Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Joy

John 20:9 Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Sermon Preached at S Mary Paddington Green Easter Day 2018

The resurrection is not described in the Gospel. What is described is the way that the followers of Jesus came to realise it had happened. Peter and John running to the tomb and finding it empty, with that wonderful human detail that makes it so real: John is younger and can run faster, but Peter, the elder, impetuous Peter, he is the one who goes into the tomb first. The women meeting the angels but, “do not look for the living among the dead.” Mary of Magdala does not recognize Him, but supposed Him to be the gardener. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

If they hadn’t how can we – how can we understand the teaching of scripture that He has risen from the dead? Because He has – this our whole purpose in being here today, and it is our whole purpose in being here every week. After all the complicated liturgy of the last few days, today seems normal. That is because every Sunday is Easter Day. It is not that Easter Day is like an ordinary Sunday but that every Sunday is like Easter Day. 

Well, we could explore all kinds of good arguments. For me I have found that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the whole understanding of the world that is built upon it makes the best sense of what scientists continue to gather about the structure and nature of the universe. Christian philosophy makes the most sense of all philosophical systems, is built on the firmest foundations and hangs together most clearly. The consistency credibility and elegance of Christian theology is beyond compare. And Christianity has been professed by vast numbers of the cleverest people that human history and intellectual endeavour have ever seen.

But as John Henry Newman famously said, syllogisms, clever arguments, do not convert. Nor, when push comes to shove do I believe for these reasons, though I hold them all to be true. And I do believe that Jesus is risen from the dead – alleluia!

Actually I believe, and I suspect you believe, because I have lived the faith in the community of the church. Look what happened on that first Easter morning. Mary of Magdala was weeping outside the tomb. She looked full on the face of the risen Lord and supposed him to be a gardener. The resurrection was so completely alien to all experience and expectation that it was not visible to her. And then, He called her name. “Mary”. And in that moment at last she saw and believed.

It is not that we can work out who Jesus is, but that He reveals himself to us. At the supper at Emmaus in the breaking of bread, and at breakfast on the seashore after they had been fishing, and again in the upper room to Thomas, the Lord reveals Himself. And He does so through relationship, in the community of the church. Though it is a bit hackneyed perhaps it is true: we are an Easter people, an Easter community, and alleluia is our song!

So we come  to faith not through hard study but in and through our life together. Peter’s sermon which we heard as our first reading was pretty rotten as an intellectual exposition or a persuasive talk. But what the Apostle did was to teach Cornelius and all his household, including the slaves and the children and the poorest in it, of the need for community with God and to invite them into that community by baptism. Our role as evangelists is to do the same.

We are to be vigorous in study and the grammar of prayer and the work of devotion and the joyful duty of sharing the faith. We have the church to support us with this – use the resources available. And share the faith as you share your taste in coffee or music or football teams, naturally and because it is part of who and what you are: may the good news bubble up from our life as we show that we believe Christ is Risen .

One final thought. To live in a community means to bear with the discipline of that community. We sometimes have to put ourselves aside and put our neighbour first. That is what being part of any community requires of us, and it is why we follow the disciplines of the church even when they may feel they against our personal understanding or desire. Remember on their own they had not understood what the Scriptures said that he should rise from the dead. It is not our own ideas, nor the ideas of our parish or even of the Church of England that count: He has called us into something much bigger than these small things. It is in the community of the universal church extended in time and space that we can flourish in true knowledge of God and his ways. God reveals himself to us most fully in Jesus Christ, who is The Head of the Church. Paradoxically to live by that discipline is to enable ourselves to flourish better as individuals. Lent was a time when we focused on the discipline; we did not do so in order that we can set it aside now that Easter is upon us. We no longer now focus on it, but its benefits and its duties are still there. It makes us fit and strong for our celebration.

Until that moment they had not understood. But what a wonderful, joyful thing: Jesus has revealed His resurrection to us in the life of the church; here we may know and live it, and so here we may come together to say: alleluia.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Unpettalled Roses

S Andrew by the Wardrobe is host to an Indian Orthodox congregation. They cast petals on the ground on their Palm Sunday procession. Seeing them there as I came home yesterday put me in mind of a poem of S Therese of Lisieux, An Unpetalled Rose The text is here.

The poem meditates on the first trembling steps of the child Jesus, beginning with what seems the sentimental desire to unpetal a rose 'So that your little foot might rest ever so softly on a flower.' The wobbling attempts of the toddler are but the first steps on the way of the Cross. The poet realises this as she suggests that her life should be unpetalled; not standing proud like the flowers in the vase, but unpetalled and cast on the processional path: 'The rose in its splendor can adorn your feast... but the unpetalled rose is just flung out to blow away... like it, with joy I abandon myself to you."

So often we want to be heroes of the faith, obvious in our devotion, strangely selfish in our very service: Therese will have none of that: "Jesus, for you I have squandered my life, My future, in the eyes of men, a rose forever withered, I must die."

The path begun with those childish steps is but the beginning of the Way of the Cross, a point driven home by the Palm Sunday petals around the church: for the petals seek, possibly hopelessly, "to soften once more on Calvary your last steps."

The way of the cross which we walk this week is not some falsely deprecating smug humility. It is a way of humiliation and death. But only so can it show the fullness of love, which seeks noting back, no reward for itself. "An unpetalled rose gives itself unaffectedly to be no more."

Thursday, March 22, 2018


As I came back from meeting on March 21, 2017 I was called by a colleague who told me that I should look at the news. Almost the same time my phone buzzed with a message from the police chaplain.

I lead for the Faith Sector across Greater London for what is known as "resilience". That means that I chair the group that tries to make sure that people of faith respond well in the face of major incidents.

That afternoon I was in touch with the police chaplain was with his colleagues providing support for officers, and with the chaplain to Parliament who was locked down with MPs and peers, staff and all those others who had been in the Palace of Westminster at the time of the attack.

Every incident leaves us with a lot to learn. A few days after the attack I had a conversation with the lead chaplain at St Thomas's Hospital about a vigil they were holding. Thousands of patients and staff had seen the incident and that community needed help to process what had happened.

The shows of unity, the vigils and the photocalls, the appearances on the television with other faith leaders (I discovered that Sky make you up when you go on TV but the BBC do not) are outward and visible signs of extraordinary hidden work.

In the incidents which scarred last summer faith communities stood up in what is sometimes called "bottom-up resilience" getting churches, community centres and Faith buildings open and supporting the emergency services and the public. Helping them to do that, keeping information flowing from them and to them, ensuring that offers of support helpfully deployed, making sure that the messages are clear and well understood, and above all trying to keep them safe is part of what I end up doing when something happens.

I remember on the day of the mercifully abortive bombing at Parsons Green telephoning the local church to be told that I could not speak to the vicar because he had gone down to the tube station where something appeared to be happening. The church was already open offering teas and coffees to people stranded and to police ambulance and fire service personnel. We had just started to tweet that out when I got a call to say that the church was now inside the inner cordon.

As John Barradel, Town Clerk to the City of London Corporation and lead for local authority resilience across Greater London, has said, there is a person of faith on every street in London. The faith communities are not only those who offer support, but those who need it. We have a network of buildings and infrastructure which is almost always in use and at the frontline when something happens. (Who can forget the contribution of the faith buildings around Grenfell tower?) We can help to interpret what is going on in people's minds in the world in which geopolitics can only be understood if you grasp the motivations of religion.

But perhaps above all the contribution faith communities is that we are still there days months and years after something happens. In an arresting phrase of the senior officer of the London ambulance service, the faith communities are still there helping and rebuilding communities when the emergency services have gone home for "tea, inquiries and medals."

London indeed stands together, not only when something happens and thrusts our unity into the spotlight, but also day-to-day as unsung and unremarked work goes on to ensure that our communities are genuinely resilient because genuinely united.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The True Temple

Sermon Preached at S Martin of Tours Ruislip Lent 3 2018

John 2:19 Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up

The events of today’s Gospel are set on a building site. The original Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians; the rebuilt Second Temple had been destroyed by the Greeks; now Herod was building a new one. But there were insecurities. In Scripture there were hints that the Temple would not last forever. Jeremiah for example predicted the destruction of the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that around A.D. 62 one Jesus bar Ananias warned of a coming destruction, and there was tension in the air, a sense of fragility and impending failure.

The Future of the Church
I spent quite a lot of time last week in the same kind of atmosphere of concern, tension and worry about the future of the church. You are 80 times more likely to find an 80-year-old in church then you are an 18-year-old. Even in the diocese of London where we have been growing and opening new churches we reach a smaller and smaller proportion of the population around us. There is a certain amount of flailing about. If only we were more inclusive; more equal; younger; more active; better managed; more in tune with society, then we would all do better. The temple feels, even as we attempt to build it, to be insecure in its foundations. What should our response be? Around A.D. 30 Rabbi Zadok began fasting in order to forestall the destruction of Jerusalem. Here in the Lent, in our fast, we are reminded what Jesus does when he comes into the building site.
S Martin of Tours gives half his cloak to a beggar - who later tanspires to be Christ.
Stained glass window by Kempe in S Martin's Church Ruislip.

The Whip of Cords
He took a whip of cords and he drove out those who sold the animals for the sacrifice, and he up turned the tables of the money changers. With no evidence from the Gospel we often think of Jesus as attackign them for robbing the poor by their exchange rates; but the money with the idolatrous insignia of the Emperor and the Roman gods was not allowed in the temple precincts. They were trying to prevent blasphemy. He even told those who sold the pigeons for the sacrifices of the poor to get out.

It's not about trading
I remember once somebody coming and having a go at me and my parish about why we had a bookstall at the back of church and quoting this passage. I am pleased to say that he did not take a whip of cords to me. But actually that was to miss the point. This was not simply about trading, but about a radical reorientation of all of the acts of worship back towards God in Christ. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” After his resurrection they understood what he meant. Jesus substitutes the temple which is being built all around him for the temple of His body. This is the foolishness of God which exceeds the wisdom of men.

Temple Language
Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up. This is temple language. The temple is the heart and centre of the worship of God on earth. For the ancient Israelites there was no other place where he could properly be worshipped. But they always understood that he was more than a localised deity living in a house built by human hands. That universal understanding is perhaps best expressed by the great prophecy of Isaiah who speaks of how all nations will flow to the mountain of Zion which will be raised above all mountains. Ezekiel looks forward to the heavenly temple where all will worship. Quite simply the temple is the place where we find God and dwell with Him. And that is the ultimate end of our existence, the purpose of our being and the thing for which we have been created. It is no accident that in the Epistle to Hebrews the life of heaven is described as temple worship.
And we all know that our churches reflect the heavenly temple, with the altar which is the throne of God, the lamps which stand in front of it, and the prayers of the people rise as incense before the throne of God.

Crucifixion Language
Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up. This is crucifixion language, the language of humiliation, passion and death; of sacrifice in atonement for sin. It is the language of Christ’s entire recapitulation of our humanity, entering into every aspect of what it is to be a human being from conception in His mother’s womb through birth and growth and death so that we who are conceived in our mother’s wombs and grow and come to birth and live and die, may in every aspect of our lives know Him with us, and even in death find that He is there to raise us up by the power of His life. In three days we are raised again.

Messianic Langauge
Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up. This is messianic language, the language that looks forward to the future, to the glory of heaven. The prophetic action of taking up the whip of cords and cleansing the Temple shows that like the prophets Jesus calls for action in this world, for there is no radical distinction between earth and heaven. Fasting and feasting, make a difference. And so our life together is sacramental: spiritual grace ministered to earthly things, oil and water; the touch of a fellow human being ministering blessing; bread and wine, the vehicles by which the very presence of God is given to us.

The revival of the church is found only in radical commitment to Jesus Christ
This is not about religiosity. This is not about having a clean temple so that we can come aside from the world and pray well. That was what the money changing tried to do. To that He took a whip of cords. This is a call to serious living which focuses only on the Lord, for he will tear down the temple and rebuild it in his own body. You probably know the story of the person who said that he would give up Easter eggs for lent. But too often our own commitment is on that kind of level. The revival of the church which I spent last week being told is so necessary will come only from a revival of personal commitment to Christ, desire for holiness and humble prayer for grace. 

Tearing down the institutions

The temple was an ancient institution building itself afresh. Jesus called for that to be torn down. In itself it was of no import. The important thing was to focus entirely on him. And do not get me wrong, I love old churches and it is part of my work and duty to sustain our heritage and to make them work for us today. I love the institution of the Church of England and work each day to strengthen it, and it is far from dead yet. But in the end buildings and institutions and managerial methods and fundraising activities and musical excellence and social activities and all the rest of what we do are only tools, and Jesus comes with his whip of cords to drive away our attachments to them and to force our attention back to Himself.

He will raise it up
In Lent we are called to let go of all this stuff and turn to Him with real fasting and severe penance more than our comfortable life usually sustains. For when all is torn down in three days He will raise it up.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Full Measure

Sermon for the London Diocesan Senior Staff 

26 February 2018

The church of which I am Rector in the city of London uses only the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. This has reacquainted me with the regular use of the rite which I knew in my youth. It is famous for his bloodcurdling confessions. We are to “acknowledging and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” And to acknowledge that we have “offended against thine holy laws, done those things which we ought not have done”, and to recognise that that “there is no help in us.” In this Cranmer is channelling Daniel who, in the context of the exile of the people into Babylon was clear that the cause of punishment was the failure of righteousness, treason against God, sin. Daniel’s lengthy prayer, a portion of which we had for our first reading this morning, cries out to God in sorrow and penitence. All good stuff for Lent.
The Altar S Andrew by the Wardrobe

Should we accuse ourselves of sin?
But is this right? The gospel tells us to judge not only be not judged. We look to receive a full measure; pressed down and running over from a compassionate heavenly Father. Not just deserts of great sin. Surely Cranmer had read the gospel, and surely the church was truly inspired to include this part of Daniel in the canon of Scripture? Are we to put away the word of God, brought to us by Daniel, and reject the historic formularies of the Church of England?

God alone is the Judge
The image that we are given by Scripture is that of the court room. “Judge not that you be not judged” says Christ; ‘to the Lord alone belong mercy and compassion’ says Daniel. Judgement is not ours. The seat of the judge we are not to usurp: But the seat of the prosecutor; that is a different matter.

We depend on God for Forgiveness
Daniel is right, and Cranmer is correct and clear eyed Lenten penitence is not deceived: we stand accused both as individuals and corporately. Daniel who is presented as the perfect believer nevertheless shares in exile as a result of corporate sin; Christ Himself calls His followers to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and the apostles ask in fear: who then can be saved? For God alone it is possible. We all share in that original sin which taints us all and makes us all dependent upon God for forgiveness.

Lent is given to us is a penitential season in which we are to draw this to mind. We are to go back to Daniel and Cranmer and heed the voice of the prosecutors who point us again to our need for salvation. But we are not to judge. Neither by condemning ourselves and slipping into despair; nor by acquitting ourselves and falling into pride; nor again by falling into that most subtle and most pervasive of traps in the modern church by judging sin, redefining it in order that we can be free of it. No one can be free of it. Not even Daniel the faithful servant of God among the exiles.
It is in Christ that we meet our Judge, and nowhere else, for He makes atonement for sins through His cross and in His recapitulation of our humanity. For he shared every aspect of our humanity from conception to death so that we might share in His divinty in every part of our life up to and including death. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. So the call of Lent is to stop the self justification and the self condemnation and simply to acknowledge our need of God, the God who keeps His covenant and knows the needs of all His servants.

The Full Measure
But Lent is more than simply waiting on the mercy of God, though it is that; it is also about the full measure. The full measure of salvation to which we are brought. If we are called to a clear vision of our sin, we are called also to a clear vision of the salvation which lies beyond our penitence. Indeed it is precisely because we see the full measure of our sin that the extraordinary measure of salvation is borne upon us. Our manifold sins and wickedness are such that there is no health in us. To us the look of shame belongs. But the measure we have measured out is met not by an equivalence either of forgiveness or of condemnation, but by a full measure, pressed down and running over, an infinite act of grace, given by one who being infinitely alive became utterly dead so that we who are immeasurably lost might eternally be raised.

The pledge of salavtion
And as a pledge of that salvation, as a sign of that measure, we are given in a tiny space, in a fragment of bread and in a taste of wine, the whole presence of the infinite one who comes to us now, while we are yet sinners. With this full measure given to us now, what might we expect when at last He has finished purging us of our sin? That remains to be understood, and His is the judgement not ours; all we can know now is that here in exile and fasting we are given a measure, full, pressed down and running over, an immeasurable salvation. So why do we pause further before turning to this great gift?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Sign of Jonah

Sermon at the Licencing of Andrew Tyler as the Director of the S Marylebone Healing & Counselling Centre

Sickness not a punishment for sin
Jonah was sent to the great city of Nineveh to call it to repentance and to bring it healing from sin. We have it on the authority of the Lord himself that sickness is not a punishment for sin. Remember the man born blind, and the crowds asked him “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” And Jesus replied that he was blind not because of his sin, nor the sin of his parents but in order that the glory of God might be revealed in him.
S Marylebone Parish Church
Called to reveal the glory of the Lord
All of us, in sickness and in health, are called to be those in whom of the glory of the Lord is revealed. For that glory to be revealed in Jonah, he had to be cured of his disinclination to do the will of God, of his fear, and as we know, also of his self-righteousness. We all know the story. Jonah tried to run away from God’s call to bring the message of repentance to Nineveh. But after the storm and the adventure of the whale he did go and he did preach. And he was the one person upset by the success of his preaching. The Lord decided not to destroy the city after all; but Jonah thought He should have done and went to sulk in the shade of a large plant.

The Preacher must learn his own lesson
The Lord struck the plant and killed it, so that Jonah moaned even more about being out in the hot sun. The Lord admonished him that he cared more about the plant which gave him its comfort, then he did about great city full of people. In other words, Jonah was still focused on himself. The preacher had to learn his own lesson, and at last come fully into the presence of God from whom he had been running the whole time.

Turn to the Lord who heals
The root of the word repentance in the new Testament, metanoia, means “to turn”, and just as Jonah when he ran away had to turn round and go where the Lord commanded, and just as the Ninevites had to turn to new ways and just as Jonah had to turn even more to God as he learned from the voice of his own preaching, so we in this Lenten season are called to turn to the Lord, the source of our healing.

Three Days in the belly of the whale
Healing, true healing, is not about body or mind, nor even particularly about spirit, but it is about our orientation to God. We may be sick at heart, disturbed in mind, frail in the flesh, weak in soul, but if we are turned towards God, who is the source of life and well-being, there is true healing.
Just as the Lord was three days in the tomb, so Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, and the sign of Jonah is that we must die to the expectations hopes and aspirations of this world, as St Paul said, be crucified to these things, and rise again to a new life. The one who would be the Sign of Jonah is the one who has had so much stripped away, and who comes not full of strength and confidence, but as it were a man struggling up the beach covered in whale vomit.

And so, Father, as you come to join us and to bring the message which God has laid upon you, the news of the call to repentance through which lies profound health and healing, we look to you to be the sign of Jonah. You come with wide experience of chaplaincy, with a foundation in parochial ministry, and a deep knowledge of medicine. You are married to a doctor, and you bring the skills which are needed here for many different kinds of need of healing.

Fr Andrew Tyler

Not good advice, but good news
You are to bring the same message of repentance: turn to God The message which you bring, and the support which you offer is a gift from God, precious necessary and helpful. You do not bring good advice, which leaves a burden on the one receiving it, but you bring good news which lifts burdens and is a cause of joy. You are to be one who, like all those called to preach, like Jonah, learns from the message on your own lips and whose own repentance, metanoia, is helped by those to whom you bring the word.

Bring the presence of Jesus
And you are above all to bring through your sacramental priestly ministry the presence of Jesus Christ amongst us in bread and wine. As a Priest of the New Covenant you do not bring simply words and messages about the Lord, you bring the presence of the Lord himself.

The limits of medicine and the illimitable love of God
This, of course, is what makes our healing centre so different. Any place of human medicine is ultimately a place of failure, for all our human medicine must eventually falter in the face of the inevitable decline into mortality which is us the consequence of Adam’s sin. Of course we use all the tools of medical science, the God-given ability that we have to mitigate the entropy in this world, and we must rejoice in the gift of life and reject the embrace of death which the world proposes as an escape from the reality of suffering. That is a false way based not on the hope of the gospel but in despair. True healing must reject that way and steadfastly teach its error. For we do not despair at the ultimate failure of medicine because of the ultimate gift which we are given in Jesus Christ.
For in Jesus Christ death is undone, and a sure hope replaces despair even in the face of suffering. After three days He rose again; after three days in fish Jonah was spewed up on the beach. The sign of Jonah is a living man, a type of the life which is given us in Jesus Christ and which you, as a priest new covenant, minister to us.

The Sign of Jonah
You are the sign of Jonah. So preach to us, call us to repent, learn from your own preaching, and bring to us the gift of life and healing Christ.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Little Liftings up of the Heart

A lovely evening tonight at the Pattenmakers' Feast at the Mansion House.

This was my sermon at S Margaret Pattens last year for Asension Day at which the Company celebrated the 300th anniversary of the granting of Livery.

Ascenciones in Corde ‘Liftings up of the Heart.’

Shoes are a sign of the fall. As indeed are all clothes, but perhaps most clearly, shoes. Our shoes are the point at which we are connected to the ground, reminded that we are creatures of the Earth, unable to rise up above the dirt of the earth. Pattenswere an attempt to lift us up over the grime of the streets; they tried to protect our fine shoes, and to keep our feet from becoming smelly – or too smelly. They are quite literally ‘little ascensions,’ raising us up, even if only a little way, above the sorrowful dirt. 

The Ascension might at first seem to be an overly literal fable. A rounding off of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus with him disappearing into the sky. If you go to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham you will find in the Chapel of the Ascension a plaster cloud on the ceiling and sticking out of it a pair of plaster feet. All rather silly perhaps and undevotional. No wonder that when Uri Gagarin went into space he came back to declare that having been to heaven he had found God was not there. But to understand the Ascension like that is profoundly to misunderstand.

CS Lewis noted that a novelist writes with imagination and words in order to convey truth through his fiction. God on the other hand writes with history and the material world in order to reveal truth through His creation. The message of the Ascension was apprehended as the sensation of Christ rising up into the sky. But its meaning was not that the Lord was going up or even out, but that because of Christ’s incarnation our human nature is at last redeemed, the fall is undone, and we may thither ascend where He has gone before, to use the powerful words of the prayer book collect.

On the Ascension Day the Christian is taught to remember that we are being raised up by Christ, and, like the apostles who lifted their hearts in worship constantly to be raising our hearts in little ascensions, ascenciones in corde, to use a rather wonderful phrase of Fr George Congreve’s, little ascensions of the heart, allowing them surely there to be fixed were true joys are to be found.

Lift up your hearts

Today is a day for Liverymen of the Pattenemakers to lift up your hearts, celebrating you anniversary. But even as Livery was granted to this Company the clock was ticking on the Pattenmakers trade. Already the Paviours were providing firmer surfaces to streets and roads, and the fashion for raised footwear, high-heeled shoes, with patens fitted upon them, was changing as the Enlightenment quite literally brought everybody back down to earth with the simplicity of flat heels. And as the century progressed the process was only continued and exacerbated by the French revolution. While Patens continued into the mid nineteenth century they went and have not come back. High heels for women began to be fashionable again in the 20th century, even on the dirtiest streets women now receive support from heels rather than patens.
A patten
Little liftings up of the heart
But you have kept your Ascension Days and taught the ascensions in corde, the little liftings up of the heart over these three centuries. The undoing of the Fall is not simply a matter of having platforms for our shoes to that we may stand a little above the troubles of the world. As those who have been committed to follow Christ, and Liverymen of other faiths and none will know, true ascension is received as a gift of grace in a context of charity and love and care of others. Livery is not merely a dress for a trading activity but for a charitable one, and Pattenmakers in particular, like liveries in general have shared the proceeds of success with those in need. For this we are most grateful; not so much for the money, though it is crucial, but for the commitment to showing how the selfishness of the Fall is undone in the lifting up of hearts in charity and love, and that at the heart of true wealth creation lies not avarice and greed, but charity and generosity.  

This is expressed for Christians in the example Jesus gave when He washed His disciples’ feet. I suppose we could stretch the point and suggest that patterns were an attempt to prevent the necessity of the washing in the first place, or at least to mitigate the amounts of dirt, but that would maybe to try to take the analogy slightly too far.

Nevertheless for Christians, and I would hazard for all people of good will, the habit of little liftings up of the heart beyond ourselves in service of God and neighbour bears fruit in love and joy and peace. In these actions of love the fallen are raised up, and we are lifted a little more towards heaven. The joy which flows from these ascenciones in corde has been a blessing on the Company and its charitable activity through the generations of Masters and Livery, known and unknown, who are recorded in the lists now to be dedicated in this church.
Pattenmakers Ascension Day Service 2017
Love and Care of Neighbour
Today the Company expresses love and care of neighbour in the interest that you maintain in education; in young managers within the shoemaking industry, and in the support of provision of orthopaedic shoes for those who need them. Of course in time this also will change, for our needs and our responses to them change and develop with each successive phase of our societies. What does not change is the eternal fact that through Christ’s once for all death and resurrection, salvation has been brought to us and the fall undone, and in his glorious Ascension the gate of heaven has been opened to our human nature so that through His grace lifting up our hearts we may come to share his eternal life. There will doubtless in the future be new ways in which this Company will serve the community, and new Liverymen and Masters will be added to our lists who serve in these new ways. But in what they do, they will simply do what our predecessors have done and we are called to do: Lift up our hearts daily to God and to seek His guidance in how we are to live in love and service of all.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Freedom Through Hope

A sermon for the week of prayer for Christian Unity preached at the Tyburn Convent

Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ!  By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope 1 Peter 1:3

There is a fashion to say that the church was always divided. After all, we are told that there was from the beginning the argument between the Greek speaking and the Hebrew Christians. We are told the ecumenical project is therefore doomed, and we should be content with the divisions we know in the church – or at least leave their solution to the Parousia. But the Scripture itself will not let us do this. With the prayer of the Lord that we should all be one ringing in our ears we read the various descriptions of the unity of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles; and then there is the evidence of the First Letter of St Peter from which the short lesson at Vespers tonight comes.

An Epistle of Unity
The letter called 1 Peter seems to have been a collaboration between Peter and Sylvanus, leaders of the Hellenists and the Hebrews in the apostolic church. It is a fascinating text. It would appear from the end of the letter that Sylvanus, or Silas, the associate of St Paul, was the secretary who took down the letter, and from its Pauline theology and language he seems also to have had a considerable influence on its composition. And yet the letter’s opening declares it is from S Peter. Beyond simply the opening greeting ‘From Peter,’ and despite those who would claim it is a pseudonymous text, the indications are strong that the Prince of the Apostles was directly involved in the writing, not least because, if Silas was simply looking for an apostolic name to append to his own text it wold have been more natural and more in tune with the theology to choose that of St Paul.

Baptism the Principle of Unity
The first letter of St Peter has unity at its heart, for it is a text about baptism. It has so many references to the fundamental sacrament of Christian Unity that it has been described as a baptismal sermon and even as a baptismal liturgy. It draws heavily on the typology of the exodus. The letter opens by addressing the Christians of Asia Minor as exiles, and makes reference to that moment in the narrative of the flight to freedom of the chosen people when the people of Egypt give the Israelites jewels and silver, contrasting their redemption by  perishable gifts of precious metal with the redemption offered to the Christian in the new exodus through the blood of Jesus Christ.
By Baptism, By God’s great mercy in calling us to the healing waters we have been born anew to a living hope. This living hope into which the baptised are born is a hope for freedom and new life following a new exodus out of slavery, and rebirth into the promised land of the liberty of the children of God. It is a living hope, that is, a hope, by which one may live; a hope around which to configure one’s life.

All this springs from the fundamental unity of the Church in Baptism. Thanks be to God for that great fruit of the ecumenical movement by which we recognise one another’s baptism despite all the other things which may yet divide us. When all else is said and done there is a simple clarity that we accept that all those baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit receive the gifts of grace in baptism, know the remaking of the marred image of Christ, and are incorporated as a Member of His Body. This is an astounding and precious gain from the seemingly endless and fruitless conversations of the last years. Blessed indeed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born again into a living hope. Because we have been born again with others into this hope we may share with them and travel together on the way.

In the context of this fundamental unity we should consider more deeply what this Living Hope might mean. So much of what brings division among churches may be traced to questions of authority. What was the authority – or not – of the Old Law over those who have the new and living hope? What is the authority of the Son of Man – is the authority of a creature or the authority of God incarnate? Where is the authority to add or subtract from the Creeds, the nub which continues to divide East and West? In the West we have debated to the point of martyrdom the authority of the Roman Pontiff, and in my own church we with much pain debate the authority or otherwise of Synods over the nature of Holy Order and now of Marriage.
We have debated to the point of martyrdom

When authority is at issue the question becomes acute as to whether baptism is in fact not the exchange of one form of slavery for another. There is inevitably an implied loss of freedom when one enters any community. Whether members of the sports team committing to train together, colleagues in the workplace doing what is needed in the shared endeavour, members of a family who have to share one television and take turns in the bathroom, or Religious living under a Rule, to be yoked to others implies a loss of freedom and an inhibition of our own free will as the individual becomes a member of a group, as the Member joins the Body.

A modern world which exalts the individual and which has atomised each person into a lone “economic unit” rebels against everything that is implied by the commonality of Baptism. And so one of the great deceits of the devil for the modern world is the illusion that freedom – individual limitless free choice – is the main and best object of hope. The devil’s lie for modern man is that in heaven you will get just what you want at last. 

"The devil’s lie for modern man is that in heaven you will get just what you want at last. "

I expect you know the story of the golf course. There was once a man who enjoyed golf. There was never any time to go to church because of the time that was spent on the golf course. The man died, and was met by an angel at the Pearly Gates.  He got in first with his request: “I want golf.” The angel asked, “are you sure?” And the response was “of course, I want golf.” So the man was taken to the most wonderful golf course imaginable, with just the right level of difficulty to make it challenging, just easy enough to be satisfying, with his angel as his caddy. At the end of the round the angel set off again, and thinking that he had had the most wonderful round and that he would really quite like some more golf he set off on a second game. At the end of that he was tired. But the Caddy angel again gave him the clubs. “I do not want to play golf any longer” he said, “I want to go and have a drink in the clubhouse and then a nice dinner.” But the Caddy angel said, “You asked for golf, and golf is what he shall have. The man said, “I do not want to play golf, I want my dinner, and here I can have what I want, after all this is heaven.” To which the Caddy angel replied, “Who said this was heaven?”

Obedience, Idenitiy and the Living Hope

The reality is that in our lives we are all imprisoned in different ways. We cannot just have what we want even though we might pretend that what we get is indeed what we want. Circumstances and abilities or disabilities, financial resources or all sorts of things prevent anyone from having just what they want. To those of us who live in the world, enclosed Religious are a powerful reminder that true freedom is found not in a the mirage of choice, but in the loving service of God, and in his choice of us. In this chapel and in this context I do not need to unpack that point, but we can profitably consider the paradox that we form our characters and gain our individuality only when we are in thorough engagement with others. It’s why parents take their children to nursery to be “socialised” and learn to develop their own personality in play with other children. I become more me because I have met you and given myself a little to you.

 In this we reveal that we are made in the image of God for in the interaction of the Persons of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, each is perfectly united with the others, such that each Person is infinitely immersed in his fellows and we may speak only of One, but at the same time that infinite participation perfectly forms the individual characters such that we must speak of Three. The Living hope into which we are born is therefore one which points not simply to simple union, but to a perfect union which implies, requires, community. If this is true of individuals in their growth as Persons, and of the very Godhead, surely it is true in our institutions, and in the supernatural institution which is the Body of the Baptised?

The Living Hope is a pattern both for our individual engagement with societies and for the ecumenical endeavour of the whole Body of Christ.

I don’t have a programme to offer as to how this approach, the approach of Baptism, might work out in practical ecumenism. At least not in the broad sense of how institutions and churches might respond. To offer such a programme now would not be helpful since those among us who are policy makers or canonists must work in those structures not out of the community we are forming here and now. But how might this apply personally to each of us, to policy makers and canonists, and also to Religious and to all the baptised that we might make some contribution from the Living Hope which is ours?

"Obedience calls the Community into Being"

A hero of mine is Fr George Congreve, an Anglican religious who helped many late 19th and early 20th century communities to flourish. He offers some thoughts on obedience, as the basis by which a Community must live, whether it be a Convent or a Family. Obedience for him is the foundation by which community is lived, enacted by each individual.

Congreve wrote that obedience “calls the community into being” and went on, “Obedience does not give the external act of obedience merely, but it gives our heart along with the act. And the Christian, the Religious, cannot say, I will keep the rule and I will obey the authority of the community life, but my heart, my inmost heart, my mind, my sorrows, my joys, what are they to the community?… Oh no, obedience keeps nothing to itself, no sphere of nature in which self is to remain.… Obedience to our Religious Rule in spirit and in heart develops great simplicity and sincerity and openness of character. I wish to have no thought, no delight, no sorrow, no hope which I cannot share with all my brothers in Christ Jesus … And so by choosing His will all day long we are taken up into His self, and we go forward with him in the glorious progress of the life of God. His wisdom, his power, His love acting us as we live in loving obedience. It is this perfect union with God which obedience means. ‘I live, yet not I, Christ lives in me.’” The purpose of obedience is to live as “Loving others, whom God loves with God’s love.”

An Ecumenical Manifesto

This might be the manifesto for our life together, a union which is founded in Baptism and leads us by the path of obedience to a commitment to others which by a seeming paradox that derives ultimately from our creation in the image of God, enables our own individual expression to be set free. The more we all live like this the more our institutions might come to reflect the union to which we aspire, which is in the end, union with God, that we might be one with those others whom He has united to Himself. We may not see it now, but we can hope and: Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ!  By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Living History

The City New Year service at S Michael Cornhill is attened by the Lord Mayor in full regalia. It is one of only a few times in the year that the Lord Mayor wears the 'Collar of Esses', a livery collar which, though repaired and remade, goes back at least to the reign of Henry VIII. It is extrarodinary to contemplate the nearness of the past when such an item is in use. It gives connexion with out predecessors and is a tangible link with those who have gone before.

Of course the thing is that human history is not that long. near the entrance to the British Museum is the 'Battlefield Palette' about a century older than the Narmer Palette, which is the document with which written Egyptian history begins. It is about 5,000 years old. Not a very long time in the scheme of things. There has been a church on the site on Cornhill for a good proportion of that time, the first one having been built on the edge of the Forum of Roman London.
The Battlefield Palette

The Esses on the Collar are believed to stand for Sancte Spiritus - Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is always with us across time and with all of those people who have been part of human history, known or unknown.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Whole Church a Lantern and the Altar a Flame Within.

Today I preached forthe Epiphany at S Mary's Bourne Street. Poking about on their webiste I found an interesting reflection on the building, here. It mentions that there was a move to whitewas the red brick at one point, mercifully not followed through.
Red Brick in Bourne Street
It was Comper's building at S Cyprian's Clarence Gate which gave the impetus to this idea, and indeed Percy Dearmer had S Mary's Primrose Hill whitewashed in direct response to that building. the poit was that Comper was moving in a modernist direction, saying that the church has no other purpose than to be a container for the altar and reducing all else to the minimum.
Whitewash in Primrose Hill

I said something about all of this in a sermon for the dedication festival at S Cyprian's last year.

Sermon S Cyprian Clarence Gate Dedication Festival 2017
Ps 122:1 Let us go to the house of the Lord
Revelation 21.9-14; Psalm 122; Hebrews 12.18-24; Matthew 21.12-16  

A dedication Festival is not the same as a patronal a Festival. That means a focus on God in Christ, who is worshipped here rather than on S Cyrprian who is commemorated here.  It seems that the consecration was a jolly good do. It asserted quite deliberately a particular teaching about the nature of the church. The rite was based upon the pontifical of EgbertArchbishop of York “because it embodied the real true ceremonial of the old Church Of England.” In other words it was designed to teach a long-standing, genuinely English and fully Catholic Christianity independent, as the late Oswald Clark said, of “Popish additions, protestant diminutions and liberal dilutions and deviations.” The records show there was a choir of nuns singing from the Rood beam, and that the nave was strewn with branches of pine, box and rose petals and the chancel with crimson roses and white lilies. Vestments were borrowed from all over, and the consecration candles were lit in front of the consecration crosses which we still see painted on the columns of the nave.

Modernist minimalism: the consecration crosses bold against the white pillars
But what is a church? It is not a synagogue, it is a temple. This is crucial to our understanding. The synagogue was the place of exile; the gathering of the people for the consideration of the Law; the congregation assembled to hear teaching and to offer mutual support. The church is never described in the New Testament in this way. The church is the body of Christ, and Jesus said that His body was the temple, which torn down would be rebuilt in three days. We have heard again just now the description of the church as the Holy City centred with the temple at its heart and centre. It was to the temple that the Lord went and where the sick and the lame came to meet him, and it was in the Temple, daily, that the apostles worshipped after his resurrection and ascension. So when we go to the House of the Lord it is to the Temple that we come.

The temple was the place of sacrifice. To come to church is to come the sacrifice of Christ, made once for all upon the cross. It is a sacrifice of multiple import. By it He bore the penalty for sin which was ours and became the propitiation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was a sacrifice not only of propitiation but of expiation: by it He cleansed us of sin, fulfilling once for all the sacrifice by which the High Priest would annually sprinkling blood on himself and in in the Holy of Holies to be able to enter into the presence of God. And it was the Paschal sacrifice which showed the membership of the chosen people and the passing over of the angel of death now fulfilled as He united himself entirely and completely with every aspect of our humanity even up to and including death that we might join with him in every aspect of his divinity up to and including his resurrection.
So our Temple is different from the one of old because we can come into it without fear and approach God, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

The whole church a Lantern and the altar the flame within it
When Sir Ninian Comper built this church he attempted to express this theology of sacrifice by making the entire focus of the building the altar. “The open chancel screen, the transparency of which is completed by the great windows behind it, the low-down East window and those which like the also from the sides make the whole church a Lantern and make the altar the flame within it.”

So what we do in the church is quite simply to approach the sacrifice; to contemplate it, receive its grace, participate in it, feed on it, share it. S John in the Revelation, like S Paul in the letter to the Ephesians, describes the church as the bride of Christ. In the liturgical expression of this church this is emphasised. When he stands at the altar of Christ, the priest is in persona Christi offering the One sacrifice. We can have lots and lots of churches for the very reason that each of them is simply an expression in this place of the eternal city the new Jerusalem, and the people gathered here, are an expression in this place of the Bride coming to her husband adorned for her wedding, the one holy Catholic and apostolic church.
The whole church a Lantern, and the Altar the Flame within it
Engagement with the World
But is this to withdraw, to flee from the world and resile from engagement within it, building outposts of heaven on earth and barring the door against the darkness beyond?

No! The setting aside of the church and consecration to worship is the opposite of withdrawal. Again the very architecture helps us. Comper did not like chairs, and applauded the fact that they were used here only for those who really could not manage to stand through the service, and put away “by the congregation themselves” at the back of the church after use. This emphasised the clear open space and rational planning, everything directed towards its purpose, and nothing superfluous. It made S Cyprians important in the beginning of Modernism and it was praised by those who sought to reach out to new ways of thought at the beginning of the 20th century. It was designed to be open to the world.

The sacrifice made specifically for those who do not understand its necessity
The sacrifice was not made for an inward looking congregation, but specifically for those who do not understand its necessity, still less wished to attend its mysteries. Our beautiful church is given to us as a tool for our mission. It supports the teaching of theology, it provides a space for welcome, it is a base for reaching out, designed to be open and easy to access in the modern world. We have seen in recent days once again how it has helped those who have shared it to love their neighbour sacrificing energy time and money for those who are made poor and desperate.

And what you access when you come here is Mount Zion,  the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Good News to share
This is good news which it is easy to share, for it bubbles out of our lives when we have been fed through the sacrifice of Christ. Like a bride adorned for her husband we go out as ambassadors into the world glowing with the love which we have given and received, and encouraged to share that with our neighbours. The dedication of our church is a moment of rededication of our own lives to going out and proclaiming the gospel to others that they may come and share our joy.

Epiphany Chalk

The chalk on the Epiphany is one of those things that some people know very well, and others have never heard of at all.

The wrting of the traditional names of the magi on the lintel of the door is a way of marking the home and offering a symbol of Christian hospitality. It is also a little act of witness.

It even works if you have a double glazed front door rather than helpful brickwork as you can write the words on a paper and put it up inside the glass.