My dear Friends, Ascension Day, this is one of the big events for May. The 10th sees the great feast of the Ascension of our Lord. Sadly it all to often falls into the same category as Epiphany, Corpus Christi or the Transfiguration; transferred to the nearest Sunday or often sidelined altogether. Such a shame as the Ascension is foundational to our understanding of the ministry of Jesus. Our Lord returns to Glory from whence He came. We shall celebrate this Feast with a High Mass at 7.30pm on Thursday the 10th May. Our guest preacher will be Fr Robert Thompson, Associate Priest in the Parishes of St James & St Clements, Notting Dale. I hope you will make every effort to attend! Following on from this on the 20th May is the incredible Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost that moment when the expectant disciples receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus before His Ascension. This year sees this together with the culmination of our Archbishops iniative called, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. The hope is that:
We will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family - as a church, individually or as a family;
St Cyprian’s will hold prayer events, such as 24-7 prayer, prayer stations and Novenas’
We will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
There will be material to help you with this, including a booklet that will enable you to pray your own Novena of Prayer. A novena (from Latin: novem, "nine") is an ancient tradition of devotional praying in Christianity, consisting of private or public prayers repeated for nine successive days. I am hoping there will be an additional Mass each day throughout this time at 6pm.
On the feast of Pentecost, May 20th we will have a Family Mass at 10.30am, with participation by our young people
April saw the visit of the Area Dean for the triennial Archdeacon’s Visitation. He seemed satisfied that all was more or less in order; the first meeting of our newly elected PCC followed this ‘audit’. Genevieve Rainbow-Laird was appointed Hon Sec but the position of Hon Treasurer remains vacant.
The vexed question of the damp in Crypt was discussed and it was agreed to pursue the question of tanking the areas affected by the ingress of ground water. Checks by Thames Water have failed to reveal the source of this water and they have concluded that tanking is the only possible solution. We now seek professional advice from our architect and the Diocesan Advisory Committee. It was agreed to investigate the possibility of holding a summer drinks party in Dorset Square Gardens to which we could invite our neighbours. A quiz night will be scheduled for September/October.
The other day I was reading about the French theologian, Pierre André Liégé, a Dominican. Fr. Liégé had devoted his academic life to the Christian education of the laity. Fr. Liégé had a way of surprising those in his class, and one day he asked, “Do you know the cause of atheism in our world?” He wrote, ‘I could see that the people near me had their pens ready to take down this important fact’. He paused — (he had a flair for the dramatic) — and then he said, “It is caused by Christian educators.” Then he looked out at a room filled with Christian educators, and he said, “You have taught about a God who is too small to be believed in.” The mountain before us 21st century Christians is implied in this statement: our God is an awesome Mystery — we must beware of a domesticated God who has a special interest in religion. Our God is a God in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” We try in our best words and images — and in songs of praise — to acknowledge this God who is the Source of all that exists — the Holy One who in great humility has lived among us in Jesus Christ. One of the major theologians of the twentieth-century — the German Jesuit Karl Rahner — has written of this and reminds us that God’s work and Presence extend throughout the whole of Creation: “The world (he wrote) is permeated by the grace of God. The world is constantly and ceaselessly possessed by grace from its innermost roots, from its innermost personal centre …” * We have no small, domesticated God: — this is the Holy One who calls us to faith. It is here that we see the authentic work of the Church, what is often called ‘the mission of the Church’: to proclaim this God who is at once both totally other — “in light inaccessible” — and at the same time present to us in our human experience. Here we see the foundation of the Christian faith in the Incarnation: ‘God is with us’ in Jesus Christ.
As we enter May the weather seems more like December but I hope that the wonderful events of the post-Easter Season warm your hearts as we too pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
May God grant you joy in believing,
Fr Michael Fuller
Karl Rahner, “Considerations on the Active Role of the Person in the Sacramental Event,” in Theological Investigations, p. 166.
St Cyprian’s Prayer Infinite Lord and Eternal God rouse your church in this place, restore your people’s sense of Mission and revive your work in holiness and strength. By your Spirit teach us to give our energy, our time, our money, our service and our prayer that your Kingdom may be advanced here and in the entire world; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Sermon preached at the Patronal Festival September 15th 2017 by Archdeacon Rosemary Lain-Priestley
Readings: Ezekiel 34.11-16. 1 Corinthians 12. 4-13, 27. Luke 9.23-26
Wow, what a set of readings for a Patronal Festival! First that beautiful passage from Ezekiel where God is pictured as a shepherd rescuing his sheep from clouds and thick darkness, bringing them to a land of rich grazing and binding up the injured – then that final thought which jolts us out of our complacency, as God says ‘but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice’. Ouch, we think: we were assuming we were the rescued ones, luxuriating in green pasture. But perhaps we’re the fat and the strong.
And before we’ve had time to take breath we’re into the first letter of St Peter and his supposedly comforting words which roughly translate as ‘Don’t worry if you’re being persecuted, so long as you’re suffering for Jesus that’s fine. But make sure you’re not suffering as a result of your own bad behaviour’. And we all think we’re off the hook because none of us, probably, is any of the things on Peter’s list: a murderer, a thief or a criminal, but then he throws in that lovely phrase, ‘or a mischief-maker’! I don’t know about you but I think there are times I’d admit to mischief-making – not in my role as archdeacon obviously, that would be outrageous - but on other occasions, maybe.
And finally the reading from Matthew’s Gospel. A kind of cameo of Jesus’s extraordinary life of teaching, preaching, and healing, with compassion for the harassed and helpless at the heart of it all. Then the challenge to his disciples: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few’. And again I find myself wondering ‘Am I among the harassed and the helpless?’ or am I supposed to be going out amongst the harvest, by my words and actions bringing the healing news of God’s love for all his children?
So: are we the sheep in need of God’s nurture and care or the fat and the strong; do we find ourselves in rough waters because we live lives of uncompromising light and love or because we make mischief; are we the harassed and helpless in need of God’s healing touch or are we the labourers of the harvest, bringing the hope of that healing to others?
Well I think we are all of the above – sometimes in the space of a day. We’re sometimes in need of having our wounds tended, sometimes in a position to notice the wounds of others and reach out to them in their pain. Sometimes weak, sometimes strong. Sometimes desperate to know more deeply in our bones that God, at least, is on our side. Sometimes confident in God’s presence in our world and comfortable in our own skin, and able to offer something of that assurance to others.
The remarkable thing about these passages is that they somehow describe the rich melting pot of what it means to be human. One day living according to our better instincts and nature, in the light of the love that created us and reflecting that love in the world. The next day maybe not quite so much in that groove.
I read a bit about St Cyprian when I knew I was to be with you this evening and I don’t know whether he would admit it but I think he was a bit of a mixed bag, like most other human beings, bishop and saint or not. He went into hiding during one wave of persecution by the Romans rather than face execution, justifying his decision to flee by saying that his flock needed a bishop to care and nurture for them, and what use a dead bishop? Fair enough I suppose but later he was pretty judgmental of other Christians who rather than face death complied with what the Romans asked of them. In the end of course he did pay the ultimate price when he stood his ground against another wave of persecution, refused to renounce his faith and was beheaded.
Cyprian knew, presumably, that life is far from simple, that choices are complex and nuanced, that the world isn’t always safe – as we know too, witnessing yet another suspected terrorist attack in this city only today. And Cyprian knew that in all of this the best we can do is to believe that Christ is present and that the God who binds up the wounds of his people needs us as workers to bring in the harvest, to carry his love to the harassed and helpless, to bind up the wounds of the fearful and the lost.
I don’t know how many of you use the Bakerloo line from Marylebone on your journey to work but if you do you’ll know that there’s always a ‘quote of the day’ on the noticeboard at the top of the escalators that lead down into the tube. One day this week it was from the 13th century poet and mystic, Rumi, and it said ‘Becoming awake involves seeing our confusion more clearly’. Oh how true. The more awake we are to the complexity of the world and of our own lives the more confused things appear to be. And yet Rumi’s thought pushes us further than that, challenging us to recognise that the way through that confusion is not to close our eyes and stop our ears, not to suppress our doubts and fears and questions, but to be awake to them and live courageously with them. As much as we can to engage thoughtfully and prayerfully with the mixture of mess and miracle that life is.
And as a community of Christians we do that together. Part of being church is about supporting one another as we find a way through the confusion and complexity of life. In a book about mindful change, called Still Moving, Deborah Rowland writes ‘To be in community and in relationship with others – be that professional or personal – requires you to connect with niggles, awkwardness and tensions, not just joy, harmony and ease. To be in discomfort, knowing that you won’t fall … To risk opening up, knowing that you won’t be hurt. Love removes us from our centre and asks that we find our edge’.
What does that mean for you as the church of St Cyprian, here in this rather lovely part of London? It means looking beyond your walls for the helpless and harassed and showing them the healing love of Christ. It means being attentive to those among you who need the shepherd’s love and care, mediated through the life of a Christian community. It means not mischief-making. And of course it means that in the moments when we find ourselves powerless, in our times of greatest disintegration, when we are angry with ourselves or bored by own repeated failures and failings, God meets and shepherds us with intimacy and a nurturing spirit, far gentler on us than we are on ourselves.
I wish you all God’s blessings in your ministry and care of one another and the wider community here in North Marylebone. Be awake to the opportunities around you and alive to the needs and the gifts of one another and this community. And know that God is among us both as shepherd and as the one who pushes us out of our comfort zone and into the waiting harvest, as we carry with us in our daily lives the hope and the challenge of his love.
Sermon preached by Bishop Michael Colclough at St Cyprian’s at a Confirmation on Sunday 1st October 2017, the Sunday before the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
Gospel Reading: St Luke 9: 23-27
Jesus knew what he was talking about when he mentioned crosses in today’s Gospel Reading. Jesus grew up in a Roman colony and crosses were part of life, they could be seen along many highways: it was the way Romans dealt with criminals. They nailed them to a cross and let them die there. And, of course, Jesus was going to be the most famous person to be put on a cross. Yes, he suffered a horrible death on a cross on Calvary on a Friday afternoon. It was real, historical, and he died there out of love for you and for me. St Paul tells us in his letters that, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans). No conditions, no demands from God, simply love. St Paul also tells us, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians). That’s how much Jesus loves you and you and me. For Christians, the cross is the sign and the reminder of Jesus’ love for each one of us, that’s why they are so prominent in our churches – like the large one up there, held high so that all can see it. They remind us to be thankful for God’s love.
I want to tell you the true story of a young man named Francis whose life was changed when he discovered how much Jesus loved him. He lived about 800 years ago in Italy and was the son of a wealthy merchant. There was plenty of money at home – which meant he had a good time, eating, drinking, going out with his friends. But then came a war and he had to become a soldier to fight for his people. Bravely, Francis fought against the enemy but was captured and imprisoned. In prison he was very sick and his illness continued when he was released from prison.
Sickness was, if you like, a new cross in his life, something he had to bear, to put up with. But that cross of sickness changed Francis. No longer was he interested only in himself and having a good time, he showed concern for others in need and one day he met a leper. Now everyone avoided lepers lest they caught the horrible disease from them, Francis got off his horse and, as he gave money to the poor leper, he suddenly did something very brave: he embraced and kissed the leper. He did it to show him that he was loved. That changed Francis again and he now spent his time and money visiting the sick in hospitals, and giving clothes and food to the poor.
Francis also thought more about Jesus, about God, and one day, while he was praying in a church – not a beautiful one like this, but one that had fallen down; it was in a mess. Midst all those broken stones, he was praying in front of the cross when he heard a voice that said, “Francis, go and repair my house, which you see is falling down”. Again, notice: the cross changing his life.
Well, Francis went home and took some cloth from his father’s shop along with his father’s horse and cart and sold them to make money for repairing the church. In his enthusiasm he hadn’t asked permission and this made his father angry. His father wondered what had happened to his son and, after giving him a good beating, he threw him out of the house.
This was a change: now Francis had no money and no-one to back him: the wealthy young man of the town became a poor beggar, like the people he’d been helping. People in the town mocked him, thought he was mad, but Francis didn’t mind because he believed Jesus had called him to live without riches and to spend his life telling people about how much Jesus loved them and showing them that love by helping them. That love was far more important than money. He also rebuilt the church that had fallen down and spent lots of time in church praying to God, listening to Him.
And, do you know, people’s attitude began to change. The simple life that Francis lived, the caring he showed for the poor and the sick, and the way he talked about the love of Jesus for everyone, all this had an effect on people. They saw he was not mad but was trying to follow Jesus – this was his way of picking up and carrying the cross in his life. People joined Francis and joined him in praising God, praying to God, looking after those in need and preaching the Gospel. By the time he died, thousands of people had joined Francis in his life and work for Jesus and they travelled the world doing those three things: praising God, telling people about Jesus and caring for the poor and needy. Today there are still thousands of his followers doing just that. They carry the cross of Jesus with happiness because they know how much Jesus loves them.
All of us here in St Cyprian’s this morning carry a cross. Look round, can you see them? No, but they are there, the most important thing you are wearing today. It’s the cross that was drawn on your head when you were baptized. A famous French king once described it as his “passport to everlasting glory”, to heaven. Today we are so fortunate at St Cyprian’s because Beatrice, Melani, Christiana, Vicky, Wilson and Ezekiel are going to be Confirmed, renewing the promises that were made for them when they were baptized, and Maryanne will renew her faith. They are responding to “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” and are promising to love Him in return. Like Francis in that derelict church you, today, are saying “yes” to Jesus.
Where will this lead you? I don’t know and probably you don’t know. You can find out only by going with Jesus and staying close to Jesus in your prayers and your worship here in church and in your daily lives. Staying close, listening to Jesus, because He has something special for each one of you to do. When I was confirmed 60 years ago this year, I was 12 and I heard Jesus calling me to be a priest. It seemed amazing, impossible. I wasn’t very bright at school and my family was poor, but here I am today, still very surprised at what Jesus wanted to do with me and my life. Like St Francis following Jesus has sometimes been hard for me, that picking up and carrying the cross when things don’t go well. But do you know what has kept me through to today? It’s a promise Jesus made to his first followers before he left them and returned to His Father in Heaven. Jesus said to them, “I am with you always”. And that is what Jesus says to each one of you today at your Confirmation, “I am with you always”. No matter where you go and what you do in your life, “I am with you always”. And with Jesus you will do great things: think what he did with the young man St Francis and ask Him what He wants to do with you; then, trust Jesus and go for it! Amen.