Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eating your words

Sermon preached at the Parish of Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity.

What is an hypostasis? What is perichoresis, or a chorepiscopos? Or do you suffer from floccinaucinihilipilification in the whole matter?

Some people think it clever or intelligent to use long words willy nilly. The more syllables the word has, the better they think they look in front of those who don’t know them. Can you judge a person’s intelligence by the length of the words that they use? Is that possible?


The trouble is, words are supposed to be about communication. Words allow us to share information, understand who another person is or how they are feeling. Words allow us to create or destroy friendships. Words build cities or destroy worlds. The whole point of words is that we understand their meaning and communicate our ideas clearly to other people.

If you were to call someone phlegmatic, would they appreciate that you’ve just called them calm and relaxed, or would you get a smack in the mouth because they think you’ve called them slimy? If we wish to communicate with people, then we have to speak the same language. This is why it is not clever to use long words to demonstrate one’s intelligence – it really isn’t good communication. Either we want to communicate with other people or we don’t.

Of course there are times when long words are necessary. It’s easier to say “Disestablishment” rather than keep repeating “cutting the link between the CofE and Parliament”. The word “velocity” means something slightly different from “speed”: knowing that difference can change our understanding of what’s being said. A teacher needs to use technical language so that her students can grasp the basic lessons and become able to understand things on their own. That teacher herself needed to be taught that language too.


It’s part of a priest’s duty to teach his congregation about God. Think about what that means. A human being has to teach other human beings about Who God is! We run into a particular problem here. Who is God? What is God? Where is He? He is the maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible. But this means that God is not made of anything! It also means that we can’t say where God is! We often talk about God being angry, but can an infinite being who is not affected by time really ever be angry?

God is utterly unfathomable. Often we can say very little about Who he is, rather Who He is not. Now that’s not especially helpful. It’s a bit like trying to make an ice sculpture of God, by chipping bits of ice away and there is an awful lot of ice!

If it’s difficult for us to speak about God, how can God communicate with us? How can we communicate with God?


The first duty of every Christian is prayer. Every Christian should pray daily. The earliest rule of prayer is to say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, at morning, noon and bedtime. This at least gives us some meaningful words to pray when we can’t think of words. Having a good rule of daily prayer gets us closer to God and helps us to understand His Will for us. However, it is true to say that God’s communication with us does not seem to happen very obviously. We don’t get great sentences from above that tell us what to do. What we get comes from the still, small voice inside us that we can hear through prayer and study. Even so, it is difficult to hear! What assurance do we get that God does hear prayer? What assurance do we have that God really does want to communicate with us?


At the end of our Mass we hear the Last Gospel, and this Last Gospel usually (not always) begins, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” What is this Word? Well we know that St John is telling us that Our Lord Jesus is the Word, but what does this really mean?


The whole point of the Incarnation is that God communicates directly with human beings, and Our Lord is the way this communication happens. Jesus does not have to speak in order to communicate with us: He performs miracles; He weeps; He touches and handles us, makes us hear and see and speak and walk and find joy; and He dies for us. In that whole ministry our Lord Jesus, the Word, says as much by Who He is as He does in speech and deed. His death and resurrection tells us more about God’s love for us than we could ever know by what He tells us.

This is why the Mass is as it is. Every word and action has a meaning, and it is the duty of every priest to reflect on that meaning so as to allow the people to experience the living Christ. If you reflect carefully on the words being said and the actions being performed, you will see the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ unfold. That life of Christ unfolds for us, and as we receive communion, we take in Our Lord into our very selves to live and to work for His praise and glory.


We take Christ into our very selves. We, ourselves, carry the Word of God around in us, living and vibrant, connecting our Humanity with the Divinity of God the Almighty Father.

How do we speak such a wonderful Word?

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