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?


 


 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Undescribably Trinal

Sermon for Trinity Sunday


How did Isaiah know that it was the Lord sitting upon the throne? He mentions absolutely nothing about the figure on the throne, unlike the prophet Daniel and St John the Divine who both have some descriptions of the One Who sits upon the throne. Isaiah tells us all about the throne room and the seraphic attendants, so why doesn’t he tell us about God?


[PAUSE]


 The presence of the Lord clearly fills Isaiah with fear because he is a man of “unclean lips”. This is our first clue as to how Isaiah knows that he is in the presence of God. We see exactly the same behaviour in St Peter who begs Our Lord, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!” In the presence of God, we become aware of the sin that clings so closely to us and it causes us distress. Where God is, sin cannot be and vice versa. This is why we cannot behold God in all His majesty.


Does this tell us why Isaiah doesn’t describe God to us?


[PAUSE]


Why is it that Daniel and St John can describe the One on the Throne, but Isaiah can’t? Surely, they are all sinful men like we are?


Or perhaps Isaiah is struggling to find the words. While Daniel and St John see God as a human figure, perhaps Isaiah doesn’t. Isaiah can describe the seraphim, but not God. This actually puts Isaiah in company with Moses who does not see God’s face, but His back. This does mean that Daniel and St John are seeing God in form that they can handle, just like Moses and Isaiah. It doesn’t matter how He reveals Himself, these men know God when they see Him and they know Him by faith despite their sins.


[PAUSE]


Every encounter with God that we see in Holy Scripture is there from God to tell us about Him. At every stage, He seeks to make Himself visible to people who simply are not able to see Him in full by reason of the sins that afflict us all. This is not a God who turns away from sinners, but rather still wants to be known by sinners. At every stage, He confronts us in love to bring us back to Him. This is why we get a glimpse of the Holy Trinity at the Baptism of the Lord. It is at the waters of Baptism where the wounds of sin are cleansed and thus our eyes begin to be opened, just like St Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus.


Even then, we don’t have the same experiences as Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, or St John but we do encounter God and we will know Him when we do encounter Him because we encounter Him in ways deeper than sight and sense. This is the essence of our hope and faith. We don’t know what we can expect when we encounter God but, when the time comes, we will know it because we believe and keep believing through prayer and study and following His commandments.


We don’t have to understand how the Holy Trinity works in order to be sure that this is what God has shown us about Himself. We don’t have to try and describe the indescribable just to satisfy ourselves that we know God.


Of course, not every voice we here, not vision that we see, nor experience that we have will be from God. We do have to try every spirit that says that it comes from God but this is where God has helped us before we start. God is Eternal, and will not change His message. The Holy Trinity is as present in the first Chapter of Genesis as He is in the last Chapter of Revelation. If any spirit tries to change what we believe about God that is different from what the Church has always taught, then we must turn our back on it. God is faithful to us always, even if we are not faithful to Him.


[PAUSE]


The Feast of the Holy Trinity is an exercise in knowing God, not understanding Him. Just as we will never know what goes on in the minds of our families and friends, so we will never know Who God is. Yet, if we are willing, we can know God’s presence with us intimately and find peace in Him that words cannot describe, just like Isaiah cannot describe the One upon the Throne.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Holey spirits

Sermon for Whitsunday


There are times when humanity hates itself. There are times when humanity thinks of itself as parasites on the face of God’s good earth. There are times when humanity, looking at the destruction that it wreaks upon the beauty of nature, turns away from God declaring that it should never have been born.


Sometimes, we are just sick of ourselves, and we don’t know what to do. Some of us lie down and accept it, finding ways of numbing the dull ache and silencing the voices that depress us. Sometimes we hit out at all and sundry that we perceive are the problem, and end up tearing ourselves apart. We hear St Paul say to us, ”the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”


And then we remember that God created us to be flesh and spirit. Why would he create a being that is at war with itself? Are we really a failed experiment?


[PAUSE]


If we were a failed experiment then there is no point in the Crucifixion. If God, in His Divine foreknowledge can see us sin and fall and kill and hurt and destroy and still call us “very good” then there is no failure, for St Paul says very clearly, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”


We are born in sin, but we are not born sinners. At our birth, we inherit a world damaged by human beings who deny the reality of their own spirits and our very nature is broken by sin, cracked and infected by temptations and a weakness to fall to these temptations. We see right and wrong and we make judgements based on those perceptions but all we can do is condemn and, in condemning try to destroy Evil, only to destroy ourselves because we judge according to our broken, worldly ways. The fact of the matter is that we cannot destroy Evil because we are not capable of supplying the pure Good that is necessary to destroy it. We are not the source of Goodness, just the product of it.


[PAUSE]


Today, however, “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Today, this day of Pentecost, we are given precisely that which can destroy Evil, and we can take it into our very selves. Into our broken selves, into the cracks infected and stained with sin, into the heart of our darkness, God pours out His Spirit on all who would receive it. This is the fact of our Baptism: our broken human nature is cleansed. This is why we should baptise our babies born into the world to the joy of the angels in heaven, so that the evil which clings so closely may be inoculated against by the Holy Ghost.


We must remember that our spirits remain our own. Our spirit is not replaced by the Holy Ghost, but rather the Holy Ghost dwells within us wherever we would let Him. He dwells within the cracks caused by sin cementing us together with ourselves and with God Himself. Our human nature is healed by being filled with the Divine.


[PAUSE]


We can still sin. Our flesh and our spirit are still subject to our wills, so we must learn to live after the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We live lives of turning to Him, listening to Him and obeying Him – this is the life of repentance. We may falter and damage ourselves. Yet we may always turn to Him and He will heal us.


[PAUSE]


Perhaps, God created human beings who might choose fall so that we might also choose to receive Him more deeply than we really know. However, we must accept the consequences of our fall. The only way that this world will improve is if we fill it with the Holy Ghost. We should “do little things in love” as St Teresa of Calcutta says because we are little things created by the love of God. 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

God versus the genie

Sermon for the Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension


There are people who say that, if you pray hard enough, God will give you what you want. After all, we hear Our Lord specifically say, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” These people pray for fast cars, huge houses and more money than you could possibly want and expect their prayers to be answered.


What are we to do then? Pray for a fast car? Huge house? Lots of money?


How would we see God if He were to grant these wishes?


That’s the way to see it! God granting wishes!


If we pray like this then we have turned God into a genie. How does a fast car glorify God in Our Lord? He ceases to be glorified in the Son but rather taken for granted in His generosity. Our Lord Jesus cannot mean that He will always answer every prayer we send Him with a “yes!”


[PAUSE]


Our Lord says, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” That phrase “in my name” is crucial here. We need to think of it along the same lines as, “in the name of the Law.”


If a policeman says, “open up in the name of the Law!” you do it. How would you answer, “give me a candy bar in the name of the Law!” Would you feel obliged?


Of course, the context is important, too. We wouldn’t open up in the name of the law if the person demanding it was dressed in a stripy jumper, wearing a mask and carrying a bag marked “SWAG” nor would we object to a petulant shop-owner being told by a policeman to hand over a bar of chocolate for a diabetic who is in danger of falling into a coma.


Only a policeman on duty acting in accordance with the Law can demand things be done in the name of the Law. It’s true also that we can make a citizen’s arrest in the name of the Law but again, this has to be done in accordance with what the Law really says.


And so it is with Christ.


[PAUSE]


As Christians, we can only expect an answer to our prayers to be given when we are acting as emissaries of Our Lord Jesus Christ. To pray in His name is to accept His authority as our King and so we should pray to Him accordingly. Our goal is to glorify God in Our Lord Jesus Christ and that should be our focus.


But what about praying for the things we really want and need? Does not Our Lord tell us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread”?


[PAUSE]


Our first duty as a Christian is to pray. The act of prayer is an establishment of our relationship with God. Right at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer we say “Our Father”. This not only establishes our relationship with God but also reinforces the relationship we have with our fellow human beings. God is Our Father. He is not just Your Father. All true prayer is about recognising where we stand with God. We ask Him to provide our needs and the act of asking Him reinforces Him as Our Father in our lives. He knows what we need to live life before we even ask and the fact that we ask Him means that we are given something we often forget – a relationship with God as Our Father.


We can always ask for a fast car, huge house and lots of money but we must do so for the express reason of glorifying God in Our Lord Jesus Christ and not because we think our life would be better with it. There is only one way that our life will truly be better: Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and it is only through Him that we will find true, meaningful and Eternal happiness and the answers to all our prayers.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

Gradually ascending

Sermon for Ascension Day


What are graduation ceremonies for?


These days, not only do we graduate from university, but we also graduate from school. Even primary schools are now holding graduation ceremonies. Is it right?


[PAUSE]


Graduation really means the next step we take. At Mass, we hear the Gradual being sung following the epistle and before the Alleluias for the Gospel. The reason is that the Gradual is sung on the step of the lectern. Graduation is about the next step. At primary school, a child graduates to secondary school. Some secondary school pupils graduate to university. And a university student graduates to… well, to what?


Ah! There’s the rub!


In little graduations, it’s clear where you’re going – to secondary school or, perhaps, to university. That might be scary and life-changing, but at least there is some certainty somewhere to look. It’s that final graduation, from secondary school or university that you realise that graduation has a sharp edge – where are you going now?


A graduation ceremony celebrates the past years and their achievements. All the regalia, the pomp and circumstance, even the bit of paper you get given – all of these are about the past. Your qualifications are all about what you once achieved and not what you’re going to achieve next. They show what you were once capable of but not what you will do next.


[PAUSE]


It’s the same pattern with the prophet Elisha as he realises that his master Elijah is gone. He is in despair. He tears his clothes and laments because suddenly, after witnessing Elijah’s graduation to heaven, he, too, has graduated to uncertainty. Yet, he is given a link to the past in the mantle he receives from Elijah as he leaves for heaven. That link to the past shows that God has given him the blessings that he gave his servant Elijah and that there is some continuity. Elisha’s discipleship is not nothing – it means a great deal. Elisha’s time as a disciple allows him to take what he has been given and move forward with it.


[PAUSE]


Likewise, we see the Disciples gazing up into Heaven as Jesus ascends. Our Lord may be ascending, but it is the Disciples who are graduating. They stand in joy and rejoicing despite the Ascension but there is always the moment of “what do we do now?” Our Lord’s teaching is superlative and points the way of living but it is not enough. The do not yet have that link with their discipleship to take away with them into their ministries across the world. Our Lord has not given them anything of his like a mantle to carry with them. Are the Disciples to rely only upon their experience and achievement? If they are, then they are like the rest of us who graduate who rely only upon a piece of paper declaring our exam results to convince others of our capabilities.


If Our Lord’s teaching was enough then the story would end here. There would be no real point to the Crucifixion and Resurrection for us. They would only have happened for the Disciples and their edification. Yet, the Cross and Resurrection are precisely what the world needs to know about. The Cross and Resurrection are as much for us as for the Disciples. Yet we cannot experience either save only as facts of History. There needs to be more to it. If this graduation is to mean anything, we need something real to take away with us into the future to bring that reality to the world.


[PAUSE]


The Lord graduates into Heaven, but the Disciples have another graduation to go before they are let loose on the world. They will be given something to take with them which connects them with their past discipleship and their life with the Lord. They will be given something on which they can fall back in times of stress and will yet carry them forward in their lives.


We, too, always face an uncertain future however we carry always with us, not just the teaching of Christ but also His continued presence in our lives. We are always connected to safety no matter what this world throws at us or does to us. Our graduation in Christ always comes with an unbreakable link, not just to the past, present and future, but beyond Space and Time. Even with Christ ascended into heaven, we are never alone.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Promises promises

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter


How do you make a promise?


A promise is a statement about the future and saying now what will happen. If you promise to make Mum breakfast in bed tomorrow, then you are saying that tomorrow morning Mum will be tucking into tea, toast and a full English. A promise is a way of giving someone certainty about the unknown future.


… and we know promises can be broken.


[PAUSE]


How do you break a promise?


Breaking a promise is easy. All it takes is for what you say will happen not to happen. All it takes is for the toaster, frying pan and teapot to remain unused tomorrow morning.


Or, you could break the promise by just bringing up a cup of tea and half a slice of toast and say, “here you are! Breakfast in bed!” Of course, it’s true that this is indeed breakfast in bed but clearly it isn’t what Mum was expecting.


It’s easy to break a promise and it’s hard to keep one.


What does God promise us?


We know he makes promises for Our Lady herself sings, “he remembering His mercy hath holpen His servant Israel as He promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever.” We can also see that God promises:


A long life in the land which He gives us.


His aid in battle.


Strength to the weary.


Protection from enemies.


Does God keep promises?


[PAUSE]


And perhaps, in viewing God’s promises of help we start asking “where was God when…?”


Where was God when the Jewish people were being persecuted by Hitler, by Western Governments and by not a small number of Christians? That doesn’t sound like God helping His servant Israel. That sounds like abandonment to the forces of darkness.


It’s true that the Bible paints a picture of the failures of the people of Israel to obey God and the Bible is full of descriptions of atrocities, and all of those atrocities occur because of human sin. If God makes us promises and then we go out of our way to make those promises invalid, then we can’t always blame God for what happens. If Mum gets up before us tomorrow morning, then we simply can’t make her breakfast in bed.


We human beings are very good about making statements about the future fall flat. We are very good at making promises null and void. What we also forget is that God is not exactly constrained to Time as we are. All of our promises are about the future but God is beyond past, present and future. He can even see things which could have been. When we look at God’s promises, we have to see in them His love for us throughout our whole lives. We have to recognise that we don’t know what might have been any more than knowing what will be. When God says that He will protect us, we have to read into that the ways He has already protected us from something worse.


A promise from God can’t be about the future because He has no future filled with uncertainty and doubt, nor has He a past filled with forgetting and misremembering but He has always a present filled with perfect knowledge of how things are and might be. A promise from God is a statement of what is beyond our understanding. It is because God’s promises go beyond our understanding that we are to learn to trust God in the dark times of our lives because we do not know what the alternatives really are.


What we do have is a clear demonstration of God’s power.


[PAUSE]


In Our Lord Jesus Christ, we apparently see someone forsaken by God on the Cross. We see in Christ, someone for whom God seems to break His promise. We see in Christ God’s will apparently thwarted.


And then we see the Resurrection.


We see God’s promise come true in a way that we can’t possibly have expected. We see God’s faithfulness go beyond our pitiful understandings of Time and Space in the wounds on the hands of Our Risen Lord and it puts us to silence. Time and Space, Life and Death are all putty in God’s hands.


In times of persecution and pain, horror and Holocaust, we simply cannot see what is going on. At our lowest ebb, God is there regardless whether our faith in Him fails us or not. Even when His promises appear to fail will they prove to have succeeded in a greater way than we had thought possible.


Let us pray for our labours for God to be fruitful, and God will promise that they will be, and in ways beyond our thinking.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Remembering the Future

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter


Ah! The Good old days! Do you remember them? When life was simpler, people were more polite and you got proper food. When things didn’t break and, if they did, you could repair them yourself with a bit of wire and some duct tape. When the Church was full and priests taught good sense and things were done properly. Ah the Good old days!


Were they really that good? Has the world really got worse or does it just seem to have got worse?


Is modern technology to blame? Are modern attitudes to blame?


[PAUSE]


As they wander the wilderness, the Israelites often complain that what they had in Egypt was better than the life that they have now. Apparently, there was more food and drink in Egypt; they had homes and a sense of permanence; they had work to do and were too tired to be bored. Their present wandering in this vast expanse of nothing makes them put on their rose-tinted spectacles for Egypt. But why aren’t they looking forward to the land that the Lord Our God promises them? This land flowing with milk and honey? Why get all nostalgic about a life of slavery rather than live in the hope of a wonderful future?


[PAUSE]


It’s something we humans do because we have that rather odd ability to remember the past but not know the future. In the future, there is always the possibility of disappointment rather than hope whereas the past has happened and nothing can be done about it. We get all rose-tinted about the past and fearful of the future because the past is the one place where we can find some happy memories which can’t be dashed. The trouble is that we forget something quite important: the past and the future are connected by the present. They can’t really be separated.


We may lament about the way people are now, but it is because of how we were back in the day that people are how they are now. The flaws in our society, in the world and the Church have their beginnings in our happy, care-free past. Our society is broken now because it was broken then. Adam sinned and so we all have to deal with the consequences of that sin throughout time.


 In focussing on some “Golden Age” we can often make an idol of the past. We can worship a memory and seek to make our futures fit that memory. The fact of the matter is that the past is gone and cannot be reclaimed. Our Society will not go back to how it was in the 1950s, and neither will the Church. If we worship how the Church was in the “Good old days” then we are not worshipping an Eternal God.


[PAUSE]


Does that mean that the Church needs to update itself? Does it need to throw out organs and bring in praise-bands? Does it need to jettison lecterns in favour of interactive whiteboards?  Does it need to update its teaching to make it relevant to today?


No. That’s the other idol: the worship of being modern, the worship of progress.


Being a Traditional Christian doesn’t mean being stuck in the past: it means carrying the past with us into our present and into the future. We don’t live in the past – we live with the past, warts’n’all.


God is Faithful and Eternal. The same promises that He makes to Moses and the Israelites He makes to us. Our worship of Him must reflect that, for God has predestined His Church for Eternity. We are to stand shoulder to shoulder with all Christians of the past and the Christians yet to come and worship the same One God in Three Persons in a way that we can all recognise and cherish. The only way we can bring the past into the present is by being faithful to what the Eternal God has always taught us. To do otherwise is to make an idol of the god of the age.


The Israelites are always making idols to worship because they hate the instability of not knowing. They remember their past and idolise that. They remember the jewels and wealth that they bring with them, so they idolise them. They remember that the happy times in slavery to Egypt are better than the miserable times of freedom in the wilderness, so they idolise them. Their memory of the past is just as fallible as their expectations of the future and so their idols perish with them in the dust.


[PAUSE]


Our Masses look old. They use old words, old rituals, old ceremonies. This is because they are participating in that Eternal Sacrifice which we first encountered in our past on Maundy Thursday and yet we see glimpses of it in the Old Testament and see it in a future prophesied by St John. We must not idolise our locations in space or in time, but rather seek to be faithful to God. We might worry about the future, and this is right, but our fidelity to God as He has always been will ensure that we will have a glorious future with the same God Who always has been. That’s the benefit of Eternity – there is no time to idolise.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Following a sneeze into Eternity

Sermon for the third Sunday after Easter


Atishoo! And you say…?


Why?


Why do we say, “bless you” when someone sneezes?


Clearly, we hear the sneeze and one thing we don’t want is for the one who sneezes to be unwell. A cold can be miserable, but there are other, more serious things a sneeze can signify. We don’t want people to suffer, so we say, “bless you!”


We also hear Dick Dastardly exclaim, “curses!” when he has failed, yet again, to catch the pigeon. Whom or what is he cursing, and why? If he is cursing the pigeon, then what he wants is ill-fortune to befall that pigeon… perhaps a falling anvil or a large black ball emblazoned with the word “BOMB”.


“Bless” and “curse” are very much part of our vocabulary, but how does a Christian understand what they are?


[PAUSE]


We see Balak call upon the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites. Clearly, this is of great importance to Balak because he wants victory over the Israelites in battle. He says to Balaam, “he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” What we can understand from this is that for Balaam, blessing is more than wishing good-fortune and cursing is more than wishing ill-fortune. If Balak is right, Balaam’s blessing will make good fortune happen and his cursing will make bad-fortune happen. Balak seems to think Balaam is some kind of magician who can command God. Both Balak and Balaam soon realise that God cannot be commanded to bring about good or bad fortune, but rather He and He alone will determine who is blessed. Balaam finds himself blessing the Israelites rather than cursing them because God will not have His people cursed!


So, it seems to be that blessing is tied in with good fortune and cursing with ill-fortune. That seems to sort it out, doesn’t it? Or does it? There is a problem.


[PAUSE]


How can we wish God good fortune or ill-fortune? Every day, Christians say, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” and, in the midst of his terrible torments, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” God is blessed daily and, most horribly, He is cursed daily but how does this affect His fortunes? It can’t, surely?


The word “bless” is certainly rooted in our understanding of good fortune. Properly speaking “blessed” does mean “happy” and the word “happy” is rooted in fortune, too. It’s the same “hap” in happy as in “mishap” and “happening”. The Latin word for “blessed” is “Benedictus” which literally means “spoken well of”. To the Ancient Mind, to bless someone means to speak well of them, commend them, wish them happiness, and desire to succeed. When we bless someone, we want to see them succeed and grow and flourish. When we curse someone, we want to see them fail, wither and die.


God does not flourish because He is perfect and He certainly cannot wither. In Christ Jesus, we see God Dead AND, crucially, God Alive. On Good Friday, we see Sin, the World and the Devil throw all their curses on God: Our Lord bears the full weight of all Evil upon His shoulders on the Cross. He is cursed for us as He hangs on the tree. Yet, we see all this cursing utterly nullified in His resurrection.


[PAUSE]


Perhaps this explains to us how the Lord can call blessed those who are hungry, who mourn, the down-trodden and oppressed, because their misfortune is fleeting. We may see Job sitting upon his dung heap together with all those like him in the world, but we also see their cursed lives utterly enmeshed with Christ Jesus’ life. Those who suffer for God’s sake are blessed not because of good fortune, but because God desires their flourishing. He and only He can put that flourishing to good effect. We can say the words, but any word that God speaks makes things happen. It is at His Word that Light comes forth from the Darkness. It is at His Word that we truly receive His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar transformed from a little bread and a little wine. It is at His Word that goodness happens. When our priests pronounce the blessing, we can be sure that we receive from God something more wonderful than any happiness this world can give us. In blessing us, God shows that Good Fortune and Misfortune in this world are utterly and beautifully irrelevant to our flourishing in His arms.

In blessing things such as a rosary or church linen, God gives them a practical significance by which we can know His presence with us, again going beyond the fortunes of this world.

[PAUSE]


And when we bless God?


Ah! When we bless God, we are declaring something very wonderful. We are declaring our love for God and seeking to make real in our lives those words from the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Of course, if we really want to bless God, then we need to work to hallow His name and do His will as He commands it. Doing the will of God will allow our lives to speak, “blessed be the Name of the Lord from this Time forth forevermore.” And all Creation will join with us in that word, “Amen!”

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Death by Clear Decisions

I looked a while back at the latest attempt to remove provision for Traditionalists in the Church in Wales. The vote on this private members bill took place last week and the motion was decisively defeated. According to Anglican Ink, the vote was 19 for, 63 against and 20 abstentions. What is most interesting is that, of the six bishops of Wales, two were absent, two abstained and two were in favour of the motion. This means that NO bishops voted against the motion at all.


Why was the motion defeated? It seems strange because, like the CofE, the CiW has made a clear decision to ordain women as bishops and yet it wants to embrace those who deny this decision. It does mean that Traditionalists can “live and fight another day”. According to Rev George Conger, “Archdeacon Jackson responded that her intentions had been misunderstood. She did not want to drive out traditionalists but merely wanted them to conform to her understanding of doctrine and discipline.”


How interesting. Ms Jackson seems quite clear that she wants conformity to her “understanding of doctrine and discipline” despite the fact that her church has chosen to reject the doctrine and understanding of the Catholic Faith. To give her the benefit of the doubt and, assuming that this whole motion was not a malicious attempt to rid the church of those who cannot in conscience hold to the innovation of ordaining women, we must assume that Ms Jackson was undergoing the same struggles as the Anglican Communion in question whether schism is worse than heresy or vice versa. Ms Jackson indeed does sound like her opponents. It’s perfectly true that, if the Traditionalists regained control over the Church then they would stop all female ordination. Ms Jackson has simply done the mutatis mutandis.


The rest of the Governing Body of the CiW obviously hold to the principle of heresy over schism. I’ve argued on this before  that heresy is already a schism and yet, the idea is that “love holds together two different integrities”. This, to my mind, isn’t the love that appears in I Cor xiii in which love rejoices in the truth but then, what do I, a misogynist schismatic, know?


So Traditionalists are saved? I notice today that three new bishops have been appointed in the CofE, all of them female. What Traditionalists now have to contend with is the creeping doubt in the validity of orders within their church. What happens if all six bishops in Wales are female or have been ordained by a woman? What if they don’t know or won’t be told? What provisions are there for their position? The Clear Decision does mean that there will be no obligation to divulge a clergyman’s ordination history just to satisfy Traditionalist consciences. The Clear Decision also means that Traditionalists will not be allowed positions of leadership within the Church. Indeed, to be a CofE Bishop, or CiW bishop, one simply has to toe the party line. This is why the Bishops all seem so similar, these days; nor will they seek to put their foot out of place with the management.


Given that the days of the Traditionalist in the Ci W are numbered, what Ms Jackson proposed was far kinder: a swift dispatch rather than the death by slow attrition which the Liberals propose. It changes nothing. Traditionalists are tolerated, not accepted. This is not flourishing: this is being allowed to die.


And it makes sense. The Church cannot exist with two “integrities”. There is either the will of God as revealed in Scripture, Tradition and Reason, or there is heresy. One integrity must be committing heresy and it is the Clear Decision of the CofE and the CiW that it is the Traditional position that is heretical. Of course, this begs the question, “when did the Traditional position become heretical?”


The Clear Decision has determined which of the two “integrities” is the correct one and this must mean that the other “integrity” cannot flourish. It puts the Church in a logically impossible position and, because human beings do make decisions based on logic, the weaker “integrity” must die. Except no-one in the CofE will let it die quickly. It must gently die out to show that it was the Gamaliel principle all along and to ratify the Clear Decision with facts of History.


But this puts the Traditionalist wing in a difficult position. If it allows itself to just die out, then it plays into the hands of the CiW: it ratifies the Clear Decision and demonstrates that its own “integrity” was not really an “integrity” at all. If it has any respect for its own “integrity” it must prefer Ms Jackson’s method of making a clean break, putting its neck on the block and allowing the axe to fall. If the Traditional Wing truly believes that it is following the Faith of God, then it simply cannot allow itself to die out. It must leave the CiW and the CofE in order to demonstrate to the world that God’s integrity is the only integrity and that is found in the Catholic Faith that the Anglican Church used to hold throughout its 2000 year old history (polemicists please note: the Church in England appeared very quickly, probably while the apostles were still alive).


So I re-iterate and urge all Traditionalists: let the CiW and the CofE have their way and leave. Don’t die within their walls because that’s their intention. This is the time for Exodus and a wandering in the wilderness where, like the Israelites, you will continue and flourish before you find the Promised Land. Why die in Egypt? Why languish in Babylon? Come out and live again! 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Telling Death how to feel

Sermon for the second Sunday after Easter


On 31st August 1997, the United Kingdom loses its stiff upper lip. Waking to the realisation that Diana, Princess of Wales has died in the early hours, the Nation seems to erupt into a “national outpouring of grief”. Why? Most people have never met her. The Royal Family maintain a dignified silence until they are told to show some emotion by the population.


Have you ever been told how to feel? It isn’t nice is it?


[PAUSE]


People get most worked up about death even if it is the death of one that they have never met. We can understand the wife mourning her husband and vice versa, but why on earth should we become so overly emotionally invested in the passing of someone whom we barely knew?


We know that we must mourn with those who mourn, but that is because we are utterly concerned about the widow or the orphan. This does raise a question for the Christian. If we believe in the resurrection of the dead, why should the passing of people worry us?


[PAUSE]


In a world where the dead are not raised, we find people really bewailing their lot. We see people trying to stave off the inevitable by exercise, cosmetic surgery, planning on being frozen at the point of death, agonising over wills and the control over their memory. These people seem to think that they have some control over their lives’ end. If the dead are not raised, there is everything to fear.


Like the Israelites in the wilderness, people cry out that they are starving and dying when really they are missing the point. Without God to trust in, their fear of death becomes all-consuming. Yet the Israelites believe in God, don’t they?


They do. But they don’t trust Him.


God sends manna from heaven, an abundance quails, water springing from rock. There is no thanks. Once the spectre of death has been removed from them, they return to their godless ways… until the fact of death comes back into view, that is.


[PAUSE]


What many people don’t want to realise is that God is responsible for life and death. As our Creator, it is fundamentally His right to begin and end someone’s life at His choosing. This seems grossly unfair with the paralysed man begging for death and the mother grieving over the tiny body of her dead baby. The spectres of Aberfan, the Twin Towers and the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 haunt us, and we cry to God for His account of His behaviour. We call Him a murderer. We say that He has cheated someone out of their life. We say that He is pitiless for not ending the life of one in chronic pain.


All this is natural and right and proper, and God expects death to upset us. It even upsets Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane when He is faced with His agony of crucifixion. It does not change the fact: God, as the Creator, has the right to end our lives.


And yet…


God does not want to end life!


Watch Him feed the Israelites murmuring against Him in the wilderness.


Hear Him say to Israel in their captivity in Babylon, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”


Hear Him say to the Jewish rulers, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”


Watch Him set the example of dying and rising again so that “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”


[PAUSE]


God has the right to bestow life and death. Yet, God does not want our death. Our death comes about from Humanity’s sinfulness. We are the ones that murder, willingly or unwillingly, not God. Our death comes as a consequence of the cumulative effect of all our sins. But God does something amazing: He gives us the opportunity to see death as the ending of sin in our lives. Those who die in the Love of God are not dead but rather alive to God beyond our understanding. What truly dies is all the effects of sin on our lives. Our death means our freedom and our joy in seeing Christ for all Eternity in True Life.


Yet when we mourn, we do so out of love, nothing less. The widow grieves for her husband because of her tender love, not because she is frightened of her own death. Those who die tragically are still held by God as part of the fabric of reality, even if they only take one breath on this earth. They still have the same opportunity of Eternal life as we do by embracing God.


We Christians are supposed to live and be alive, not shackled by a world that tells us that we must be frightened of death. We do not live life as a series of continual avoidances of death. We must live our lives for the One Who wants us alive with Him in Eternity. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The way the Resurrection lies

Sermon for the First Sunday after Easter


What reasons do people have to tell lies?


You might lie to protect yourself or you might lie to gain something.


Of course, it’s right to lie to the Nazi police if you’re hiding Anne Frank in your house. In that sort of circumstance, you need to be quite clear that you are protecting someone from Evil. If you’re lying to protect your reputation or from receiving punishment for doing something wrong, then this is clearly an offence.


What might you gain from lying? By and large, people lie in order to gain something of value to them. You might lie to gain riches, or to gain power over someone, or to gain fame. Fame, of course, is nothing if it doesn’t come with either riches or power attached.


So then. Are the Disciples lying when they say that they have seen Our Lord? Is St Paul lying when he says that he has seen Jesus?


[PAUSE]


Many people would say that the New Testament is based on the lies of the Disciples. If that’s true, then what do the Disciples hope to gain? What would they hope to achieve? Most of them carry their belief in the Resurrection of Our Lord to pretty horrible deaths. St Paul, for example, loses his reputation, his powerful position among the Pharisees in the Synagogue, his stability, his health, his freedom, and finally his head. If he’s telling lies, then they are very costly indeed!


Surely, the most likely circumstance is that St Paul is telling the truth. If he’s right then we should hear what he says.


For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.


We have here St Paul testifying to the fact that more than five hundred people have seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion, and he includes himself in that.


[PAUSE]


We have to be quite clear with ourselves. The New Testament is written to testify of an historical fact, not a myth, nor a fable nor nice bedtime story. If we were given access to the TARDIS then we can expect to be among those who see Jesus alive following His death.


Of course the world will doubt us. In general, people do not rise from the dead. This is why we fear death. Yet we have eyewitness statements that see this happening which is why this is a unique account. We don’t have to apologise for this. The facts are clear: Christ has risen indeed. By “indeed”, again, we hear a statement of fact. This is no ghost, nor hallucination, nor dream, nor spiritual revelation. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead in His body. We have handled Him, touched Him and embraced Him. Try putting your arms around an idea!


But we do live in an increasingly sceptical society. This is only natural since the Resurrection is two millennia distant in Time. The fact is that the effects of this Resurrection are still here today. As Jesus tells us, He has come to bring a sword that will divide people. People will either believe in His bodily resurrection from the dead or they won’t. This is what separates the Church out in Society. If we believe in the Resurrection then we do have to come out from living a life that denies it.


Too often, the sword of Jesus’ words divides our very selves as we say one thing and do another. The Resurrection of Jesus calls us out of our unbelief into the New Jerusalem. This division comes about when we live a lie rather than the truth. The monk is always a monk. He is not sometimes a monk and sometimes not depending on whether he is walking in the cloister or down the high street. The Christian is always a Christian, not someone who says she believes in the Resurrection and then lives her life as if there is no resurrection from the dead for her. If there is no resurrection, then St Paul has given up everything for nothing and so have we.


Jesus is the way resurrection lies. Blessed are all those who commit themselves to this fact.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Penderfyniad clir?


Given the welcome presence of my Welsh Colleagues, I am hoping that their fervent examples will bear much fruit in the years to come. Another Welsh revival would certainly give those of us in England a bit of a fillip!


Of course, if a female Archdeacon, Peggy Jackson, in the Church in Wales gets her way, we may well find a few people come our way.


Her motion is to prevent those who cannot in conscience believe that women can be ordained from being ordained themselves. Essentially, her idea is to allow to die out those who hold the Catholic Faith in the Church in Wales. With no Catholic priests, there will be no provision for those Catholic laity, either. That’s not what I call flourishing.


So what is her argument?


It runs as follows.


1)      The Church in Wales (CiW) has made a clear decision that women may be admitted to all orders.


2)      In order to protect those established members of the CiW who cannot in conscience receive the ordination of women, a Code of Practice was drawn up.


3)      The Code of Practice states that during a period of reception, those who object to the ordination of women are not to be barred from ordination.


4)      Since the Code is temporary in nature, it was not intended for a parallel structure to exist for Catholics.


First conclusion: Any structure within the CiW for those who deny the decision of the CiW to ordain women is temporary.


5)      The Code encourages “mutual flourishing”.


6)      Women who train for ordination find themselves training with and under those who doubt their integrity to do so.


7)      These women have to undergo extra hurdles in order to reach ordination.


8)      These women do not realise their full potential and the Church uses their gifts.


Second Conclusion: The Code of Practice does not allow ordained women to flourish to the best of their ability.


This boils down to


A)     The Code of Practice calls for “mutual flourishing”.


B)      The Code of Practice does not allow for female ordinands to flourish.


C)      Therefore the Code of Practice is self contradictory.


Thus the Code should be resiled.


Now what if, for the sake of equality, we do a little mutatis mutandis on statements 5 to 8?


9)      The Code encourages “mutual flourishing”.


10)   Catholics who train for ordination find themselves training with and under those who doubt their integrity to do so.


11)   These Catholics have to undergo extra hurdles in order to reach ordination.


12)   These Catholics do not realise their full potential and the Church loses their gifts.


The Code of Practice is still not fit for purpose but clearly it would need to be resiled in the opposite favour.


The only difference lies in the clear decision which says that women can be ordained and thus skews the argument in favour of allowing women ordinands to flourish at the expense of Catholic ordinands. If there is to be any “mutual flourishing” then it is only temporary in nature and to be repealed once the Catholics are in a sufficient minority. To my mind, this does suggest that the commitment to “mutual flourishing” has been made with crossed fingers and suffers the death of the thousand caveats. Peggy Jackson is being less than venerable in not even thinking what Catholics in her Diocese are going to do.


If the CiW were acting with any degree of integrity at all, it should never have set up a Code of Practice which has essentially benefitted from the dying talents of the Catholic Wing so that it cannot actually flourish within or without the CiW. The CofE is no better.


I really should like to make it quite clear to those in Forward in Faith in the UK that it is absolutely clear that none of the British Provinces are committed to the flourishing of the Catholic Faith as once the CofE received because of their clear decision – this clear departure from the Catholic Faith. They want you to die out. The Evangelicals are already departing for various Protestant jurisdictions. You need to find a Catholic jurisdiction. Find somewhere to go.


The Anglican Catholic Church exists and will happily talk with you about your future but, if you don’t like us, then go to Rome, to ROCOR, to the Old Roman Catholic Church. Just get out.


Get out of the CofE. Get out of the CiW. You will suffer immeasurably in your souls if you stay. You will lose status, location and even livelihoods if you do go, but the Disciples lost more on your behalf and have gained a hundredfold more in Heaven for doing so.


Mae Duw yn dy fendithio!