Sunday, January 22, 2006

Videte Miraculum.

I preached this sermon on the Sunday morning after our day of healing prayer. I was asked to preach on the theme of healing so consequently I chose the readings and from them built this sermon. My intention was to challenge the way that people think about miracles, and what constitutes healing.

Sermon preached on 18th May 2003 at SS Peter and St Paul’s Swanscombe, based on 2 Kings iv:8-22, 32-37 and Mark viii:22-25

A boy lies unconscious.

To all intents and purposes,
he is dead.

A man gives the boy
mouth to mouth resuscitation.

The boy regains consciousness.
Is this a miracle?

A plague sweeps London.

A man injects a vaccine into a boy.

The boy does not get the plague.

Is this a miracle?

A man loses his son in a racist attack.

He forgives his son’s murderers.

Is this a miracle?

In your opinion,
what is a miracle healing?

Is it really what makes
a long drawn out recovery
in a hospital different from
being at Death’s door one minute
and being fine the next?

Is it really only the speed of the recovery?

Consider this.

A man lies in a coma,
a woman gives him
a white pill and a drink.

Within an hour,
the man is walking briskly
around the football pitch
as if nothing had happened.

Is this a miracle?

What if I now tell you
that the man had diabetes,
and all the woman gave him
was a lump of sugar
and a bottle of Coca Cola?

Does that change the way
we think about what just happened?

We associate miracle cures
with the pattern of Jesus’ ministry.

It seems that the Lord
just had to touch a person
and they were instantly
and completely healed.

A blind man comes to Jesus.
Jesus spits in the man’s eyes.

Doesn’t that sound revolting?


But look at this closely.

Remember that in Jesus Christ,
God is made Man.

This is fully human spit in the man’s eyes.

Double Yuk!!

Look one more time,
isn’t this a form of natural medicine?

The Lord is giving this man medicine.

And then the man is cured?

Yes? No! Yes and no!

The man can see a bit.

He sees trees walking around.

If you’ve got bad eyesight like me,
then this is precisely what you see
when you haven’t got your glasses on.

We suspect that this chap has cataracts.

But the man isn’t cured.

The Lord has blotted His copy book.

He has lost His power!

What hope for humanity now?

Let’s all go home!

No, look yet again.

The Lord repeats the action.

He gives the chap a second dose,
a second course of treatment,
a repeat prescription.

What happens?

The man is cured!

Question: is he healed?

Perhaps we cannot really
say that a miracle healing
is always an instant healing.

Let’s look at what Jesus
does from a rational viewpoint.

Can we explain how
Jesus can heal so effectively?

Can we scientifically
analyse the situation
and say "yes, it was a clear cut
case of temporary hysterical optical paralysis
and this is how we treat it"?

What about dealing
with someone who
has stopped breathing?

Well, as anyone in the St John’s Ambulance
would tell you,
you use artificial respiration,
mouth to mouth.

When was this discovered?

Is it modern science?

If you think so,
then watch Elisha restore
a woman’s son by something
very much like mouth to mouth.

Verse 35 of this reading
has two translations.

In the Good News Bible,
we are told that the
boy sneezed seven times.

This is one of two interpretations of the Hebrew,
the other is that Elisha
breathed into the boy seven times,
and this translation is backed up
in the Greek and Latin
(in fact the Latin says he yawned on the boy 7 times!).

What is even more interesting
is that even this isn’t the first time
artificial respiration is used!

Elisha was taught this trick
by Elijah.

Does knowing this stop the
healing from being miraculous?

What about the boy
in plague-swept London
I mentioned at the beginning?

Do you remember?

He survives after being inoculated.

It doesn’t sound much,
but what if I now tell you
that the man who injected the boy
was Edward Jenner,
the man who discovered
the vaccine for smallpox,
a man who was gambling on the hunch
that people who had cowpox
wouldn’t get smallpox,
a man who would have been hanged
if the boy had died?

Does that change anything?

I think that the clue
to what makes a miracle healing
is obviously the word "miracle".

"Miracle" comes from
the Latin word miraculum meaning
"a little something at which to wonder".

The "mira-" bit we can see
in words like admiration and admire.

We admire a sunset.

We admire Martin Luther King.

We admire Durham Cathedral.

We admire the strength of a mother
giving birth for the first time,
and we admire the courage
of the lady at number 42
who is dying of breast cancer.

These all have the essence
of "miracle" about them.

We can detect the power of God Himself
behind these occurrences.

We look and see God
in the gorgeous mixture of oranges
and reds in the sunsets.

We stand and hear the faith in God
of a man leading his race out of slavery.

We stand in giddy awe
as we imagine
a thousand devoted craftsmen
building a glorious temple for God.

We feel the force of God’s creative power
as a tiny scrap of life is pushed into the world.

We are amazed at the vitality of God
in the life of Margaret Jones at number 42,
who knows she is not going to get better,
but still smiles and laughs and praises God
despite the intense pain that eats at her body.

How can Margaret do this?

Because God has healed her.

He hasn’t cured her,
but He has enabled her
to enjoy her last days.

It was not an instant healing,
it took an agonising month or two
to come to terms with the fact
that the operations had failed.

But God has shown her
that she is still very relevant
to the very last.

Isn’t this a miracle healing?

We hear so many complaints about God,
how He chooses to create
a universe full of pain and suffering.

How often He hears
those dreadful cries of dereliction:
"why me?"
"Why must I suffer this?"
"What have I done to deserve this? "

Personally I find it miraculous
how God Who has the power to create
anything He likes,
chooses to create a
universe in which He too
suffers horribly and dies
with that cry
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me".

Why should that be?
Who honestly knows?

But certainly despite our sufferings
there is the central fact that we matter.

That God has given
to each human being
a dignity,
a worth,
that cannot be removed
by sickness,
disability or death.

For me personally,
a miracle healing is
the gift of God
to love,
rejoice and delight in Him
despite the thick
and seemingly impenetrable darkness
of our suffering.

Do you agree with that?

If not,
what would you class
as a miracle healing?

In some instances,
the way that God helps us
to rejoice in Him is
by the immediate removal
of whatever is stopping us,
the blind eyes are opened,
the deformed jaw is repositioned,
the loss of a son leads to an acceptance
and thanksgiving for his life.

In others, nothing physical
seems to happen at all
and then one day
they wake up and realise
that they are healed.

For others
there seems to be no healing whatsoever.

The reason for why this happens
lies only within the private
and personal relationship
between the individual and God.

No one from outside can intrude
on that relationship or offer any answers.

We all eventually die.

As Christians, we know that
the physical demise of our bodies is not the end.

As Christians, we know that we have eternal life.

Every second of our lives
is unimaginably precious
to our God and Father.

What for us are seventy,
ninety years,
in comparison with an eternity of infallible love?

The First One!

Well, this one was the first I ever preached. It could have done with expressing the main point a bit more explicitly, and there are plot-holes galore, but well, see what you think.

Sermon on 23rd February 2003
The third in a sermon series on “Faith, Hope and Love” based on 1 Cor xiii and St John xiii:31-35

Alex is a gifted linguist;
he works as a translator
for the diplomats.

He speaks many languages fluently
Burkinabe... and so on.

He loves the way that Italian
rolls off the tongue,
the way that German builds bigger words
by adding smaller words,
and that he can still pronounce them.

He loves the idiosyncrasies of French,
that the French for "lost property"
literally means "found property".

He loves the way that
he can express his feelings to anyone,
simply anyone whom he meets.

While he is translating
for an Israeli General
at a briefing
for an American Diplomat
a bomb goes off.

As the ceiling comes down,
a block of masonry
strikes Alex on the head.

In the hospital, Alex wakes up.
He asks for a glass of water.

He tries to ask for a glass of water.

But there are no words,
just the sound of the explosion ringing in his ears.

It’s not that he has lost his mouth,
his tongue is okay,
his jaw has survived the blast.

But he cannot speak,
it’s something to do with
the pain in his head.

He struggles just to say something.


As it is, he just gurgles.

He wants to tell the doctors
of the pain he’s in.

He wants to tell them
how glad he is to be alive.

He wants to say something of the fact that
just when the masonry hit him,
his whole life flashed before him.

His whole life flashed before him,
and he didn’t like it.

He didn’t like it because he saw
The Hole.

A deep pit, a chasm, a ravine in his life.

Missed opportunities.

People he could have helped.

Ways in which he really could have used
The gifts that he had been given.

He remembers the time
he saw that truck of refugees,
Of Iraqi Kurds struggling to
gain entry into the country.

How they pleaded with
the authorities, the establishment
for a home.

How the authorities told him to tell them
that they could not stay.

He did so,
he knew how to speak Kurdish.

The authorities did not need to
know that one of them needed
emergency treatment for

He missed the chance to tell them.

But Alex can’t tell them now,
he can’t speak,
and the Hole in his life is obvious to him.

He remembers the time when he was showing
the Prime Minister around Burkina Faso.

A little boy was asking for food.

"What does he want?" asks the PM
"He’s begging," says Alex.

The Prime Minister hands the boy a coin,
enough to buy a little bread.

Alex doesn’t tell him about the
rest of the boy’s family who are starving.

He missed the chance.

There’s no point now.

No voice.

No voice and the Hole.

What is Alex without his gift of speech?

He can think and reason
but can’t express himself.

When his arms and legs have healed,
he should be able to walk,
though perhaps not run.

But was Alex only the gift?

Is there no substance to his life,
other than being able to say
"Would you sign such and such a treaty?"
or "will your gross national product
be great enough to join this economic
policy" in Arabic?

He knows his life has been inadequate.

We all know that our lives are inadequate
with missed opportunities
to do something useful
something that God might appreciate.
We know that. Don’t we?

But does "doing" really matter
if it isn’t motivated by Love?

We all know that we’ve taken for granted
our abilities
to speak languages,
to do hard sums,
to knit, or draw
to walk or run,
or see.

We all know that
we’ve used them to please ourselves
that perhaps,
perhaps we have loved our gifts
rather than the One
who gave them to us.
We know that. Don’t we?

We all know that if we have no love,
the love that Our Lord showed us
on the cross, then we too have a hole.
We know that. Don’t we?

We all know that our gifts
can be taken away, but love cannot be taken away.
We know that. Don’t we?

His gift of speech may be gone,
but Alex still knows that God is there,
and always will be.

He may not be able to say "I’m sorry",
but he knows that Jesus died to save him from his sin.

The tears on Alex’s cheeks tell Jesus that he repents.

Where there’s life...?

Alex doesn’t know
whether the prayer he offered
for the health of the Kurdish diabetic,
was answered.

Alex doesn’t know
whether God found food
for the Burkinabe boy’s family.

God will tell him about these when
"the partial vanishes when the wholeness comes."

Alex still hopes that his prayers were answered.

There is a movement by
the door to the hospital ward.

It’s his wife, Tsien-Lin,
tears in her eyes for the battered
mess of a man that is her husband.

She won’t forget the fact that it was
his influence that persuaded the Chinese guard
to look the other way
while she slipped out,
over the border to freedom
with the other 20 refugees.

It wasn’t for his gift to speak Mandarin
that she married him,
it was for the fact that he does care so much
for her.

He may not be able to speak, (in fact, he will never say another word)
but she loves him,
and by the way he squeezes her hand she knows that he loves her.

As for the Hole?

A different love fills that.

Not the love of language,
nor the love of helping people.

This is the love of the man who died and was raised to life
"for the partial vanishes when the wholeness comes."

And Christ is that wholeness.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Sign in the Vestry

I've decided that it may be a good thing to put my sermons on the web. This isn't for any pride in my ability to preach, but rather that God has called me to be a Reader in the Church of England, and I must preach His word. In truth to hear me speak of my own power is like listening to a car with a dodgy starter motor making several failed attempts to get going. This sermon, however, is what I received of God, I pray that He speaks to you as He spoke to me. The imperfections are mine, the glory is God's.

Sermon preached on 15th January 2006 at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Swanscombe based on 1 Samuel iii:1-20, Revelation v:1-10 and St John 1:43-end.

Karl heard the voice about seven years ago.
So he answered the call
and now he has just been ordained priest.
So where does he go from here?
Which parish should he apply to?
Karl thinks that the best thing to do
is to ask the One who called him
in the first place.
So he prays,
"Dear Lord show me where to go."

He prays again,
a longer prayer this time.
"Dear Lord, I really want to serve you.
If I am to do that,
then show me which way to go."

So Karl does what other Christians have done
throughout the centuries.
He prays,
he fasts,
he goes on retreat,
he goes to all the services -
and Compline each day
for a month.

He says novenas,
lights candles,
burns incense,
goes to charismatic prayer evenings,
speaks in tongues, sings songs.

Is Karl wasting his time?

Did you hear how Samuel
was called to serve God?
The boy is woken up in the night
by a voice calling him.
He answers the call
and in so doing enters the Bible
as one of the great heroes.
Simple as that?

Did you hear how Nathanael
is called to serve God?
The man is sitting under the fig-tree
when he is called by his friends
to come and meet the man from Nazareth.
By answering that call,
Nathanael learns that something good
can come out of Nazareth,
and he himself calls others
to follow Christ.
Simple as that?

Well, it’s alright for these Biblical blokes,
they get called and they do something
to serve God.
Is it really as simple as that?
What about Karl?
What about us?


And then there’s St John the Divine,
writer of the last book of the Bible -
the Apocalypse,
the Book of Revelation.

Let’s join St John in what he is seeing.

We see God on a throne
in a blaze of His Glory.
He holds a scroll,
a book covered in very small print
and bound up with seven pieces of string.
Each piece of string has its ends stuck together
with a wax seal.

So what’s in the book?
What has God got to tell us
in this wonderful looking tome?
Surely it’s going to be good!
He calls us to look and see.
Does this book hold the answer
to what Karl needs to hear?
Does this book have something to tell us?


First, the Lamb of God
has to break the seven seals
in order to open the book.
This takes ages,
and every time one seal gets broken,
things happen.
The famous four horsemen run amok,
we meet the martyrs under an altar,
there is an earthquake.
You could say that all Hell is let loose
but that happens more towards the end.
In short, there’s chaos.
That’s the first six seals.
Only when the seventh seal gets broken,
can the wonderful book be opened.
Then what happens?

[longish PAUSE]

There is silence.
Silence in heaven for about half an hour.

All that calamity and then silence!
Think of Karl,
he has had seven years of upheaval,
wrestling with his calling,
trying to obey the voice that calls
insisting that he follow.
His life has been terribly complicated
having to fill out forms
and meet bishops
and directors of ordinands
and vocations advisors,
go to selection conferences
and then go back to University
to study.
His life has been utterly changed.

And now he sits,
having obeyed God,
clad in his dog-collar
desperately trying to hear
what God wants him to do now.
All he gets is silence.


Silence in Heaven for about half an hour.

Perhaps God has gone
to watch Coronation Street on telly?

But why half an hour?
Surely God doesn’t need to rest again,
he’s already taken one day off.
It isn’t for God’s benefit that there is silence.
It’s for us.
It’s for St John who has just seen
the world torn apart
by four horsemen on a spree,
by earthquakes,
winds and fires.
This silence is for Karl,
a chance to catch up on himself,
to take stock.
A chance just to be with his Creator
- our Creator -
who sometimes just wants us
to keep still so that he can look us over
and delight in what He has made.

As Jesus is baptised in the Jordan,
the Father cries out,
"behold my beloved son,
I am so pleased with Him."
And then Jesus spends a while in the wilderness,
almost in silence.

In the same way,
there are periods in our lives
when God just wants to stop
and look at us and say "This person is mine,
and I’m over the moon about it."
He wants to consider carefully who we are.
But do we really let Him do this?


Karl has been trying to fill this silence
with the noise of his prayers,
organising retreat after retreat,
because he believes that God’s silence is wrong.
But Karl hasn’t presented himself
in that silence
to God who would dearly love to say
"You’ve become a priest.
I am so pleased with you."

Whatever God wants Karl to do,
He will give Karl plenty of time to do it.
At this moment,
He wants to see what Karl has become.
Karl isn’t alone,
there are silences for Samuel,
and Nathanael too,
indeed for all the people of God,
since we are all called.


Sometimes the silence of God
occurs when we least want it -
when we’ve got a big decision
to make in life,
or if we’re ill,
or losing one we love.
Then the silence of God swallows us up
and we feel He is not there.
We shout and scream and make noises,
but God is not going to break His silence,
because He knows what He’s doing
even if we don’t,
and He is in charge.
Yes, He is in charge.


There’s a sign in the vestry in this very church.
It says "Silence" in large menacing letters.
What is this sign telling you?
How will you respond?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Another Can of Worms

Well, the debate has been raging on Anglo-Catholic Central's message board.
The "ordination" of women to Holy Orders.

Purely and simply, it's impossible. I must confess not to completely understanding why God has set it this way, but God is God, and He must be obeyed. Ours is to do and die (and to rise again per Jesum Christum!)

I thought I'd try and speculate as to why God choses the male gender for priests and not women. This is pure speculation, it cannot be the whole story, and there's no reason why the whole thing cannot be totally and utterly wrong. indeed there are flaws and pot-holes all over the place.

I am absolutely indebted to my very dear friend, Ed Pacht, who has been very kind enough to point out errors and suggest corrections. This post will be edited and re-edited as things occur to me and as corrections occur to him.

Let's start with some observations:

1) There are two sexes among human beings. Yes, I know that there are some who claim to be a third sex, and there are hermaphrodites, but the human genome is very specific. Two X chromosomes for a female, and X and a Y chromosome for a male even in the case of hermaphrodites. "Male and female He made them."

2) ) These two sexes are both fully human, neither inferior to the other, made of the same biological material, but are different in biological and mental make up.

3) A human being has a spirit.

Definition 1: We shall call that part of reality that cannot in itself be observed with physical equipment "spiritual" and that which is observable "physical".

For example, God is a spirit, since He is unobserved.

Lemma 1: If men and women are biologically different and mentally different, then it stands to reason that they are also spiritually different.

Justification: It requires male and female to engender and nurture a child. Nurture requires spiritual development as well as physical and mental, and God has ordained that a child have two parents, one of each sex. If the spiritual nature of human beings were identical, then it would be possible for a child to be brought into existence by two males or two females, thus God would make it apparent in His designation of the family unit. Hence male and female are different in spirit. QED

Why are human beings different?

4) The human female is the carrier of and principal provider of nourishment for a baby.

Conclusion 1: Therefore her body, mind and soul must be created to be the best mechanism by which children can thus be raised.

So much for the nature of Humanity. What about the nature of priesthood?

5) Apart from Baptism which may be administered by any Christian (usually in an emergency) and Marriage in which the couple administer the Sacrament to themselves, the other five Sacraments are administered by ordained Bishops and Priests.

6) A sacrament is an effective spiritual grace clothed in a physical substance or action- the unobservable made observable.

Lemma 2: That which is administered by one whose ordination is doubted cannot be said to be a Sacrament with certainty.

Justification: By the definition of Sacrament, we cannot observe a physical change in the substance or action involved. The validity of the Sacrament therefore relies solely on a supernatural event which can be perceived only by faith in God and the belief that the minister is correctly Ordained by God for the business of administering Sacraments. If faith in either one is doubted, then the efficacy of that which is administered is null, and therefore cannot be known to be a Sacrament.
The validity of a sacrament does not depend on whether we know it is valid. But, for a sacrament to be effectual in the Church it must be known to be valid. Therefore, though the argument has not proven that the sacrament is ipso facto invalid, its lack of applicability to a real church has been demonstrated in the uncertainty.

7) Sacraments are ordained by Christ.

8) Christ is God and, as God, is referred to as the 'Son of God'.

9) Christ is human, and, as human, called the 'son of man', is male.

Conclusion 2: God wishes for spiritual benefits to be conferred on humanity.

Lemma 3: The sex of human beings is important in administering Sacraments.
Justification: From 9 and 7 the Lord's spiritual configuration was sufficient to administer the Sacraments. The Lord only ordained male apostles who then administered the Sacraments.
In choosing Apostles, he was choosing those who would, in themselves, sacramentally represent His presence in His Church. Thus they were to be seen as both 'sons of God' and 'sons of man', or, in the traditional phrase, the priest is an alter christus. In the Eucharist, he stands in Christ's place, iconically as Christ. In Absolution he speaks for Christ, iconically standing in His place.
Therefore males are spiritually capable of administering the Sacraments by virtue of their masculinity. The Lord did not abhor women, indeed they were the first to whom He revealed His Teaching and Resurrection. Further, He spoke to the Samaritan woman, allowed two ladies to wash His feet and invited them to listen to Him. Ergo, it cannot have been through a contemporary or cultural bias that He did not choose women but through a reason as yet unobservable.
This fact that we only have record in Sacred Scripture of ordination of males despite the unqualified acceptance of women to the Community of Christ is thus indicative of the importance of sex in the administration of the Sacraments. QED

Corollary: There is no evidence that women can administer those Sacraments which require the minister to be Ordained
Corollary: There is doubt that women can administer such Sacraments.
Corollary: By Lemma 2, those administered by women cannot be considered Sacraments.

Speculation 1: Is it possible then for a "Natural Sacrament" (I really want a better term here) to exist, i.e. an effective physical grace clothed in a spiritual substance - the observable made unobservable? After all, a Sacrament is that which transmits grace from the spirit into the physical. A wafer becomes under consecration the Real Body of Christ, thus the hitherto unobservable becomes observable. Likewise, is there a Natural Sacrament working the other way, transmitting grace from the observable into the unobservable? Does it have to be grace that it transmits?

Man is incomplete without woman. So I wish to offer the following hypothesis

Hypothesis: Women are the only ministers of "Natural Sacraments".

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Coat of Arms

Heart speaks to heart. Posted by Picasa

Cardinal Newman's motto, heart speaks to heart seems unsual for an intellectual giant as he was. Should it not have been Mens ad mentem loquitur?


The heart (the figurative heart that is, not the large muscle in the centre of the thorax pumping blood) is where the colloquy between Man and God takes place. It is here that human beings can (if they desire) come into colloquy with others. Newman's motto, for me, speaks of how the Truth should be transmitted.

A Saint to be?

A great man! Posted by Picasa

Blessed John Henry Newman. Vilified, sneered at, publically attacked, even now.
He's seen as a turncoat, and is suspected of being neither one thing nore the other- all this because he sought the truth.

As a result, though men put fences around the altar rail, I am as much part of the Church of Rome as I am a part of the Church of England whether His Holiness agrees with me or not. Catholicism, done properly, is a uniting. We just don't do it very well. We need another one of these John Henry Newmans to focus the Catholic cause.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Epiphany and Dawkins

Tradition has it that there were three wise men who made a pilgrimage to visit a baby in a stable having consulted their astrological charts. Whether or not the tradition is true, the Bible appears to indicate that there were an unknown number of Magi bearing three types of gift for the infant Christ. I think it's safe to assume that these were indeed a group (of however many) of wise men. They had read nature (cf Psalm xviii (xix)) and purely on the strength of their research they managed to find precisely what they were looking for, namely the infant God.

And then there are other learned men who say that because it doesn't fit into the rationalist way of thinking, there can be no God. Richard Dawkins thinks that to even be religious is an insult to the proud achievements of mankind (which must logically include the nuclear bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). This is his religion: he is an atheist, he believes that there is no God. I suspect that his line of philosophy would also work to render questions about the presence of God absurd, i.e. the modern equivalent of St Augustine's "What was God doing before creating the Universe? Preparing Hell for those who ask such questions!"

Yes, I am close minded about the existence of God, and proud of it. Dawkins can say all he likes about me deluding myself and offering all those rationalist proofs as to why I shouldn't. first as a mathematician, I know that Goedel's theorem of incompleteness says that any axiomatic thought has statements that cannot be proved within the system. God exists. I don't need to prove it. The onus probandi is with Dawkins. Epiphany is the celebration of the God-given ability to use God's creation to find Him. If we look out into space we see His work. If we look into the atom, we see His fingerprints. If we could look upon our soul we would see the sticky label attached by the Creator to our back : "made by God, and boy is He pleased."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

It's an arbitrary decision, really, to begin a year on the 1st of January. The Vernal Equinox is more more definitive, astronomically speaking of course.

Of course, a Leap Second was added on last night, so that the time run by the world catches up with the position of the Sun in Space. Some people have said why bother. they would like to see the planet's time to run on its own internal system.

This is a typical attitude of Mankind. He seeks to define himself on his own conditions without any reference to that which is outside himself. Humanity- the Cosmic Introvert.

One might argue that the Solar System is chaotic anyway, so we need an independent method of measuring Time. A valid point, but I think the Chaotic nature of the Solar System is hardly likely to impinge on the rather temporary system of time keeping that we have already.