make us tremble. What Our Lord seems to be saying is that if we fail to love one another, the world won’t know what it needs to know about God, and in the terrible absence of that knowing, it will believe falsehoods that break God’s heart, that is, that the whole Jesus thing is a sham, that there really is no transformative power in the resurrection. That God is a mean, angry, vindictive parent, determined only to shame and punish his children. That the universe is a cold, meaningless place, ungoverned by love. That the Church is only a flawed and hypocritical institution — not Christ’s living, breathing, healing body on earth.

Such is the power we wield in our decisions to love or not love. Such are the stakes involved in how we choose to respond to Our Lord’s dying wish, hope, prayer, and commandment. Such is the responsibility we shoulder, whether we want to or not.

But here’s our saving grace: Our Lord doesn’t leave us alone and bereft. We are not directionless in the wilderness. He gives us a road map, a clear way forward: “As I have loved you.” Follow my example, he says. Do what I do. Love as I love. Live as you have seen me live.

Weep with those who weep. Laugh with those who laugh. Touch the untouchables. Feed the hungry. Welcome the child. Release the captive. Forgive the sinner. Confront the oppressor. Comfort the oppressed. Wash each other’s feet. Hold each other close. Tell each other the truth. Guide each other home.

In other words, Our Lord’s commandment to us is not that we should wear ourselves out, trying to conjure love from our own easily depleted resources. Rather, it’s that we’re invited to abide in the holy place where all love originates. We can make our home in Our Lord’s love — the most abundant and inexhaustible love in existence. Our love is not our own; it is God’s, and God our source is without limit, without end. There are no parched places God will not drench if we ask.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” For our own sakes, and for the world’s.

Based on a reflection by Debie Thomas.

The Good Shepherd – Easter 4, 8 May, 2022

Today, as well as being the 4th Sunday of Easter, is also the feast day of a remarkable lady, Lady Julian of Norwich. Lady Julian was an anchoress: she lived in a room attached to her parish church, which was dedicated to St Julian, hence she took this name, and said her prayers and shared her faith with anyone who happened by. As an anchoress, she never left the room she lived in, but she was not a hermit who avoided human contact. She welcomed those who sought her wisdom and advice. It could fairly be said that there was nothing at all ordinary about her lifestyle, but in fact she was a very ordinary person whose faith was nourished by a rule of life, by the sacraments of the Church, and by a remarkable insight into the ways God makes himself known to us in very ordinary things. In icons of her, she is holding a hazel nut because of a vision she had of God, who showed her that all of the beauty and mystery of God’s vast creation was manifest in a tiny hazel nut. She is also remembered by the beautiful saying, that all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well; that wonderful assurance of God working everything out.

In her life as an anchoress, Lady Julian was trying to do what all Christians try to do: she was trying to understand how to be a better Christian. Today we might speak of holiness of life. In the 14th century, the term ‘divinity’ meant much the same thing when used in reference to the devout Christian life. This was not something private and definitely not something otherworldly. Rather, it was, as Lady Julian described it, ‘full homely.’ For Christians who believe in the Incarnate God, a God who became one of us, holiness is not an ethereal, otherworldly state, and certainly it is not private. To be ‘homely,’ in the language of the 14th century, means two things. Firstly, it signifies that which is here and now, like the Incarnation. Secondly, it denotes that which is habitual, a regular and practiced part of daily life.

Many things characterize our Anglican tradition at its best. We begin with the Book of Common Prayer, which is nothing more, or less, than a system for the daily, and thus very homely, practice of the Christian life. Our Prayer Book is a unique document. No other communion or fellowship of ordinary Christians has anything quite like it. Its essential message is that liturgy and daily prayer are the very heart of Christian living. Traditionally, the Prayer Book is not a shiny volume to be borrowed from a church shelf on entering and carefully replaced on leaving. It was a beloved and battered personal possession, a life-long companion and guide, to be carried from the church to kitchen, to parlour, to bedside table; equally adaptable for liturgy, personal devotion, and family prayer: the symbol of a domestic spirituality; it is a full homely book.

It has sometimes been said that Anglicanism has a particular insight into the mystery of the Incarnation. Rome, it has been said, focuses on the glory of the Cross, and Orthodoxy on the mystery of the Resurrection; the Reformed Churches are transfixed by the Sovereignty of God and Pentecostals by the Coming of the Holy Ghost; but Anglicanism, in its homeliness, has found the centre of its theology and spirituality in the stable at Bethlehem where the Word became flesh. These emphases (and that is all they are, for every family of true Christians embraces the whole faith) influence the way Christians of different traditions live out their faith. So, for Anglicans, there is a particular tendency to incorporate what some might regard as the mundane into the practice of our faith.

Which then brings me onto the Gospel of today. The passage from John 10 is part of a bigger passage when Our Lord tells the people that he is the Good Shepherd and the Gate for the sheep. It is also starts by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, the place where the sheep were driven into the city in preparation for the sacrifices at the Temple. The imagery of this passage takes place not in wide open fields with woolly lambs but with frightened sheep awaiting sacrifice.

Think then of the gate or gatekeeper that Jesus calls himself. A gate is where the shepherd finally leaves his sheep for good — or for ill, if you’re a sheep. The shepherd does not enter the stockyard with his sheep. He abandons them to the slaughter at the gate.

But Our Lord is the Good Shepherd who walks right in that gate with the sheep and “goes ahead of them,” out the other side of the holding pen into the Temple courtyard to be slaughtered. So, Our Lord isn’t just laying down his life out in the field for some dangerous wolf. The most dangerous place for a sheep in Our Lord’s day was out in the Temple courtyard. The wolves are already a metaphor for the sacrificers who come to slaughter the lambs for sacrifice. Our Lord lays down his life as the Lamb of God on the altar of sacrifice.

There has been a barrage of imagery in the Good Shepherd speech: shepherds and sheep; gated pens and pastures; hired hands, thieves, and wolves; life and death. Our Lord switches between the two main images in this chapter: he’s the Good Shepherd who walks into the sheep yard, and then, all of a sudden, he’s the gate. Why the gate? In that passage the sheep go freely in and out through the gate to pasture and back again. They no longer will be herded to the altar of sacrifice. In Jerusalem, the place of slaughter for sheep, Our Lord is saying that the sacrifices will end, and the sheep will be led out again. The sheep have a relationship with the Good Shepherd, who can lead them out of the place of sacrifice, because he too is the Lamb of God who has been sacrificed.

It all comes down to a relationship. He knows them, each of them.  He knows us best and loves us most.

Religion is not about reward and punishment. Some of us believe that we are going to heaven or to hell. Some of us believe that what we do determines whether we go to heaven or to hell. It’s called a work righteousness.

Some of us believe that if we go to church and put money in the plate we are in the fold. It is simply not true. What we need is a relationship. The relationship is about love…God’s love for us and our love for God.

We cannot save ourselves. We cannot confess enough. We cannot repent enough. There is not enough water to save us. You, me – we are saved by grace, the grace and the love of God. Works don’t save us, works are the result of our faith and grace instead.

Now in response to that grace, in response to that love that knows no limits, we do confess, we do repent, we are baptised, we may even get confirmed! We commit ourselves to Christ and to his Church – all in response to the love we have received.

Relationship…Our relationship with God Almighty and with the Son, through the Spirit. Do you love God more than life? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter where that takes you? Are you ready to feed his sheep and tend his lambs? Are you ready to think of yourself last instead of first?

Relationships…Are you ready to give all you have and all you are and all you will ever be to the Lord who gave his life for you?

I don’t understand those who fuss about coming to mass and then complain when someone has a deathbed conversion and is not fair. Yet, there is no greater privilege than to come to God’s house to worship with God’s people.

I know that God loves me, that God provides for me, that God protects me from myself. God is calling my name. I recognise his voice and yet I bolt off alone at times, heading for disaster.

Do you ever do that?  God is calling your name. God knows you. You are part of his flock. You know his voice. The Good Shepherd leads you out of the place of death. It is all about relationship. Come on home.

For when you come home you find the truth of the words, that all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Easter Saints: 24 April, 2022

If you look at your pew sheets for the week ahead, we have an abundance of saints coming up. In part, this is because during the week before Easter, called Holy Week, and the week after, called Easter Week or occasionally Bright Week, no saints days are observed because we concentrate solely on the journey to the Cross and resurrection, culminating in the three great days, called the triduum. So, all the saints days get pushed out of the way, either dropped altogether or held over, like our own St George’s Day which is pushed from 23 April to the next available Sunday, that being next Sunday 1 May.

So, we have coming up this week: the Seven Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood, Solomon Islands, 2003; St Mark, Evangelist and Martyr from the early church; Peter Chanel, religious, missionary in the South Pacific, martyr, who died in 1841; Catherine of Siena, Mystic, Teacher, 1380; Pandita Mary Ramabai, translator of the Scriptures, 1922 and our own George, Martyr, Patron Saint, circa 304. So, a lot of people in the seven days following.

Now Mark was the writer of the Gospel of his name and legend has it that he went to Alexandria in Egypt and was martyred there in around 68. He is still revered as the founder of the Coptic Church. The seven martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood, the largest of our Anglican orders, were killed in the Solomon Islands only 19 years ago, when they tried to bring peace between the warring groups there. Peter Chanel was a Marist Father, who was a missionary to the Pacific, and was martyred in the Hoorn Islands, close to Tonga. He was the first martyr in the Pacific islands (and Captain Cook does not count). Catherine of Sienna was a mystic who convinced the pope to return to Rome and make it again it the centre of the Church again after they had relocated to Avignon in France. She died in 1380. Pandita Mary Ramabai was a high caste Hindu woman who converted to Christianity and became an advocate for women’s rights in India, and translating the Scriptures, dying in 1922. As for George: well, I will leave that till next week, and we will see what the bishop serves us up.

This group relate to the Gospel today because they all have to do with belief and doubt. All of them had struggles in the religious life, from Mark the Jew learning what it means to follow Jesus, the brave Melanesian brothers who set out to try and bring peace in the Solomons. The Gospel reading today, the second Sunday of Easter, is always on the story of Thomas from John’s Gospel, as it deals with doubt and faith.

One of the distinctive characteristics of the Gospels, is that they do not sugar coat the disciples. They are presented as people who fail: fail but getup and try and gain. We see that time and time again particularly for Peter, from the incident of walking of the water to his denial three times on the night that Our Lord was arrested. Today we have the story of Thomas, who does not accept the good news second-hand, but only when he sees Our Lord directly.

The two appearances of Our Lord recounted in the Gospel today start with Our Lord saying, “Peace be with you,” and the obvious joy the disciples have when they see the Risen Lord. The first time Our Lord gives them the gift of the Spirit, and in the second Thomas confesses, “My Lord and my God!” The resurrection of the Lord changes the disciples dramatically. They now know that death could not hold Our Lord, and that he is God indeed. This changes them from a frightened group hiding behind locked doors, as we heard today, to disciples who would go out into the world and die for their faith.

This is the story of the Cross. We take up our cross in life, but we do so, knowing about the Risen Lord. It is that hope of resurrection, that hope of meeting Our Lord, that gives us the courage to undertake the Cross that we bear in life. The Gospels show the transforming power of belief. It changes Thomas from a sceptic to a missionary, and it would go on the change Mark as he became the bishop to the Egyptians, the Seven Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood, as they went out trying to bring peace to a troubled land; Peter Chanel, who left the comfort of France and his parish to work and die in the other side of the world so others could find the faith, Catherine of Siena, who had the courage as a woman in the Middle Ages to reprove the pope; Pandita Mary Ramabai, who would challenge the conventions of Hindu life in India.

This is why the Gospels are still read, day by day, Sunday by Sunday, Easter by Easter, so we can learn the path of the Cross. We must embrace the sufferings that come our way and learn that there is always hope and new life, faith and resurrection, on the other side. Yes, it would always be easier to deny the Cross. We can take our pieces of sliver and betray. We can stay where we are comfortable. We can ask for more and more proof until we can put our hand in Our Lord’s side. But this is turning our backs on the greatest gift that can be offered, the love of God that gives resurrection when all hope seems lost.

The most important thing that the gospel stories tell us about the power of the resurrection is that our choices in Christ are worth it; worth even for dying. Death is not the fearful end for us; death is only the welcome to new life in Christ. Faith can be a tremendous risk: to learn forgiveness, to let go of bitterness, to have courage, to find joy when it seems impossible.

I will finish on a small detail about the seven martyrs of the Melanesian Brothers. Their feast day normally would be today, but it’s pushed to tomorrow. The first brother went to the militants to try and stop them and was murdered. When the brothers heard this, they sent six more, hoping to stop the militants. They were all shot. The six knew that risk but decided they had to take the risk. As a result of their murders there was such a revulsion that the militants lost support. The Australian government helped with the RAMSI peace force there for several years. That force helped bring the militants to trail and recovered the bodies. Martyrdom is still a very close experince for many Christians. We may not be martyrs, but we are invited to still take up our cross and follow where it leads.

Good Friday: Behold My Servant – 15 April, 2022

Let’s start today is with the people of Israel and their story. Long, long ago, as Genesis tells us, God promised Abraham that, through him, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed—that it was Israel’s vocation to show the world who God is and what God is like. Abraham and his people settled in the Promised Land. At times they listened to God, and they prospered; and at times they didn’t. But through their faithfulness they were saved in Egypt, and through Moses and Joshua they returned, and through David and Solomon a Temple was built.

Then, six hundred years before Our Lord, the Babylonians descended upon Jerusalem and destroyed it. They weren’t content with destroying the city and temple; they wanted to destroy the inner strength of its people and of their society as well. So, they rounded up the leaders of the community, all the people who in our time would be bankers, and lawyers, and doctors, and teachers, and professional musicians, and union leaders, and clergy, and they bound them in chains and led them on the long trek to Babylon to become the servants and slaves of their captors.

Fifty years passed. Fifty years of bitter servanthood for the exiles and their children. The Psalms are filled with their hymns of tears, and through the Psalms, their tears became part of their tradition: and of ours.

Then the Babylonian Empire fell to Persia, and a different Great King had a different policy. Cyrus the Great, the Persian King, let the servants go home; he let them return to their own country and rebuild their land and temple.

Through both the darkness of exile and the first rays of hope, Israel kept asking, “Why have we suffered so much? Why us?” Then a poet appeared among them, a poet-theologian, who wrote songs of unsurpassed beauty to suggest a hopeful answer to those searching questions of human grief. He sang new songs, different and amazing songs. These songs come to us in the middle of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, and today’s first reading is the heart of these songs.

This magnificent prophet focused on the servant status of his people. They were slaves and servants in bondage and oppression, and the poet took this image of servant and re-worked it in terms of glory and salvation. It looked as though his people were servants of oppression, but actually, they were servants of God. And their suffering, when born in hope and as an act of faith, was the key not only to their salvation but to the salvation of the world. It was the promise of Abraham. Their suffering brought forth God’s gift.

For the first time in human history, the mystery of sacrifice, which had almost universally been a part of the religious life of the people, was seen as more than a way of giving an angry or a hungry god something it needed, or wanted, or demanded, or deserved. For the first time, sacrifice was seen as a rejection of the world’s categories of worth, value, power, and victory, and was understood instead both as God’s way of faithfulness and redemption for his chosen people, and as the hidden path to the salvation of all creation. The songs of the servant in Isaiah are about this, and they are new songs.

Our Lord himself grew into his own sense of vocation and mission under the power of these words, and he saw himself as that servant, and his path as that way of gentle faithfulness that all too often leads to suffering. This cross is what that faithfulness finally came to look like in his world, at his moment. The inspired song from Isaiah is revealed in its fullness, and with its greatest power, in the agony, defeat, and shame of Golgotha. To be a Christian means to sing this way. It means to look for, and to find, in this peculiar and distressing direction, the depth of God’s truth.

To be sure, I’m not suggesting that all suffering leads directly to salvation. Even less do I want to imply that suffering is somehow a good thing and that we would all be better off if there were more of it. Nothing as simplistic or as facile or as grotesque as this is going on here. Nonetheless, the suffering of Christ who was made the slave of oppression and who was vindicated as the Servant of God goes on—and it’s still the key to the world’s transformation.

In Our Lord, and in his cross, we can begin to see how this ancient poet of Israel, so long forgotten and ignored, was given the gift of seeing into the deepest heart and soul of God. In spite of what the world thinks, in spite of what seems to us the way things are, and the way things have to be, in spite of our own values, hopes, and dreams, in spite of all of that: Here is the meaning of life; here is the way of God; here is our hope, and the hope of our world.

This is the great meaning of the Cross: we are all called to take up our Cross in the world and follow. How we take on the Cross is the secret to our lives. We can try and avoid it, we can become bitter at the chances of life, or we can learn joy in our suffering in the knowledge that ultimately, paradoxically, everything is in God’s hands and there is love. That the blessing of Abraham still works, that we bring that blessing to the world. That the Suffering Servant of Isaiah brings the joy of salvation.

The hope hidden in this Cross continues: we can make it our own. We can recognize that only here can our own inner divisions, our own sinfulness, our own brokenness, receive the possibility of healing and of wholeness. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a Chassidic rebbe, a Jewish brother, once said, “There is no heart so whole as a broken heart.” Such is the fruit of this sacrifice. But remember, as with Isaiah’s Servant and as with Our Lord, the wholeness we receive is for the life of the world.

Here, at this cross, is also given the opportunity to discover once more that today’s servants of oppression: the poor, the victims of war in the Ukraine now, the dis-valued of the earth, the others; that these are the clearest face of Christ for us today. In their suffering, we may see the very cup of suffering that Our Lord took, symbolised today in the blessed sacrament in the chalice brought to altar; for God’s work is to bring to all creation the truth of his Servant, and so to bring his vision of hope renewed to all humanity.

On the one and only day we call Good, we stand at the foot of an ancient mystery of sacrifice and salvation, given poetic voice by the rivers of Babylon and fully revealed only here. We can choose to embrace this mystery, this path, this Cross as our own, or we can turn away, and seek our own path, and deny the Cross. And we will do one or the other.

What it means, what it looks like to embrace this Cross—to choose faithfulness over security, to choose self-giving love over self-protecting alternatives, to choose painful honesty over comfortable denial—to struggle to move this man on a cross to the centre of our lives and of our character. What this looks like in our world, at our moment, cannot be predicted, let alone described. It is the taking of our Cross to follow Our Lord. That’s part of our mystery, and of our hope. But this cross is the path of life.

Palm Sunday – 10 April, 2022

In the rubrics for today’s solemn mass the following note appears after the reading of the passion:

Because the procession and Passion Gospel are in themselves an eloquent proclamation of the gospel, the sermon may be omitted.

I don’t know if is because of our extreme Protestant heritage, but I have always felt that a Sunday mass without a sermon is like scones without jam and cream. Edible, but not the best. But I sympathise with the need to allow you to get to your meals and I will not detain you for long.

Throughout Lent I have been using the theme of the Cross that we must carry. A Christian is continually challenged to take up our Cross and follow our Lord. Each one of us will have a different cross, but all of them will involve some burden, some grief, some sorrow. We are challenged as Christians to take up our crosses. We can ignore this; and try to live lives that escape this challenge. But a life without a cross becomes a life without depth. The easiest way to think about this is to consider the cross of growing old. We can go for the expensive hair treatments or facelifts or try mutton dressed as lamb, but ultimately our bodies have their say. How we grow and accept the challenge of aging is a cross that we bear. We can do it with joy or anger, but age we must.

That’s the simple level. But there are other crosses that are harder, that come from life. Family problems, work problems, legal problems, health problems: there are endless ways that we are challenged in life to take up our Cross and follow Our Lord.

The Cross is a central theme in the gospel readings today. Uniquely, we have two Gospel readings in the Solemn Mass today: the entry into Jerusalem with the salutation of a king, and the death of Our Lord on the Cross. This is a juxtaposition of temptation and fulfilment. The entry into Jerusalem is a temptation to become the earthly king. Our Lord could have continued the progress into the Temple, he could have directly challenged the authorities of the world: Pilate and Herod, and become a king. He would have been the Messiah that many wanted, a ruler, an authority, a power on earth.

But we hear that Our Lord did not take up this temptation. He had already faced this temptation at the start of his ministry when the Devil offered him the kingdoms of this world. But that was just between him and Satan – now he publicly refused that power.

So, the crowd then turns on him, and with the authorities, the powers of the world, manipulating, he is seized and condemned instead. The leaders and the soldiers echo the words of the Devil in the Wilderness with the Temptations, with “if you are the King of the Jews”. But Our Lord knows that his Cross is far greater than any power of the world. St Luke also records the penitent thief, asking Our Lord to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. We, also, remember Our Lord each time we take the bread and brake it. The thief receives the assurance that we all dream of having, that this day he will be with Our Lord in Paradise, the assurance that we receive his body in the sacrament today, that sacrament that is bound with his Cross.

Our Lord has taken the Cross of Suffering, and drunken its bitter dregs, to death in agony. This was the Cross that he had to take; had to, to show his love for each of us. He could have walked down from the Cross, he could have ordered legions of angels, but his agony and refusal not to avoid the Cross is his love for each of us.

Our Lord chose the true Cross of suffering for us today. From this comes resurrection, the giving of new life and hope. This is the challenge for us when we take up our cross and follow him. We, too, can take up lesser, or easier crosses. We too can listen to the false crowds waving palms: but this is not the true Cross. If we are going to find true joy and happiness, we must tackle the hard road of the Cross that awaits us all.

 

The Second Part of Lent Starts – Passion Sunday, 3 April, 2022

Here we are at Passion Sunday, in the second part of Lent. Just a reminder, we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, calls that are never too late to start. If you don’t have a Lenten rule worked out, then it’s not too late, the best part is still to come. Next week is Palm Sunday and then it’s Holy Week and all the fun. So time to get on with it.

You may be wondering though, if Lent is all about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, then what does the Gospel reading have to do with it. Today is the story, from John, of the woman caught in adultery. It does not seem to fit the pattern of Lent in many ways. In many lectionaries it no longer falls as part of the Lenten cycle.

It’s a strange passage. In some of the earlier document traditions this passage does not occur, so it has been marked with suspicion: we are not sure if it originally formed part of the Gospel according to John or was a very early insertion. If it was an insertion, we don’t know where it came from as it doesn’t form part of the other Gospels either. It’s also the only time we hear of Our Lord writing, as well. So, it’s all a bit mysterious, but that’s another story.

It starts with the woman being dragged before Our Lord. It’s early morning and the scribes and Pharisees we hear bring this woman and make her stand before Jesus. The element of coercion is very clear. It begs the question: if this woman had been caught in adultery, then where is the man? He is a glaring omission, and the Law was clear that both a man a a woman caught in adultery were meant to suffer the same passage. But, it’s a man’s world, and the man does not have to face the music, so these other men make this woman stand before Jesus.

The whole idea is to catch out Our Lord here. But then Our Lord does this really odd thing, the only time we hear of him doing anything like this, he bends down and writes on the ground. In fact, it is mentioned twice he did this. What was he doing? Was he writing other texts out for the scribes and Pharisees to read? But by bending down he also does not face these men either.

Then there is the challenge: Let any one amongst you without sin throw the first stone. Normally we would like to challenge people face to face, but Our Lord is avoiding their gaze. He’s not forcing them into a corner, to challenge them to declare their self-righteousness, but letting each one of them think on the words as he is bend over writing on the ground.

And they go away, one by one, the elders first.

The Gospel says quite a bit about forgiveness. It tells us we need to endlessly forgive. What that means we are still working out. Here at St George’s we look after the Oblates of St Benedict, those who follow the Rule of St Benedict that was written for the guidance of religious communities from the 6th C, and it still being read chapter by chapter each day. It’s a fascinating way the Christian life has shaped communities. St Benedict has rules for members who sin grievously: first they are shunned then if they don’t get better they are told to leave. The point is, that although we are called to endlessly forgive sometimes healing can only be done by exclusion. A brother in a community that endlessly breaks the rules needs to go to see if this is where he is called. The same applies in our lives. The child on drugs, the unfaithful partner, the cheating work colleague: at times we need to exclude people for their own good from the community to which we belong, for the good of the person involved to let that person sort things out if he or she wants to remain. Forgiveness is one thing, but communities do exclude for the sake of the sinner.

Which gets me back to that woman forced to stand before Our Lord. Alone. Without the man who had been caught with her. Now without her accusers. Our Lord asks her, where her accusers are, the first time he addresses her. She now has a voice and says no one. Then Our Lord says to her, that neither does he condemn, and go and sin no more.

It’s worth noticing that the woman does not ask for forgiveness. Being dragged before all those men was enough. Our Lord doesn’t make her beg, he just gives her that forgiveness she needs. It that lovely touchy point of the compassion of Our Lord.

This passage is part of the Gospel readings for Lent as it reminds us about the nature of sin. Sin is never just something that hurts an individual, grievous though it can be, but also hurts a community. When we sin, we not only let down ourselves but let down others. But sin is not about condemnation to death: sin is about Jesus telling us to go and sin no more. Forgiveness is always about new chances and new life: not punishments and condemnation.

When you think again about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, you also start to realise that it is the opposite of sin. They are the works of mercy, the works we can do to make the world a better place, and even perhaps make ourselves better people. They are the opposite of sin: making communities better as well. Don’t underestimate the power of these works. The power of of prayer, the power of fasting, the power of almsgiving. All are the weapons we use in the fight against the evil of the world.

Which is why we have this Gospel reading today. Life is, and will always be, a lifelong struggle with sin. Our struggle with sin will finish only when we have been dead for ten minutes. Lent should not be skipped over. The calls of Lent are small things in themselves: a little less to eat, a few extra dollars out, a minute to say a prayer. God will take any thing we offer, no matter how small. God doesn’t need it: but we need it. We need to give what we can, give our best, to be the best. So when we start with little things, such as even saying no to chocolate during Lent, we start our training. By learning to struggle with little things we learn to face big things. We learn to face sin and deal with it. Sin exists and we need to face it: as our Lord faced it for us in the Cross. Then the Cross he takes, we can take, knowing in the hope of the Resurrection. Welcome to the second part of Lent, and the training for the rest of our lives..

The Sons – Lent IV, 27 March, 2022

This Gospel reading today is one of the best loved and most beautiful of all readings, with the image of a God with open arms ready to receive us in a loving embrace. God is always waiting; God is always willing to take us in; God does not obsess over our own failed past, but God offers us the immediacy of love. Keep this image before your eyes.

“All this is from God,” St Paul assures us in the second reading, the epistle, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ.” This act of reconciliation is rather difficult for us to understand since reconciliation implies that each side has been estranged before coming together, that, as we have drawn away from God, God has drawn away from us. Here is where language fails us, because, as both Our Lord and St Paul make it quite clear, it is we who have moved away, we who must return and be reconciled. God’s arms remain open in order to embrace us when we return. These arms never push us away. Never.

In the familiar parable of what has come to be called “The Prodigal Son,” the father has never stopped loving the child who chose to go away, to live a dissolute life. Through one powerful sentence in the story; “But while he was still far off, his father saw him,” we too see the father constantly on the lookout for his lost son. And even though this formerly rich, well-nourished, and well-dressed young profligate is now filthy, skinny, and in rags, the father recognises him from afar and runs to meet him with open arms.

The picture of the younger son who lives a life of sin and estrangement is nothing new. We recognise him all too well. He is the perfect image of selfishness; he takes what the father offers and goes away in order to waste it. We recognize human selfishness because it resides in all of us; we recognise the sin of saying “I am my own, I belong only to myself, I owe nothing to my Creator; I will do as I please.” We see younger son in this parable lowering himself to the ultimate degradation for a Jew of his time; to live among pigs. In the eyes and ears of Our Lord’s Jewish listeners, nothing was dirtier than dealing with pigs.

If the story ended there, with expressions of “It served him right because he was an ungrateful son,” the depression and desperation would be complete. But, it doesn’t. The young man looks at his condition and is first aware of the terrible needs of his body, of hunger: “Here I am living among pigs while even my father’s servants have enough to eat.” Of course, this is a selfish reaction, but we are tied to the needs of the physical self and it’s an honest reaction. God gave us life and life must be preserved. But the young sinner acknowledges his sin and does not conceal his guilt: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the beginning of repentance, of turning around, of knowing that we don’t belong to ourselves alone. Our separation, our sin, is first against heaven and then against those who have loved us. Acknowledging this state is the first step toward reconciliation.

The younger son sets off to return to his father, confident that he will be received, because he knows his father’s heart: and he is not wrong. The father is indeed keeping vigil, his arms open, his eyes searching the horizon to see the returning son, to recognize him as his own, no matter how disfigured he now is. The son is welcomed home, the fatted calf is killed, and the party starts.

Now we could leave this parable here or explore a little more the nature of mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes the reading we hear of this parable stops here, in the interests of brevity. But there is a far deeper meaning and this parable goes on.

It’s the other son. He comes back tired from his work and hears the party. Then he refuses to enter, and the father comes out and pleads with him. The father ends with the words: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

But the parable ends there. We don’t know the response of the elder son. The parable ends there, with the father’s plea, but the elder son is still outside the party, in the evening gloom, with the music going inside.

Think for a moment for whom St Luke was writing the Gospel. We think that they were probably more Greek than Jews, maybe to an area north of Galilee, maybe where Syria is today. Early Christians met on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, which was a work day, so they met early. So, they certainly didn’t have a late night.

To be honest, most of us here today are very similar. We didn’t party hard last night. We, like the early Christians for whom Luke wrote, probably have more in common with that elder brother than the younger. Not many of us have had to live with pigs, not many of us spent our lives in the fleshpots of Adelaide spending our money on fast living. We, like Luke’s congregation, have probably worked hard, just like the elder brother.

It may just be that the elder brother is meant to be us.

So, the elder brother becomes much more important for us. We have seen the others go off and enjoy the fleshpots of life and waste their money. Perhaps we have even gloated when fate catches up on them. Perhaps we resent when after all the damage they have done they are welcomed back with a party. Perhaps they remind us of a brother or sister we know who has wrecked our families.

Maybe we are the ones who are standing outside the party full of resentment, hearing the party going on, but not going in.

Maybe that’s the whole problem of the Church in the world today, we are outside in the darkness, refusing to go into the party, full of moral judgment and indignation.

Now Our Lord doesn’t give us an easy answer. He leaves the fate of the elder brother in the air. That’s the parable challenging us. That’s where we leave it. Where do we stand at the moment? When do we stand in the darkness, hearing the party going on, but refusing to enter because our anger and judgment? When do we forget to celebrate but make our work and routine justification? When do we forget to forgive?

There is Always Hope – Lent III, 20 March, 2022

Well, we have a great passage for Lent today. It asks some of the most common and complicated question that challenges our faith. It is a question that virtually everyone who has experienced suffering or loss has considered: where is God in this?

Even more difficult are the related questions: Why is there so much suffering in the world? Is suffering somehow linked to behaviour? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Then, there are the most pointed questions of all: does God cause suffering; and is suffering a form of divine punishment?

Suffering and its existence in a world created by a good God is one of the most basic theological dilemmas and cause many to question the faith. We can say a lot of words and give explanations, but we often don’t deal with the very real pain and brokenness of those who dared utter these difficult questions in the first place.

Even so, amidst all of its snares and dangers, to those who have been battered and bruised by the changes and chances of this life, the Gospel today from St Luke offers an important word of nourishment.

The context of the passage is this: news reaches Our Lord that Pilate has made a religious sacrifice to the Emperor, who was often considered a kind of demigod in those days, and as a part of that burnt sacrifice, he slaughtered a gathering of Galilean Jews and placed their remains on the sacrificial pyre.

And as if that is not horrifying enough, at the same time that Our Lord hears of Pilate’s treachery, news arrives that a tower in Siloam has fallen, crushing eighteen people.

The crowd who relayed this horrible news to Our Lord was burning with the same question that has echoed throughout Christendom for 2,000 years: “Why did this tragedy happen to these people?”

We’ve heard this question asked before elsewhere in Scripture: the Gospel according to St John asks the same question in a different way, as Our Lord is asked about a man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?”

In other passages, well-intentioned but inadequate answers to the problem of suffering are suggested. Take, for example, the Book of Job, as Job’s so-called friends gather in the wake of Job’s terrible string of suffering and say well-meaning but dumb things like, “You need to seek God,” or “It could be worse,” or “God’s punishment is less than you deserve.”

We only have to think of the unfolding destruction in Ukraine, where over a million people are refugees, and countless homes destroyed. “Why has this terrible thing happened to such innocent people?” we well may ask.

A lot of this comes from one of the most basic and widely-accepted rules of modern science is that every demonstrable effect is derived from a cause. We have transposed this equation onto everything from religion to sports to politics to the economy: you name it, we human beings love trying to explain it!

So, things from as simple as a paint scrape on a new car to suffering as profound and heart-wrenching as a divorce or an ominous diagnosis, or even the death of a loved one, can cause us to ask the question, “What did I do to deserve this?”

In many ways, this search for answers is an indispensable part of our humanness.

From the depths of despair, there are times when any explanation is better than nothing at all.

But as the crowd asks Our Lord the question of who or what is to blame for these tragedies, Our Lord cannot be clearer: Those who died were no better or worse than we are. Rather, Our Lord says, we have all made mistakes and lost sight of God’s will for our lives, and we are all sinners.

What’s more, although Our Lord insists that the relationship between sin and suffering is not causal – that is, God does not cause us to suffer because of our sin, Our Lord also reminds us that sin itself can cause us to suffer. There is no question that Pilate’s murderous deeds – as well as the horrific actions perpetrated by today’s tyrants – are sinful. And sin has consequences.

Destructive behaviours, violence, the lust for power, and the quest for vengeance and retribution lead to much suffering in the world. The Church is called to speak out in opposition to these forms of suffering, and to do all in its power to combat them.

But with all of that said, what sense can be made of the parable of the fig tree? Why does Our Lord tell that particular parable, and why does he do it here?

It becomes easy to read this parable as though it were the angry and vindictive God being placated by Jesus meek and mild.

But what if it’s not quite that straightforward?

Humans, both ancient and modern, hold “fairness” as an important value. Fairness, in a moralistic sense, is often defined as receiving rewards for doing good and receiving punishment for doing evil. When we hit our targets at work, or we help our neighbours, we expect a little gratitude, or maybe even a bonus. In the same way, when we fail to hit the target or receive thanks due, we might expect some sort of ramification or punishment.

This concept of fairness is at play in the parable of the fig tree. The landowner says what most of us have come to believe about fairness: “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?”

In other words, it hasn’t met its mark or lived up to its potential, and it’s affecting my bottom line, so it has to go.

But the gardener proclaims another possibility: “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

Perhaps this parable is a reminder that God operates, not on our conventional conceptions of fairness and causes and effects; but rather, God operates on contrarian wisdom: patience, faithful tending, and hopeful expectation.

Rather than certainty; rather than providing a recipe for putting an end to human suffering; rather than offering a panacea that would make the world turn on blissful peace and harmony, the Gospel today offers a word of good hope: God is still tending the garden.

God is still working in and through God’s people to bring light and life, love and peace to a broken and sinful world.

This reading reminds us in Lent that we must take up our Cross of suffering – we cannot avoid it, no matter how unfair it seems. But we can take it up because we know as Christians, that there is an all-powerful loving God, a God who took up the Cross of suffering for each of us here on Earth, and died to bring resurrection hope to all who believe in him.

And in that, there is indeed hope for us all. So, despite all the bad news in the world, or the tragedies of our own lives, God is still there, God has borne all crosses of suffering, and there is always hope.

Based on a sermon by Fr Marshall A. Jolly, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina.

Transfiguration – Lent 2,13 March, 2022

Today we have the story of the transfiguration, and the traditional Lenten liturgies very carefully have this reading on the second Sunday of Lent. It’s for a very important reason that I will come to time and time again in Lent: we take up our cross, and we find the strength to do it, because we know that the Cross of suffering concludes with the resurrection joy. Transfiguration is a moment of hope, a moment to see the glory of Our Lord as we suffer so we too have hope in the future.

But in this story, there are so many references back to the Old Testament. The three sleepy disciples look on as Our Lord’s appearance becomes dazzlingly bright, reminiscent of those times Moses would ascend Mount Sinai to meet with God face-to-face. If you remember, on the way down, the people could not look at Moses, so dazzlingly bright was his face (Exodus 34:29-35). The dazzling Moses appears with Elijah, he of the blazing chariot, to pay Our Lord a visit to discuss his “departure.” Often we say they represent the Law and the prophets.

The Greek word for departure is exodos, which we also use for the Book of the bible that describes the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were talking about his exodus which would occur in Jerusalem. This is why we call Christ’s sacrifice “our Passover.” His death will be an exodus; his resurrection is another exodus. Think of Moses and Elijah as paying a pastoral visit to assure Our Lord that they have been before, where he is now, and that sure enough, just as it had been in the wilderness, as it was when fleeing Ahab and Jezebel, as it has been throughout the history of our people, God always provides a way out, an escape route, a way out of bondage, a way out of the hard times, a way beyond and passing over death to a life lived with God all the time. Eternal life with God. That’s Resurrection Life. That’s our hope.

Peter does not miss the importance of the occasion and suggests building three booths: shelters resembling the temporary dwellings patterned after ones in the book of Exodus, dwelling in which the people lived during their wilderness sojourn. Shelters able to be picked-up and moved down the road. The kind of shelter in which all of Israel is commanded to live one week each year during the Festival of Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, which, we hear in the gospels, Our Lord and his disciples faithfully observed each year.

Succoth celebrates the reality that, in the wilderness, God provides, and that we must trust this and be grateful. To this day, observant Jewish people build a Succoth booth for an eight-day remembrance once a year. It must be built so that one can see the stars through the roof, and rain must be able to get in. During this eight-day celebration, one gathers together what are called the Four Species: branches of citron, willow, myrtle and palm.

We still use palms, like on Palm Sunday, which were then burned for Ash Wednesday. The willow and myrtle are bound to the palm, making what is called a lulav. With the citron in one hand, the lulav in the other, they are waved in all four directions, north, south, east, and west, then upwards and downwards to indicate that God is everywhere! Indeed, the voice heard at Our Lord’s baptism returns: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” As God’s presence is heard, Moses and Elijah depart.

The Eighth Day of the Succoth festival is known as Shemini Atzeret, the “day of holding back,” to stop or wait. It is the day the weekly Torah readings are completed and the scroll is turned back to the beginning – “In the beginning.”  The significance of Atzeret, or holding back, is quite interesting. The sages say that this parable is the basis of this day: God is like a king who invites all his children to a feast to last for just so many days; when the time has come for them to depart, he says to them: “My children, I have a request to make of you. Stay yet another day; your departure is difficult for me.” Which brings us back to that which Our Lord, Moses, and Elijah were talking about: his departure, his exodus.

It tends to be overlooked that they likely spent the night on the mountain, for they do not come down until the next day. And curiously, no version of this story says Peter did notbuild the booths. So, we might ask, what did they do all night? Celebrate the Day of Holding Back with Jesus and God? Or did Peter, James, and John obey the voice from the cloud, and listen to Our Lord all night long?

Our Lord’s exodus did not end on Good Friday, any more than the great escape from Egypt was not the end of that first Exodus. For Exodus is always a beginning, just as the eight days of Succoth begin a new year of reading God’s Word. Just as waving the branches north, south, east, and west reminds us that wherever we are, God is with us; that our God is the one God who always wants just one more night with us. And another. Until eventually, we all come down off the mountain, end the exuberant celebrations, and get back to the work God calls us to do – to heal a broken world.

Whatever might be said about Jesus of Nazareth, his life demonstrates how to live a life to repair a broken world. We sense his impatience the next morning when his disciples fail to cast out a spirit convulsing a young man. You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” he blurts out. Then he patiently takes care of the young man, and we are told, “All were amazed at the greatness of God!”

We need to hold to that hope and amazement, to give us the strength as we take up our Cross and follow Our Lord. Perhaps if we spend one more day with the God who does not want us to leave, we too will be amazed at the greatness of God and hold that hope. We may find our exodus out of chaos leads us to a new beginning in a world of resurrection, celebration, and radical amazement as those three disciples experienced on a mountaintop with Our Lord, one night long ago.

Based partly on a sermon by Fr Kirk Alan Kubicek of Christ Church, Rock Spring Parish, Forest Hill, Md. USA.

Temptation Time – Lent 1, 6 March, 2022

Well, here is Lent and we start our Lent with the reading of the temptation in the wilderness. It’s a great passage, and you can imagine it, with Our Lord and the devil and all the temptations. There have been some great pictures of it by many of the great painters of the world.

Today, being our third year of our readings from the Gospel, we have Luke’s account. St Luke is always the most visual – he tells us so often where people are, it’s almost as if he were a playwright, visualising where everyone has to be for the maximum impact. His structure for the temptation here is also different. There are the three temptations, but also a common question and answer structure.

But let’s look at what the temptations are.

The first is “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” It’s the temptation to satisfy hunger, the needs of the body, when Jesus had not eaten for forty days. So many of the temptations we have in life are to deal with our physical comfort: things that we often don’t need, a more comfortable car, more luxurious food. We have to be aware in our lives that our taste for comfort does not become an indulgence. We have probably all met people who go on endlessly over the tritest thing that discomforts them, it’s too hot, or too cold, it’s all too easy to do. But one does not live by bread alone. Our physical comfort is not the only thing that is necessary in life: there is self-sacrifice and the need to support others in our community as well.

The next temptation was the temptation of the glory of the world. “If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” We are all susceptible to the glory of the world, fame, renown the good opinions of others. But the glory of this world is a fickle creature. We have all seen stories of people who are famous one moment, then reviled the next. What is important in life is not what others think of us, but how we are with God.  The Devil promises the world, but we trade away our peace and our soul at the price. We are made to worship our God and only him: the world is a tempting but broken promise.

So the first is the temptation of the flesh, the second is the temptation of the world: what then is the third? “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.” Our Lord responds to it with: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” This is the test of learning that we are not god. God never saves those who do not want to be saved. If you want to throw yourself over a cliff, it will happen. God has given us free will in our lives, and loves us so that God will not overthrow that independence. We can choose to live with God or live alone. God will not be put to the test – the love of God is that he will allow us to make our own choices. The temptation of the devil here was to offer Our Lord a chance to be outside God, to do whatever he wanted separate from the will of his Father. But God will not be put to the test. Luke puts this temptation last – the temptation to be god, to make oneself the centre of the universe, and live without our real God. This temptation is idolatry, where we make ourselves god.

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” St Luke finishes the temptations with this line, that is often skipped over. But Luke is too much of a storyteller to let this go by. The clue to this is in the crucifixion, much, much later, when Our Lord is dying on the cross. He is reviled by many, but at one stage we hear that (23:36-37) the soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” It is the same sentence structure again, “If you are, then.” The devil has returned, this time speaking through the soldiers. It’s also interesting that this is linked with the offering of the sour wine, which Jesus has said earlier at the Last Supper, that he will not drink again until the Kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18). Some scholars see this as Our Lord completing the Passover Meal at the cross – the last supper does not conclude in the upper room, because Our Lord refuses the last cup, drawing the Passover meal on till his death on the cross, thus uniting the meal with his death, and creating the sacrament of the altar.

Three sorts of temptations: the flesh, the world and idolatry. Dealing with temptation means recognising it for what it is, then we need to deal with it. Many of us know too well how we are tempted. Temptation is rarely overcome by our own self-will: if it is it usually means another temptation has slipped in. Temptation is overcome by recognition and the acknowledgement we need help. Our Lord responds by quoting Scripture, the power of God. Temptation is dealt with best by leaving it with God, praying and working with God with our recognition of its wrongfulness, as in Scripture, and appealing to God to overcome it. Temptation is overcome by not just being idle, but doing the works of God.

Temptation is also a question of what our goals are. The temptations here, food, glory and worship are all about the immediate. But what we learn as Christians is that our goal is always God. We look forward to being with God and that gives us the strength to overcome temptation. It’s how we take up our cross and follow Our Lord – we do so because we know the cross of suffering is not the end, but resurrection and new life is the end. It is that future that gives us the courage and strength to deal with the suffering of the moment, the temptation of the hour, to hope in the glory of the future.

So welcome to Lent and the time to contemplate our temptations.

Starting with Oneself – 27 February, 2022

We have all met people who are very free with their advice. Now admittedly, there are those who have good advice. But I know with myself, even if I know it is good advice, I am not very good at listening to advice I did not ask for.

I have heard of families where this is even more prone. Parents giving advice to newly married members of the family are a famous source of contention. You may remember in your own lives parents in law who have been a little to free with tackless advice.

By the looks of the Gospel today the problem of free advice was current even in Our Lord’s time. Isn’t it amazing, that the times may change but the same problems remain. Our Lord in the Gospel today tackles the problem of advice givers.

Typically, as with moral questions, Our Lord starts with ourselves. Our Lord always starts a moral problem with the need to look at where we are. It is “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”, not “Don’t do anything to another you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” Moral questions start with ourselves and where we are. The reason for this is clear. We are not to judge others; we can only judge ourselves. That’s a hard lesson. We may start our lives wanting to change the world, then we may want only to change those around us, but the best we can hope for in our lives is that we may change ourselves. And, at the end, what Our Lord will be interested in is not what we think of others, but how we have lived our own life.

So today, Our Lord starts with ourselves. He talks today to the disciples, not the crowd, but the disciples who are following him. He tells them that how can they say to those around, let me take that slinter out of your eye, when we have a plank in our own? We are not to go picking on others, trying to set their lives straight, when our own lives are a mess.

So, what are we to do? The starting point has to be a regular examination of oneself. A daily prayer life needs a dose of self-examination and confession. A prayer life is a way of knowing God, of learning our true relationship with God. That is why it demands a reflection on who we are. The ancient Greeks had it right when they started knowledge off with the words, know thyself. It was one of the three maxims inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Delphi, and the other two were interestingly “nothing to excess” and “certainty brings insanity.”

But back to ourselves. If we are ever to progress in understanding God, we must start to see what God has done for us, the sheer quantity of love that God gives us. To see that we have to understand where we are. That is only done by self-examination, of looking over what we have done and seeing the mess we have made at time.

This can be painful. No-one likes to see mistakes, that’s why it is so much easier to criticise others. Yet unless we tackle our own failings, we can never hope to put things right.

Self-examination and confession are needed for all Christians. We need it. It can be hurtful to do so, but unless we see our own failings, we are never going to understand what God is doing for us.

The good news is that once we realise our limitations, we start to see that God is always helping us, not testing us too much, and showing us ways to fix up the mess we leave behind.

Another point about self-examination – it is by naming our failures we find we start to control ourselves. That’s one reason why confession to another person is always so powerful – once we name our fault, we define it, and make it manageable. The way that people can became deranged or perverted is in part where they construct a life where truth is missing, that the person never admits the actual sin or evil that is driving them.

Now Lent is just around the corner, so I encourage you all today to look to the plank in your own eye before offering to tackle other people’s splinters. Self-examination makes us realise our own failings and gives us a chance to put things right. It also allows us to deepen our relationship with God, and see how he is helping us. If that splinter of someone else is annoying you, then just think how much you could be annoying the other person by your plank. So, take a piece of tolerance, and maybe God will be more tolerant of you.

terest. Furthermore, we do things in the shadow of our own judgment.

Our Lord is calling us to live a life in the presence of the Father – to be truly his children. Therefore, Christians are called to live a life that shows the love of God, which means a life of forgiveness.

This life is one that Our Lord does not belittle as being easy – his whole life would be an exemplar of that ability to forgive and turn the other check as seen on the cross. So how we live such a life.

The core to a Christian life is the ability to forgive. Each one of us suffers in life in some form from the ingratitude, deceit and hate of those around us: neighbours, friends, work colleagues and family. The closer the person the greater risk we have of suffering from that person. If we do not love and become vulnerable, we are safe – but that course is one of loneliness and impossible. Each one of us is made in the image of a God who loves and we can do nothing else but attempt to love in return. Therefore, we will face the disappointment of dealing with others and our own imperfections in love.

Forgiveness requires an effort to make a decision to let go. At times we may think we are justified in having it out with that person, telling them off, or even going to law. There are times when we are so justified. But there comes a time in any conflict when it is time to let go and move on. That is forgiveness. It is the ability to not let the past ruin the future by bitterness. The greatest trial we often face is the trail of learning to forgive, the greatest gift we can give or receive, is the gift of forgiveness, the gift that gives peace.

So what gives us the strength to take on this burden? One of the great lessons of Christianity is that we look beyond what is now to what we are promised. We are promised that we can be children of the Most High. Our goal is not petty revenge, but everlasting life as a child of God. That is the strength that allows to struggle with our failures and resentments now, to learn to find the power to forgive.

This is different to forgetfulness. The sorry history of Ireland is that they neither forget nor forgive and the past destroys a future hope. The last few years we have seen a hope that forgiveness may yet come and give a future. Forgiveness is learning to live and move on, which is harder than forgetfulness.

It is no co-incident that St Luke notes the crowd of the disciples, and the great multitude are those listening. Yet Our Lord is said to be speaking to the disciples. The challenge is for them to be disciples or just part of the multitude. The challenge for us is to be a disciple and listen or be part of a bigger multitude who will drift away. If we are to a disciple then we must undertake the expensive lesson of loving enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us – doing these things by the practice and strength of forgiveness. If we can do these things, we then have the assurance – the measure we give will be the measure we receive, for we too need forgiveness.

Parts of the Whole – 23 January, 2022

There is nothing as boring as the annual returns that the parish has to do, yet year by year, soon after Christmas, we start to think of things like annual reports and figures for the diocese, and elections for warden, council and nominators for the parish.

But we have to remember that parish is not Church. Also, this building is only a building to hold us, it’s not Church with a capital C either. Rather, this building is a structure in which the Church gathers for solace and pardon and strength and renewal and for inspiration to become more fully what the Church is – the body of Christ.

In today’s Epistle, we received a reminder from St Paul that all together we, the Church, are, in fact, “the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

We remember, too, that the clergy and the vestry are not the Church. No one person, no one group, and no one activity can become the Church for us. The Church IS the body of Christ.

The Church is NOT something to belong to. Nevertheless, sometimes people talk about joining the Church like they do about joining the Rotary Club or some social club. Those who do affiliate with such organisations pay dues to them, attend meetings when they feel like it, and turn in their membership cards when they grow tired of the organisation’s activities or become angry at what it does or the changes it makes. The Church, committed to God, is very different, of course. It is – we are – the body of Christ.

Neither is the Church something to watch on television as interested spectators. For us, the Church is taking part of something. We are necessarily partakers and contributors. We are not like the audience at a concert, but we are like members of the orchestra making the music – God’s music to which we dance in our daily lives, following our Christian values.

We are the body of Christ, and each of us individually is a member of it. But we are not individuals without the body – only within it. We are not Christians alone; we are not separate actors choosing our own views without reference to the faith. Always, we are together – parts of the whole. And our congregations, the Church, are part of the body of Christ.

St Paul drives home this point as he expands his view of the body of Christ by using the image of a human body. He enlightens us with telling examples of its parts – hand, ear, eye, nose, feet, and head. Each has its special function. As we consider what we are as the Church, we do well to remember this. As different parts of a human body make their contributions, each of us finds a particular contribution to the Church, finding a ministry that suits us and complements the others.

Also, we expand these ministries beyond the confines of the congregation as we all apply our ministries in making the work of Christ effective in our daily lives for the sake of all around us.

But, we dare not forget to balance these individual roles following another aspect of St Paul’s analogy. It takes all parts of a human body working together to produce the functioning of a healthy one. We must work together, recognising the equal importance of all ministries and all members and all people. St Paul illustrates this in language we should never forget. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Each, he insists, is equally indispensable. All of us, doing our parts, are indispensable.

So, we must also expand this view beyond the confines of the Church. In the broken and fearful and often desperate world in which we live, conflict and contention and extremism and lack of civility on many sides seem to have become the rule instead of the exception. Far too often, choose sides, ascribe to an “us versus them” mentality, and draw lines in the sand. How can we take St Paul’s wisdom that no one can say “I have no need of you” and extend it to all people and all places to make this sense of Christ-like unity understood and accepted?

As the body of Christ, we are the activity and the continuing presence of Jesus in the world. We become the Resurrection. The Church is the means by which Christ remains involved in the world. So, we, his body, are Christ’s representatives on earth.

We, the Church, are Christ for others – at work, at home, at school, in the community, and in the life of our congregations.

One of the fascinating things about the pandemic is how models of Church have come into play. We have been quite clear here at St George’s – what matters is the mass, our continual focus of strength, renewal, and intercessory prayer. Even when the doors were closed, the mass went on inside this building. I missed you all, but your presence was not the rationale for our existence.

Other places have had a different emphasis. To them what was important was that it should be safe place to gather and worship. Therefore, if people could not come the mass did not happen. Instead, people were encouraged to watch livestreams of services or do their own prayers.

Now, there have been some great ministries there. But when that was the emphasis, the buildings remained closed and unused. Even now I have heard of some parishes where the churches are still closed because of the danger of infection. Nothing happens inside them anymore.

What has happened here is that the idea of church has just become that of a social club, designed for the safety and convenience of those who decide to attend. If they don’t come, it doesn’t matter.

That is not the Church.

St Paul makes the point that we are all part to the body, which is Christ. Unless we find Christ in our midst, we no longer work as that body, doing different tasks, because we no longer have the Spirit renewing and directing us. I do not believe in enlightenment by television. I believe in the gifting of the Spirit through the sacraments. That is why the sacraments are Our Lord’s greatest gift to us. A body has to have a beating heart, and that beating heart is the sacraments, the giving of Our Lord’s blood, infusing all the different members of the body of Christ. The body does not live without the blood from the heart: the Church does not live without the blood of Christ.

We are all given different gifts of the Spirit. But we will not use them is we do not discern them, and we won’t discern them unless we seek the sacraments of grace that we find here. Then we can engage in the great mission of the body of Christ, following the challenges that Our Lord lays before us. They represent how we actively serve as Christ’s continuing presence in the world.

Wedding at Cana- 16 January, 2022

There are several mysteries in the Gospel reading today: there is a wedding but we never meet the married couple; there are the stone jars; and Mary is always referred to as “his mother” and not by name.

Let’s tackle the wedding first. It’s a Cana in Galilee and we are told that the mother of Jesus was there, and, after that, that Jesus and his disciples were there as well. St John in his Gospel is putting the theme of the celebration, but then we never get to mention the happy couple. Presumably, as this was not Nazareth, there must have been a strong connection for them to have travelled to a wedding, this was obviously some big do, not a small village affair. If we are not going to meet the married couple, then the significance is placed on the nature of what is happening: a marriage.

Marriage is the lifelong commitment between two people. In Scripture it is often used as the image of the relationship between God and his people. The people of God are wed to their God: they may be unfaithful to him, but the covenant between God and people cannot be broken. So, any marriage celebration echoes that relationship between God and people, and the absence of the married couple here emphasises this relationship again. St John is reminding his readers that there is a relationship between God and them. The miracle occurs within a relationship.

Then we come to the stone jars. We are told that they are there for the rites of purification, and that they are empty. Presumably, they were emptied before the celebration for the cleansing of the guests, but now they are empty. The rites of purification, like that of temple sacrifice, continue on and on and are repeated, yet always finish with more needed to be done. So it is with the stone jars.

There is also a point of six jars: six is always a pointer to something not complete, it’s not a holy number like seven, the days of creation and rest. Six also indicates that this rite is incomplete.

Finally, we are told that the jars are stone. We often read over that without thinking. But most large jars would have been made in pottery and glazed, that was far cheaper and convenient. Making six large stone jars was a very costly affair. We are deliberately told that they are stone jars, not just jars, so St John is wanting us to think about the stone. Maybe it’s a pointer to the stones of the Temple, as St John has a strong Temple imagery in the Gospel, or to the complaint from the prophets that the people have hearts of stone.

It’s also worth remembering how massive these jars were. They are far out of scale to a normal house. St John is also pointing to the scale of the miracle to happen.

It’s also worth noting that the whole party does not witness the miracles: just the servants. God’s miracles are not always obvious to everyone. It echoes how the birth of the Christchild was announced to the shepherds, people on the fringes, not the whole village of Bethlehem. God often works most clearly with those on the margins, like the servants here.

The next point is why call Mary the mother of Jesus, and not Mary? This emphasises her relationship to Our Lord, and not her. In the great icons of Mary with Jesus, such as our little copy in the Lady Chapel, this relationship is always maintained, Mary points always to her son. She is saying, not me, but him always. Mary is put first at this point, Jesus and his disciples come after her.

Then the wine gives out.

Mary is then the one to solve the problem. She states the obvious and lets Our Lord work it out. Interesting, if you take all the words we have of Mary, the next quote, “Do what ever he tells you” is her last spoken words in the gospels. It’s a fitting conclusion – Mary, once more, always refers back to her son, and says do what ever he tells you. She gives these words of advice to the servants, and to us for all time, and then remains silent.

What the Gospel is emphasising is the nature of Our Lord’s signs; they point to his power as the Messiah. Abundance flows; weddings are prolonged with the new wine.

There are two things I hope you take from these readings today. Firstly, trust Our Lord. We never trust him enough. Our Lord knows who we are, and what we have done and how little we have trusted him. That does not matter. All we have to do is to listen to him again and trust him, and the miracles will happen. This is faith, and it is hard: no wonder our Lord says that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains. It’s such a hard lesson to learn to trust, really trust, and learn that despite all the problems and trails that happen, Jesus is there and looking after us.

Secondly, listen to Mary. Do what ever he tells you. Mary is the one who is constantly pointing us to Jesus. That’s why in many old icons, such as the one in memory of Fr Willoughby, whose year’s mind is later this month, here in our Lady Chapel, Mary points to Jesus. Mary is always saying, “not me, but my son.” Love of Mary does that; it channels our love back to the God, in the person of her Son. That is Mary. The servants seem not to know Jesus, but they trusted Mary, and the miracle happened. Do what ever he tells you. Our problem is that we don’t listen to him enough and then don’t do what he does tell us.

One of the little delights of this passage is the beginning and end. Mary goes to the wedding, and Our Lord and his disciples are invited as well. But Mary is the first one mentioned. Yet at the end, Our Lord leaves, with Mary, his brothers and disciples. His position has changed. He came as one of the family: he leaves as a leader, with his family as followers. Faith changes things: the miracle changed his family. Any encounter with Jesus as our Lord and Messiah does that: we can no longer be first, we are to follow.

So trust and do what ever our Lord tells us.

Grace and Water – 9 January, 2022

Everyone here has presumably been baptised. You may not remember it, but at some stage, someone thought it was important enough to get you done.

Today we celebrate the baptism of Our Lord. The Gospels talk about the baptism of Our Lord and the baptism of John the Baptist. The distinction made is that John baptised for the repentance of sins. So, when Our Lord turned up it placed John in a quandary, because he recognised Our Lord as the Messiah, and recognised that he had no sin. So therefore, there was no sense in baptising Our Lord for the repentance of his sins.

But Our Lord insisted. Then in the Gospel according to St Matthew he told his disciples that they were to baptise. Baptism became the defining rite by which Christians were made.

So, what happened when Our Lord was baptised and what happens when we are baptised?

Let’s consider what happens when Our Lord is baptised. Others came for repentance; Our Lord comes with no sins. As God he then takes part in the rite to show his solidarity with all who wish for repentance. But even more, he sanctifies the water by his divinity. The waters are blessed by his baptism, and, as a result, baptism is no longer just for the repentance of sins, but the giving of Christ in a new way. To testify this the Spirit is seen as a dove, and the Father acknowledges the Son from heaven: a new sacrament is formed.

Now we can consider what happens to us when we are baptised.

Remember at this point what the word sacrament means. It came from the oath, the sacred oath, that a Roman soldier gave to serve in the army, way back at the time of christ, the oath to the SPQR. This oath made him a soldier. In the same way the early Christians called baptism a sacrament, as it made each of us a servant and soldier of Christ. Through baptism we will serve the true king for eternity.

But for Christians sacraments are not just words: sacraments are the giving of grace. You may remember from your confirmation days; the definition of sacraments is an outward and visible form of an inner and spiritual grace.

So, what’s the importance of grace. Let’s try an analogy. If a police officer stops you when driving, she usually doesn’t ask you about the make of car you are driving. What is usually asked about is how you were driving. It’s not an offence to drive an expensive car or a bomb, as long as you drive it according to the traffic rules. So, it is with our lives at the end of time. What we will be asked is not if we had a rich home or a poor home, but how we lived out our lives. How we lived our lives depends on whether we were children of God or not, whether we have done God’s will or not. So how are we children of God? Think how we recognise other people’s children – we see the family resemblance. I expect a few of you over Christmas have been looking at grandchildren or nephews or nieces and seeing the resemblance to the parents, or in the case of grandchildren trying to see your own. Or we know the child from long experience: we see the child often with the parent, and we recognise the child as being part of a family unit. So it is with a child of God: children of God are known by the resemblance to God, and that resemblance is the gift of grace in our lives. Grace is the gift to become like God and to grow like God. Grace makes us more Christlike.

This is the great gift of baptism: the gift of grace that makes us a child of God. Sometimes we say it is the wiping of original sin, the removal of that sin that twists us away from God. At baptism we receive the sacramental grace that marks that child as a child of God.

That grace in baptism gives us a particular skill to live out our own particular mission as Christians – we call that a charism. Not everyone has the same mission, not everyone has the same work to do. Nonetheless, all have something invaluable to contribute to the world. All missions complement each other. Thus, no matter what one’s mission is, what one’s charism is, if they live it out properly, they will find themselves receiving not only grace, but great personal satisfaction, as they will have realized who they are meant to be in Christ. For it is through that realisation they will be able to truly see themselves in Christ, and Christ in themselves, and in this manner, like St Paul, they will know all that they do has Christ working in and through them. Their lives have value because their lives make them one with Christ. Everything in the world will be seen in and through the lens of that unity, in and through their union with Christ. Thus, Christians are to make the most of their lives by taking the charism given to them and living it out, for when they do so, they will find themselves filled with glory, the glory of Christ, which is the glory of God. However, like Christ, they should know that such glory is not meant to be something selfishly guarded and used solely for their own benefit, but rather, it is something to be shared with others. To live out one’s mission, to fulfil it, one must be grounded in love, to realize it is not about rising up and becoming a spectacle in the world for others to love and respect, but rather, it is about loving and respecting others, lifting them up so that they too can be that they are meant to be.

Now, a child may not remain with that grace. Sin twists and darkens the image. That’s why we have confession to ask God’s forgiveness to restore the purity of the image, to receive again grace. We also have free will and can deliberately turn away from the grace that is given us.

To go back to the driving analogy again: grace is like wiping away our demerit points. Baptism is like receiving our licence: we don’t start off with zero points, we start off with a full complement of points, it’s up to us to then loose them. Baptism gives us those full points.

This day we remember our baptism and its giving of grace. We are only baptised once in our lives: once we become a child of God, we are never disowned, no matter what evil we commit. God loves us too much. Holy Mother Church reminds us two times in the year about our baptism: today and during the blessing of baptismal water on Easter Eve. In the Orthodox tradition they also have a lovely ceremony for this feast today when they throw a crucifix into the water and people dive in to retrieve it. When I was a curate at Shepperton in Victoria we used to look after the Orthodox Macedonian Community and we did the ceremony every year, it was a lot of fun. It also helped as it was summer; think of the Orthodox who will be doing this swim in the northern winter. In Russia they often do it instead for the Feast of the Holy Cross, which is in September, so they don’t have to brace the icy waters.

Today is a good moment for us all to think about our own baptism, and also question: where do we now stand before God? Are we a child of God or not? If we stood before God this day, as we all must one day, would God recognise us or not? How can we work to become more Christlike, become more a child of God, and receive that grace that so marks us.

The Journey of the Magi – 2 January 2022

Let me read you a poem:

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

This is from from the first section of the great Epiphany poem, “Journey of the Magi” by the 20th C poet T. S. Eliot. Eliot in turn also used material from the Christmas sermon preached in 1622 by the English bishop, Lancelot Andrewes. Now Andrews (although what a great first name of Lancelot!) was in the 17th C, after the Reformation, but was very much in what was the Catholic model. He was James I’s favourite preacher, and his sermons are beautiful prose, but also full of Latin and Greek: not for the lazy at all, as they often took an hour. Andrewes, who oversaw the translation of the King James Bible, had a gift for elegantly expressive language. It is said that he was fluent in fifteen languages, and that he strived to master one new language every year. When he said his prayers, he did so in three languages, and none of them was English. If you ever go to what is now Southwark Cathedral, just across London Bridge, you can see his tomb.

Eliot took Andrewes’ sermon and reworked part of it into his poem so:

A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.’

Became:

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

The focus of today’s Feast of the Epiphany is the universal reach of the Light of the World. The three Magi, coming from faraway places to do homage to the Christ Child, signify that whatever was revealed in Bethlehem was not confined to a single culture, language, or tradition. The babe in the manger would ultimately spark recognition in every longing heart. All people can come to the God made flesh in the babe of Bethlehem, from poor Jewish shepherds to wise Gentile Magi from afar.

But Eliot’s particular focus is on the psychology and spirituality of the Magi themselves, or at least the one whose voice speaks the poem. He recites the complaints common to pilgrims: bad roads, bad weather, bad food, unpleasant companions, inhospitable strangers, and the homesick yearning for one’s own bed. He wonders whether the journey might be ‘all folly.’

As for the actual moment of arrival, of seeing the long-sought Epiphany, it is described so briefly, as though words must fail before such a mystery:

…and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

Then what? The Magi go back home, to the world they knew,

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Whatever Bethlehem had shown them, nothing in their lives would ever, could ever, be the same. This holy Birth had also brought a kind of death: the ‘old dispensation,’ whatever the Magi had settled for up to now, could no longer stand. The world of the past – erring, broken, lost, in love with the wrong thing – was being swept away. Behold, I make all things new.

When Eliot wrote this poem, not only was he a fairly new Christian, he was also in the throes of a difficult, disintegrating marriage. Coming to the faith at mid-life, Eliot’s conversion was not a simple matter of belief out of unbelief, but of a long, slow, clearly painful process of letting go of one life and clinging desperately to another. Like the Magi, the new convert travels out of one country into a sometimes dark, dank, unfamiliar place where the natives are not always kind, the sleep often restless, the mission undefined. Is it a birth or a death? “I had seen birth and death,” he writes, “But had thought they were different; this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.” Eliot found the voice of the Magi in his own experience, and the words of Andrewes.

In our own day, says Andrewes in the sermon, we are apt to hold ourselves back, and resist the journey of transformation:

And we, what should we have done? Sure these men of the East will rise in judgment against the men of the West, that is with us, and their faith against ours in this point. . . . Our fashion is to see and see again before we stir a foot, specially if it be to the worship of Christ. Come such a journey at such a time? No; but fairly have put it off to the spring of the year, till the days longer, and the ways fairer, and the weather warmer, till better travelling to Christ. Our Epiphany would sure have fallen in Easter week at the soonest.

We are well acquainted with such spiritual procrastination. It is a practice not so easy to shed. We do prefer our comfort zones. Or as Andrewes put it, ‘We love to make no great haste.’

And yet, despite our best evasions, there may come a time when we find ourselves on a strange and arduous journey into that Place where everything is changed. Whether we choose the journey, or the journey chooses us, doesn’t really matter. In either case, once we have encountered the Epiphany, we will be ‘no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.’

And then what?

St Stephen

Here we are again, good people of St George’s! The day before yesterday, in the evening, and yesterday we celebrated Christmas, the feast of Our Lord’s birth. We contemplated the little child in the crib, we sung “Silent Night,” heard the tidings of peace for the world. And suddenly today, in stark contrast, we are clothed in blood-red vestments, we hear of the bloody death of Stephen, and of Our Lord’s warnings of persecution, death, and hatred for his name’s sake. So, what’s the connection between Christmas and the martyr Stephen? How are we to understand this? Does it mean we shouldn’t take the beauty and the peace of Christmas too seriously?

The Church’s long tradition of celebrating the memorial of St Stephen after Christmas does not serve to demote Christmas, but to continue it, and to manifest more clearly an important meaning of the Christmas celebration. Our Lord Jesus became human, became a child, so that he might also find a place in our hearts. We fully understand Our Lord’s birth only in the light of his being born in the heart, in our heart. So, after Christmas, the birth of the small Christchild, we also contemplate the birth of the Church, the Church as a child.

Now when Our Lord comes to dwell in our hearts, that cannot remain without effect. It really makes a difference whether we let him in or not. When he, who can do all things dwells within us, he transforms our hearts, and thus makes a difference in our attitudes towards one another and toward life. We see that in St Stephen’s life. As one of the first deacons he had a twofold task. He was assigned to the service of the tables, the service of love to the poor, so that the Apostles would have more time for preaching. But since he also the gift of preaching, he should also perform this ministry of truth. And Stephen, trusting in Our Lord, devoted himself whole-heartedly to these tasks. He was stoned to death because his preaching of Our Lord as the Son of God was considered blasphemy. Now, we might think that if Stephen, more considerate of the understanding and passion of his Jewish brothers for the oneness of God, had spoken more carefully about Our Lord, he would not have been stoned, he could have continued to preach Our Lord, he could have done more good.

But St Stephen make no compromises concerning the truth. He proclaims the Lord who has revealed himself and whom he had come to know. But he does not proclaim this truth by way of violence or hatred, but in love and in self-giving. At the last, he forgives the people who kill him. As Our Lord prayed for those who killed him, so St Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not count this sin against them!” His witness, his death was fruitful for the Church. The remembrance of this witness, for example, probably later helped Saul, who was there at his death, to accept Christ’s message, and thereby to become the great Apostle Paul.

St Stephen is an example to us of faithfulness to Our Lord, an example of holding fast to the truth in love, of the way we all should and want to go. This way is not always easy. It is not always easy to avoid deviating too much in one or the other direction: to give up truth for the sake of love, or to give up love for the sake of truth. Sometimes one hears that faithful Christians, in order to be tolerant, must abandon the claim to truth, must not proclaim or hold the faith as truth or even as true, for that leads to intolerance and to hatred. But the example of St Stephen shows us that the world needs the witness of the truth, and that it is possible to preach this truth in steadfast conviction and yet without violence, but in love and in self-giving.

Let us pray to Our Lord, who came into this world as a child, that we have the courage and the wisdom to profess our faith in our family, in our workplace, wherever we are, in a convinced and convincing and loving manner, as St Stephen did. Amen.

Christmas Day 2021

One of my favourite poets is TS Eliot, and he wrote in Little Gidding, “the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Today we contemplate the mystery of the Word-made-flesh – of God who now at last in the fullness of time takes on human nature to accomplish his plan of our salvation – I am reminded of these words as we look upon the Christchild in his crib. Is it not striking that Our Lord begins his earthly life in a borrowed cave, because there was no room at the inn, wrapped up in linen swaddling clothes, knowing in advance that 33 years later he would end his earthly life much the same way: in another borrowed cave – the tomb lent by one of his secret disciples – wrapped up this time in a linen funeral shroud? This child born between two beasts, this man crucified between two criminals: he is the same God Almighty whose earthly throne is in the Jerusalem Temple perched between two cherubim.

These thoughts help us, who have perhaps become too accustomed to the sentimental aspect of the Christmas story, to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time: to come on bended knee into the Crib this year and to remember that the new-born Baby in Mary’s arms beneath the star of Bethlehem will one day lie lifeless in her arms beneath the cross. We already know how the story ends: with a death and a resurrection. Yet we come back year after year, the eternal freshness of Christmas making us forget the passing years.

What do you think we would have heard in the stable if we could have been there at that first Christmas 2000 years ago? Shh, ssh, don’t wake the sleeping Redeemer, but come and lean in closely. As God sleeps in his bed of straw, I seem to hear not so much a voice as an echo: even with eyes closed, the tender Babe sees the world around him – the world he made, after all – and from within the depths of his soul he asks the question that one day he asked out loud to Peter: “and he asked his disciples, saying: … But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15). One question, so many answers!

Mary, who do you say that I am? Dear Mother, more than anyone else you understand the true mystery of Christmas.  With a mother’s love you gaze upon your baby son, but you look deeper, Mary: you see beyond the outward veil of flesh, the eternal Son of God: born eternally of the Father he now is born in time through you. O first and living body that held Our Lord, you invite us today not to the stable but to the tabernacle, that we may adore hidden under the veil of bread him whom you adored in his crib of straw. Scripture tells us: “they found the Child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11). It will be the same for us, O holy Virgin: if we want to find Jesus, we must find him with you.

People of Bethlehem, who do you say that I am? What: an inconvenience, an unwanted child? You could at least have seen a family in need and yet in your inn there is no room. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Shepherds, who do you say that I am? You are simple men: the Pharisees of Jerusalem think nothing of you because you do not share their learning. But you are men of the promise: you know only that God promised your Fathers a Redeemer and you know that he is faithful; you are not ashamed to live in the backwater of Bethlehem because you remember the prophet’s word: “And you Bethlehem are a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of you shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). The days marked out by the prophet have elapsed: now is the time for promise made to be fulfilled. The angel song is the reward of your humility, and you are the first ones invited to adore in the flesh the one whom even Moses feared to see in the thunders of Mount Sinai.

King Herod, who do you say that I am? O saddest of sinners, the wilfully ignorant. The scribes of Jerusalem open to you the prophetic books: the finger of the centuries points out the Messiah. Not only do you refuse to adore, but you think you can destroy God’s plan! We weep for you, poor Herod, when we see you at the head not of those who adore, but of the long line of dictators who think that they can build a human peace by refusing the Prince of Peace. The Holy Innocents, the victims of Roman persecution, those who fall to the sword, the hordes massacred the wars and regimes of the last century: their blood cries out for you, Herods old and new! Your names, O persecutors, pollute the dustbin of history: but the divine Child remains on his throne and he breaks your rod of iron.

And you, what about you, my friends sitting here today: who do YOU say that he is? Is he just a family tradition, a little statue we cart out once a year just to put him away again in a box when we have opened our gifts and eaten our Christmas lunch? Do we feel threatened like Herod, somehow aware that if he is who he says he is, then we need to give him our whole life? Are we indifferent like the people of Bethlehem: is there no room in our inn, because it is over full with the little pet sins we don’t really want to give up? If we do not pray or if there is someone we still have never forgiven, then this year is the Christmas when we finally can decide to put things right. God did not send his only Son, he did not condescend to the poverty of the stable or the shame of the cross, simply so that he could get his picture on a greeting card. He came to save us: “this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). He came to save us because we need to be saved. Because he has come, salvation is now possible – but salvation is not automatic, and salvation is not for the indifferent. If you want to see him one day in heaven, then we must come to him today on bended knee with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds.

Come into the stable with me – we will wait for the shepherds to pay their humble homage – and let us see it anew as if for the first time. Today, heaven is all wrapped up in swaddling clothes. He is there waiting – waiting for you. Christmas is there to remind us that we also must decide. The world can never be the same once God enters it as one of us. It is your turn now to come to the manger. We won’t wake the sleeping Babe, but this Christchild is the end of all our exploring, and we may know again the place for the first time.

Based on a sermon by Canon Francis Xavier Altiere, ICKSP.

Christmas Eve 2021

Last year I stood in this pulpit thinking that at least next year all the worries of Covid would be over. 2020 had been a difficult year, as borders closed, lockdowns threatened, and there was no vaccine.

Yet here we are again. We have a vaccine, yet new versions of covid. Once more we worry about the problems of travelling interstate and the rising rate of infections. Many of us have had difficult years trying to see friends in other cities, or trying to attend funerals interstate.

Our old complacencies of planning holidays and months ahead have been shattered. We yearn for the days when we can have a quiet future of sure plans again.

Being an historian, I have been curious to see how we coped last time, in the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919. At first glance there is very little. But then the pandemic then followed the Great War of 1914-1918, a time of much higher worry. If you look in the Michael Chapel here for can see a list of the men who went to war and died from this area. 1915 was a particularly bad year when many of the young, and not-so-young men, died. Gallipoli took its toll on people who were very much known to those who sat here, from Stanley Lyons a churchwarden of this parish, on 14 June, to young George Stolz, who signed up to look after his younger brother, who severed regularly here and died there on 3 December – presumably his family knew before Christmas, and his mother died soon after, that window in the back is in her memory. Six other soldiers from the area died that year – there were many a sad home this Christmas. Perhaps after all the worry of the War our ancestors just took the outbreak of the pandemic as just another bad year to follow 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918 and would go onto 1921. The names on the board also tell the sad dates. The pandemic of 1919 to 1921 was just another hard year for the lives of the people here.

But we sit here tonight with a sense of unease and worry, wanting things to be normal.

Perhaps, though, we worry so much because we have lost the gift of trusting in God. Where our hearts are, so will be our peace. Tonight, we celebrate the coming of Christ into our world. Not into our world as a God of glory and power, but as a baby, vulnerable to the worries of the world. Mary and Joseph were not powerful and would soon have to flee from the wrath of Herod, and could barely save the life of their son in the massacre that was to follow. Our Lord Jesus was not born into a palace with guards and the best in life, but born into uncertainty. This was to teach us that what is normal in the world is the abnormal, the uncertainty of life. If we trust in the world we will always be disappointed and uncertain, for our hearts will not find contentment here.

But the birth of the the Christchild invites us to a deeper love of one who is beyond the uncertainty of the world. Yes, we will sit here in this church, worrying about families and friends, like our ancestors in faith in 1915 worrying about the friends dying in the War, from the shells of Gallipoli to the gas of the front, or the myriad other causes of death listed in our memorial in the Michael chapel, to the Spanish flu outbreak after the war. We sit here today, worrying again, and I’m sure as God make little green apples, our successors in faith will be sitting here in the future, worrying again.

But here in this Church a little small flame burns over the altar, showing that Christ is present in the sacraments there, a sign that all our worries can rest on him who come into an uncertain world. For all our worries are taken up in that sacrifice he completed for us all, dying on the Cross with the pain of the world and the weight of our sins, so that by his sacrifice all uncertainty would end before his love for us all.

But to enact a sacrifice, there must be an altar, an altar must have a roof over it in case it rains; then to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, we build a little House of Gold with that light flickering its hope into our souls.

Around the church, where we bury the faithful dead, and garden where the magpies sing to God’s glory, the priests and religious whose work is prayer, who keep the Mystery of Faith in its liturgy of music and words in the Office of the Church; and around them, the faithful who gather to worship and do the other work that must be done in order to make the perpetuation of the Sacrifice possible – to raise the food and make the clothes and build and keep the peace so that generations to come may live for him, so that the Sacrifice goes on even until the consummation of the world, when all worries shall cease and peace shall be known, the peace that passes all understanding.

So I invite you all this Christmas, to remember that the worries of the world are passing, but we are invited to put our faith not in the world, but in Our Lord Jesus. Our God came and lived in the worry of the world to show that the worries of the world are passing, but the love of God will never pass.

Mary – Advent 4C, 19 December, 2021

There is something about Our Lady, Mary. You may love her or hate her, but you can’t be a Christian without dealing with her. Who she is and what she does has been one of the sensitive points of Christianity.

We project a lot on Mary. Once we talked about her obedience, how she said let it be to me according to your will, and portrayed her as the woman who was obedient above all else, in contrast to Eve who disobeyed and took the forbidden fruit. Then we had the idea that she was only a teenager, and used her as the model of youth following God. Then she became the hippy, wandering around everywhere, to Egypt and back, in search of her God. There are so many versions of Mary. In this season of Advent, when we look at those who point the way to Jesus: the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary, there are endless ways of seeing how God is pointed out. So, let’s look at one.

St Luke’s is the only gospel in which Mary’s story of the annunciation appears, and in his account, there is nothing submissive nor immature about her. According to St Luke, the angel approached her with words of great honour: Hail Mary, full of grace. Many artists paint the angel kneeling, in recognition of the honour given to her, an angel honouring a woman. The angel is explicit; the honour is for the grace that is distinctly hers. This is a courtship scene: the angel is wooing her, on bended knee, a suitor – not an order from on high.

It is Mary’s grace that has attracted God’s attention. And what is this grace? It is what St Luke shows us in her conversation and her actions – courage, boldness, grit, ringing convictions about justice. It is not submissive meekness: grace is not submission; and the power of God is never meek.

Yes, she is startled by the presence of the angel. So were Gideon, Jacob, Jonah, and the shepherds of Bethlehem, to name a few; they who, like Mary, questioned the angel in wonder, doubt, and even resistance. They are noted for their reluctance. Why not she? What sort of greeting is this? she asked. And the angel obliged her with an explanation. Later, she challenged the angel: how shall this happen to me, when I have no husband? God chose a brave woman.

Many women in biblical stories appear in domestic settings: Sarah is in her tent, baking cakes; Rachel is drawing water at the well; Bathsheba is taking a bath; Martha is fussing around in the kitchen; the woman who lost a coin is sweeping the house. But with Mary, there is no evidence of any domestic work on her part. We never find her cooking, cleaning, washing up. I’m sure she did it, but the Gospels don’t worry about that. It’s not important to whom Mary is. The evidence offered us is her love of adventure. What we find her doing, over and over, is travelling, in journeys that involve risks and an element of danger.

Mary responds to Elizabeth with the beautiful words of “My soul does magnify the Lord,” what we call the Magnificat, from the Latin. Her recitation of this is a political manifesto, delivered fairly publicly, in the home of an official temple priest, who is married to her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, with John the Baptist. In Mary’s manifesto there is evidence of deep thought, strong conviction, and a good deal of political nous.

Mary is unmarried when the angel comes. The angel’s invitation and her independent decision tell us Mary does not need permission – to become pregnant. God knows Mary owns her own body. And there is no shame in her decision.

Mary, wanted by God, according to the angel, for her bold, independent, adventuresome spirit, decides to bear a holy child – for a bold agenda: to bring the mighty down from their thrones; to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. This is Mary: well-spoken and out-spoken.

Travelling alone, like every prophet before her, she sets out on her first journey, to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, to declare her agenda. There will be more journeys: to Bethlehem; to Egypt and back; to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve; to Jerusalem when he is crucified. But with her cousin Elisabeth we hear how John the Baptist leaps in the womb at the arrival of the unborn Saviour: the word in Greek is the same as when David danced before the Ark on its journey to Jerusalem all those centuries before. John in the womb dances before his Lord as David danced before the Ark. That’s why Mary is known in her litany as the Ark, as she holds the hidden Lord in the same way as the Ark held the hidden presence of God.

Mary gives birth in a barn, lies down with animals, and welcomes weathered shepherds in the middle of the night. She is determined, not domestic; free, not foolish; holy, not helpless; strong, not submissive. She beckons women and even men everywhere to speak out for God’s justice, which is waiting to be born into this world.

Meister Eckart, the 13th C German Dominican mystic put it well: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Based partly on an address by Nancy Rockwell.

Judgment – Advent 2, 5 December, 2021

Advent is the time when we contemplate the future and prepare ourselves to meet the Lord. We meet him in two ways: firstly, in history at Christmas, when our Lord took on our human flesh to live as one of us. We will meet him again, at the end of time, our time and the world’s time, a place without time, when we face him.

It has been well put (by St Cyril of Jerusalem, some 1600 years ago,) that when our Lord came firstly, he was judged, but when he comes again, he will judge. This is indeed a terrifying prospect, but our Lord know what it is like to be judged, and therefor has mercy. But we must face our sins and his judgment. Yet curiously, and as a paradox, we this moment of greatest scrutiny is promised to be one of greatest intimacy. We shall know him as he is and know ourselves as were truly are, and instead of running for the gates of hell we shall see and understand the love he has for us. Truth shall finally be seen.

So today is rather a bit of a survival training for judgment day. This morning we are faced with St John the Baptist, and his curious baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The New Testament goes to some pains to make this clear that this is difference from the baptism of the Christians, and John is only the forerunner, the one who points the way. Hence, we deal with him in Advent, on the way to Christmas and seeing our Lord.

Christians deal with evil and wrongdoing in a different way to non-believers. Firstly, we acknowledge the existence of evil. Sins are not relative, not the result of background, they are to do with evil, and our temptations to evil. We cannot explain evil away, nor can we ignore the affects of evil in our life. We do sin.

In one sense, it is the hardest part of Christian living, the acknowledging of the problem of sin. We have a culture that makes us victims and wants compensation. If we have failed, there must be a reason, and someone is to blame. However, it is harder to say, that I have sinned, I am responsible, and I must acknowledge it. It’s much easier blaming someone else, and demanding compensation, and being a permanent victim, always blaming your problems on someone else. But that’s not our way. Yes, we are often hurt by other people. In the end we see that it is evil: we can’t explain it, we just have to learn to hate the sin, try and forgive the person, and leave the rest to God.

Now this is where John the Baptist and his baptism comes in. His baptism was a way of acknowledging sin – it was for repentance and forgiveness. It was a public way of saying I have sinned and wanted forgiveness, and as such very, very powerful. One of the great strengths of evil is that it is nameless. By that I mean that the most effective sin is that never discussed, never acknowledged. Sin without form is the most powerful grip on a person. That is why John’s baptism is powerful, and it makes the person say that yes, I am a sinner.

Now here is where Christians part from John and why the New Testament makes a distinction. For we believe that sin can be taken away. That’s the point of Our Lord Jesus – our sins are taken away. We don’t have to suffer the consequences for our evil, we are not caught in a cycle of perpetuation. It all has to do with his death, showing that his love is such that no sin of ours can separate us from that all-giving love. That is why we say the Agnes Dei just before our communion, “O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”

All we have to do is let Our Lord take our sins away.

That is why we can approach our judgment with confidence. We will be afraid, because we will see the sin in its true life, clearly spoken so to say, no longer a hidden dark nameless thing. That will be a shock. Don’t have a weak heart on the Day of Judgment. But then we will know, from our Christian lives here, that Jesus loves us, Jesus forgives, and Jesus wants to take us into his bosom. Judgment Day for us is not the horror of sin only, that can drive a person to Hell, but the bravery that we can say, that we are guilty, yet we ask for that forgiveness given to us in the Church, and accept it, and allow us to be overwhelmed in love.

There is another theme I would also like to draw out from the reading today. Both John and Our Lord are put to death by people who don’t want to kill them. John is put to death by Herod to fulfil a foolish promise – he does not want to. Our Lord is condemned to death by Pilate, because of the crowd. Both people sinned because they gave way to other’s wills. Sin is often the giving in to other’s wills. But we are called to follow Our Lord’s will – he gave over his will to God and desired nothing but to follow God. Sin is the removal of our selfish following of other’s wills to give up everything for God.

But for now, we need to look for John, we need to start to see our sins, and find a way of repentance. Nothing beats a life of prayer and the daily examination of conscience – how have I done this day, what have I done and what should I have done better? If we do that, sin is forced out of the shadows and we start to grapple with. That way we can prepare for judgment.

Our Lord is coming – what shall we do?

The Days are Surely Coming – Advent 1, 28 November, 2021

“The days are surely coming,” says the Lord. So starts our first reading today, with the ominous words of Jeremiah to the rebellious people of Israel and Judah, who have left their God to follow the other gods. What has happened? The people of the land have become assimilated into the religious practises of the people around them, and as a result, the wrath of God hangs over them, warning them of the future disaster that will come, when they, with those of the other people around them, those who also worship those petty gods, will be taken away. The days are surely coming.

But we know what has happened in the meantime: in the meantime, the people of Israel and Judah went along with life, enjoying it, and ignoring the prophets who were sent to warn them. It was, and is, always the case. Life, at the moment, seems more interesting: what’s on the television seems more fascinating than the call of the Spirit. But the days are surely coming, says the Lord.

Today we enter the season of Advent, when we contemplate the days that are surely coming. The colour and liturgy changes, and, in the season of Advent, we are encouraged to turn from the now to look to the future.

At first sight the future is not too pleasant. People are going to faint from fear and foreboding, we are told by our Lord, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. But for Christians it is to be different: when these things take place we are to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.

Traditionally we look at the four last things in Advent as we look to the certainties that our faith teaches: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The days are surely coming when we will have to face these certainties, and this season is a time when we prepare ourselves for them. We do this because we believe that our life does not end here: this is just a passing stage for creatures destined for immortality, so we have to prepare ourselves for these things.

But when you think about both the final coming of Christ as well as your own future death, what comes to mind? If you were informed by an angel that tomorrow would be that day, the day that the Son of Man would return in all his splendour and glory to bring about an end to this world and to issue forth his judgment upon it, how would you react? Would you be terrified? Overjoyed? Hopeful? Confused? Perhaps a little of each of these reactions would be present. Of this time, Our Lord said that “nations would be in dismay” and that “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming into the world.” So, what is your reaction to this promised day of our Lord?

Those who “die of fright” are clearly those who will experience this day completely unprepared. Meeting the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Saviour of the World and the Eternal Judge when you are completely unprepared should be frightful. Nothing could be compared to being unprepared for the judgment of Christ when we stand before him at the time of our death and then at the Final Judgment at the end of the world.

The good news is that on that day, for those who are truly prepared through a life of faith and selfless service of God’s will, they are told to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” If you do all you can to prepare for that day, then it will be a day in which you anticipate with the utmost hope and excitement. You will indeed be able to stand erect, turn your eyes to the coming Judge of All, and receive the eternal reward that he so deeply desires to bestow. But this will be your experience only if you are truly ready for that day through a life lived in complete imitation of Christ.

Judgement is also a moment when justice is finally done. Justice we know is a hard virtue to find, so much of what we face is compromise or just wrong. But justice is the very nature of God, the God who sees and knows everything, the God who has lived our lives to also show mercy. The days are surely coming, when finally, finally, true justice will be seen and understood.

Reflect, today, upon that final day. Imagine every person ever created standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Every sin and every virtue will be made manifest on that day. The minds and hearts of all will be seen in the light as they are revealed to all by God. Justice will finally be done. Those who have lived lives of fidelity will rejoice as they see God’s justice and mercy unite as his judgments are issued forth. If this day is one that frightens you, consider the reasons why. If you do not look forward to this definitive moment in time, then perhaps you need to ponder more deeply those things you need to do so as to be fully prepared. Prepare yourself today. Do not wait. Our Lord could return at any time. Do not be caught off guard.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. The question is: how do we want to meet those days? In this Advent season, we are reminded again to turn and face the coming glory of God. We are called, in the words of our Thanksgiving Prayer of the Mass, to wait with eager longing of the coming of the Lord. Eagerness, because we realise that what we are offered is far, far better. This understanding then changes our now, it makes us live in the world with joy knowing the love and power and glory of God. That’s why our Lord tells us that we are not to live with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life: a life lived in God is far, far more glorious than that.

We are not to be afraid of the future: God will be there. We are not to be afraid of this moment: God is surely here. Advent allows us to glimpse the glory of that future to inspire us for the moment. The days are surely coming says the Lord, and we can have the confidence to live them now.

Kingship – 21 November, 2021

At long last we come to the end of our Church year. Today is the last Sunday in the cycle of readings, this year’s being Mark, next year’s being Luke. The Church year starts with Advent, the period in preparation for Christmas, but we end the year celebrating a reasonably modern feast, that of Christ the King.

This feast originated in the last Century and finally ended up being celebrated on the last Sunday of the Church’s year. It started in the 1920s, that period after the end of World War I, with the collapse of the European empires and the rise of a myriad of nation states. In the 1920s, many of these states were drifting towards authoritarian governments, often with highly nationalistic and racist ideologies.

It was also a time when the grand ideals of the end of the war started to fail. The establishment of the League of Nations as part of the peace treaties was a hope that there would be universal arbitrator, that would impose peace and prevent nations going to war. Instead, it was hamstrung at the start and its impartiality was never established, as it was seen as part of a victors’ peace terms imposed.

There was also a loss of certainty. The old empires, such as the Russian or Austro-Hungarian, had a hierarchical structure of privilege. Emperors were seen as anointed by God and the system was presented as God-given. But the new and fragile democracies had no such certainties. They were not even certain who should be included in their borders at times. Large numbers of Hungarians ended up in the Romania, and Germans ended up in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Let alone considering the carve-up of Africa with its arbitrary borders.

A casualty of this era was a common view of what was the best form of government. What was the best form: monarchy, democracy, communism, or dictatorship? How do you judge this?

Well, you know the rest, and the resulting war. But the underlying problem remained about the nature of truth. How do you know what is true in a plural world?

This is why the feast of Christ the King was instituted. It was Pope Pius XI’a answer in 1925 to the conflicting ideologies of the world. The only true king for Christians is our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, only the truths that are revealed are the eternal truths.

What the church was saying was no political system was a true system. In the complexities after the war, he was warning that these different systems were all flawed.

Now, over a hundred years have now passed since the end of World War I. But the problem of what is truth remains.

As the last Century closed this became a problem of what was called post-modernism as well. Simply put, it was argued that there was no one truth. Your truth was just as valid as my truth. The idea of truth being something apart and objective was lost for many people. This idea arose from the argument that all people are equal, therefore all truths are equal. Cynically, our civilisation is only that which is imposed by those in control, and not because of underlying truths of justice, because there can be no absolute truth to underpin it.

There was also a huge growth of mechanisms for justice at the same time. With the loss in belief of an impartial truth and therefore a true justice, a whole plethora of mechanisms arose to try and find a justice, often to remedy older systems that were autocratic and bias. I was once a lawyer and over the years I have sadly learnt that so many legal systems are arbitrary, and depend on who can pay for better lawyers. Professional standards tribunals, family law courts, criminal courts all fail too many times because they are flawed institutions that do not deliver true justice. Often they perpetuate injustice instead.

Our gospel today touches on the idea of truth. Our Lord says he came into the world to testify to the truth. Pilate replies, with the cynical, “what is truth?”

There you have it. Our Lord the world-giver testifying to one truth, and Pilate the world-weary finding all truths the same. Pilate does not wait for an answer, but moves on, as for him there is no answer to the search for truth, because he does not see God before him.

The rise of post-modernism at the end of the last century has left us with a world that does not have a concept of a truth, but just a multiuse of so-called truths. This feeds into conspiracy theories that undermine so much of the struggle to find a common purpose, a common purpose that cannot be found because there is not a common truth.

But if we are believers in God, we have to hold to the belief that there a truth that is above who we are and what we perceive. That there is a God who has justice and that our justice must conform to that to have truth. That God is truth beyond all the distortions with which we corrupt the world.

This is why we keep the feast of Christ the King. We believe that there is a Lord, Jesus Christ, who is a true ruler of life. We believe that as our ruler we have a duty and loyalty to him above any system of the world. Furthermore, because he is God, there is a truth that can be found.

This then ties in nicely with what we will talk about in Advent next week, when we talk about Our Lord being the judge at the end of time, and the four last things, as we call them, the four certainties we face. The four last things that Advent covers are death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Judgment is important, because that is when we shall finally find true justice, something we yearn for in this confusing world.

On this feast of Christ the King I would like us to remember that all of this world’s systems only have validity if they touch the divine truth beyond. The only way we can live within this world and its structures is by our life with God, by prayer and sacraments, so we can fulfil God’s will for us and this world. This world will to get better by itself. But it will get better by the courage of each of us to listen to God, to find the truth and apply it in our lives and those for whom we have a responsibility. Or, as Our Lord said, “your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

Sacrifice – 14 November

Sacrifice is a word that is over used and misunderstood in our world. We talk about sacrifice in many ways – she sacrificed her career for him, for example, when someone gives us something for another. We perhaps hear it in the more formal words from Remembrance Day last Thursday or Anzac Day, about those who made the supreme sacrifice in war.

But for the ancients, sacrifice was one of the actions of life, usually a bit bloody but also a celebration. Pagans and Jews in the ancient world routinely sacrificed. Usually it was animals of some sorts, although the grain offering of the Temple was also a sacrifice. But for most people, sacrifice was the giving up of expensive animals to be slaughtered before your eyes. Often the meat would then be shared with you, some would be kept by the Temple and some returned. Every pagan town would have a temple altar of some sort, where animals would be slaughtered. It is suspected that it was a major source of protein in the ancient diet. You could not escape the smell of blood that would be so strong. Some anthropologists have even suggested that the foundation of human society was not in the so-called social contract suggested by Rousseau and Hobbes, but in a sacrificial compact instead. But that’s another story. Also, what was important was the altar, outside, where the animal was slaughtered, not the building behind, which was used often as a sort of treasury.

For Jews sacrifice was a little different – only in the Temple of Jerusalem would sacrifice be made. But at peak times, like Passover, massive amounts of animals would be slaughtered, tens of thousands of lambs for example. That’s a lot of blood. They used to wash down the Temple, and blood and water literally used to flow from the side of the Temple. That’s the significance of the blood and water flowing from Our Lord’s side on the cross.

So, when the writer to the Hebrews, whoever that was, wrote his letter to those Jews, they would have been very familiar with the concept of sacrifice, and visualised easily the Temple or the local pagan temple altar, with all the smell of animals being slaughtered. Sacrifice was important – it dealt with the notion of appeasing the gods or God and making an offering for a person’s sin. Only sacrifice could do this with its mysterious opening of the doors of death through the shedding of blood.

But the sacrificed needed to be repeated. This was because our own sin continued and the gods remained displeased. There was no end to sacrifice and the shedding of blood and life.

It’s the insight of the unknown writer of Hebrews who thinks about what does it mean, for Christians, that we no longer have a sacrifice of animals? The writer realises the ultimate defect of sacrifice, in that it cannot stop. No matter how many animals you kill, your will need another one. But Christians don’t – why?

The main reason is that animal sacrifice is not required, we have the sacrifice of Christ which we share in the bread and wine, which Our Lord identifies using sacrificial language as his body and his blood. His shedding of himself completes the sacrifice.

This is where the writer takes a new idea. In the past, sacrifices were done for Jews by the line of Aaron, and continued forever, but Jesus takes his priesthood from another line in the Old Testament, that of Melchizedek. Our Lord becomes the new high priest, the sacrificer, and at the same time, the victim, therefore completing the impossible, and being a completion of the demand of sacrifice.

Now, Christian theologians have been divided on why Our Lord had to complete the sacrifice by being the victim. Some writers from the middle ages and then and then the great Protestant Calvin, saw Christ’s death as satisfying the legal need of God – we had broken the law and deserved to be punished, so Our Lord out of his love for us dies in our place and takes away our sin. This is what is called satisfaction atonement, that is Our Lord gives full satisfaction for our sins by dying. But other theologians disagree. For that theory means that Our Lord has to die to appease a God who wants death and sacrifice, an angry God who needs his Son to die. That doesn’t sound like our sort of god.

The alternative theory, from the 20 C Rene Girard and James Alison, is that Our Lord dies to stop us victimising. The needs of sacrifice are not divine, for God always loves us. We sacrifice because we see our evil and we put a sacrifice in place of ourselves. We channel our violence and evil into a sacrifice to show our shame and remorse. This idea is one of transference – we make God into an image of our own evil anger and appease it with the precious blood of life to console ourselves. Sacrifices continue because we never really change and give up vengeance.

Then Our Lord dies as the victim. His identification with the victim means that when ever we try and channel our anger into a victim we find Christ is there. As we love God, we find we can’t sacrifice anymore – Christ is the perpetual victim, so whenever we victimise, we find ourselves opposed by Our Lord. God is not an angry God demanding legal satisfaction but a loving God stopping our evil need of victimisation by turning into the victim.

Once you accept that you start to see the reason why we use sacrificial language with our communion. For we come here to take part in a sacrifice as well. This is not a social club, that’s a fringe benefit, but what we do here is to take part in the eternal sacrifice once on the cross. We take Our Lord’s body and blood, we become part of the victim. This means that we too join with whoever is victimised in the world, the marginalised and the oppressed and the objects of our own sins. Whenever we victimise someone, who ever the current bogeyman is, we see Christ in that person. Whenever we find someone victimised, we join with that victim through the love of God. The self giving of Jesus changes our world and how we oppress and hurt those around us. But most importantly the great sacrifice of Our Lord and Saviour takes all our own sacrifices and hurst and redeems them in the love of God for each one of us.

Sacrifice is different for us because of what we believe as Christians. We no longer think in terms of sacrifice of animals – we think in terms of self sacrifice, how we can give ourselves, and the sacrifice of Christ himself at the altar here. Through our belief in Christ, and our actions, we no longer can pick on animals or refugees, or Moslems or others – we must learn to give ourselves.

All Saints – 7 November, 2021

The good news of the week has been the finding of little Cleo Smith. Everyone on that day was talking about it: we had all been worrying about the fate of the child and thinking dark thoughts, and feeling so deeply for the family whose child was missing. Then the sudden and unexpected news that the child was safe and alive was such a blessing.

I also think that it was such good news because we have had such difficult times. We have all felt the effects of border closures and restrictions. I personally know the worry of not being able to visit an elderly mother. But that’s small fry compared to those who have been separated from close family members. Then there is the whole mask thing, putting it on, taking it off, trying to speak or sing with the thing, it’s frustrating and makes us short-tempered. Yes, we all understand the reason, but that doesn’t make it comfortable. And let’s not start about holidays. We are testy and stressed. So, the news of little Cleo’s safe recovery is wonderful.

It a light in the darkness moment.

I would like us to reflect a bit about the contrast of this today. For today we celebrate one of the ancient feasts of the Church, the feast of All Saints. The origin of this goes back maybe to the 7th or 8th Century, and seems to have evolved particularly in England. That’s why we still get places like All Hallows, which is the older Anglo-Saxon name for All Saints, which is the same word as in “hallowed be your name” in the Lord’s Prayer.

This festival originated because Holy Mother Church wanted us to reflect on the importance of what death and heaven were all about. We have records of saint’s days being commemorated going back to the early church, such with the death of Polycarp in the 2ndC. The idea of what life, death and resurrection was an important one to teach in the pagan world.

The vast majority of people in the ancient world led tough, hard and short lives. From dawn to dusk it was a struggle to get shelter and food. Water was drawn every day and woodfire collected. Then there were plagues and famines that decimated populations. As well as barbarians and later Vikings that could destroy everything. If you ever read the history written by the chroniclers, such as Bede in England of the Early Middle Age, you understand. Bede talks about the swallow flying through the open side of the great hall through the light then out into the darkness again as an analogy of God’s light. I always think how drafty those mead halls must have been with opening to allow the smoke to escape and everyone huddled around trying to keep warm.

What the Faith offered was a hope in the hardness and darkness of life. It taught that there was light in the difficulties of the world. That there were saints, and that the saints knew us and prayed for us, and that we had the chance to join their company as well. That the love of God seen in Our Lord who became one of us, and shared our darkness in pain and death; yet rose from the dead to new life in eternity. Furthermore, this was done out of love for who we were and and the love that knows us all. Our Lord does not want us to be serfs or slaves, not even warriors, but children in his heavenly kingdom instead.

That’s why this feast is so important. We all fall into the darkness of life at times. Now, we don’t have to worry about the Vikings marching and plundering through Goodwood tomorrow. But there are things just as bad: the lack of faith; the pursuit of money that destroys the ability to rejoice in life; the viciousness of modern media; the obsession of our own needs to the exclusion of everything else. Or there are the other extremes, the worries of the world, what does climate change mean for us and our children? Or why are people having conversations about things such as transgender rights in children or the me-too or woke or a whole range of ideas that makes us search Wikipedia to try to understand.

Now, don’t get me wrong; these ideas are all important. Inequality and oppression are always wrong and need to be understood. But one thing the pandemic has taught us is that the best laid plans that we make will go astray. The Vikings are not going to plunder Goodwood tomorrow but I don’t know when I will feel safe to take a holiday anywhere. We are faced with a clear uncertainty in our lives now that we didn’t seem to have before.

But we pray each day, “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” The saints tell us that the burdens of this world do end. That there is a hope for each of us, to be part of that heavenly kingdom. That hope has inspired the saints throughout the ages. The Roman authorities could not believe how the Christian martyrs were willing to leave this life on this hope, like the teenage Agnes or Lucy, whose shrines are in this church. That faith in God who would make all things new in heaven gave them the courage to face martyrdom. That was the good news that inspired them to die to find life again.

So, this feast of All Saints is one to remind us that there is always good news when we deal with God. Faith offers us so much more than this grey life ever can. Every time we take the sacrament of the living body of Christ  at the altar we affirm again that hope in our lives. Jesus lives. The saints pray for us. And we have a everlasting home in heaven, when all tears will be wiped away and no one ever wears a mask.

Reformation Sunday – 31 October, 2021

Today is a day when many churches are celebrating what is called Reformation Sunday. That’s because Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany, on this day, 31 October, 1517.  in It’s not usually part of our calendar here but please indulge me this morning, as this is an important part of our history.

We should start by avoiding simplistic views of what the Church was like in the mediaeval period. It’s too simple to say it was corrupt with things like indulgences and bad living popes. The Church militant, that is the Church here, is always filled with saints and sinners. Yes, there were indulgences, where people paid for time off purgatory, but many were trying to reform and outlaw this practice at the time as a bad thing. Yes, there were popes who lived bad lives. But there were good and holy people as well. Our history since that time is not spotless either: every age has its own besetting sin. Part of the nature of divisions is that they ‘other’ the other side: by that I mean that ascribe all the faults to the opposition.

Let’s get back to Luther. His protest, thanks to the new medium of printing, spread rapidly, and reached most of the major cities within a few months. In an earlier age of handwritten documents, it would have taken years. The Pope and Emperor condemned the teaching, and in England Henry VIII wrote against it, and was given, as a reward, the title of Defender of the Faith, a title he kept and is still used by the British sovereign.

But of course, Henry soon had troubles of his own with wives that eventually led him to repudiate the primacy of the pope. He decided that the best way to establish control was to declare England outside the jurisdiction of the Pope and he became Supreme Head. This allowed him to confiscate the wealth of the monastic communities scattered throughout the realm and reward his supporters. But little changed otherwise: the mass continued in Latin and almost unchanged from earlier times.

It was under his son, Edward VI, that the Latin mass mas changed to the English service, with the publication of the first and then second book of Common Prayer in 1549 and 1552. Then his sister Mary I brought back the Latin mass, and then his sister Elizabeth I brought back the BCP.

All this left a church very confused. It had bishops, priests and deacons as the traditional church always had, yet it didn’t have the Latin mass. It was headed by a monarch claiming the title of Supreme Governor (Elizabeth was more cautious than her father) but no pope.

When Mary ascended the throne there was an exodus of Protestants to Europe who returned when Elizabeth became Queen. Many had lived in more radical Protestant cities and expected that Elizabeth would continue the reforms of her brother and establish a totally reformed church, with ministers being elected from congregations. However, Elizabeth was having none of that, and had no intention of giving up her control over the church. She kept the church on the same basis as when her brother died.

This left the English church in a strange situation. It was protestant yet not protestant. It was the genius of theologians at the end of Elisabeth’s reign like Richard Hooker that moved the argument to seeing the English Church as being not a deformed Catholic or incomplete Protestant church, but as something different – a middle way, a via media in Latin, that was both Catholic and Reformed.

Now, this was a very important position. It allowed the Anglican Church, as it would become to be known, as a church that was Catholic and Reformed, a bridge, so to speak, between that of Rome and that of the Protestants.

Now another important part in this was the English civil War that happened after Elizabeth’s death, in the reign of Charles I, between 1642 and 1651, and the succeeding republic and then the restoration of the King Charles II in 1660. England, Scotland, and Ireland were involved in war that was political and religious. The end of it was a realisation that England would exist with a diversity of religious belief: that the State would not impose one form of the church. The English church would try and be encompassing, and that Roman Catholics and other Protestants had a right to hold their religious beliefs.

This led to a a decision to hold the church to the model established under Elizabeth. There would be bishops, but also the Book of Common Prayer that would not be changed greatly from her brother’s time, that would define what it meant to be Anglican.

Now, I could go through the see-saw of how the political ramifications of this played out, with bishops and synods and parliaments all playing different roles. But it evolved a Church that had not only bishops with their authority, but a strong lay authority as well, such as with elected wardens in parishes and eventually synods with the bishop.

Most importantly it has given us a Church that works on balances. Traditionally, we see authority working as Scripture, reason, and tradition. Roman Catholics have what is called the magisterium, the teaching of the church, that can be infallible. We hold that to be tradition, and it need not always be infallible. Yes, we hold to some things as bound, as by the first seven councils, such as the nature of the Trinity, or the definition of what makes the Bible. Protestants often have what they call confessing documents, that is defining statements of some time that are true and cannot be changed. We do not hold our 39 Articles to this standard. We hold that Scripture is a source, but is not complete: it is not like a Koran for Muslims. Then we hold that reason is a way we interpret and understand the teaching of Scripture and tradition.

Now, this is by no means fool proof. The debates about women’s ordination and same sex marriages run against tradition and use Scripture and reason to explore these questions. All we can say is that just because Scripture is silent, and tradition opposes, does not mean the question is ended. This is where theologians like the great John Henry Newman, that Anglican and Roman Catholic, come in, with their idea of the development of tradition and how new ideas are tested and then received, or not received, by the body of the church, that is you here in the pews over time.

What hold this together in the end is a healthy balance and respect. Our church is the best when there is difference, and we respect the breath of views. It is best when those views are made clear and not glossed over as unimportant: that is not intellectually honest nor theologically challenging. When we try to make all parish churches the same, we destroy the genius of being Anglicans. That is why we pray here not only for our wider church, such as Francis of Rome and Bartholomew of Constantinople, but also the protestant leaders. That is why we need places like Holy Trinity in the city. And finally, that is why we, St George’s, complete with incense and birettas and everyone of you, are also needed by everyone else.

Seeing – 24 October 2021

Most books that deal with successful lives or businesses like to explain how they got things right. They often even have rather complacent titles, like, “How to Succeed in Business without Trying” or “How to be Millionaire” or ”How to Lose Weight without Trying” or some other rather smug title.

The Gospels are completely the reverse. They continually show failure and lack of understanding by the disciples of Our Lord. St Mark shows time and time again that the disciples just don’t get it. One only has to think about Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, immediately followed by trying to shut Jesus up with his story of suffering and death, causing Our Lord to rebuke him with “get behind me Satan.” Many scholars believe that Mark originally finished his Gospel (for there are several possible endings to Mark, if you look in a good translation of the Bible) with the command of the young man to the women to go and tell of the resurrection, but they flee and tell no-one, because, we learn, they are afraid. Yet, the Gospel was written for a community who was very much there, and growing, and Mark is teaching that despite our human failings the Church will continue and overcome our failures to teach the Good News.

The passage today, about Bartimaeus, is a passage that continues the illustration how the disciples fail to understand. It concludes a central passage in Mark, where the miracles of healing and interspersed with Our Lord teaching that he must suffer and die. In contrast, the disciples fail continually, such as failing to use the power in exorcising demons and arguing who is the greatest.

Now, one of the most interesting things in this passage today, is that we have a name. Now, names are rare in the Gospel, we are only given a name if they have a continuing importance. In contrast, the blind man healed at Bethsaida is nameless, and we only learn of the healing of Jairus’s daughter, never her name. Perhaps the reason is because the story of Bartimaeus is a story of coming to faith.

It starts with the story set at Jericho. This brings a resonance with the Old Testament, besides the famous story of the falling walls of Jericho, we also have the story of Rahab the Prostitute, who sheltered the spies of the Israelites, and who is a symbol of belief in God. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar. He hears that it is Jesus of Nazareth, and starts to shout out for mercy, calling Jesus the Son of David, a kingly title. Despite the orders of those who do see, and do not acclaim Jesus, he continues his cries for mercy. He is heard, and Our Lord calls him forward. Note that he throws off his cloak to reach Jesus – discarding of old clothes is always an important image in Mark, that is seen most dramatically in the young man who is seized after the arrest of Jesus and runs away naked, an image of leaving a life behind.

Then we have an example of perfect discipleship: Our Lord asks what can he do for him and Bartimaeus asks for sight, and Our Lord grants it to and he sees immediately. Our Lord tells him that his faith has made him well.

Then Our Lord tells Bartimaeus to go, but instead we learn that he follows him on the way. This rather surprising contradiction makes sense only when you remember that the early Christians called their faith “the way,” and this is an image then of following the faith. Bartimaeus becomes a model of a true disciple, not arguing about status, but calling for mercy, asking for healing in true faith, and therefore receiving it, and then following the way. It is for this reason that he has a name, as a follower and believer.

And in perhaps the most remarkable turn in this remarkable story, Bartimaeus is not the only one healed and called in this story. Did you catch who else had a radical conversion? The crowd. They begin with cruelty and exclusion in their hearts, doing everything they can to keep Bartimaeus away from Our Lord: “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” And this is the pivotal moment. Our Lord does not call Bartimaeus directly. He calls the crowd to call Bartimaeus. “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’”

And then the redemption, so easy to skip over if you’re not paying close attention. “And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’” This is the moment of the crowd’s conversion, the crowd’s healing, and the crowd’s call. Our Lord’s love is so sneaky and so powerful that it broke open their hardened hearts and they probably didn’t even notice it. They go from trying to keep people away from Jesus to urging them forward. They go from seeing Bartimaeus as an embarrassment and trying to shut him up and keep him hidden, to telling him to take heart and go forward into Our Lord’s embrace.

What we learn here is that call is never individual. We hear call in community. Bartimaeus calls for Jesus, Jesus calls the crowd, the crowd calls Bartimaeus, then Jesus calls Bartimaeus to follow him on the way. This entire process of call and response is deeply healing to everyone involved.

The English writer and clergyman Jonathon Swift, who in between being Dean of St Patrick’s Dublin, a great wit, and writng Gulliver’s Travels, once said that vision is the art of seeing things invisible. It’s a good point. Bartimaeus saw the invisible in Jesus. Bartimaeus is contrasted with the disciples in the gospel today, who see Our Lord healing and doing mighty acts of power, but don’t get the vision: they are lost in their rivalries and dreams of power rather than asking for the vision to understand. It’s also the same with Christians at times; we lose the vision of what it means to follow the Way, to be a Christian. Bartimaeus recognises Our Lord as a royal king, he asks for mercy and healing, and gets it. It’s the same for us; we continually need to see Jesus as our King and Lord, and ask for his mercy, then follow his way. But then remember Mark’s backup message, the message of the whole Gospel: people fail, but the Church goes on. The sum of our failures is not oblivion, but continual offers of repentance and renewal so that the Church, full of imperfect people, still is a place of grace and renewal.

So we are invited today to regain our sight, to see the vision once more, of a God who asks for us to recognise him as our teacher and God, who offers us sight and then asks us to follow the way. God never, never gives up on us, his mercy never fails. So let us hold to that hope, the hope of God and follow the way.

Names – 10 October

There are three famous stories in the Gospel about wealthy people. There is the one today, about the rich young man, there is the parable of Lazarus and Dives (where both die, and Lazarus, who was poor in life goes to Abraham’s bosom), and Zacchaeus, the little wealthy man who climbed the tree to see Jesus.

What is interesting in thinking about these three stories is the use of names. The rich young man in today’s story is given no name. Zacchaeus obviously has one. In the story of Lazarus and Dives, when you read it, the two are contrasted but only poor Lazarus is named – we just call the other one Dives for convenience.

So in the three stories, only once does the wealthy man get a name, in the story of Zaccheaus, who takes Our Lord to his house, entertains him, and then promises restitution for any extortion. So, what makes him special?

Zaccheaus is the one who changes from meeting our Lord. He is the one who promises to give up half his wealth to the poor and restore fourfold any one he has defrauded. He is changed by his encounter with the Lord. In contrast, the other two stories are about the wealthy who fail to change: Dives never changes in life and repents only after death, and the rich young man in today’s gospel also goes away, turning down our Lord’s invitation to give away his wealth and follow our Lord instead.

So, the one who is named, is the one who is changed. Zacchaeus is changed – the others are not. They disappear into history, as examples of those who turn down the offer from God to change, successful in life and failures in eternity, disappearing into oblivion as nameless.

Consider now the wealthy young man who needed to let go of his wealth to inherit eternal life. Our Lord knew that it was his true greatest burden and the young man did not have the strength to let go. It’s also interesting that he asks Our Lord what must he do to inherit eternal life, not obtain, but inherit, like the gift of unearned money from family. He may have made a name for himself in life, but as a result he is nameless to us who follow our Lord. Dives is also nameless to us from his failure to care for Lazarus in life. To follow our Lord is to become a name in God’s eyes, someone who has undertaken the challenge of letting go of what ever we hold most tightly and follow our Lord instead.

Now it is easy to make the Gospel story today about the perils of riches. But temptation is not only about money, it can be about a lot of things. Don’t simplify it. The hold of part of life in some way attracts each of us and binds us. It may be money, it may be status, it may be control: the permutations of temptation are endless. What each has in common is that we are held in some way.

Where you heart is, so is your soul. We can all be tempted. The call from our Lord in each is the same: that we need to renounce that which we hold most closely to find the freedom of following our Lord. We may still be good people even in thrall to our personal temptation – after all the rich young man only lacked one thing, he was not a bad man at all – but eternal life is more than just being good enough, it is about overcoming those temptations. It is about becoming detached from the what holds us away from God. Detachment from the goods and poverty are the indispensable condition for discipleship for three reasons:

1       We have faith in God who provides to us as a Father. If God cares for the birds and the lilies of the field, then God has even more care for each of us.

2       We have a need for companionship, fraternity, of being with other people: how can we continue to own all that we have, when we realize that all around us there are those who lack the necessary?

3       We have a need for freedom: if we are tied to too many things (and it is not just money) that absorb all of our time and our attention, how can we find the space and the taste for the things of God?

After detachment, we can then start to think what is our true wealth in the world? In the end wealth and worth comes from love, love that we share. It’s fitting today that we are also blessing animals at 10 am, for we often find great consolation from the love that animals give to us, that dependant, centred love that reminds me always of the purity of God’s love. Love is the greatest gift that Our Lord shared and the greatest wealth in any life.

So today I want to encourage you all to fight with your own temptations. The way to start is always with little things, if you can succeed in little things, big things start to shrink. Remember that we can have faith in a God who knowns us, we have the need for fraternity with those in need, and we need a freedom from the burdens of the world. Then when you finally can renounce that which binds you most tightly, then you find you have followed our Lord, and eternal life is yours, and you have a name – the name in the Book of Life.

Michaelmas – 26 September

I shouldn’t really be surprised, but it really is amazing how people have forgotten their Christian roots, their Christian heritage, their Christian language, their Christian beliefs. Today we live in a post-Christian world where possibly most people have very little idea about the fundamentals of Christian belief. Which is why clergy often run into a problem when someone suffers a bereavement. It’s not unusual nowadays to hear, when someone has died, loved ones talk about how the dead person is now one of the angels in heaven. As a priest you hear this quite a lot. And it’s tricky, because, on the one hand, you want to be pastorally sensitive to someone who is grieving. But at the same time there is gnawing temptation to correct people who are saying something about the Christian faith which is just simply, well, just wrong.

When human beings die, they don’t become angels. Why? Well, because angels are angels, and humans are humans. Dogs are dogs, cats are cats, and humans are humans and angels are angels. They are just different. Angels are pure spirit: part of the invisible creation we proclaim our belief in when we recite the Creed, that we believe in all things visible and invisible. Spirit is what they are: angels, as the great St Augustine of Hippo pointed out, is what they do: the word angel means messenger or servant of God. Humans are not pure spirit: we have material bodies. Angels don’t: different specie.

So, we are not angels. So, when someone tells you that so and so is no angel, you can agree without any hesitation. No heresy there! There are, though, similarities. Angels and humans have free will. It’s long been a part of the Church’s teaching that Satan was once a good angel but one who used his free will to reject God and his love. The devil has “sinned from the beginning,” he is “a liar and the father of lies,” as St John reminds us in his first letter. But the main point I wish to make is that for centuries, belief in angels stemmed from belief in the supernatural. And one of the things that has characterised Christianity in the last half a century – and this might sound a bit odd – is our rejection of the supernatural.

Like many people of a certain generation, I grew up in an age of faith and my natural life was saturated with the supernatural. I lived in a world of saints, and angels, and miracles. We talked about the miracle of Dunkirk or other events. For many people, 21st-century Christianity has become an earthbound religion. We are to feed the poor and comfort the afflicted. We are to fight for social justice, locally and globally. We may even see the health of this planet and its creatures as a prime responsibility of care. And this is all right and good. But for decades now, many theologians have downplayed the importance of the supernatural and the devotional life that springs from that. Sometimes, they have even ruled out the possibility of divine intervention in people’s lives. And that’s where I have an issue. After all, ours is a religion that was founded by a man who cast out demons, miraculously healed the sick, rose from the dead, and appeared to his followers after his death and then ascended into another realm of being beyond the visible and natural: it was super-natural.

Our Lord believed in the world of angels – as we heard in today’s Gospel – and prayed to his heavenly father. He believed in an existence after death. This is the core of our Christian faith: we believe in one God who exists above and beyond the created world. There is a gulf between God’s perfection and our imperfection, God’s infinity and our finitude. And this God created us to share in this earthly existence – with all its joys and sorrows – with the promise of a share in God’s existence for eternity: sharing in the divine life, as St Peter puts it. And this divine God intervenes in human life. The supernatural bursts through into the natural. It’s what the scriptures tell us over and over again. It’s what the story of Exodus tells us and, of course, finds its ultimate expression in the coming of Our Lord: that the supernatural world breaks into the natural and changes it. Or, rather, restores it to what God originally intended.

So, this is today’s big question on the Feast of St Michael and All the Angels: do we believe in the supernatural? Or are our eyes firmly fixed on the earthly? Do we believe that there is an existence after death? That there are creatures of pure spirit called angels? That the supernatural can change the natural? That we can be changed?

People tell me about the presence of God. They feel it here, they find it in their lives. There are moments when God is finally seen and experienced, a breakthrough into out limited blinkered lives. People are changed by angels, visions of Mary, the presence of God and a myriad of other ways. Some may call it delusion, some know otherwise.

The Christian church is filled with people whose lives were changed forever by the supernatural breaking into the natural. Last week, we celebrated St Matthew: the tax collector who encountered Our Lord and whose life was changed forever. Then on Friday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham: the story of a Saxon noblewoman who was given a vision of the house in Nazareth where Our Lord grew up and was moved to build a shrine that became one of the greatest pilgrimage sites in England. The church is filled with saints – ordinary men and women just like me and you – who are testament to God’s supernatural intervention changing lives in ways that I think are inexplicable without a belief in the divine. Without a belief in the supernatural. Amen.

Based on a sermon by Fr Tim Handley SSC

Protecting the Powerless – 19 September, 2021

The story of the child today is a lovely part of Mark’s gospel. Our Lord and the disciples reach Capernaum, where they have a house. Our Lord asks what they’ve been arguing about among themselves on the walk there and they don’t answer him. They probably felt sheepish and might have looked at their feet or food or off into the distance (still inside the house), pretending not to hear him. So, he sits the twelve down. This is not a crowd or a medium-sized group. This is the twelve, the twelve who have committed to following him — literally following him around the countryside — to whom he is giving the next two teachings.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Now, the disciples have been fighting over who will be first, and Our Lord tells them who will be the first: the person who doesn’t want to be, the person looked at as not having ambition, the person who shows vulnerability and servanthood rather than seeking their own glory.

Then he takes a child, puts that child in the midst of them, and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Now children weren’t welcomed in the first century. They were tolerated. Children were an economic asset, able and expected to work. They were property until they were either old enough to own property themselves — boys — or sold in marriage to another male — girls. They couldn’t speak for themselves and had no power.

Yet, a child — powerless against the world around about, vulnerable to the powers that existed, and unable to defend oneself — is who Our Lord tells the disciples to welcome: the powerless, the vulnerable, the ones whose voices are ignored in the world. Our Lord says that by welcoming people like that, the ones who can’t influence society and don’t strive to be in charge, they welcome Our Lord. Not only do they welcome him, they welcome God who sent him. Welcoming the powerless is a far cry from arguing over who is the greatest!

The powerless has always been one of the particular concerns of Christians, and we fail that task at our greatest peril. Today I would also like to talk about one particular response we had to the powerless one hundred and fifty years ago this week. For this week commemorates the 150th year of the death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson.

One hundred and fifty years ago the growing expanse of international trade created opportunities in Australia and the Pacific for the development of new resources, particularly cane sugar. Europeans had developed a craving for sugar from the 17 C and exploited slavery in the Est Indies and then the opening of new colonies in the Pacific led to the exploitation of blackbirding in the 19 C, which was a legal fiction to overcome what was slavery, the forcible removal of indigenous men to work in the canefields. Slavery was banned within the Empire, but a ships forcibly removed men from the islands claiming they had signed contracts for labour, thus avoiding the slavery definition.

The growth of the Anglo Catholic movement has always been linked to issues of social concern, caring for the powerless, and the establishment of new bishoprics around Australasia led to these bishops trying to protect the Maoris and Melanesians from exploitation and this salvery. The first bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn, took on Patteson in 1855 to be a priest with the Melanesian Mission, and was so impressed with him he consecrated him a bishop for Melanesia in 1861.

Patteson visited Sydney several times to raise awareness of, and funds for, the mission. He attended our sister church Christ Church St Laurence several times on each visit.

But the blackbirding for the canefields was continuing and Patteson was killed, in the Solomon Islands, on 20 September 1871. The killing was thought to be in retaliation for the abduction, a few days earlier, of five local men and the killing of one other by blackbirders.

His death galvanised mission work in Australia. ABM had been set up in 1850 to raise money for a boat for work in the islands, and had continued to raise money. But the martyrdom of Patterson, as a result of blackbirding, led to a huge rise in interest in raising money for mission work. His death transformed ABM and made it the major mission agency for the Anglican church, with its emphasis on our near neighbours such as PNG and the Solomons.

On the Sunday after news of the murder reached Sydney, 12 November 1871, the bells of Christ Church rang a muffled peal for Patteson. Funds were collected in Sydney for a memorial at the Cathedral, including a very generous personal donation for a “figure” of the martyred bishop. That was considered very popish in those days, and the rules of Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral, even then a bastion of the low church, would permit only mural monuments, so the sculpture was located instead at Christ Church St Laurence, where you can see it to this day.

The resulting missionary work led to the establishment of St Barnabas’s College in Norfolk Island for the training of local missionaries for the Solomons. However, that island was too far south and too cold, and eventually the mission was relocated back to the Islands. Anglicans are one of the biggest churches now in the Solomons. You may remember the islanders we had in our congregation here a few years ago, including one Coleridge, named after bishop John Coleridge Patteson. His grandfather or great grandfather trained on Norfolk Island at that College. Patteson’s death also led to a concerted campaign by the Imperial and Colonial authorities to stamp out this slavery.

How we look after the powerless, in this case the islanders, is how we welcome our Lord. Our Lord’s example of taking a child has been a call to us to look always to the powerless in our midst. After this pandemic is over we will have many nations around us, including our old friends PNG and the Solomons, in need of help again as their tourism industries have been devasted by our closure. We will need to be generous again. But we must remember Our Lord’s example and look away from our own delusions of power to the needs of those in our midst.

 Material on Patteson from an article by Joseph Waugh.

Fear and Hope – 12 September, 2021

I’ve been pondering the Gospel during a week when we have been remembering many anniversaries. The most important one this week was, of course, the terrorist attacks in the USA, the 9/11 moment as it is called. But that has happened just after we have seen the end of the war in Afghanistan, after twenty years of conflict deriving from the attack of 9/11. Then we have had the anniversary recently of the Tampa boat incident, which fundamentally changed our refugee policy in Australia. All of these are important events that call upon us to think about what has happened and why.

So, when I started reading about the Gospel today my slant was different. The story of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah is a fundamental declaration of who Our Lord really is, a confession of faith that is central to the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John, dear John, of course has a different take and perhaps the equivalent for him is Martha’s confession of Jesus as the Christ in the story of the raising of the dead of Lazarus. But that’s another story.

When Our Lord is the Gospel asks the disciples directly, “Who do you say that I am?” it is Peter who makes the leap of faith and confesses him as the Messiah. Now, all the stories about the Messiah were not the same. Some Messiahs were angelic, some were human, some were born of God. Sometimes there was one Messiah and sometimes there were multiple Messiahs. But one oft-repeated theme among these many stories was that the Messiah would overthrow whatever empire was in power and deliver the Jews from oppression. This Messiah was sometimes painted as a military champion, someone who came with power and force. They were the hope of a downtrodden nation. You can see why this story would be so hopeful, so needed for a people who had lost so much of what seemed to have been promised to them by God. We are all looking for a way out of our messes.

So, when Our Lord asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter responds, “You are the Messiah,” might it be the case that Peter had heard some stories of who the Messiah was supposed to be as he grew up a Jew in a Jewish world? Might it be the case that he had a particular image and vision of this Messiah?

When Our Lord continues the conversation, and he predicts his own personal overthrow, betrayal, suffering, and death, maybe we can understand why Peter rebukes him. It’s not the Messiah story he has signed up for. It’s one thing to imagine yourself as the right-hand man of a powerful figure, not as the right hand man of a dead man. 

Now the core of this seems to be a problem of fear, which I find fascinating at this time. Peter was perhaps afraid for what would happen to his friend, Our Lord, and himself. Death and suffering makes one afraid.

One of the best reflections I find about the nature of fear is that of the great mediaeval saint and theologian, Thomas Aquinas. He asked, why do we fear? – and he saw fear as the response to a future evil. We fear a future pain or hurt. If someone dies now, we do not fear: we have sorrow, but not fear. Fear is when we see some evil result in the future, that brings us hurt in some form.

So, Peter feared a future of the death and suffering Our Lord told him. That is why he started to rebuke Our Lord. This was not the future he wanted.

Then Our Lord then turns around and tells him that he is concentrating on human things, not divine. Get behind me Satan!

Instead, Our Lord holds out for his followers, us, the need for us to take up our cross and follow his way of suffering instead. 

Now, reflecting on the incidents of 9/11 and Afghanistan we can remember our fears at the start of this century. Fears that we would be attacked continual by terrorists. That every plane trip became one of anxiety. That Afghanistan was going to be a source of endless extremists attacking us. Or that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The end of the 20th C had seemed so hopeful – Communism had fallen in Europe, and it seemed as if our pluralistic capitalistic world had a golden future ahead of us. Instead, we entered a new century with fear. Fear of terror. Also fear of being swamped with migrants, which was the Tampa Boat incident that ended Australia being a hope of refugees. It was fear that then drove the response of the start of the wars of this century that are still being played out now.

Let’s get back to Peter. Our Lord’s rebuke of Peter was an act of true love. It was a way of shaking him free from the paralysis of fear. Our Lord wanted Peter to think clearly and to face this future suffering with courage, acceptance, and faith. Courage provides strength. Acceptance cures anxiety. And faith is the remedy for all fear. These and other similar virtues were necessary if Peter and the other disciples were going to be able to endure the suffering and passion of Our Lord Jesus. They needed to know that this perceived evil was going to be transformed by the Father in Heaven and used for the greatest good the world had ever known. They needed to know that Our Lord “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly…” It was the Father’s will. Because it was the Father’s will, the greatest good would come from the greatest evil because of God’s almighty power.

You see, the opposite of fear is hope. Hope is the expectation of future good. Hope produces joy. If the death of Our Lord would bring about the freedom from sin and the knowledge of the love of God and life eternal, then that future expectation is far, far greater than pain and death. That’s the joy that drives out the short-term pain. That’s why the angels time and time again say, “Do not fear!” – for they bring messages of great joy.

I think so much of the response of the last twenty years has been driven by fear, fear of those who are different, fear of those who do not share our faith as Christians, fear of those who do not share our Western complacency, fear of those who might question our hoarding of wealth and resources. We tried to give hope to places such as in Iraq and Afghanistan by creating a society that mimicked our own and we failed. They did not share our hopes but instead shared our fears of those who were different.

But we should not forget that in many places we have helped and given hope. Our help in Timor for example. Or less well known, the Ramsi mission in the Solomons that stabilised a country heading into civil war. The Solomon Islanders we have had in our congregation could tell you what a blessing that was for their country. These smaller stories of hope should not be forgotten in the larger stories of fear.

So as I end this sermon today I would like us all to consider our fears. We all have them in some way. But whatever we fear we are a people of faith. We know we have sufferings, like the minor sufferings of the covid restrictions, but in the order of things that is hardly noticeable. Some of our fears, such as illness or poverty or age may seem overwhelming. We may identify with Peter and think Heaven forbid that this should happen. But we have, as Christians, hope, the antidote to all fear, hope that wherever we stumble carrying our cross, Our Lord has worked before us and walks besides us still. Hope gives us the courage and endurance we need as we walk our paths.

The Church: Past, Present, and Future – Dedication, 5 September, 2021

Often when I enter a church, I think of all those clergy who have been here before me. Our parish, has been blessed with many great priests, the most notable being a Fr Wise, who for forty years taught the faith, fighting with the bishop and making his mark, followed by a line of illustrious priests with whom I try to keep myself up to their standard.

Besides those whose ministry was to be your priest, there were countless others who came, served, or visited. Some preached and touched people. Others may have made you snooze. The ghosts of preachers past populate any church.

Then consider all those who have sat in the pews over the years. You may see there ghosts around, some of you may still think of that particular seat over there being Mrs So-and-sos, or dear What-ever, who prayed there for many years. Yet there are many more timid ghosts, those who snuck in over the years, maybe hiding away at the back, who came and went and never could make a full commitment yet still yearned and sought God in this house.

For this Church is a house of God. It is a witness to the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a holy place that has called to the world around it to find God and follow that call. It is the place where so many have come into and prayed over the last century.

Churches are built on the foundations of hope with their spires touching heaven. The hopes of people that there is more than the world, that they can find God in the confusion of life around. This hope touches us through life, with the incessant calling that cannot be ignored. Some may ignore it. Some may pervert it into ways that attempt to satisfy cravings. Others may follow that hope and find in faith the love that does fulfil all. When faith is found to fill that hope we find that we do touch heaven. That is the Church.

For Churches mean two things, as you know. A church is a building and a people who are the body of Christ. They are reflective meanings – the building reflects the faith of the people and the people create the building to show their faith. Buildings that so often are filled with beauty to show our love of God in the mystery of worship. Our hope is that through this teaching of the love of holiness faith would be shown to others who would find the fulfilment of their yearning in this way. That people could come here, regularly hopefully, or even flitting in now and then, find God here and touch heaven. All the ghosts who have come into the Church, who we pray, that they may be now in the courts of heaven.

Yet we are not a place that lives only with ghosts – we are a Church that stands and marches into the future. We have tried to teach and show a faith that would provide a future and not bound into the past.

Now that may sound surprising in a Church like ours that is so bound into Catholic tradition. Tradition at its best is the inheritance of the past, the living voice of how others have reached God. It advises us and provides and an example of how God has shown love to our ancestors in faith. We worship God in this particular way because the ghosts of the past have found that this is a way that God speaks.

So, what is it that makes us Anglicans in the Catholic tradition today? We can say it is a love of tradition, a love of worship and a hundred other ways of saying how we have lived the faith in Christ. The one I like best is that is a realisation that there are holy things in the world. That God lives and sanctifies the things around us if we open our spiritual eyes. Being Catholic is the calling to look beyond what we are to the incredible richness of God working around us and asking to work in us. It is the appreciation that holiness exists and can be recognised.

That is why we find this church such an important place. It is not a place that can be a throne of God one moment and a cup of tea dispensary the next. This is where we find holy things. This is where me meet God. This is where past, present and future meet in the sacrament of the altar. This is where the ghosts still whisper in the pews of devotion past as we await the end of time. It is a place where we search for our completeness, our fulfilment with Christ. It is a place that we use to convert others, by showing them the holiness and love of God.

Buildings and people reflect each other: each is church. What we do here should be our way of evangelising for the future, showing others the love of God, and the glimpse of holiness. Our buildings and people should be a sign to the community of the presence of God.

Here in this place we say prayers for those ghosts of the past, those faithful and not so faithful, who have sought here a place of love and forgiveness. Here in this place priests have tried to teach the face and live the life that is a mirror of Christ. Here in this place we continue to seek the holy in a world that rushes by with no time for the present and no hope for the future. The place has many years of the past, but we look with eager longing to our eternity together.

Boundaries – 29 August

Let me talk to you today about boundaries. Boundaries exist around us all the time. Sometimes they are important, sometimes not. We have state boundaries – and at the moment they are very important as we can’t cross them at all. Two years ago, they were almost irrelevant. We have boundaries in our lives, how we deal with others in our lives, how much you can go in an argument or fight before a friendship is destroyed for example. Boundaries exist all the time.

Religion is one area where boundaries also exist. Think back to the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve were warned they could not touch the fruit of the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge. They were out of bounds, and when the fruit was eaten, consequences resulted. The giving of the Law to Moses that is referenced in the first reading today clearly states the boundaries that the Chosen People were to keep. We think that it was this clarification of the Law, this working out what this means, happened particularly in the time of the exile to Babylon. When the Jews were living among other alien races, it was very easy for them to assimilate and be lost, to forget how they were Jews. But the keeping of dietary laws and other customs defined them as a people that allowed them to keep their identity and then return to the Promised Land. But remember, many Jews stayed in Babylon and continued to be good Jews by keeping the Law. Boundaries helped define the people and preserve who they were.

The Law came to be seen as a boundary on how to behave. As long as you kept the commands, you could live inside a safe space that pleased God. In one sense many of the boundaries made no sense, such as some of the eating requirements, but by keeping them you would know that God was not offended.

It’s a bit like our state boundaries – we all know that the lines are arbitrary, often done by decisions in London in Colonial days, and bear no relationship to what the geography means. I quite sympathise with those who argue that Far north Queensland has much more in common with the Northern Territory than southern Queensland. But I quiet agree that Tasmania has nothing in common with the rest of the states.

So, in the Gospel today what the Pharisees and Scribes were concerned about was a boundary issue. If Our Lord and the disciples were eating without washing their hands ritually clean, then they were living outside the safe place of religion. God would be displeased. Not because they may have had dirty hands, but because they were breaching the boundary on how to live a Jewish life. They were displeasing God, and would bring trouble on themselves and the community in which they lived.

But Our Lord moves the argument completely away. He does not justify what he is, or is not, doing. He attacks the very premise that religion is all about boundaries. He says that religion is all about intent, what we think, rather than what we do. Furthermore, he takes it away from a community perspective of a safe community keeping God’s boundaries, to the intent of an individual.

Now St Paul is going to develop this a lot in the next generation as he talks about Law and Spirit. We are a Spirit based religion, where each person has to make a relationship with God and decide what is right and wrong. That does not mean we are without the Law. In St Matthew Our Lord is quite clear that the Law continues. Our Lord said: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:19) So, if “fulfilment of the law” does not mean lawlessness, then what does it mean?

But our faith affirms that we have been freed from the condemnation of the law, not by remaining wilfully ignorant of it, but through faith in Jesus Christ, the sole righteous one. By this faith we are not condemned. By this Spirit we receive the grace to live lives of faith. Faith that keeps us true to a relationship with God that allows us to live.

Ridding ourselves of condemnation by ignoring God’s law, or pretending as though it doesn’t exist anymore, amounts to little more than a Pelagian attempt at declaring ourselves innocent. Such self-willed innocence ends in a kind of benevolent unbelief whereby Our Lord is viewed as a great man or a nice man, like Moses or Buddha, but just a man nonetheless – and quite unnecessary most days.

Now we are saved by faith in Our Lord Jesus, who “ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Gal 3:13) Our Lord Jesus, the Word incarnate, was condemned under the law; the Jewish leaders declared: “we have a law, and according to that law he ought to die.” (John 19:7) And he did die. The way to freedom from condemnation, therefore, is not pretending that the law doesn’t exist, but faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ “who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2:20)

In Christ, we become adopted sons and daughters of God and our entrance into God’s family is through Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. In these sacraments we are like Paul who said: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2:19-20)

By these means, which were given to us by Christ while he walked on Earth, we are initiated into communion with the Trinity through full communion with the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Through this we receive the Spirit to guide us in right living.

But it all comes down to us, each one of us. There is no way we can live good lives by just living within boundaries. What we are challenged to do instead, is to live are lives where we judge the intents of our hearts, and see our failings and seek forgiveness. Christian life is not about boundaries, it is about living and understanding our failures, and finding instead God’s grace and power to stand up again and go forward. We die in Christ through our sins, but rise through faith in his resurrection, the breaking of all boundaries.

Mary MacKillop – 8 August, 2021

Today I am going to talk about an Australian Saint, Mary Mackillop. It’s her feast day today, the 8 August, and we don’t have many recognised Australian saints, and she deserves to be better known.

First, the background details. She was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne in 1842, nine years before Victoria became a separate state from NSW. Her family was poor, and her father not a good manager of family finances. She became a governess with her aunt and uncle at Penola at 18. There she became friends with the local priest, Fr Julian Tenison-Woods, who encouraged her to expand her teaching duties to establishing a school at Penola for poor children when 24. It was then she started wearing a habit and the order started under the supervision of Fr Tenison Woods. The school was soon teaching move than 50 children. She was joined by other women and they began to call themselves the sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and opened a school at Grote Street in Adelaide by the invitation of the bishop, Lawrence Shiel.

Now, if you want to found a community, you need a rule, and this was worked out by Fr Tennison-Woods and herself. It emphasized poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings, faith that God would provide and willingness to go where needed. By the end of 1867, ten other women had joined the Josephites, who adopted a plain brown religious habit. Due to the colour of their attire and their name, the Josephite sisters became known as the Brown Joeys.

By the end of 1869, more than 70 members of the Sisters of St Joseph were educating children at 21 schools in Adelaide and the country. MacKillop and her Josephites were also involved with an orphanage; neglected children; girls in danger; the aged poor; a reformatory (in Johnstown near Kapunda); and a home for the aged and incurably ill. Generally, the Josephite sisters were prepared to follow farmers, railway workers and miners into the isolated outback and live as they lived. By 1871, 130 sisters were working in more than 40 schools and charitable institutions across South Australia and Queensland.

However, rapid success always causes problems. The main problem was that the Joeys was not an independent order. Now, we all know from our own bishops that they like to control and Roman bishops are just the same. They didn’t trust what they often thought were uneducated women who were not part of an approved order, especially for teaching. So, the bishops wanted to control what was taught and whom was taught. In Brisbane the Sisters had to withdraw owing to the opposition of the bishop there, and most famously she then fell out with the bishop of Adelaide, a man called Shiel.

Part of the problem lay with Fr Tenison-Wood, who had become director of education for the diocese and fell out with the other clergy. Bishop Shiel demanded changes to the Order and MacKillop refused, so Shiel excommunicated her in 1871. This meant she was also homeless. Forbidden to have contact with anyone in the church, MacKillop was given the rent-free use of two houses in Flinders Street, Adelaide by prominent Jewish merchant Emanuel Solomon and was also sheltered by Jesuit priests. But Shiel did not live much longer and the excommunication was soon lifted.

But Mary MacKillop had also become wiser, and she realised she needed better support. So she travelled to Rome to get approval as an Order – this enabled her to resist the pressures of local bishops. The Rule was also changed to make it more practical by removing the requirement that they own nothing. To run schools and control them they needed to own them, and Rome saw that the Order had to change.

This change of Rule led to problems with Fr Tenison-Wood who had written the original rule. In part Mary had outgrown him, and saw more clearly the needs of her sisters. She had moved on to a much more practical way of living and running the one of the biggest teaching orders in Australia. She also had moved from the strict control with which he had initially run the Order.

Let me give you an example. Her order established an orphanage at Kincumber on the Central Coast, not far from where I grew up. She took the boat there for a visit and a boy who had been found stealing bread was brought to her. She asked him why he had been stealing and he said he was hungry. So instead of some pious statement about the evils of stealing, Mary told him to go to the kitchen and tell the kitchen that she said he needed more food. She knew what it was like to be poor and was practical.

In 1883 Mary moved to Sydney to run the Order, and although she did remain always in charge, she was the guiding light until her death on this day in 1909.

Her order was unusual at a time when women were still controlled tightly by church authorities. Firstly, the sisters lived in the community rather than in convents. Secondly the Order’s constitutions required administration by a superior-general chosen from within the congregation rather than by the bishop, which was uncommon in its day. However, the issues which caused friction were that the Josephites refused to accept government funding, and were unwilling to educate girls from more affluent families. Not all bishops accepted this.

In South Australia they were a great Order, with schools in many country towns including, Willunga, Willochra, Yarcowie, Mintaro, Auburn, Jamestown, Laura, Sevenhill, Quorn, Spalding, Georgetown, Robe, Pekina, Appila and several others.

I wanted to talk about Mary MacKillop for several reasons today. Her emphasise on education for the poor is very similar to what Fr Wise tried to achieve here later with our own parish school which was also free. Also, we know her. Many of you would know the schools or remember the Joeys. If not you knows the locations.

So often when we consider the saints, we think of them as not part of our world. Part of this comes from their locations in distant lands or distant times. But Mary MacKillop walked these streets that we walked. She had fights with bishops and tried to organise her sisters in a way she knew would work. She is very much one of us, not some distant figure.

For sainthood is not an unreachable state, but one that we are all called to be. We will have fights with authorities and friends, but we are all called to live lives that are filled with the presence of God.

I should also mention today another remarkable woman, who feast day is tomorrow, Mary Sumner, who founded the Mothers’ Union. She was the wife of an Archbishop of Canterbury and certainly outshone her husband. She died 100 years ago tomorrow.

The process to have MacKillop declared a saint began in the 1920s, and she was beatified in January 1995 by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at her tomb during his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day 2008. She was canonised on 17 October 2010, during a public ceremony in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. She is the first Australian to be recognised by the Catholic Church as a saint.

Filling the Void – 1 August 2021

Bread: it’s such a simple thing. Made usually from wheat it has formed part of our diets for millennia. We have evidence for the bread making going back 14,500 years, and the first wheat and barley started being cultivated 10,000 years ago. That’s a long association for us. We even have loaves of bread left over from Pompeii. They are not very edible now, but they still exist.

Bread is also what Jesus took and said was his body.

The gospel today is from John. We have just had Our Lord taking the five loaves and two fish to feed the five thousand, and now we move onto a discussion on how he is the true bread.

In John’s Gospel there is a long search by people for signs. They seek signs of the coming of the Messiah. There was a belief that the Messiah would come; and his coming would be seen by a variety of signs. Now not everyone was agreed about what the signs would be – some though the Messiah would be a military leader, but not all. The signs that were particularly looked for were the signs that had accompanied Moses, the Great Prophet, when he brought the people into the Promised Land. Now, during the forty years in the wilderness the people had ben fed by a heavenly bread called manna. Manna had been found each morning, and continued until they reached the Promised Land. So, the re-occurrence of manna would be a sign that pointed to Jesus being the Messiah.

This is the significance of the people being fed with bread: it pointed to the manna, in that it came from heaven and was not made.

There was also another bread that was important: what we often call the shrewbread, which was the bread that was put out in the Temple every day. It was the holy bread that the priests would eat, and twelve loaves were made each day, to represent the twelve tribes. Even more important at Passover the altar, that the bread was placed on, was lifted up and shown to the people as the face of God as part of the celebrations. So, there was a link between the presence of God and the Shrewbread of the Temple.

So, when Our Lord creates the bread for the feeding of the five thousand, he gives a sign that he is the Messiah.

But what happens next is that the crowd don’t understand the sign. They see the sign as one of abundance, of free food, and want to make him king to supply them forever. So Our Lord slips away with the disciples and crosses the lake.

Then comes the discussion about the nature of the bread. The giving of manna by Moses is raised, and Our Lord says the manna came not from Moses but from the Father, from God, Our Lord then says that he is the bread of life, the great “I am” showing the divine name, identifying himself with God in that statement.

In the statement that Jesus is the bread of life Our Lord sets up the basis of what will happen when he says at the Last Supper, that this bread is his body. Drawing on the image of manna and shrewbread he identifies himself with God and makes the bread his flesh.

Now, eating flesh is abhorrent. In fact, Our Lord’s insistence that people will need to eat his flesh and drink his blood would put people off – and Our Lord does this deliberately. There are several ways of saying eat in the Greek, but the word that Jesus uses to is the word that is used for animals eating – he is asking people to guzzle and munch his flesh and drink. It is deliberately affronting.

This is where we come to the heart of ancient worship – sacrifice, the killing of animals or even humans to appease the gods. Even the sacrifices of the Jewish Temple were to appease God. The meat was then eaten – in the Temple by the priests and Levites; in the pagan temples the meat often was then sold on in the market. In the ancient world most of the meat that people consumed was associated with sacrifices. But of course, sacrifice had to be done over and over again to continue to appease the gods.

Now think about the crowd: they see the sign of the feeding of the five thousand, but search Our Lord out for another sign. They see the signs but are not satisfied, they keep coming back for more signs. They have a craving that cannot be satisfied.

Now, if you are still with me, here we have two things that are never satisfied – sacrifices to appease the gods and the cravings of the crowd. Both cannot be satisfied.

Then Our Lord offers them fulfilment – they will come to him and not be hungry and they will believe and not thirst.

What Our Lord is offering is the end of the sacrificial system – God will be satisfied, and people can end their cravings. How – by belief in Our Lord Jesus who becomes the sacrifice himself and fulfils the needs.

Furthermore, this bread is special: usually what we eat becomes us. Eating this bread makes us part of the bread, Our Lord, the Bread of Life.

That’s the technical part. What it means for us as believers is that we have found a way to escape our endless need for something to fulfil our emptiness. This emptiness may manifest by trying to have more and more money, or possessions, or addictions in some way – for part of the weakness of being human is want more and more. But if we believe in Jesus as our God, he offers a way to escape this craving – believe in him. It is in the love of God we find more than enough, and we can end our mindless pursuit of fame, money, power, drugs or whatever. The deep need for sacrifice is to fulfil our cravings and emptiness. Our Lord gives himself – if we believe, we can be filled. The hole of emptiness is waiting, not for darkness, but the love of God. Our taking of the bread and wine here, at this altar, is part of the closing of the circle of sacrifice. The guzzling of flesh of sacrifice is over, it never filled the need. The emptiness remains – and only by taking God can we fill it. Our Lord is bread, but he wants to fill the hunger of our hearts and not just our stomachs. He wants to fill the gnawing, aching emptiness that we try to fill with lesser things, to satisfy the longing or the boredom that we use substances of all sorts to quiet, to put an end to the grasping, fretting, worrying about having enough of anything that will in the end possess us, rather than allowing ourselves to fall into the hands of the one for whom we were made.

The Gift of Benedict – 11 July

In the year of Our Lord 476 the last Roman emperor, the boy Romulus Augustulus, abdicated following his capture by the Vandal general and king, Odovacar, and was allowed to retire to a villa near Naples, and there disappeared to history. Thus ended the long reign of Rome of nearly a thousand years, and the imperial rule disappeared in Western Europe.

However, there was still an emperor in Byzantium, the great city that the first Christian emperor Constantine has built as a new capital, that still survives under the name of Istanbul. Even though the empire was divided, those of the Eastern part, in the Byzantine palaces of the Bosphoros, remembered their ancient heritage as Romans and yearned for a untied empire once more.

Odovacar was not to rule long, for Italy was then invaded by a new tribe, the Goths, who established a new kingdom. Rome the city continued, poorer than the great days of the Emperors, but substantially intact, with its great walls, monuments, the great aqueducts bringing fresh water from the hills to fill the baths built by long dead Ceasars. Within these walls were newer Churches, some founded by Constantine, others built in the ruins of closed temples. Yet in this city continued the semblance of the ancient Romans, speaking a Latin of sorts, maintaining a link to the time when Rome ruled the world.

It was to this city of Roma that a little boy Benedict was sent for schooling. He was born around 480 in a little town called Nursia, now called Norsia, an ancient town mentioned in the Aeneid as frigida Nursia, a place long known for its cold. He was probably in Rome when the statues to Odovacar were overthrown and the Goth Theodoric was proclaimed ruler of Italy.

He soon left there to pursue a holy life, away from the evil he saw. This was not uncommon, many saw only decay in the disintegration of the old rule of law under the barbarians. The Roman life was fading under the barbarian rulers and many saw only decay around them and sought for a purer life. Some tried to live as hermits, others tried to live together in communities. Benedict would live first as a hermit, settling at Subiaco, some little distance from Rome, where the Emperor Nero had once a stately villa, and whose waters were channelled into those great aqueducts that supplied Rome. However, his early efforts were difficult – he lived as a hermit and then was asked to lead a community, who found him too strict and tired to poison him. He left them and soon had twelve communities, so great was his fame, but soon found himself caught up again in the fights within the very people he tired to live with.

Yet his fame spread and soon the nobles of nearby Rome were bringing him their sons for education. Yet Benedict disliked the quarrels of the monks there and left (one story is that the monks tried to poison him), going south to a place halfway to Naples, where on a hill overlooking the great ancient highway, the Via Latina, he founded his new monastery at the place which would henceforth be known as Monte Cassino.

It was for this community that he wrote a rule to guide the monks on how to live a life together. It is a rule noted for its moderation. It is not proscriptive, it is merely an outline that helps any community wanting to follow a monastic life. Its core values are stability of residence, obedience to the abbot, and monastic zeal. Its very moderation makes it easy to live by, yet calls for a devotion and commitment to the way. The abbot would be elected by the monks for life, preserving the rule of democracy within its tradition while the rest of Europe made do with kings and conquerors. It would be endlessly adapted and adopted by other communities, and would provide the stability for those seeking a monastic life in Europe for centuries.

I’m a middle-aged man now, and St Benedict when he wrote his rule was middle aged. He had tried fervour and strong will and it hadn’t worked. It’s a rule of balance and adaption. It’s the wisdom of middle age. Yet there is a strength in it as well. He knew that living in community and working together was the way to help bring the Kingdom of God closer. So many of the middle-aged people I talk to hate their jobs. They are tired of office politics, endless reports, political correctness, and sheer boredom of so much work. Jobs that often demand long hours and no security. In part that is because the corporations of the world offer the false gods of wealth and power that are never going to satisfy human beings who yearn for God. Benedict gave a Rule that allowed flexibility so that people could realise their desire (what is your desire is what we are asked as we join the community, and we respond that we desire to offer ourselves to God).

Meanwhile the emperor Justinian sent the great general Belisarius to reconquer the lost territories of the West. He re-conquered north Africa and then a few years later in 534 marched up the Via Latina past Monte Cassino to take Rome. He would then be surrounded by the armies of the Goths for several years, during which time the aqueducts would be destroyed and much damage done. One attack on the citadel of Hadrian’s Tomb would only be repulsed by the stratagem of throwing all its statues down on the attacking Goths. The city would eventually fall and be retaken, but by the time of Benedict’s death in around 550, it would be a ghost city, largely deserted, its monuments ruined, its walls pulled down and rebuilt, with space enough inside to grow crops in the forum which had once teemed with life. The great baths that the aqueducts had supplied would remain empty and useless, to crumble into the past. Italy would be ruined, impoverished by the passing armies, its institutions destroyed. Rome the city had passed into history.

Yet Benedict and his rule would continue and provide the stability that the old empire lacked. His rule would become the foundation of all monastic institutions in Western Europe, so much though that within the start of a new Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne would make inquiry if there was any other rule known throughout his empire. The monastic schools would flourish with the growth of the monasteries and preserve the institution of learning in the West. From these monasteries would grow again the schools and universities that we know.

For us Anglicans the influence has been profound. It was the Benedictine monks who came with St Augustine that helped to restore the faith to England. This was done by the special monastic missions, based around Churches called minsters, that were established in the pagan areas to bring the faith to the new tribes that would one day become the English nation. One of the inherited characteristics of that system would be a strong sense of parish, a reflection of the vow of stability that St Benedict marked in his Rule. That special devotion to the local parish is still a characteristic of Anglicans, and of our parish here with its great loyalty to our little church.

Our civilisation has a lot to thank Benedict and his rule for its moderation and wisdom that gave a way for the monastic way of life to flourish admidst the uncertainties and turmoil of the early middle ages.