Sunday, March 17, 2019

Back to School already?

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

Around about the end of July, many shops will proudly announce their new season called “Back to School”. Given that the school year has only just ended, it seems rather an unkind reminder for those who have to go back to school, especially teachers!

For many people, school days are not the best days of your life. There is a great fear in having to learn something, especially when you don’t want to learn that thing. When have you had to solve a quadratic equation in your life? When has your knowledge of ox-bow lakes or the chemical composition of sulphuric acid actually been useful beyond the pub quiz? Well, you never know…

What’s the point of learning things that you don’t want to learn?

[PAUSE]

One of the concerns that many have about religious belief is the idea that it indoctrinates people. We can certainly see how some Muslims are indoctrinated into beliefs that are damaging to themselves and certainly to others. Christians, too, are not immune and some people find themselves being bullied into belief by Christians who seem to derive their worth by forcing their religion on others. There is now such thing as spiritual abuse in which religious belief is used to control another for selfish or secular reasons, or even to enforce beliefs that aren’t actually necessary to the Christian Religion.

The process of Indoctrination involves teaching children a set of beliefs uncritically. What does that mean? Should we be allowed to question whether or not God exists? Should we be allowed to think that Our Lord and Saviour is not present in the Sacrament of the Altar? Of course, we should! It’s part of our human condition that we are free to question whatever is presented to us. God gives us free-will and we are not truly human unless we use it. Indoctrination is therefore dehumanising.

The son of Sirach talks of the benefits of pursuing the Wisdom of God. “Wisdom exalteth her children, and layeth hold of them that seek her. He that loveth her loveth life; and they that seek to her early shall be filled with joy. He that holdeth her fast shall inherit glory; and wheresoever she entereth, the Lord will bless.”

We are presented with good reason to seek after wisdom and this means careful study of the Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church. What we do notice from this is that we are being presented with the choice whether or not to seek after this wisdom. Wisdom is there like the pearl beyond price lying hidden in the field. People will sell all that they have to possess it for the search for Wisdom is a search for God Himself and His wisdom is expressed perfectly by His Word – Our Lord Jesus Christ! “They that serve her shall minister to the Holy One: and them that love her the Lord doth love. Whoso giveth ear unto her shall judge the nations: and he that attendeth unto her shall dwell securely.”

Seeking wisdom is hard work but we know that because living is hard work especially in this sinful and fallen world. “If a man commit himself unto her, he shall inherit her; and his generation shall hold her in possession. For at the first she will walk with him by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline, until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws. Then will she return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and shew him her secrets.” This is why we often dread learning: it challenges cherished beliefs and lifts us out of our comfort zones.

We can also fear learning because we can be shown up for being wrong. The fact that we are free to believe does mean that we can be wrong. The son of Sirach tells us that if we go wrong, Wisdom will forsake us, and give us over to his own ruin. “Observe the opportunity, and beware of evil; and be not ashamed when it concerneth thy soul. For there is a shame that bringeth sin; and there is a shame which is glory and grace.”

The beauty of the love of God means that if we go wrong, there is always a way back to Him. In healing the paralytic, Our Lord shows that sins can be forgiven very easily by God. In so doing, He shows up the wisdom of the Pharisees as being defective. Their love does not go far enough. The Pharisees will strain at a gnat in order to prove someone wrong and yet swallow a camel by refusing to see that it is love that fulfils the Law, not blind obedience to it.



If we can go wrong, if we can even doubt the existence of God Himself and thus be convinced to lose our salvation, how can we be certain of anything?

The answer is Faith.

[PAUSE]

Faith is a type of knowledge because it is given by God. We can doubt that He exists but then we need to turn to Him and ask for our faith to be strengthened. God is always approachable. Yes, our faith can be tested to breaking point but, that’s true of any belief that we have. Our knowledge is imperfect and the imperfect vanishes away when the perfect comes. What we think we know is only a shadow of what is. Our freedom to think can certainly challenge that Faith but if we are willing to recognise the Holy Ghost as the One Who walks alongside us albeit invisibly, then we always have the way to God.

This does mean that we need to be patient with those who go astray because it could so easily be we that go astray. No, we must not accept any heresy or deviation from the Wisdom of God, but we must recognise God’s gift of freedom of thought to everyone even if it means their rejection of God – that’s the pain of love. Our only recourse is to bear witness to the Faith that is once delivered to the saints revealed by Almighty God written for our edification and taught by those who seek His Wisdom in humility and love. And let us use our Lent to go back to school and learn the Truth of God in Faith, Hope and Love.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Publishing publishing

I have just taken the unusual step of deleting the Stations of the Cross that I blogged in 2011, shortly after my departure from the CofE.

This is because I have published them in book form for £3 from Lulu.

I have been trying to publish more books that I have found in bits and pieces on my laptop before another change in my life occurs, hence the flurry of activity. It's a sort of mental spring-clean or intellectual download, I suppose.

I am very grateful for the patronage of so many people who find worth in what I write and hope that they might continue to find some aspect of God therein.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

#GodToo

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

What does God make of the #MeToo campaign?

In recent years, we have seen high profile figures accused and convicted of horrible abuses of their power and influence. While this is horrible in itself, the fact that many of these abuses have been at the hands of leaders within Christ’s Church is clearly rocking the faith of so many people. It’s understandable that members of the clergy are being regarded with suspicion and that the loss of trust in the Church is growing.

Yet, we also have the other problem of false accusation in which people’s lives are blighted by mistaken, misunderstood or even malicious individuals. The destruction to an innocent person’s reputation by false accusation is devastating even if there is a clear proof of innocence.

A proof of innocence? Surely, it’s innocent until proven guilty. If only members of society would remember that…

So what does God say to those who cry #MeToo?

[PAUSE]

“Whatsoever is brought upon thee take cheerfully, and be patient when thou art changed to a low estate.For gold is tried in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity.”

That sounds very much like a slap in the face for anyone who has suffered abuse or has been wrongly accused. Does this mean that we are to roll over and just take the abuse?

If we know anything about God, it is that He is good and righteous. We believe that He will come to be our judge. All the way through Holy Scripture, we learn of His fairness from hearing the blood of Abel crying from the ground, granting the barren Sarah a son while yet comforting Hagar, restoring Job’s fortune, restoring the sight of the blind, up to the glorification of the Faithful in the Revelation of St John the Divine. Do we think that God does not hear the complaints of those who have been denied justice?

The fact of the matter is that in the act of becoming Christians, we have to be prepared for our faith to be tested. “If thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. Set thy heart aright, and constantly endure, and make not haste in time of trouble.Cleave unto him, and depart not away, that thou mayest be increased at thy last end.” This is why the Bishop gives each candidate a little slap when they are confirmed to remind them of this. As far as this life is concerned there will always be injustice. True justice can only be meted out by the hand of God Himself Who alone is in possession of all the facts. To forget that and seek our own judgment is an act of faithlessness in God.

[PAUSE]

But we have been given law by which crimes and injustice can be shown for what they are. No human being should ever have to undergo sexual harassment or any form of abuse. Perpetrators of abuse must be punished, and God’s Love for both victim and perpetrator will ensure that this will happen. But we have to keep faithful and not become vigilantes seeking our own punishment on those who have abused us. The #MeToo movement highlights two injustices – the silencing of those who have been abused and those who have had their lives ruined by what amounts to being guilty until proven innocent. Neither is acceptable and yet the balance is very difficult to strike. We cannot sacrifice the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” for any reason for otherwise we will find ourselves back in slavery to those whose whims declare what guilt and innocence are, and thus throwing God aside in favour of man-made laws which have caused so much suffering in the past.

We forget, however, that the rule of law is God’s gift to us, and we must learn to trust it and use it appropriately.

We can look at the examples of the saints like St Oscar Romero shot while saying Mass after asking the United States to stop arming the corrupt Salvadoran Government during the Civil War, or like St Martin of Porres who through patience overcomes the racial discrimination which prevent him from taking Religious Orders and serving the poor in Peru, or like St Damien of Molokai who would rather succumb to leprosy than allow the voice of those shunned by Society on account of their disease.

The approach of the saints is a preparation to suffer injustice in order to achieve justice – a greater justice that pours down from the Throne of God. Our duty, as Christians, is to observe the two commandments that Our Lord gives us. When faced with injustice we turn to God first in prayer and pray, pray, pray so fervently that it hurts. Then we look at people, not at abstract laws and theoretical precepts and we seek true justice. While those who abuse and hurt and murder must and will be punished, every Christian must look for the good of all people, for each and every one of us is a victim of Sin either by being on the receiving end of it or by committing it. Humanity cannot simply be divided up into those who are oppressed and those who are oppressors because oppression by Evil does not work that way. We are all victims of Evil, and it is this injustice that is resolved through the Cross of Christ. Our motivation for justice must spring from Love and not a desire for power.

Our Lord is baptised in order to associate with everyone whom Evil touches. He identifies with sinners so that sinners can be identified with Him and find in Him, not only justice, but mercy, peace and love too. Ultimately, we will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men: for as his majesty is, so is his mercy.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Where Wisdom may be found

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday (Mattins)

We are very familiar with those three visitors who appear in our Nativity Sets. We hear them called Magi, three kings or the three wise men. You don’t doubt that they are wise because they have the sense to follow the star of Bethlehem to find Our Lord.

Is it wise, then, to follow your horoscope in the paper? After all, that is what the Magi are doing in some sense?

Is it wise to give up all that is familiar to you and strike out a living alone based on vague promises of wealth and happiness? After all, this is what Abraham does.

You can probably think of situations in which it is wise to do things which, at the time, seem strange, uncomfortable or just plain stupid. And there are times when it is strange, uncomfortable and just plain stupid to keep carrying on as we are. If you’ve been living in a tent on the same bit of ground for the past ten years and you hear reports of a tornado, do you stay where you are?

It seems that wisdom is something very desirable for us to have. But what is it?

[PAUSE]

There are several books in Holy Scripture which are described as being Wisdom literature: they are meant to sow wisdom in the people who listen carefully. These are the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, which we sometimes call the Song of Solomon, the Book of Wisdom, often called the Wisdome of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus which is often called the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or just Sirach for short. In these books we find lessons in the nature of suffering, how to sing to God, good ideas for godly living. Even how to fall in love! Surely, though, the human race has been doing all these things without the need for the Bible. Why do we need this Wisdom Literature?

What many people don’t know is that the Wisdom of Sirach has a prologue in the Greek Old Testament written, apparently, by the grandson of Jesus the Son of Sirach. He says, “Many great teachings have been given to us through the Law and the Prophets and the others that followed them, and for these we should praise Israel for instruction and wisdom. Now, those who read the scriptures must not only themselves understand them, but must also as lovers of learning be able through the spoken and written word to help the outsiders.” What we see is that what we understand by wisdom is completely bound up in the Scriptures and the study of the bible. And this makes sense. Job may tell us about his suffering, but the book of Job is something deeper than that. It may not answer directly the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” but a careful study of it reveals much into human nature and how we approach people who are in pain and misery. Further, it reveals a God Who is not absent but rather takes pride in those who love Him.

Likewise, the Song of Songs may appear risqué but we see how God fits in to the business of human relationships. In all Wisdom literature, we find recorded the plain fact that Wisdom is the life lived in the fear of God. Of course, by “fear” we can certainly understand the sense of awe and worship when we are face-to-face with the Creator of the Universe. We have to let that fear into our lives because it is a fear that encourages pure love. It is not a fear that destroys it.

[PAUSE]

Wisdom is for every Christian. It is not just for those who are clever, have lots of degrees, or have written many books. We must remember that the Wise King Solomon was tempted into idolatry by his six hundred wives. Indeed, we live in a time when the most intelligent and most academic of people encourage us to give up on God and on our religion. There are even those who lead the Church who seek to draw us away from God by embracing the things of this world – they, too, are modern versions of Solomon. Wisdom is for us all. It is enshrined in Scripture and in the Tradition that arises from and interacts with it, and our fear and love for God compels us to receive it.

[PAUSE]

Lent is the perfect time for sharpening our Wisdom through careful study of the Scriptures, but we do need to ask God for His Wisdom first so that we don’t acquire the wisdom of the world that will reject Him. We should fear that we don’t love God enough and it will be this fear that drives us to know Him better. We remember that we are dust and unto dust shall we return, and we remember that God has given us the Scriptures and the Holy Ghost that we might go beyond our dust and into Eternal life in His love.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Shameless Publicity

I have, over the course of the past three years, been busy on a couple of projects for my Diocese and my bishop.

I am pleased to say that I have been able to publish both of these books and invite interested readers to take a look for themselves by clicking on the links below.

Anglican Catholicism: Unchanging Faith in a Changing World

Whom Seek Ye?



Sunday, February 24, 2019

Goodness out of Eden

Sermon for Sexagesima (Mattins)


It seems rather mean to punish all snakes for the action of just one.


It seems rather mean to punish all men and women for the actions of Adam and Eve.


It may seem mean, but is it? How would we know?


[PAUSE]


The consequences of the Fall are far reaching. Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden. This means that all of their children will be born out of Eden, too. If Adam and Eve are the parents of all humanity, then we are all born outside of the place where once mankind walked and talked with God as friends. If we are born out of Eden, then we are born needing the grace of God to find that place again. Human beings must live their lives out in this state of separation from God. We are not left without His love, but our every action can lead us further from Him. We have this knowledge that Good and Evil exist, but do we have the ability to tell the two apart when we are so separated from the true Goodness that is God?


If we are separated from God by the Fall, then we cannot be sure. How can we judge angels and men as St Paul tells us? How can we be salt for the world if we have lost our saltiness? How can we be judges if we are so fallen?


[PAUSE]


It is clear that Christians can behave unjustly to each other. St Paul sees the Corinthians taking each other to court. Our Lord sees His disciples arguing about who is the greatest and whether someone else who is not a disciple can be truly following Jesus. Our judgement is impaired through living outside Eden and it is impaired because we only think we know what Good and Evil are. If we truly did know Good and Evil, then we would want to cut Evil out from the very heart of our being even at great cost to ourselves.


We are no different in this day and age. The Episcopal Church in America has been engaged in lawsuit after lawsuit in much the same way that St Paul saw in Corinth. We see the Church of Rome and the Church of England reeling from the scandal of priests who seem to have forgotten that offending against children and exploiting the vulnerable brings about a punishment so terrible that being drowned with a millstone around the neck would be infinitely preferable. We, too, must be careful as our own sins are no less offensive. All sin is offensive. All sin deepens our separation from God.


[PAUSE]


What can we do? We cannot work our way back into Eden. We are completely unable to amend our lives with our own knowledge of Good and Evil. It is that very knowledge of Good and Evil that sees us thrown out of Eden in the first place.


The only way is through Christ Himself. We must put on Christ, join ourselves to Him and not wander from what He teaches. Through Baptism, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ which can step past the Seraph with the flaming sword guarding the entrance to Eden. Yet, even if we are Baptised, this will not save us if we stick to our own ideas of what Good and Evil are. God tells us what Good and Evil are. So many Christians these days think that fornication is Good, or try to reason that they have not committed it when they have. An act of fornication might be forgivable, but if we don’t believe that it is sinful, how can we be joined to Christ and be with Him in Paradise? Can two walk together except they be agreed?


[PAUSE]


We are not saved by the Law. We are saved through the Grace and Love of God and this means we cherish what He decides is Good and has been Good from before the beginning of the Universe. Evil separates us from Him; Good binds us to Him and it means that we must cultivate goodness in our hearts.


The beauty of penitential seasons like Lent is that we have an opportunity to listen to what God calls Good and pursue that, cutting out of our lives anything that tears us away from Him. If we accept what God calls good then we will not offend His children and cause them to stumble. By clinging on to Christ Himself in Scripture and in Sacrament, we will re-enter Eden and regain that wonderful life that we once had with God.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Begin the begin

Sermon for Septuagesima

In the beginning…

What’s so controversial about that?

Given the much-hyped conflict between Science and Religion, it’s easy to overlook one simple thing: both Science and Christianity make the claim that there was a beginning. We might argue about the nature of that beginning, but we’re agreed that our existence has a beginning. It’s quite reasonable, then, to ask what began that beginning. Whatever began that beginning cannot have had a beginning and must always exist, can’t be made of matter, and must have made a clear choice to begin the beginning. Whatever many modern scientists may say, the belief in our Creator God is rational, reasonable and very plausible. It takes a lot of complex argument to come up with an alternative and, despite their best efforts, no-one – and certainly not Stephen Hawking - has really succeeded.

[PAUSE]

Today, Septuagesima, is the Scriptural New Year. Seventy days before Easter, we begin at the beginning again, reflecting on God’s creative power. Why today though?

As we prepare for the discipline of Lent, we need to go back and remember what we are trying to achieve in Lent. The fasting of Lent may prepare ourselves for Easter but we need to prepare to prepare. We can’t just embark upon a fast that we choose. All things must begin with God and His Creation. We often forget to do so, though. Human beings have been very good at creating their own gods. While the golden calf and the bronze serpent have been consigned to the bin of idolatry, we still have a tendency to want God to be what we make Him out to be. The god we make is often the one who either turns a blind eye to our sins, or makes it so that we haven’t really done any wrong. If we want to find out the God we worship, then we need to see Him as He is, away from our own biases and preconceptions, away from all that we see around us, away from all the things that influence us. We need to go right back to basics. We need to go to the beginning.

What do we see there, in the beginning?

[PAUSE]

In the beginning, we see God. In the beginning is His Word. In the beginning, we see His Spirit moving over the face of the waters that He has just created. We see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit already there before any thing exists. This is what God tells us about Himself as we read the Holy Scriptures. He tells Moses, “I AM.” He tells the Scribes and Pharisees that, before Abraham was, “I AM.” There, in the darkness before the light comes, there is God.

Then comes Creation: heavens, earth, waters, light, firmament, seas and land, grass and herb and tree, sun, moon and stars, animals, cattle and Man. At each stage, God reveals more about Himself. All of His creation is good – very good!
In the very act of creating things, God reveals to us what is good. Goodness comes from God – it does not come from us. Goodness is not made up by Society. For God to say that His creation is good means that Goodness must be there in the beginning before Creation. In the beginning we see that God is good, and goodness is part of who He is.
And this is where Septuagesima comes in.

[PAUSE]

During Lent, we tend to look at what’s good for us. We tend to call the shots by giving up chocolate or television, or taking up exercise or reading, which we do because that’s what we think will be good for us. But do we approach Lent selfishly, seeking our own way of discipline in getting back to God? That’s what many people do, using it as an excuse to find some accomplishment like Movember, or Veganuary, or a month without alcohol. What people outside the Church don’t know is that Christians take up Lent for the love of God, and that this means going right back to the beginning with Him. These weeks of the Gesimas are an opportunity for us to make that preparation to begin again, to return to God in prayer and look at ourselves with Him, seeking how we may make our Lent with His involvement.

[PAUSE]

Can we really begin again? Of course we can! Look, God promises us a new heaven and a new earth if we will but be faithful to Him. He is willing to begin again just as we should want to begin again. The Benedictines have a saying - always we begin again. Each day is new and God always wants us to begin with Him.

This is how we must live life: begin at the beginning until we come to the end and then stop. If God is with us in the beginning, then He’ll be with us at the end, too. You can be sure of that!