Sunday, September 27, 2015

Collect for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Prayer book of 1549
LORD we praye thee that thy grace maye alwayes prevente and folowe us, and make us continuallye to be geven to all good workes thorough Jesus Christe our Lorde.

Again, we see that words change their meaning over time. These days, we tend to think of preventing meaning to stop something happening. The word actually means "to go before" and if you think of the soldiers heading the enemy off at the pass, then you can see how the word prevent has got its now negative meaning.

Yet we pray for the grace of God to go before us and to follow us. We  are praying, therefore, for a complete surrounding of our lives with the grace of God, yet not so that we can be protected from Evil happening to us, but rather protected from doing Evil things. If Evil is the hole in our being which prevents us from being full, then our actions carry those same holes as a lack of goodness.

With God's grace surrounding our lives, the Evil in our actions and the Evil within our substance are prevented from proliferating, though we have to look with the eyes of faith to see that happening. This is difficult when sometimes we can see nothing but the darkness of Evil. Part of God's grace is to live lives of trust in Him that, even when we cannot see any good whatsoever, we can find some assurance that His goodness will envelop us even to Eternity.

Morris Dancing and Harvest Festivals? No thank you.

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity being the parish Harvest Festival. 

Apparently, if you didn't know it already Morris Dancing is no longer regarded as quintessentially British. It's not something that is regarded as something British people do any more. However, moaning about the weather remains on the list of typical British actions. Another loss from this list of "thing Britons do" is going to a Harvest Festival.

Perhaps there are places that still do Harvest Festivals. Perhaps somewhere there are churches filled with crates of apples, leeks, carrots and onions, the ubiquitous pumpkin and, wonderful to behold, the harvest loaf. The harvest loaf was always a beautiful piece of bread in the shape of a wheatsheaf often with a little field mouse somewhere on it. Perhaps they still exist. Perhaps Harvest Festivals still happen.

On 10th of May this year, you may remember that we celebrated Rogation Sunday. We had Benediction that Sunday. Rogation Sunday is the day on which we ask God for a good Harvest. Again, this has fallen out of being English. We ask God for a good Harvest, and then thank God for what He gives us.

The fact that this is falling out of English culture does show us something of the people that English folk are becoming. We no longer ask God for a good harvest because we believe that we can control our produce with genetically modified grain, and the right kind of disease resistant crop. We don't have anything to celebrate because the machinery does the job and people get fed.

Yet it is still a fact that we do not control the scale of our harvest. Farmers still know that floods and frosts and droughts and pests can still ruin crops in this country, though perhaps not on the scale that can devastate a culture as we often see on the news. We are not immune from poor harvests, and perhaps God will remind us that we are not immune.

But then, this seems to be the way that we are going. Our society seems to be no longer grateful for what it receives, and yet we receive so much. But then, it seem that society has forgotten who to be grateful to! In this country, we do enjoy good food, and plenty of it. And we are here to say thank you to God for it. Like the tenth leper healed of his disease, we, the Church turn around, look Christ our God in the eye and with joyful heart we say, "thank you!" In so doing we recognise our need for God and that He is good to us, giving us everything that we experience as a gift to bring us closer to Him.

Yet, what is truly sad is that not only has our society seem to have lost its manners in saying please and thank you to God, it has lost the ability to have festivals. We no longer celebrate! We just lift another cream cake to our mouths and consume it without a moment's thought. And so, society loses its capacity for joy! If we,the Church, can ensure that we can cultivate our ability to be joyful in what God does for us, then perhaps those outside the Church will see that joy and want to know where we find it.

Perhaps, somewhere, Rogation Sunday and Harvest Festivals are still kept. Perhaps, somewhere, people remember to ask God for their daily bread and then thank Him for what they receive. Perhaps, somewhere, there are people who have the joy of living with God in their lives. Perhaps, perhaps it's us?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Devotion from Benediction: September 2015

As we gaze up and see Our Lord with the eyes of our Faith, let us offer ourselves to Him wholly in all our lives. Let us see Him and bring all that we are before Him knowing that He is here with us now.

This day, let us commend to Him our Bishop, Damien on this the seventh anniversary of His consecration. Let us remember the Lord's choice of Apostles to work His will and serve His people throughout the world, remembering that service to which all bishops, priests and deacons are called, that the church may be served by their efforts and that all members of the Church may go out to preach the word of God. Let us offer to Our Lord this threefold Apostolic ministry that all who are called to serve may indeed serve in holy devotion, and may ever be good examples of what it means to be holy in this world.

Let us offer ourselves to Him that we may all be made holy, remembering our sinful nature and our fall from Him, and ever remember that we cannot ever be completely bad, for why, then, would He want to save us in such a fashion as He has?

Therefore we before Him, bending...

Collect for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
ECCLESIAM tuam, Domine, miseratio continuata mundet et muniat; et quia sine te non potest salva consistere, tuo semper munere gubernetur. Per Jesum Christum.

[My translation: May continual mercy cleanse and defend Thy Church, O Lord; and, because without Thee She cannot continue safe, may She always be directed by Thy grace. Through Jesus Christ.]

Prayer book of 1549
LORD, we beseche thee, let thy continual pitie clense and defende thy congregacion; and, because it cannot continue in safetie without thy succoure, preserve it evermore by thy helpe and goodnes; through Jesus Christ our Lorde.

Again, we see Archbishop Cranmer tidying up the Latin so that its sense may be rendered more naturally in English, The sentiments are, as we have often found throughout the year, in accord with Pre-Reformation thinking. In effect what Cranmer does to the language is what we pray will happen to the Church when we pray this collect.

There are times when we feel that our lives don't quite make sense, and translating our perceptions to other people is difficult, nigh on impossible. We simply cannot communicate our pain and suffering in a way that does justice to how we feel. We know that our lives need sorting out; we also have faith that God will sort out our lives for us; however, we find out that our lives just don't get sorted out in the way we anticipate, Somehow our own lives get tangled up in translation in the world.

The mercy of God is that our lives do get cleaned up and sorted out. It is He who rids us of the lasting consequences of our sinfulness, though that sinfulness still does knot up our existence in Time. We can still trust in Him for direction even when we cannot see where we are going. We need to be full of faith and feel for His guiding grace that will draw His Church into the daylight.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

When being an example is not being an example

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

The cry of “look at me, Mummy” can cause many reactions in a parent. Perhaps it’s a new dress, perhaps they’ve climbed to the top of a tower. Perhaps they’ve found something you really hadn’t wanted them to find, and here they are waving it around like a flag.

“Look at me, mummy!” It’s a desire for your attention.


Cries for attention are all around us. Adverts try to get noticed by being loud, or funny, or with annoying tunes that you couldn’t get out of your head with caustic soda. There are celebrities who are famous just for being famous. “Look at me, mum! I’m on the telly!” There are even clergy out there who seem to be saying, “look at me”. All around us, we are being bombarded by people who want us to see them. But why should we look at them?


Our Lord has some tough things to say about people who want to be noticed. All around Him, the priests and scribes and Pharisees always want the high chairs, want to be bowed to, want to wear the fancy robes. They want to be the centre of attention. They want their voice to be heard loud and clear. “Look at me!”

Our Lord doesn’t mince His words. He calls them whitewashed sepulchres – nice on the outside but putrid on the inside.

St Paul, too, does not mince his words because he is listening very carefully to Our Lord. He sees that the Church in Galatia is being victimised by those who want Christians to follow the Hebrew Law so that they can say, “look at me, I’m in the right! I’ve made all these Christians do what I want!”

St Paul says that these folk don’t even keep the Hebrew Law, themselves!

The trouble is that we Christians have a message to proclaim but we tend not to proclaim it very well. We, too, can get caught up in wanting to be seen by others as being good and devout Christians but forgetting that we’re supposed to be pointing people to Our Lord Jesus Christ. How can we speak the good news about Our Lord without saying “look at me”? Should we, or should we not seek to draw attention to ourselves?


St Paul says, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. “

St Paul does not boast of anything save that he believes that the Cross of Christ brings salvation to all who will receive that cross. He does not seek to be recognised or looked at. He seeks only one thing, to serve God. St Paul says that he does not care what people think of him, but rather he lets his belief in Christ speak for itself through his living the Faith. If we live our faith, then it will be seen. We don’t need to say, “look at me” for God’s light will shine through His marks in our bodies.


We should say, “look at me!” to God, but not as something to boast about but rather as an act of recognition that not all is well in our lives, that we need to be put right. When we say, “look at me” to God, we invite Him to show us what is wrong with us, show us our sins, our failings, our shortcomings. He will show us these things so that we can confess them freely and know that He will put us right if we let Him.

Saying “look at me!” is a dangerous activity. God might make us look at ourselves instead! Will you take that risk?

Collect for the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
CUSTODI, Domine, quaesumus, Ecclesiam tuam propitatione perpetua: et quia sine te labitur humana mortalitas, tuis semper auxiliis et abstrahatur a noxiis, et ad salutaria dirigatur. Per Dominum

[My translation: Keep, O Lord, we beseech Thee, Thy Church by Thy perpetual mercy: and, because human mortality falls without Thee, always by Thy help both draw us from things hurtful and direct us to things beneficial. Through...]

Prayer book of 1549
KEPE we beseche thee, O Lorde, thy Churche with thy perpetuall mercye: and because the frailtie of man without thee, cannot but fall: Kepe us ever by thy helpe, and leade us to al thynges profitable to our salvacion; through Jesus Christe our Lorde. Amen.

Prayer book of 1662
KEEP, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy: and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Archbishop Cranmer always has the question of our salvation in his mind as he translates this collect from the Gelasian Sacramentary. Anything that is not drawing us to that salvation is automatically harmful to us: Archbishop Cranmer doesn't want us even to consider things which are not bringing us to our end in God. Is this why, perhaps, he omits translating abstrahuntur a noxiis?

It is by God's mercy that we are drawn from our sins and that this is a continued process. When we fail to consider God, we fall; we cry out to Him and He saves us. The story of Israel is repeated again and again in our lives, all because of human inability to keep God's moral law. Sin, the World and the Devil cling close drawing our fragile wills back and our repentance permits God to draw us out. The cycle of sin-fall-repent-rise is part of our being in Time. On the fabric of Eternity, our lives look like some oscillating wave crying out for an end and for constancy in God.

Archbishop Cranmer's long term view is the knowledge that God will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. Since Christ comes not to condemn but to save the world, that single sacrifice also written across the fabric of Eternity is enough to draw anyone who chooses to follow Him out of this cycle and into eternal joy.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Subjunctive God

God save the Queen!

Actually, I'm not much of a royalist these days, though I do wish Queen Elizabeth well. Now that I argue for a separation of Church and State for the disestablishment of the CofE, the argument in favour of a constitutional monarchy is not as strong in my eyes as it once was - indeed it is considerably weaker. However, it is not the Queen that is the point of this post; it is a point of grammar - namely the subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive is not a mood that's easily seen in English: the word "mood" now has another meaning. I'm sure that there have been times when a Latin teacher asks which mood "vivat" is in, the answer has come back "happy, Miss!"

For those unfamiliar with the finer points of grammar, the subjunctive is used to speak of potentiality, of circumstances which are possible, but not necessarily certain. We use the subjunctive to express conditions or deal with uncertainties. The phrase "God save the Queen" is an example of the seldom-used English subjunctive. It doesn't say "God saves the Queen" so it's not an expression of a simple present tense. It's not a command (as if one could or would command God!) otherwise a comma would be needed - "God, save the Queen!" It is a prayer for God to save the Queen, and in modern English, we might more usually say, "may God save the Queen". He doesn't have to save her: it may be morally necessary for Him not to save her. However, it is our desire that He save her (note the subjunctive there!) and we pray that He would indeed do so.

We are therefore able to speak of things which may or may not happen, or which may or may not be true by use of the subjunctive mood. If mankind is capable of inventing ways of expressing conditional, probable or undecided statements, then mankind is also capable of realising that there indeed are many possibilities that could happen. If that is the case, then we find ourselves confronted with the fact that the mind of a Sovereign God must be much bigger and able to consider all possibilities, their causes and consequences in ways that the human mind can never reach. All these possibilities and conditions are real in the mind of God in a similar way to the square root of -1 being possible in the mind of a mathematician. These possibilities are not necessarily actual, i.e. made real in our universe, but it is possible for God to know how each and every possible human being can act, and how they can make free choices. He knows how in certain situations they will choose this, and when they will choose the alternative.

This is rather a sobering thought. If God does know how we would possibly act, then each time we spend thinking "if ever I meet X, I'll fetch him such a bop on the nose," or "if she would only turn her back, I could pop that chocolate bar in my pocket without her knowing" and entertain these thoughts, then it becomes very easy to see why God indeed does look at the intentions of our hearts before what we actually do. If we actually take stock of these hypothetical thoughts, we get an insight into just how broken we are as people. Even a little subjunctive thought can speak volumes about who we actually are and what motivates us.

Every day, we have a thousand thoughts that fly through our heads which, if made real, would shame us, humiliate the ones we love, put us in prison, or find us hanging from a tree surrounded by a crowd of people with burning torches. These thoughts are only vague possibilities, but we do need to examine why we have entertained those thoughts, because at heart there is something lurking in us that needs to be brought to light and dashed upon the Rock that is Christ.

This is not easy to do and takes much spiritual discipline and practice. The sacrament of Confession really can help here. Once the actual sins are out of the way, taken care of by the Mercy of God, then we can work on the potential sins lurking in our subjunctive. The forming of a good conscience is imperative in progression in the Christian Faith.

Setting some time aside each day to examine our thoughts should be part of our daily practice. It does hurt, but sin should be recognised as the cause of that hurt, and the fact that we feel pain shows us that we are no longer numb to the presence of sin in us. We feel pain because we are getting closer to God, and the pain is GOOD!

Once we have conquered our subjunctive, we will be more thoughtful in what we do, say, and think. By thinking hard, we will be less prone to crass statements or barely concealed bigotry, and in a much better position to love our neighbour as ourself.

In knowledge of our free-will, God has predestined us for Salvation by putting us in the best place in which we can flourish. This is how He has taken care of our subjunctive. We now have to ensure that our will is not enslaved to sin by rooting all sin out with God's Grace through Confession and Repentance, so that we cannot fall away from that Salvation and that our Eternal Life with Him is an actuality, rather than a possibility.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Collect for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
OMNIPOTENS sempiterne Deus, da nobis fidei, spei et caritatis incrementum : et ut mereamur assequi quod promittis, fac nos amare quod præcipis. Per Jesum Christum

[My translation: Almighty and Everlasting God, grant us increase of faith, hope, and charity: and that we may merit to obtain that which Thou dost promise, make us to love that which Thou doest command. Through Jesus Christ.]

Prayer book of 1549
ALMIGHTYE and everlastyng God, geve unto us the increase of faythe, hope, and charitie; and that we may obteine that whiche thou doest promise; make us to love that whiche thou doest commaunde, through Jesus Christe our Lorde.

We notice that Archbishop Cranmer effectively removes the word mereamur from the English Collect. In so doing, he creates a tension. Many folk interpret Cranmer as believing that we deserve nothing from God and can never deserve anything because of our sin. In his own words of confession, we are "miserable sinners" The word "miserable" here is not a statement of emotion, though it has a very emotive nuance. We are miserable sinners in the sense that our sins cause misery. Our sins separate us from God and prevent us from the fullness of His presence in our lives.

Is it true, then, that we deserve nothing from God? After all, we have no legal standing on which to claim entitlement from God. He makes the rules, and this means we cannot go to God and claim a seat in Heaven for any reason of our actions. That belief would be Pelagianism. However, it is not our actions that make us worthy of entrance into Heaven - it is God's actions.

All good works begin with God, and the life that is united with God - that wonderful state of grace - produces work that deserves merit. The collect that we pray here is asking for the God-given ability to be faithful, hopeful, and loving so that we may deserve the promises of God. Indeed, we have no entitlement with God, but God's grace in our lives entitles itself to more grace - grace upon grace. Like a magnet magnetises everything it sticks to, so God's grace makes worthy of grave everthing it touches. For the repentant sinner, merit is freely available from God's love, first through Baptism then through the other sacraments, especially Confirmation and Confession whereby this grace is first strengthened and then renewed.

Our sins may cause our misery, but our love of God and adherence to His Will will allow His grace to cause our joy, and that joy will indeed be everlasting.