Monday, April 11, 2016

Magnificat, Magnifican't or Magnificant?

Bishop Damien Mead had a bit of a hard task at our Synod on Saturday. His sermon is usually his charge for the Diocese, but this year he also had to cope with the fact that it was the Mass of Our Lady in Eastertide AND that he was to make Fr Roger Bell a Deacon. A tall order to preach! Did we get three sermons then? Well, yes we did but perhaps not in the way you'd think. He reflected on the Magnificat that wonderful song of Mary and drew from that the unifying theme of service. Our Lady served God by bearing Him patiently in the womb and then by being His Mother actively and responsibly.

Fr Bell as a Deacon has to epitomise that but, as the Bishop pointed out, every Bishop and Priest is a Deacon too. We are to serve the Laity because they must serve too.

I hope this summarises adequately the barest gist of what was said.

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday. I didn't have chance to prepare a sermon due to the fact that I have my own act of service to do. I felt guilty about that because I seem to fall between stools at the moment with Church, Family, and Work all pulling me in subtly different directions. The temptation there is to believe that, because one can't do anything well or as fully as one would like,  that there would be no point in starting it. Sometimes we see the obstacles as an overpowering impediment to doing any good. Our Magnificat becomes a Magnifican't.

Obstacles are funny things though. They get in our way, by definition, but consider where our attention goes when faced with an obstacle : we always consider the space around the obstacle, the negative space. Very seldom do we look at the obstacle as a thing in itself.

If obstacles get put in our way, often we blame God that they are there. We blame Him for what we believe to be a deliberate demonstration by God that He is in charge and seeks to prevent us from moving forward. That sounds like celestial bicep flexing. Yet, we forget about Our Lord throwing the Money Changers out of the temple precisely because they are an obstacle to people coming to God.

God does not necessarily put obstacles in our way to show that He is in charge and to force us to do His will. One might think of Jonah running away from admonishing the Ninevites and changing his mind after being swallowed by the whale. He was running away from service. Yet often we believe ourselves to be serving God actively when the obstacle comes in. That may be true yet our way cannot be as easy as that. The obstacle may be deliberately and directly  imposed by God, or it may be imposed indifferently by circumstances, or it may be imposed by agents inimical to God's love. There are always thorns on life that need to be uprooted.

However, the diligent soul (oh how I wish I were diligent! ) will stop and look at that object carefully, objectively, and prayerfully with God on side. Whether or not that the obstacle is directly willed by God does not stop it from being God's creation. There is good there that needs to be seen.

For the Anglican Catholic Church, there are many obstacles without and within. In the U.K, we are tiny and often seem to be pitted against the Established Church. That's an unfortunate way of looking at things. The ACC is not the CofE, as Bishop Damien points out. We may continue in the orders and liturgy once promoted and beloved by the Established Church, but we are markedly different with our own identity as English Catholics. In some sense, we are still searching for that identity but this is true for us all.

The one who is truly against us is the Devil, and his presence needs to be recognised and shunned. He is not a human being, nor will he be, I  suspect. He would like that lie to continue so that we continue to try to identify fallible fallen human beings with Evil and thus cause more hatred and misery through human hands. We must remember that pure Evil is an absence of Good. Human beings always possess some good in them and in their will. While we are fallen, we can still choose to do good things as well as bad.

When we meet our obstacles, we must meet them with God. We must see God's hand in them and use the to help us grow. Our will is not the will of God, though we Christians do want to do His will. That is why we pray the Lord's prayer daily. Our way forward is not the way we think. Advertising is not the same thing as Evangelism. Preaching is not the same thing as Teaching, and Prophecy is not Foretelling. If we think too simply, the the obstacles we face will help put us back on track.

Yes we wrestle, and we can even wrestle with God Himself. We won't win in the simplistic view of competition, but we will won much when we see the wrestling for what it is, namely rebirth, redemption, transformation, repentance,  justification, and our final sanctification. It is in this struggle to serve God and others that we can say with Our Lady, "Our souls do magnify the Lord". In Latin, that's "Magnificant animae nostrae Dominum"!

So, yes, M'Lud, you can preach three sermons at once!

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