Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Greater name of James

Sermon for the feast of St James the Greater

What do you know of St James?

You might first ask, "which one?" for you know there are two disciples called James. The other we celebrate with St Philip on the first of May.

The fact that this James has a feast day of his own might tell you that this is St James the Greater, the brother of St John. This is the James who, together with St Peter and St John, bears witness to the more intimate sayings of the Lord. He is also present at the Transfiguration. This James is the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He is the first of the Apostles to lose his life as a martyr under Herod.

The second thing you might know is that his name is not James - it's Jacob.

[PAUSE]

Well, that's a bit pedantic. It's like saying that the Lord's name is Joshua and not Jesus. While Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua and is fairly direct, the name James is actually a medieval Latin version of Jacob. The name has travelled quite extensively and, unlike the Lord's Name, St James would never have been called that in His lifetime. He will always have been Jacob.

Now, why is this relevant? Why is the fact that the name of this Holy and Venerable Apostle has changed so radically in contrast to his Master and Our Lord?

[PAUSE]

The life of St James has been embroidered by stories. There is a tale that he went to Spain but there is no evidence for this before the eighth century. All we really know of St James is what we see in the New Testament and we even hear his name hidden in our modern ears.

Like Jacob, St James wrestles with God - not physically. He asks to drink the same cup as Our Lord. He asks Jesus to sit down with his brother either side of Him in Heaven. He wrestles with this Jesus who goes to His death. He wrestles with himself as he flees from the scene of His arrest. Yet he stays with the other disciples to bear witness to the Resurrection. 

Like Jacob, St James witnesses God. He sees Heaven opened and the light of God pouring out on Mount Tabor. Like Jacob, St James becomes the spiritual father to an uncountable number of Christians.

His name travels and, in travelling, alters. His testimony does not. While his name gets altered by the centuries, the name of his Master does not but is repeated faithfully and lovingly to all people. In having his name altered, St James receives the promised new name from Our Lord. He is like the patriarch Jacob but he is so much more for He has not just wrestled with God and seen God in a fragment of His glory, but He has born witness to our Salvation to the extent of his own blood. He has decreased to make his testimony increase.

[PAUSE]

Our names, too, will change and alter. Like many martyrs of God, our names will probably be forgotten altogether by an indifferent world. But God gives us our new name, our true name by which He calls us. God is always faithful, we have to learn to be faithful too, just like the Great St James himself.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The infernal coin

Sermon for the seventh Sunday after Trinity

"When you're dead, you're dead!"

How many times have you heard that? How does it make you feel?

At first sight, doesn't really mean anything, but then you understand that the person saying this means that he does not believe in life after death.

We all know that we are highly likely to die. Enochs and Elijahs don't come along every day. We know that death is something that we will have to face. If there is nothing of us after death, then this life is all there is and we have to make the most of it. So why not devote your life just to enjoying yourself. The pain of living is only temporary, so just do what you want. When you're dead, you can't feel pain or humiliation or anger. 

When you're dead the lives of the people you leave behind can't matter. Love ends at death, and so do all the affections that you have for other people and those that others have for you. There's no need to love, there's no need to get caught up in families. There is only the need to enjoy yourself. Do what makes you happy.

[PAUSE]

Dear God, that is such a bleak philosophy! While the fear of death does not prove the existence of the afterlife, our experience that life has some meaning seems unshakable. Yet, if there is only death then there is no meaning.

We know that every human being has a meaning, even those who live for just a day, even those whose lives are blighted by pain and suffering and poverty and sickness and slavery. And that means that we believe not only that there is life after death but there is also justice after death.

We believe in God and we trust in His promise of Life Eternal with Him.

[PAUSE]

The fact that we die leaves us open to the temptation to sin. Sin and death are the two sides of the same coin. We sin because we think it won't matter in the long run. We die because our sin cuts us off from God Who is Life. 

To remove sin from our lives, to come to God soiled by our wrongdoing and be washed by His Grace, these destroy Death's sting because we enter life through the Cross of Christ. In Him, the sufferings of us all are not only put right but sanctified to the extent that our scars become more beautiful than gold, diamonds or precious stones.

The wages of sin is death, so all the poverty that comes from renouncing sin brings us to greater riches.

[PAUSE]

We are Christians and we believe God that our lives mean more than we know. If sin and death are two sides of the same coin, then perhaps that coin needs to be flipped into the pit whence it came.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Opinion of Benedict

Sermon for the feast of St Benedict

As far as the Church is concerned, you ought to have a distrust for isms.

The Church has suffered much from the heresies of Arianism, Donatism, Nestorianism and Modernism and many more. So why should we trust Benedictinism?

[PAUSE]

It's good to know your heresies because knowing how things go wrong puts you back on track. All heresies come from an opinion. Some people think that Jesus was created or just a good man: that's how Arianism and Ebionitism work. Some people think that Jesus' God-ness can be separated from His Man-ness: that way lies Nestorianism. Some people think that, because we are more technologically and scientifically advance than we were, the Christian Faith needs to change in order to reflect those advances: that's Modernism.

You notice that a heresy starts with "some people think that..." A heresy never starts with "it has been revealed to the Catholic Church that..." The Church is still fighting all these heresies today. If there is one thing that can help, it's Benedictinism.

[PAUSE]

Why should St Benedict be any different from Arius? Both are putting forward opinions. Surely it's one man's word against another's. Except...

Except St Benedict preaches the virtue of humility. His is a practical theology. He doesn't seek to change Church teaching: he seeks to fit his life to the life of Christ and bend his will to do the will of God. St Benedict knows that he is just a man and wants nothing more than to do as God bids him.

For St Benedict, it is the good of the community that matters more than individual thinking. Indeed, he tells his Benedictine monks that they can always bring their opinions to the discussion but, once they have presented them, they must sit down and not press them. Those opinions are then weighed by the abbot who has been given the charge of the monastery. If he rejects those opinions then that decision must be respected, even if it is the wrong decision. The wholeness of the community is worth more than the value of opinions no matter how good they are.

[PAUSE]

Today, having your opinions rejected is regarded as having everything you hold dear rejected. It's almost like your opinions are a part of you. And then we begin to see the trouble.

If we value our opinions too highly, if we make them part of ourselves, if we defend them with more vigour more than our own lives, then we might just be worshipping our own point of view. We may just be worshipping our own ideology.

True: to be a Christian means to hold the opinion that Jesus is God. But it's more than that. It is truth. It is how we live our lives according to that opinion. Christianity is based in real, objective fact - not opinions. Jesus tells us to love God and to love neighbour. We can't have an opinion on that because He said it! Even then, He was quoting Moses! 

Over the centuries, the Church has come to recognise the Truth in her doctrine. Heresies have been shown up for what they are - an individual's ideology which denies the facts of what God has revealed to us in Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers. Those who hold to heresies hold opinions that are contrary to the Truth and value them more than the Truth. Those opinions are worshipped more devoutly than God.

St Benedict's answer is to be humble. He tells us to deny our opinions in the face of what the Church teaches. He teaches us to look for the goodness of God and work for Him and pray for Him. He teaches us to look out for the good of others and to build the Church community out and away of the noise of heresy and dissent. In short, St Benedict is teaching nothing more or less than the commandments that he has received from Christ Jesus Himself: love God, love Neighbour. 

[PAUSE]

At present, the monasteries and convents are dwindling. People prefer the comfort of their own opinions to living lives of stability, obedience and constant repentance. This is worrying as the monasteries have always stood against the divisions of this world as bridges to God in prayer. There are too few who will give up their lives and the worship of their own self-satisfaction in order to pray, work and study for the love of God. People prefer profits to prophets.

[PAUSE]

As Christians, it is our obedience to Christ that should stand out. Our obedience should scandalise the World with its desires for rights and freedoms and permissions. Our obedience to God and the sacrifice of our ideologies on the altar of the cross we bear, this obedience and sacrifice give us true freedom and true joy because the World and its foolish concerns for the material will pass away, fading into complete and utter insignificance.

Our Lord's challenge that St Benedict takes up is that Christians are indeed called to change the world. However, you change the world by changing yourself. If you become less greedy then there is less greed in the world. If you become more devoted to the Lord, the more that this world becomes devoted to Him.

 The fewer opinions we worship, the more like St Benedict we will be and the more like Christ we will become.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Making your mind up

Propers for the fifth Sunday after Trinity

Sermon for the fifth Sunday after Trinity

St Peter says, "be ye all of one mind."

Now look at the people around you. Look at the people you meet today, at those whom you met yesterday or are planning to meet tomorrow. Would you like to have the same mind as them?

Is St Peter actually encouraging us all to think the same as each other. Are we not allowed to have our own individual thoughts? Is St Peter's Church a church for the brainwashed and thought police?

[PAUSE]

There is a great fear among some of us today that we are all being forced to think in a particular way. There are those inside the Church who are expecting persecution from Society for not thinking the right thoughts about various social issues. And there are those outside the Church who think that the Church will unleash the Holy Inquisition on those who do not believe in the right way.

To be honest, History shows that both cases have been true. There have been instances when members of the Church have forced their mind on people through fear and ferocity. There have been instances where the Church has been forced underground because of an oppressive political regime or a massive social reaction.

We still see that today, in both directions. And in both cases, there is one central principle: the human mind is not to be allowed to deviate from the mind of the ruling group.

It means that there are some who wish to deny you the very right to think your own thoughts so that they can have things their way. It is a denial of your humanity.

[PAUSE]

Notice that God does not want to force us to believe in Him. If He did, there would be no other religions, no atheists, no heretics. That is not what God is like. In His incarnation, He takes up a human will, a human mind and a human body to be distinct but completely inseparable from His Divinity. For God, even the risk of the chaos caused by sin and death in His Creation is not enough to stop Him creating us with our own individual minds and personalities.

And St Peter tells us to be of one mind?

How oppressive!

[PAUSE]

If we think that then we are missing the point of what St Peter is saying. He is asking us to agree, not telling us to think the same. He is asking us to be considerate of others, to be kind, compassionate, merciful and loving. All of these respect the dignity of another's being, just as God still loves with the same passion those who turn from Him.

St Peter asks us to agree on what is central so that the Church can thrive by introducing people to the true Christ. We see this already as the Church agrees that Gentiles can become Christians. We see that the Church agrees that God has revealed Himself through the Creeds and Church Fathers. There is agreement, there is one mind so that we can be of one mind. This is the mind of the Church and it is given to her by the God's revelation of Himself to all mankind.

But what if we don't agree? Admittedly, the track record there is not good and there have been too many stakes and gibbets. We have to be compassionate enough to allow people to be wrong though we must protect others of the harm that comes from this wrong.

A bishop is free to preach that there is no God but the Church is also free to declare that he is wrong and deprive him from preaching: he has removed himself from the mind of the Church. He is no longer of one mind with the Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. He should be reasoned with but not burnt at the stake. He may not preach until he repents but he should be allowed to repent through his own free will and be received back with love, kindness and generosity. For his part, he must publically recant his heresy and proclaim the Faith in all honesty and sincerity.

[PAUSE]

The Church has obtained a reputation for brainwashing. While she allows people to choose how to live their lives freely, even in sin, she cannot be accused of brainwashing, for brainwashing allows no freedom of choice. However, to be of one mind with the Church is to be of one mind with Christ and this means we want to hear Him, to repent of our sins, to surrender our lives in the service of His will in truth and love of God and neighbour.

[PAUSE]

We choose to be of one mind with the Church. She presents the facts of God the Holy Trinity as far as they can be known. She is organised to preserve this unity of mind through the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. 

Alternatively, we can choose not to be of one mind with her but this means that we love our own mind more than Christ.

But, whether we choose God or not, He will still love us regardless. But He loves us so much that He will allow us to walk away from Him if we want to. Do we really want to think about what happens then?

Wednesday, June 30, 2021