Monday, July 15, 2019

A Nuptial Mass of Contradictions?

I have been quiet in my thinking lately, mainly because I have been trying to do some work on a new book which, at the moment is rather shapeless and needs a lot of work. I beg your prayers for my new venture, especially given imminent upheaval in my life.

As usual it is the CofE that draws me out of my silence because, as usual, it gives a theological voice to the contradictions inherent in society.

Consider the following propositions:

1) Two people of the same sex can get married.
2) Only a man and a woman can get married.
3) Transgenderism is possible: e.g. a man can change gender to become a woman.
4) Transgenderism is impossible: e.g. a man cannot change gender to become a woman.

They are mutually exclusive, are they not?

I must also add in the extra statements

5) Sex is a term interchangeable with Gender.

6) Sex is different from gender.

Now, let us consider the question put to the General Synod of the CofE by Miss Prudence Dailey:

"Given that the Church of England’s teaching about marriage is that it is a lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman, if one person in a couple undergoes gender transition, has
consideration been given as to whether they are still married according to the teaching of the Church of England?"

The answer was given by Mrs Christine Hardman on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishops:

"The Pastoral Advisory Group considered this question in the context of one specific case and I cannot comment here on the personal circumstances involved or draw a general theological principle from a single instance. However, we noted two important points. When a
couple marry in church they promise before God to be faithful to each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health – come what may, although we preach compassion if they find this too much to bear. Secondly, never in the history of the church has divorce been actively recommended as the way to resolve a problem. We have always prioritised fidelity, reconciliation and forgiveness, with divorce as a concession when staying together proves humanly unbearable. In the light of those two
points, if a couple wish to remain married after one partner has transitioned, who are we to put them asunder?"

Thus, it seems to me that the answer is, if a man becomes a woman, his wife is now in a same-sex marriage and this is to be recognised by the CofE.

Okay, let's just scrutinise this answer against the 6 statements I listed above.

Unlike the counterparts in Wales and Scotland, the CofE does not recognise same-sex marriage. That is the official position. It must therefore hold position (2).

Holding (2) means that the CofE cannot hold both positions (3) and (5).

Yet, the CofE either does recognise transgenderism to be possible seeing that it seeks to include transgender identities or it is paying lip-service to these folk. It has transgender clergy and has been considered liturgy to recognise a change of gender. Thus, either it is sincere in its belief and holds (3) or it does not and is therefore not as inclusive as it claims.

The principle of charity means that we have to accept that the CofE is sincere in holding (3). We must conclude that the CofE does not equate sex and gender.

This means that, officially, the CofE holds to statements (2), (3) and (6). The trouble is that many Trans people would say that they really are what they are because they find the notion of sex irrelevant to who they actually are. Thus the CofE in saying that they can accept a same-sex marriage because it wasn't originally a same-sex marriage goes against Trans understanding that the man was actually a woman from birth.

Further, if we turn the clock back to the "clear decision" of 1992 in which the argument for the ordination of women was made on the basis of Galatians iii.28 in which the equivalence of men and women is demonstrated in Christ. This does suggest that male and female are interchangeable in the eyes of the CofE. Thus their holding to (2) goes against the reasons for making the "clear decision" in the first place.

Here lies inconsistency because the CofE is trying to hold incompatible positions in its quest to be "inclusive".

This is because the LGBT philosophy is in itself inconsistent. If a man can become a woman without any surgical augmentation as the Trans philosophy suggest must be possible, then that man becomes a lesbian. If the new woman keeps her genitals, then we have the problem that she will not find a partner among fellow lesbians because lesbians do not have intercourse with genitalia which were formerly male.

This means that full acceptance of the Trans philosophy might be construed as defining lesbianism out of existence.

If the CofE wants to be fully inclusive, then it has no choice but to conduct same-sex weddings.

The alternative is, of course, that she return to orthodoxy where the problem of inconsistency goes away: (2), (4) and (6) are not incompatible and are fully consonant with the Christian faith!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Forgetting how to remember

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Trinity

If you access some online videos, you might find some wonderful footage of the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1933 and see processions of priests and bishops all correctly attired and all observing the correct protocol. You might find footage of some of the coronations and funerals of old Popes. You might see crackly old footage of an aged and frail Pope Leo XIII giving benediction in his garden in the Nineteenth Century.

And perhaps you say to yourself, “how wonderful! Things were so much better then.”

[PAUSE]

It’s a common feeling. Even St Benedict harks back to the old days when the Church Fathers used to say the whole psalter in a day when his monks could only manage the whole psalter in a week. What does he make of those using the Book of Common Prayer and only manage the whole psalter in a month.

We do tend to look back for the glory days.

But we do know that “glory days” don’t really exist, don’t we?

[PAUSE]

We know the dangers of wearing rose-tinted spectacles and seeing all things old as automatically being better than today. If this were true, then we should regard the process of bleeding a sick person with leeches as being more beneficial than the appropriate medical treatment today. And not only that, we have to ask ourselves whose “glory days” do we want? The British Empire? Fine, but we do have to remember that it was the desire to preserve the rule of the British Empire that eventually gave rise to the first concentration camps in South Africa. Our “glory days” can also be the days of our greatest depravity.

What do we really gain by looking back to those things that give us a whiff of nostalgia?

[PAUSE]

We have a notion of things being done properly, and we see that in the solemn faces of priests holding open the copes of equally solemn bishops with mighty mitres. We know they are taking things seriously. We know that they seek to make every liturgical action count. However, we must also remember that birettas and copes, altar frontals, solemn bows and double genuflections have not always existed. Much of our Mass has evolved beyond the sacramental essence. Liturgical actions do change. The Book of Common Prayer has changed too from its origins in 1549 through to 1928 and before its, frankly, unacceptable revisions of 1979 in the US and the Alternative Service Book of 1980 in the United Kingdom.

Why did these revisions suddenly become “unacceptable”? If everything that we do in church has evolved, then why should we object to further evolution?

[PAUSE]

Let us listen once more to Job. He sits in his poverty and remembers what has gone before. He remembers his riches, his finery and what he enjoyed before it all collapsed. Yet, he also remembers what he once did.

“When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street! The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up. The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth. When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.”

For Job, all his glory days are rooted in the practice of his religion. He remembers God, and we see that things haven’t changed. God requires us still to look after the needy. Herein lies the key to whether we accept a revision or not.

[PAUSE]

We Christians do not wear rose tinted spectacles. We carry our old days with us, they become part of who we are and we keep remembering that. We remember God’s Eternity and that He is the say yesterday, today and forever. The Mass is also a memorial: we do this in remembrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But our remembering is more than just a warm glow of nostalgia. Our remembering brings what once was into our today and, if we keep it up, into tomorrow as well. Our remembrance of Christ is part of our covenant with God for in the act of doing the Mass in remembrance of Christ our memory becomes real: we taste and see the real Christ and receive Him into our bodies.

This is how we are to live with our history as an active part of us.

[PAUSE]

The modern revisions of the prayer books throw out important parts of the past and destroy the uniformity of our doctrine. This attitude revision occurs under the belief that modern thinking is always better than the thinking of the past. It does not account for the fact that the Early Christians knew Jesus better than we do. The Apostles had Jesus in living memory as did many of the Early Fathers such as St Polycarp, St Clement and St Ignatius. The moment we look on their thinking as old hat and of less worth than our thinking under two-thousand years, then we lose the past: it ceases to be part of us.

While times change, the doctrine of God does not and our liturgies evolve to reflect this in times that do change. When we see the footage of the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1933, we need to ask ourselves what we admire in the faith of these long-passed clergy. And then we need to live it out, not only in their spirit but also their Faith because their Faith is our Faith! If it isn’t then something has gone wrong.

[PAUSE]

Traditional Christianity is in a state not unlike that of Job. We have lost so much at the ravaging of Time, Fashion and the Devil himself. In our smallness, and in our trying to understand what to do in the face of much opposition. Job looks back and see what he was doing before the calamity struck him and he see what he will do again when his life is restored.

We, too, in our smallness, must accept that smallness and seek the purity of Faith in our own selves, living out that which we receive of God in our past.

Ours is not just a faith of our father, but of our sons and daughters too. We need them to admire in our faith what we admire in those who peer out from archive footage, yet have long passed to the glory of God. Let us pray that we do the same!

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Tilling the grounds of the argument

 Sermon for the third Sunday after Trinity


We seem to be falling out a lot, lately.


Whether about politics, or religion, or our life-choices, there are a lot of arguments raging and, quite frankly, they are tearing our communities apart.


More and more, we talk past each other, trotting out well-rehearsed arguments and phrases but without ever looking for the real issue.


And Job is the same.


[PAUSE]


We see Job sitting in his misery. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, have now argued with him ten times and he has argued back. His friends say that Job has sinned in order to suffer so: Job says that he has not sinned. Job is beginning to wonder why his friends are not on his side.


The reason is that both Job and his friends have very fixed ideas. The friends think that because God is just, He runs the world with perfect justice and therefore Job has sinned. Job also believes that he has not sinned so there must be a problem with the way that God is running the world. He nearly even goes so far as to say that God is unjust.


And can we blame him?


[PAUSE]


As Christians, we have a very clear doctrine and you can hear that doctrine every Sunday in the words of the Creed and in the commandments that Our Lord Jesus gives us. We can strengthen our understanding by keeping the fellowship of the Church. And yet, somehow, we Christians disagree fundamentally. Job and his friends argue over one question: has Job sinned?


This is the same question that we Christians face today, “by performing that action, is that person sinning?” And we disagree so much and so violently that Christianity has fractured. In many cases, this is reasonable. Many Christians today are saying that they have not sinned by trying to change the meaning of Holy Scripture in order to magic away the whole idea.


So what do we do? How do we live with people who either think that we are sinners or whom we believe to be sinners?


[PAUSE]


As we stand watching Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar arguing heatedly, as we stand watching Job scratch his sores with a potsherd and cry bitter tears, and complain and howl at God, we have to ask ourselves, just where is God here? How are these men bringing God into the situation?


If we look closely, then we see that the friends don’t actually bring God into the situation but rather bring their understanding of His justice. If we look closely, then we see that Job doesn’t actually invite God into the situation but rather accuses him of destroying him. It’s all very human centred – all human reason and human emotion. Where’s the invitation for God to get involved?


[PAUSE]


We have a lot of hurts to bear in our lives, and our society is damaged because people cannot rise above their differences. We have a lot of hurt to bear from the way that people, even people that we love, even the Church have acted. Christians may have to walk apart in order to be true to the revelation that they believe they have received. However, the crucial thing is that our divisions must not allow us to sit proudly over our relationships with others. If we do truly hold the Christian Faith, then we know full well that our own sins separate us from God just as much as anyone else’s and that means that we cannot look down on those who sin. We cannot throw the first stone any more than they can.


No. We should not tolerate any sin whatsoever but we need to be right with God in order to see it. Accusations of sin are not a theoretical exercise of applying the Law – God’s justice is NOT like human justice. Before we consider our response to an argument, we need to listen for God’s word in what has been said. If we want God’s word to grow, then we have to till the ground and the ground in which we want God’s word to grow here is the situation between Job and his friends.


If we listen to Job’s friends and listen out for God, then what do we hear? We hear facts about God Himself, that He is just and that He does run the universe in that perfect justice. We know this because we pray it every day.


If we listen to Job, then we hear the cry of one in misery, struggling to understand what’s going on, struggling to know why a good God has it in for him. And then we hear another familiar cry.


“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”


“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”


[PAUSE]


God Himself will make a response to Job and to his friends in His time. Until then, the division and the estrangement must remain.


We Christians, with all our divisions and disagreements, must also wait for God to make His response to us. Until that happens, we must till the ground within us, ridding ourselves of all pride and indignation along with all our other sins, so that we may be in a better position to hear the word of God speak in the mouths of those with whom we profoundly disagree.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

No being, no pain and vice versa

Sermon for the second Sunday after Trinity


Job is quite right, you know.


If he had never been born, he would never have suffered the loss of his possessions, his family and his health. If he had died at birth, he would never have been in pain; he would never have known sorrow; he would never have known loss.


We can’t escape this fact at all, and it leads us to the biggest problem that we face as Christians and, indeed, one of the biggest questions that humanity faces, full stop!


Why should a good God create a world in which there is so much suffering? Surely, it is better not to exist than to exist in agony?


It’s something we have to grapple with, some of us more than most.


What can we say to Job?


[PAUSE]


There is no logical reason why a good God cannot permit suffering in the world. We can formulate answers that involve free-will, the actions of the Devil and God combatting Evil with a greater good, but human beings aren’t just thinkers. Given the actions of some human beings, sometimes we doubt that human beings are thinkers at all! However, we don’t react to Evil only with our minds and thus argue it out of existence. We feel the evil. We feel pain. We feel agony. And it’s horrible! So we want the evil, pain and agony to stop.


Perhaps, then, God is at fault for creating us to feel pain. Perhaps he’s at fault for allowing us to suffer like this.


[PAUSE]


If we could not feel pain, then we would know that nothing is wrong. We would not know that anything could be wrong. We would be unconcerned with the existence of others because their lives would not affect us. We would become utterly alone in ourselves, all cold and unfeeling.


We would be unable to know what happiness is because there would be no sadness. We would be indifferent to it.


We would be unable to know what beauty is because we would not understand ugliness.


Without pain, there would be no art, no poetry, no expression of what it is to be human. There would be no colour, nothing to take pleasure in, nothing to enjoy or to strive for or to succeed in.


And we would be unable to know God because we would not know love, happiness, and beauty.


Life would somehow be pointless.


It seems that if we could feel no pain, then life would be more obviously pointless than it is.


But it still feels horrible. We want to avoid suffering and pain! When we are in pain, pain is all there is to know and it overrides everything.


[PAUSE]


We have to understand that suffering is often too much for some people and we must be compassionate in these cases. Sometimes it is all we can do to keep going.  Job himself suffers, curses his birth, but neither curses God nor seeks to end it all by his own hand and, if you think about it, that’s remarkable!


Perhaps we can understand Job if we listen to St Paul.


“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”


Job’s story is full of his attempt to work out what is going on between him and God and it isn’t easy in the slightest. His friends simply do not help him. Yet, Job still clings to his belief that God is good.


And that’s all we can do. Just cling on and help others to cling on.


This is why the Church is important. It should not be a law-court of judges seeking to denounce the sinner but rather a collection of sinners clinging by faith in God. We are a fellowship – a fellowship that recognises what sin is, but seeks not to condemn but offer that unconditional generosity to the sinner. The Church is a collection of human beings broken by evil and finding the cure in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


We cannot have an answer for the pain and suffering of the children of God. Let us rather seek to know God and, in times of suffering, offer that pain up on behalf of all those going through the same thing who don’t know His love.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Commenting and Responses

I have just found out that I have been unable to respond to comments on this little blog. I hope this is very temporary.

I would like to thank people who have said some kind things about this blog and to reassure them that I have made necessary corrections which they pointed out.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Just the Job

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity


God is a monster, isn’t he? After all, He uses poor Job just to win a bet with Satan.”


Lots of people have this view of the opening chapters of Job and it’s easy to see why. We do get a sense of God using us for His own ends. That can’t be right, can it?


[PAUSE]


Whose vision is it?


That’s the question to ask. We know Moses’ vision of God, and Isaiah’s vision of God, and Ezekiel’s vision of God, and St John’s vision of God, but who is having the vision of God in this story of Job? It’s not Job.


And that’s the key to understanding this.


The Bible is not just a collection of books of history. There are poetry, prophecy and wisdom as well – all God-breathed as St Paul tells us. We are not supposed to take poetry or proverb literally. The book of Job is not one of the history books in the bible. It’s not like Chronicles or Deuteronomy, or any of the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles. It is classed as wisdom literature and placed among the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom books of Solomon and Jesus the Son of Sirach. It means we have to treat it as a story but to search within it for the truth that God has for us therein.


Look at the Heavenly Court in Job. What is this trying to tell us?


[PAUSE]


First, it presents to us the problem of why there is Evil in the world. We see God enthroned and Satan, the Accuser, taunting God about the depth of Job’s love for Him. And we see God permit Satan to afflict Job. That’s important. God says, “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power.” And later, God says, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.” God does not command Satan to afflict Job. God states a fact. Satan, being an angelic being, has power over human beings. And Satan, being an angelic being, is as free to choose as we are.


Satan does not have to inflict suffering on Job, but he does because he hates God. He’s the one who is trying to score points over God.


And God allows it. Why?


[PAUSE]


As St John walks with Jesus, the Lord sees a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples ask Him, saying, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus answers them, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”


So God is using us to win an argument?


There are two things here. First, we are Creations of God. This means that He gets to use us in the way that He chooses. Yet, the evidence that we have about Him is that He values us as individuals and rejoices in how He has created us. If God treats us as mere instruments and vessels to play with, why does Jesus Christ come in to save the world?


This brings us to the second point. God is not using us – He is using the results of Evil against Evil. This is hard to see because we don’t have a complete picture. We will never know the mind of God which is why He implores us to trust Him. The man was born blind for some reason we don’t know, but God uses the man’s blindness to bring good into the world. And where Good is, Evil cannot be.


A man has the palsy and look! His friends, people who love him so much, deliberately break through the roof of a house just so that he might be cured of his sickness. Not only do they love this man, but they also have faith in Jesus and this faith is communicated to the multitudes of people within the house crowding around Jesus. And yet further, the man’s sins are forgiven and the Lord’s power to forgive sins is displayed for all! At every stage, Satan’s wickedness is used by God to bring about something wonderful to draw human beings closer to His Love.


[PAUSE]


This is why we have to have faith. We can’t see the bigger picture. The story of God’s throne room in the book of Job is just that – a story. We will see suffering and it will test our love and faith to the limit. Yet, we do believe in a God Who has power over Death itself and not even that can separate us from His love.


The suffering of humanity does deserve an answer. This answer will never be found in textbooks, nor in lectures, nor even in sermons.


The suffering of humanity is answered by faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Power of Normality

Sermon for Corpus Christi


It’s always at the Elevation of the Host when the little voice says to you, “You fool! Look at you gazing up at a little disc of bread. Look at you bowing down to a cup of water and wine! How pathetic!”


Truly, the Eucharist is the source for hilarity among those non-Christians who mock us. Truly, the Eucharist is a major concern to our beloved Protestant brethren who fear that we are committing idolatry.


Let’s do that, then. Let’s step outside and look at us bowing down to a bit of bread and a cup of wine.


[PAUSE]


What are we expecting to see when the Host is lifted up, or the chalice? Are we really expecting to see the change?


Did the Disciples see the change at the Last Supper?


Does St Paul mention a change in his second letter to the Corinthians?


If not, why do we expect one?


Or, rather, do we want to see the change and just get very frustrated that we don’t? After all, the lack of seeing the difference does make it a bit of a problem when we talk with Protestants. If no change can be seen, why should we suppose that it happens at all.


Yes, we should use the eyes of faith. St Thomas Aquinas says,


“Verbum caro panem verum 
Verbo carnem éfficit: 
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus déficit,
Ad firmándum cor sincérum
Sola fides súfficit.”


“The Word-Made-Flesh by a word 
makes the true bread become flesh, 
and wine become the Blood of Christ. 
And, if the sense fails,
to confirm the sincere heart
 faith alone is enough.”


Our Lord is very clear. He tells us through St John that His flesh is meat indeed and His blood drink indeed. At the Last Supper, He says of the bread, “this is My Body,” and of the cup, “this is My Blood of the New Testament.” This is what St Thomas is saying to us. Our senses might deceive us, but we know what Jesus has said and we have faith in Him.


When we find ourselves staring at bread and wine and those doubts set in, we do have to ask ourselves, “what are we expecting to see if things are really different?” Do we expect it to glow with some ethereal light? Do we expect to see sparks shooting from the chalice?


Or do we expect Christ Himself to be present in a completely normal way even as He walks among the people of Israel as a completely normal human being? The Word was made Flesh! Do we expect Him to look different from human beings if He came to be with us as a human being? He takes upon Himself normality. He takes upon himself the humdrum, every-day, boring, usual form that we have in order to work His greatest miracle of redeeming humanity from the clutches of Evil. That is the power of Christ’s normality!


If this is the case then we must expect the bread and wine to look completely normal in order for it to be the Body and Blood of Christ and to give us the grace of the sacrament that He promises us. We must expect to look at that little white disc and for it to smell and taste like unleavened bread. We must expect to taste a bit of watered-down wine, for, in that complete normality we truly take of the Body and Blood of Christ. In that normality, we are transformed. We become the new normal until we receive our final normality as guests at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.


So take and eat. What do you see? Is all normal?