Sunday, January 21, 2007

Checking Theology

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul’s Church Swanscombe 21st January 2004 based on Nehemiah viii.1-10, I Corinthians xii.12-31 and St Luke iv.14-21.

Pawn to King’s fourth.

This is how it starts.

George introduces himself
to his new opponent
and makes his first move.

He seals the envelope
and sends it off to the address
that the Correspondence Chess Agency
has given him.

Then he dons his
cassock, alb, maniple and chasuble
and becomes Fr. MacKinnon
of Our Lady of the Snows,

A few days later,
after the Post Office has lost it,
found it,
lost it,
found it again,
sent it to the wrong road,
had it returned
and finally delivered it to the right place,
a letter drops through the door.

The Rev’d Derek Knox,
a Baptist minister from Falkirk,
opens it and finds himself
in receipt of George’s letter.

He does choke slightly
on his morning cup of coffee
when he realises that he’s been given
an opponent who is also
a Roman Catholic priest.

This, thinks Derek,
will give me the chance
to save this poor chap’s soul.

So he sends George a cheery note
and another Pawn to King’s fourth.

George is surprised at finding himself
in correspondence with a Protestant,
but happily replies to his opponent
asking him about his life,
what he does
and where he feels his ministry is going,
giving him in return
a knight to Queen’s bishop’s third.

Derek replies amiably enough,
but there’s a pointed remark
about his running his ministry
directly from God rather than
through middlemen.

George knows that
Derek is referring to
the government of the Pope and the Cardinals,
and makes a polite but firm reply
about Bishops in the New Testament.

Knight to king’s bishop’s third.

And so on.

Each clergyman makes a polite,
and well-reasoned defence
of his denominational position
as well as a challenge to the other.

The discussion is heated,
but never hurtful, nor impolite.

The game of chess goes on.

George matches Derek’s moves well,
and Derek meets every attack that George makes
with a subtle and cunning counterattack.

Does this theological wrangling matter?

Isn’t it all a simple game of chess
where it doesn’t really matter
who wins or loses an argument?

After all, we all get to heaven don’t we?


Well, no.

Jesus Himself spoils that idea
when He says that on the last day
there will be people who will say
“Lord, Lord, this is what
we’ve done in your name”
and to whom He will reply
“in truth, I never knew you.”

There are people who call themselves Christians
who will not be in the Heavenly host.

Is this something to do with
which church we belong to?

Is there a right denomination?

Are you in the right place
being members of the Church of England?


One thing is for certain,
a denomination is not
an opinion or a choice.

It is a deep-seated belief
held by many about
what is right and what is wrong
and who has the authority to say
what is right and what is wrong.

Opinion cannot do that,
because it is only personal,
and largely irrelevant in the scheme of things.

People don’t get burnt at the stake
and suffer martyrdom
for their opinions,
but for their beliefs.

Any Catholic will submit his life
to the rule of the Church.

A Catholic’s opinion
does not matter in questions of teaching,
because he relies on the Church
to teach him the truth.

The trouble is a Catholic
could deny his responsibility for thinking for himself
by saying “the Church tells me what to do.”

A Protestant relies on the Bible alone.

If the Bible says that it’s allowed,
a Protestant will do it with gusto.

If the Bible says that it’s not allowed,
not only will the Protestant not do it
but quote chapter and verse as to why it is wrong.

The trouble is that a Protestant
can make up his own interpretation of the Bible
to justify killing all the Jews or the Blacks.

This has been done and is still being done.

Why are there many more
Protestant denominations than Catholic ones?

They are all based on personal interpretations
of the Scriptures.

They can’t all be right!

So which is the right Church?


There is a car crash.

George’s mother dies very suddenly.

His letter to Derek is filled
with heartache and sorrow.

Derek replies,

Dear George,

Over the last months
I have enjoyed your letters
and this wonderful game of chess.

You certainly have a talent
for putting me in check.

You also have a talent
for putting me on the spot with doctrine.

I’ve learned a lot about myself,
and about Catholicism,
as I hope you have learned
about yourself
and about the Baptists.

You won’t change and I won’t change,
and only God can unify us.

I am so very sorry to hear about your Mum,
and I see how hard this must have hit you.

Yesterday I popped into
our local Catholic Church for Mass.

Don’t get excited.

You know how I disagree with you
about this Mass business,
but I know that you believe that
all Masses are linked by Christ
to any other Mass that’s been said.

I want you to know that I am here for you
in your hour of need,
and by attending this Mass
– although I couldn’t take Communion
and you know I wouldn’t do so
– I hope you will feel me
standing beside you.

Your friend in Christ,

P.S. Queen to King’s rook 6.


What do you think of this letter?

Is Derek right to have done this?

If not what could he have done?


How do we know
which Church is The True Church?

Well the True Church is where
we find love expressed clearly and unreservedly
– a love that will risk all for us,
a love that will not be frightened to be angry
with us when we seek things
that will only harm ourselves
and each other,
a love that will weep with us when we are sad,
uphold us when we are fallen,
rejoice with us when we are happy,
challenge us when we are wrong.

It is utterly and completely devoted
to the Commandments of God.

It is not a place where everything works.

It is not neat and tidily put together.

There are many unanswered questions,
because the Church is comprised
of fallen Human Beings
who have been washed clean
in the Blood of the Lamb.

Where you find God,
there you will find love,
and where you find love,
you will find the Church.

Does this fit the description of your parish?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Anglican Breviary

I love the Anglican Breviary. It is just so rich in its expression of Anglican Catholicism.

I got a little worried recently because it looked as if the webpage had lapsed, but thanks to the Young Fogey at A Conservative Blog for Peace (very well worth visiting, by the way) and chum Cindy Curran from the Anglo-Catholic Central forum, I've since found out that the domain name has changed to

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

British Parliament Acts up

New rules outlawing businesses from discriminating against homosexuals have been upheld in the House of Lords.

I have posted these thoughts on the Anglo-Catholic message board, but I thought I'd reproduce them here with addenda since this is rather an convoluted and intensely uncomfortable subject.

In a situation like this where we have Society and Church at war, everyone needs to be clear what battle is being fought, and we must all do our best to ensure that the casualities are not ontological, i.e. that a person should not be persecuted just because he has a particular orientation, in the eyes of the Church a particular temptation.

The Church must make that clear, and be seen to make that clear.The Church has to promulgate a community whereby everyone is accepted and supported in their route to becoming the person whom God made them to be. It also has a duty to keep the command of Christ and live according to the commandments that arise from His being our King. We have a duty to prevent anyone teaching doctrine which does not come from God - e.g. whether homosexual practice is or is not sinful. The Church's teaching is clear - homosexual practice is sinful.

The fight then is for understanding:

  • That homosexual people know that the Church rigidly and absolutely upholds the celibacy of homosexual persons, but that the embrace of a person given by the Church is independent of any personal characteristic that person has. They must realise that Christianity expects of every Christian an attitude of personal conformity and submission to the rule of Christ, but they must also be comforted by the fact that this is not a rule aimed specifically at them, but to anyone who has the audacity to call themselves Christian and that we are duty bound to support each other.
  • That the Church must know that it is right to uphold the rules, and be committed to do so, but that the rule is a rule of love, so it must seek a way to interpret and promote the doctrine of homosexual celibacy in terms of that rule of love, and not by a doctrinal shouting down or (God forbid) ontological persecution of homosexuals. The ministry of the Church is to encounter folk where they are and minister to them bringing the love of Christ by example first before words.

Everyone has a right to lend, or not, their property for use by another.

Everyone has a right not to be discriminated against.

Perfectly valid Human rights in both cases. However, observing a right is not always the Christian thing to do.S o should the Church withhold the use of its property from those who are publicly exhibiting a position contrary to its teaching? Well, if the lending of the property sends the message that the Church is condoning heresy, then no. If the lending of the property sends the message that the Church is an institution founded on love, then yes.

The problem is now how do we send the correct message to a world that is easily misled? Clearly because there is no such thing as a same-sex marriage, a ceremony claiming to be so can never be held in a Church.However, considering the uses of an average British Church Hall being used for 18th birthday parties, receptions et c, which are not exactly promoting the Christian message either (particularly in Britain with its present me-first culture), it seems difficult for the C of E to refuse on grounds of morality. If you've set the precedent in your church hall, you have to abide by it. The only way we can prevent an "apartheid" (which I hope is a rather hyperbolic term) of homosexuality is by developing the understandings of both parties involved.

If we want an end to this deadlock, and a proper peace then we need to sit down and talk. It is not acceptable for either side to start casting epithets and adjectives such as "evil", "intolerant", "perverted" or "satanic" which have been used by people on both sides of the situation. Let us remember that it isn't just an issue of God's law being debated here, but the personal lifestyles and choices of individual human beings. Some choose to follow the teaching of the Orthodox Church, others will choose to follow the knowledge of who they believe themselves to be. No matter which camp you are in, sin will be present, and sin will affect that choice that you make.

However, the Church, when it is doing its job properly, points to the Salvation and Redemption from Sin in Christ. All we need do then is just what God tells us, to love Him more than anything else with every faculty that we possess, and love our neighbour, acts which certainly doesn't involve the words "faggot" or "bible-basher" being used perjoratively

How brightly shines the...what?

Homily preached at Eltham College Chapel on 8th and 9th January 2007

Pluto is no longer a planet.

It is still an irritating cartoon dog,
which I'm sure reassures you no end,
but it is no longer a planet.

How significant is this fact for you?

It means that the school will have to update
the astronomy posters along the Physics corridor.

But what of astrologers who daily contribute to papers
and influence the lives of many
who “sort of” believe in that method of fortune-telling.

After all, the declassification of Pluto as a planet
must surely affect astrology rather heavily, mustn't it?

If you accept Pluto as a planet,
then you have to accept Eris,
or the imaginatively named 2003 EL61
which are about the same size as Pluto.

But then with these all extra planets,
you’d see horoscopes such as:

Eris enters your sign tonight bringing a minor upset
in your love life when you sit on your girlfriend's mobile.


Beware, 2005 FY9,
the bringer of obstreperous poodles,
enters into conjunction with the Sun.

Stay away from any small curly-haired dogs for the rest of the week!

Astrology may seem a bit of a joke to many of us,
but there are people who live their lives,
plan for their futures,
make their big decisions,
even run countries
according to what Jonathan Cainer
writes in the newspaper.

Have you ever found a prediction
made in a horoscope that came true?


Horoscopes do occasionally predict something interesting.

We all know that Wise men from the East
came to visit the Baby Jesus in the manger
bringing various gifts.

Who are these wise men?

Well, we don't know for sure.

We don’t even know how many of them there were.

Nowhere in the Bible will you find reference to three wise men.

Well that’s ruined every nativity scene
and quite a few carols for you hasn’t it?

What we do know is that they were
astrologers from Media following a star to the stable.

In fact, the Star of Bethlehem
is not a bizarre astronomical occurrence,
not a comet,
nor some atmospheric disturbance
nor a Flying Saucer containing the daleks.

It is an astrological event
– a rare conjfiguration of planets and stars
which means something for these astrologers,
who promptly jump on their
Formula 1, 5 cylinder camels
and gallop West to the manger.


Christians remember the visit of the wise men
as the Feast of the Epiphany.

The word Epiphany means “making known”.

We already see how the Lord
is made known to the Astrologers,
but some years later He also makes Himself known
to Saint John the Baptist at Jesus’ Baptism,
an event that St John has been preparing all his life for.

St John has been preparing himself
by becoming who he believes God wants him to be.

When the Lord appears at the river Jordan,
St John is given concrete proof that Jesus is who He says He is.

The astrologers don’t get this proof.
They see a baby in a horse trough,
and then they return,
never to be seen or heard of again.

What the astrologers see only dimly
through their charts and calculations,
St John sees face to face because of his faith in God,
and not in obscure calculations.

What does this say about maths teachers?

Astrologers choose to live their lives
controlled by the way the planets move.

St John chooses to live his life by preparing himself carefully.

Astrologers choose to give up
control of their lives,
control of their destinies,
control of their countries
to the stars.

St John, relying on his faith in God, keeps control of his destiny.

Now, after 2000 years,
we remember the name of St John the Baptist.

Of the Astrologers we know little,
not even how many there were.

Many people think that having faith in God
means being controlled by a superstitious belief,
that our destinies are controlled by our faith.

That’s not what Christians believe.

While God has plans for each one of us,
they involve us being who we are,
in becoming the person we are meant to be,
and that we ourselves have a vital role to play in that process.

God does allow us to make our own decisions.


The majority of you will not know
what you want to do with your lives
when you leave Eltham College.

Indeed, most of the staff probably don’t know
what they want to do with their lives.

You will have to make big decisions
– which options to take,
which A levels to do,
which university to apply to,
what job you want to do.

So how will you make your decisions?

Will you put the responsibility
for making those decisions
onto someone else,
or something else,
like the Astrologers do,
and thus only see shadows of the person that you could become?

Will you take the responsibility
for these decisions upon yourself
by considering your choices carefully
and by finding out who you really are,
and so live your life to the full?

The choice is yours.
How will you live your life?