Friday, November 22, 2013

Unashamed Idealism

As the days grow shorter and the night draws in, as the cold grabs you from the moment you set one toe out of bed or the damp inveigles its way underneath every layer of clothing, it's very easy for the spirits to sink and become lethargic. Such are the seasons of the year and we should be prepared for such a downturn after the joys of spring and the lazy days of summer.

Life itself has these seasons too. Ecclesiastes iii promises seasons in life in which things have a wonderful aspect and others in which the spirit is suppressed.

Lately, as I look round at people in the street, I see very little of the joy of life. Some of my friends and colleagues are suffering so much. Their lives have taken a rougher pace and a more dismal hue. I am losing one friend to cancer, another friend has had a heart attack (and is still with us, thank God) another has been unwell for some time and seems to be having everything he stands for attacked by legal issues while he battles with his health. Other friends have suffered so much due to flooding, typhoons, wars and skirmishes and the like and are crying out for aid. Sometimes it's hard to be even remotely cheerful. Can one even dare to be cheerful in the midst of so much suffering?

St Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say , Rejoice!" Easier said than done?

Well, it has been said that one of my main faults is that I am far too idealistic, but then I've found that idealism at least opens me up to the possibilities of the future and gives me something to work towards. What follows is my vision for the future of the Church in the hope that such idealism might raise the spirits of my readers. It is my vision and no-one else's, and certainly not necessarily representative of the views of any institution to which I happen to belong. Nonetheless, this is what I want to see in the future and, if I am allowed, this is what I want to work for.

The Church is the custodian of Good News. Too often the Church misses this and adds sometimes very significantly to the suffering of others by legalism and judgmentalism. Sometimes the Church uses the Good News to make "good" people ever so good and "bad" people practically irredeemable. I have seen this so much in the past online and in many a pulpit, and probably I have done the same thing myself. Well, it's got to stop. People are people and creatures of God with the potential for being children of God regardless of who they are.

My vision of a Church is that hospital for sinners that seeks only to meet the sinner where they are and lift them out of their pain and misery, bind their wounds and help them find health again. It is a Church that puts the little human being on the path to sainthood while yet living in imperfection.The parable of the Good Samaritan is the perfect model for the Church from the words of Christ Himself. If we use the 10 Commandments, or indeed any Biblical verse, to make someone appear to be irredeemable, then we have lost the Good News completely, and we pass on by the sick soul lying bleeding on the ground. The fact of the matter is that Christ came into the world to die for sinners, to save the world from death caused by the infection of sin and evil, from the rapidly growing nothingness eating away at God's Creation and destroying the perception of any worth that every single human being possesses. The Good News is that God does not want to lose anyone, at all. So why then do parts of the Church demonise sinners? Why are here all these shrill insistent voices that make some sins worse than irredeemable?

If someone uses God's law to punish sinners, then necessarily that someone must be God, for only He can wield the law with any true justice. Look how homosexuals have been demonised after being labelled as homosexuals. Sometimes people label themselves as homosexuals despite homosexuality being just one aspect of their being, an aspect which is subject to man's fallenness but also God's goodness. Labels can only ever stand for the part and never for the whole and yet that false induction is just what Humanity does. My vision is of a Church that assumes only the best in a person by seeing God in that person: it is also a Church that recognises its own frailties in the sins of others. It is a Church that helps people work out their own salvation in fear and trembling before the Divine Judge.

There are those judgements in cases where things are so complicated that only the eyes of God can see the truth. What about the woman who has had an abortion after finding out that her baby is so severely disabled that it could not possibly live after being born? Is she to be demonised for this? Or is she to be seen just as much as the victim of circumstances and loved and cherished and helped to rebuild her life by an institution that cares that she's hurting? Yes, abortion is something that should be stopped utterly, but campaigning outside abortion clinics with shrill voices of hate and judgement, with vile pictures, banners and slogans will destroy lives just as effectively. My vision is of a Church that will seek to eradicate abortion by stopping the need for it and allowing God to be the judge in the occasions when this miserable act occurs. It is a Church that sees and embraces all true victims without hesitation. It is a Church that remembers that it possesses only the Keys to Heaven and has no ability of itself to pass judgement on God's behalf until it has been perfected by God and with God and in God.

So my vision of a Church is one that eschews a legalistic approach to sin, but rather renders unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (letting the Civil Law deal with Civil things) and unto God what is God's. Ultimately, only God's law will remain and the Civil Law will vanish away when we see Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father coming in Glory to judge the quick and the dead. Until then we have imperfect human law with all its travesties and technicalities and loopholes and complexities, but also bringing order and no little justice to our lives. Where it fails, then must the lawmakers revise it and perhaps the Church will be allowed to be part of the process. If not, then it must live out its faith in a strange land where perhaps its song is curtailed, but whose visible presence gives hope for those who seek to make the Law better. The Church is in the world, not of it.

My vision is of a Church that lives out the Grace it possesses in the Sacraments that it is called to distribute. It is a Church that fully believes what she preaches and is unapologetic for believing in things that the World cannot understand or wants to be blind to or even finds scandalous. My vision is of a Church that realises that she possesses a Tradition which connects her to Christ more surely than any private interpretation of the Holy Scriptures which God has inspired and that she is bound to be faithful to that Tradition to bring the true Faith, the true Hope, the true Good News and the true Love to all mankind. It is a Church that studies both God and Humanity carefully and is not afraid of criticism. It is a Church that will defend God, as far as its feeble humanity allows but not force Him on people who choose not to believe in Him.
This, then, is a start and perhaps reveals more the state of my conscience than anything else. I love God and I love the Church, but the latter is not yet perfected and it is the duty of every Christian to help it work towards that perfection in God and in the Love of Christ Jesus who offered Himself for all Mankind and has taken the first step in offering us Salvation.

That's just the Church. I must make it clear that my vision of the future also very much includes my lovely wife-to-be and the possibilities of a long and very happy family life: thinking about that gives me great joy, but that's just for me and her and no other eyes.

What's your vision of the future? Dare you be positive?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wholly holey, or holy?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the twenty fifth Sunday after Trinity

If God is so great, why did He create washing up?

There’s something about washing-up that is so dreary, so dull, so mundane. For those folk lucky to have dishwashers, there is no need to have to deal with the piles of dirty plates and pots and pans. For the rest of us we have to pull on our rubber gloves, pick up the sponge and scrub.

But then, perhaps you like doing the washing-up. For some folk it’s an evil especially when you’re left at the end with that germy old sponge that you now have to throw away.

Mind you, think how the sponge feels!


The way that a sponge works is the fact that it’s riddled with holes which hold the water until it is squeezed out. This makes it ideal for scrubbing the pots and pans. However, as the water gets dirty, so the sponge gets filled with germy water. It may get squeezed out at the end of the washing up, but soon it will be so germy that it has to be thrown away.

That seems like a poor lot for the sponge.


Of course, sponges today are man-made but they are based on the sea-creature called a sponge which was used by our forefathers for the similar purposes of holding water temporarily. The animal sponge is a remarkable creature in its own right, and often we forget that. God’s creation is full of wonderful animals.

We know that God’s creation is good. He tells us that Himself. God looks at everything that He has made and it is very good. It is all very good, without exception. So where does Evil come from then?


St Augustine tells us that Evil is a lack of Good. Wherever Evil is there is no Good and wherever Good is there is no Evil. Since God created everything, and everything is Good, Evil must be a form of nothing, an emptiness, a darkness.

Of course, there is a bit of a problem here. People do good and evil often in equal measure, but people are not nothing – there are no obvious holes.


The fact of the matter is that we are worldly beings, and fallen from the presence of God. We have inherited the holes in our being from The Fall – the sin of Adam and Eve. We’re well aware of the presence of evil in our lives: we sin and keep sinning and seem unable to stop. St Augustine is telling us effectively that Evil is the presence of nothing that prevents us from being the something that God wants us to be.  We’re a sponge – full of holes – when we should be solid. We’re the wrong type of holy!

This is problematic if we’re hoping to find ourselves with God for Eternity, if we hope to be like Him. St John tells us that, “Whosoever abideth in [The Lord] sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” He also tells us that “He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” So it would appear that if we sin now after we’ve heard this, we’re in trouble and likely to find the Devil breathing down our necks.


We must be careful. In the Greek language, St John is not saying that if we ever commit sin then we’ll never see God. He’s talking about habitual sin. If we keep sinning, and don’t care that we keep sinning, then we are turning our back on God.  Sinners just will not see God because they don’t want to look at Him. They want to remain full of holes so that they can soak up worldly pleasures.

The time will come when those worldly pleasures will end, and these folk will be so light and insubstantial because they are full of holes that they will blow away like chaff in the wind.

But we have holes in our being too that are caused by our sin. What do we do?


Well, we can do absolutely nothing to fill up the holes in our lives ourselves because all that we have is full of holes. The whole point is that we trust solely in God, for He will fill up those holes with His Grace. God wants everyone to be saved. He gives of Himself to fill the holes in our lives in the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. Certainly when we receive Our Lord in the Holy Sacrament, we are made more solid, and more like Him. Every grace given to us by God makes us more solid, makes us more real, just like He is real. We just have to choose to receive it!


God has given us a promise, we shall see Him. When we do see Him, then we shall understand who we are in relation to Him, because not only we will recognise Him but we shall see Him in ourselves. We shall indeed recognise ourselves as the sons and daughters of God.

Can you see the family resemblance yet, or is your life too full of holes?


Friday, November 15, 2013

Broad Birettas and Canterbury Caps

I was enormously privileged to go to the Provincial Synod in Newport Beach and to meet so many people. When you are in a tiny Diocese out of the mainland of the Anglican Catholic Church, it's easy to think it's just you against the world. Of course, I found myself amid many fascinating and wonderful folk from all around the world, from Colombia to the Philippines.

Of course, the "regional variations" that I mentioned below were very much in evidence for me at the synod. I was wrong-footed a couple of times due to pronunciation and by the slight alteration of texts. I'm of course used to the Venite as being the entirety of Psalm 95 following Benedictine and 1549 practice. The main liturgy book in use in the U.S. is of course the much beloved 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It's easy to see the passion and love that my American counterparts have for the 1928 BCP. For them, it stands as a rock to which to cling during the liturgical vicissitudes of the prevailing culture.

Culture, of course, is responsible for the "regional variations". During the Synod Mass, I saw mozettas and cottas and surplices and piping and birettas (both 3 and 4 ridged) and mitres and Canterbury caps and lace and academic hoods and tippets and rochets and chimeres and copes. It was a beautifully colourful Mass! It is of course possible that one might have taken issue with the wearing of a surplice and hood at Mass, or of preferring the biretta to the bare head. Ritual Notes could well have been in conflict with the Directorium Anglicanum or with Fortescue. Purists may well have balked, but the Mass was celebrated by the correct minister (to wit: Archbishop Haverland) using the correct matter with the correct form and the correct intention - in short, despite the variations in dress, the Mass was valid and we were all in communion.

In discussion with Bishop Damien Mead, we felt that what this demonstrated quite clearly is the idea of the ACC as a potentially Broad Church. This might cause eyebrows to raise with those who have always regarded the ACC as the High Church of the Continuing Anglican movement, and especially with those who find our stance a barrier to seeing how we are both Anglican and Catholic.

In the U.K., we are somewhat different from many of the Dioceses of the U.S. This is to be expected. The histories of individual dioceses is bound up in their locales. Yet, even in the Diocese of the U.K. there are variations in how things are done. My parish is a "High as a Kite" English Missal Parish. The Bishop's own parish in Canterbury uses the 1549 Canon. One of our clergy cannot say the filioque in the Nicene Creed out of a perfectly justifiable conviction. In the U.S., there are those who hold to the defining principles of the XXXIX articles. Most of us in the U.K. don't. The folk at St Matthew's Newport Beach have an Evangelical flavour added to their Masses which would cause the little old Anglo-Catholic matriarchs to drop a few stitches!

It doesn't matter. We are all Anglican Catholics and we are together.

However, following my experiences at the Anglican Catholic blog (currently in hiatus) in which I was accused (unfairly, I thought) of ignoring other Anglican jurisdictions, I do want to say categorically that Continuing Anglicanism is very much alive and well beyond the confines of the ACC. I had a very pleasant chat with Bishop Chandler Jones of the APA. Also present at the Synod were Archbishops Brian Marsh of the ACA and Peter Robinson of UECNA. There are faithful Anglicans all over the place of all sorts of stripes, be they Anglo-Catholics, Anglican Papalists,  Anglo-Protestants, Classic Anglicans, Anglo-Calvinists, Anglo-Orthodox, whatever. They all stand for some expression within the broad umbrella, unlike that large body which claims to define Anglicanism which in many places simply isn't even Christian, let alone Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Anglicanism is indeed a broad church, but admittedly there is probably very little in common between Anglo-Catholics and those who interpret the BCP to be Calvinist. Disagreements over doctrine do happen, and one must without fail follow one's conscience as long as it is kept properly informed. As I have said below, I can never be a Calvinist and this seems to have stirred up more ill-feeling. I do not think Calvinism is correct doctrine, nor do I think its central tenets to be provable from Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Church. However, it is entirely possible that I am wrong. There must necessitate a "walking apart" between me and those who subscribe to TULIP. It is a fact of life, a fact of humanity and a fact of fallenness.

That doesn't mean that "walking apart" needs to be an unkind affair in any sense. If they are both truly valid versions of Christianity, then they must necessarily be walking in the same direction and to the same source. As long as can be found within them the Doctrine of Jesus Christ the Son of God preached faithfully and passionately, then there can only be a common end, and that end can only ever be decided by God alone. The hand of friendship can certainly cross all borders if one is willing either to offer it, or to receive it. If we cannot share the chalice, then sharing a cup of tea is a start.

Shall I put the kettle on?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

An hundred and forty and four thousand reasons to be a saint?

Sermon preached at St Augustine’s Church Canterbury on the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints.

Knock, knock!
After putting down your cup of tea,
and with a slight sense of irritation at being dragged away,
 you open the door to one of those
 door-to-door religious people.

she says with a cheesy smile on her face,
 “are you one of the 144,000 people
who are going to Heaven?”

Well, just how do you answer that one?


There are folk who do genuinely believe
that there will be only 144,000 people in heaven.

That does seem rather bizarre,
why such a precise number?

According to St John the Divine, the Lord says
 “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea,
 nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants
of our God in their foreheads.

And I heard the number of them
which were sealed:
and there were sealed
an hundred and forty and four thousand
of all the tribes of the children of Israel.”

Who are these hundred and forty and four thousand?

St John goes on to tell us that
there are 12,000 of each of the tribes of Israel:
Judah, Reuben, Gad,
Aser, Nephtalim, Manasses,
Simeon, Levi, Issacher,
Zabulon, Joseph and Benjamin.

To be a member of one of these tribes,
don’t we have to be Jewish?

Are we Gentiles not really eligible to go to heaven?


We do seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex
when it comes to people who get to go to Heaven,
those people whom the Church calls saints.

We can see this in our attitude towards the saints.

We can go overboard in venerating them,
bowing and scraping and preferring praying to them
instead of to God who loves us more
than they can ever do.

 Or we can loathe the whole idea of saints
because it creates an attitude of “holier than thou”,
separating us into being the sinners
and thus unworthy of the love of God.


We’d all be a bit shocked  if St Paul or St John Baptist
walked into our Mass now,
 principally because they are dead in this world,
 but we can at least identify them
as being truly saints.

We can’t identify the saints
who are in our midst right at this moment
because they have not yet died.

We only seem to be able to recognise
the saints when they pass from this world
 and into the next.

We read their lives and their stories and,
because they have been examples to us
 in following Our Lord Jesus,
we can be confident that they are indeed
with God in Heaven.
We have to be careful though
because we can easily start believing
that we can work our way into Heaven
by our own deeds.


Salvation comes only at the hands of God Himself.

We do not have to be Jewish
 in order to become saints
because Our Lord Jesus grafted us into the true vine.

We are Jewish by the Lord’s Jewishness
because we are one with Him,
and thus eligible to become one of the saints.

We look at the lives of the saints,
 not at what they did,
but rather about what Our Lord Jesus did in them,
what He inspired in them,
what miracles He wrought in them,
how He assisted people as they died
 for love of Him.

 Being an agent of Our Lord
 is not reserved to the clergy,
 it is open for all Christians
 to find Our Lord working in us.

This does not allow us the opportunity to boast.

There is no such thing as being “holier” than someone else.

The word “holy” is the same word
as the word “saint” which means “set apart for God”. 

Either one is set apart for God
or one is separate from God:
there is no meaning to the word “holier”.

Bishops, priests and deacons are not
more holy than lay folk
because “more holy” is meaningless.

 Indeed, history has shown that
many bishops, priests and deacons are far from holy
and there’s a good reason to believe that
there are more laity in Heaven than clergy!

As Our Lord says,
“To whom much has been given, much will be required!”
It’s also true to say that some saints
may not even be visibly part of the Church.

We may not recognise them,
but God does say,
“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
The word “Church” comes from the Greek
“kyriakos” meaning “belonging to the Lord”.

It is God who calls us all to be saints
and it is God who will decide who those saints are.

 The number 144,000 is a figurative number, not a literal one.

 St John says that the crowd of saints is
“a great multitude, which no man could number,
of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.”


We aren’t saints yet, because we’re not finished.

Our sainthood comes with our perfection.

We have to remember that
Our Lord Jesus Christ was not born perfect;
 He was born sinless, but not perfect.

His perfection came when He cried out
 “It is finished” upon the cross just before He died.

 In that very moment,
His perfection gave us the opportunity
 to become perfect too in Him.

Our whole lives strive for that perfection,
but we can easily lose sight of it
if we allow the distractions of this world
to divert us from the finish line.

 It is the saints who have been perfected in God
who cheer us on to the end.

It is the fact that they are still alive,
still cheering us on,
still supporting us with their prayers
beyond the confines of our perceptions
that helps us to focus on running
 the same race that they ran.

If we believe Christ’s promise for us
 that we will reign with Him in Heaven,
then we have to believe that
those who have gone before us
with the same hope
 have indeed been thus honoured
and we have the same opportunity
 to stand with them,
 rejoicing in the same presence of God for all Eternity.

As we say in the Apostles’ Creed,
We believe in the communion of the saints.

Are you one of them?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Doubt, valuable doubt

Doubt is a valuable thing and not always the enemy of Faith. The conquest of Doubt allows the believer to be assured that he believes in God of his own free will, and not through the mode of his upbringing because he has called that upbringing into question.

If the believer does call into question his infantile faith, that is, the faith in which he was brought up, even baptised, then it ceases to be an infantile faith, but rather a growth and blossoming within the soul.

To question the existence of God, an existence which is indeed not self-evident but rather pointed to by the means of His Creation, causes an upheaval and pain in the soul. Pain is, of course, a good thing because it tells us that something is wrong. One can indeed choose to numb that pain by doing away with God completely, or rejecting His position as King and by doing so, one may numb that pain permanently, but it does not address the real problem.

However, in confronting the pain and confusion, even if one is completely confused, and continue in the worship of God with one's head down and powering through will result in a greater appreciation of God and bring to Him a greater offering, that of one's own free choice.

We must worship God in truth, and our experience of the truth may harbour a doubt in God, or in His actions, or in His goodness. It may even be a doubt that affects a priest at the very moment of the Consecration of the Host! But to continue and give God the benefit of the doubt is to give Him something valuable of our very selves - it is our honesty and the pain that it is causing. God does promise that he who shall endure to the end shall be saved. We have that choice and that choice is precious to God Himself.