Recently I was in a local food shop and heard a child crying. She was riding in her mother’s trolley, weeping bitterly over some lost thing. As I got closer I could not help overhearing her whimpering speech. “I want my dolly.” She said. “You lost it at the beach last summer! You were careless.” Said her mother.
Both responses were honest and true, no doubt. But it reminded me that we humans have hurts, sometimes hours old or decades old. We hold in every cell of our body grief and losses, abuses that have left scars on us that ache from time to time; often at strange, seemingly inappropriate times.
We feel what we feel and scriptures tell us to go ahead and feel them. There is a time to hate, a time to mourn, a time to weep; a time to love, says our scriptures (Ecclesiastes 3.) We need not linger in the harder feelings for long years (though some do to their detriment) but feeling them for weeks or months or days is, says scripture, inevitable and has its place in time. We are given permission to feel them for a ‘season’.
To cope with these feelings many people often to go to church as a kind of spiritual good-luck charm and then assume that the time spent there is their spiritual practice. We dip in and out as the mood takes us. It is one form of spiritual practice, but it is certainly not going to get us far on our spiritual journey.
Jesus never really spoke about ritual or services. He held his gatherings in deserts, on mountainsides, and near water. He preached and ate outside. He never mentioned candlesticks, incense, vestments, chalices, or even Mass settings or hymns, important as these might be.
Jesus spoke of compassion, insight, awareness, and kindness and love. Jesus spoke of the spiritual practices of prayer, non-judgement, silence and healing. Jesus noticed people because of his own spiritual practice. Jesus talked to people about their spiritual practices, not about their liturgical colours.
That small child in the grocery store had a deep wound. And for all we know, it was connected to an even deeper wound. Her tears and wailing were probably not just about a lost doll.
We sophisticated people use all sorts of addictions to anesthetize our hurts. We shop. We over-eat. We over-work. We dull our thoughts with television. And then there are all the classic addictions like alcohol, pornography, lasciviousness and drugs,.
As we enter the autumn, we also begin to enter the Halloween, Christmas race towards total shared addictive anesthetising. But might we be better simply to feel those pains, those hurts and those betrayals, that loss; really feel it in silence in peace and calm?
Might we recognize that inside each of us is our small, inner-child wailing about a lost doll or a lost friend, a lost marriage, a lost relationship, a lost job, a lost career trajectory, a lost innocence? Jesus sits with us as we see these things.
Inside me and inside you is a small child. God is walking beside, before, behind us as we are pushing our own grocery trolley with our own inner child in the little seat with the eggs. We must wail with that child with our inner selves. And we might stop the cart as this adult, and pay full attention to the wailing, knowing that God is looking over our shoulder and from within our body, ready to heal with the slightest kiss: And will - in time.
News about St Cyprian’s
September saw church life returning to some semblance of normality after the summer break. A comfortably full church was in attendance for our Patronal Festival. Our choir encouraged us by singing the Kodaly Missa Brevis; the serving team were on form. The Archdeacon, The Venerable Rosemary Lain-Priestly preached an inspirational sermon, (You can find this printed later in this letter) and our great team of helpers lavishly served refreshments.
In September our newly selected ordinand, John Blackburne began his ordination training at St Augustine’s College. Please uphold him in prayer; this is no mean task, carrying out his full time job and his duties as Church Warden. I am grateful to John for his work as Sacristan, which he is reluctantly relinquishing. If anyone feels a desire to step up and receive training for this exacting, though in no ways onerous task, please let me know.
Then as September slipped away the retired Bishop of Kensington, The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, joined us to confirm six candidates in the sacrament of confirmation. Please pray for Melina, Vicky, Beatrice, Christiana, Wilson and Ezekiel who were confirmed and for Maryann, who affirmed her confirmation covenant. What a joyful occasion as seven people made their commitment, freely to accept Jesus as their Saviour and follow Him as their Lord. (The Bishop’s sermon is printed later in this Newsletter).
As I write we are preparing to celebrate our Harvest Thanksgiving on the 8th October. The feast of harvest was one of the festivals God Almighty commanded the Jews, through Moses, to observe. It was also called the feast of weeks and it was connected with the agricultural season of the Jews. The law says: "Thou shall keep the feast of unleavened bread and the feast of harvest, the first fruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field" - Exodus 23:15-19. Whilst it is very important to give thanks to God for God’s goodness and especially we Christians who, in this country, in relative terms have so much, we are also commanded by Holy Scripture to share what we have with others who lack basic necessities. (This does not mean reaching into the back of your kitchen cupboard for something you might never eat:-). The harvest that Christians should also concern themselves with is, not that of material things, but the one that has to do with the salvation of all people. Of telling those around you of God’s great love for every one of us!
We are drawing close to the end of our liturgical year when we have been reading, at Mass, from the Gospel of St Matthew. May I give you forward notice that in November we will have two sessions looking at next year’s Gospel, Mark. These evenings will be on the 21st & 28th November, the venue will depend upon the take-up, but it is hoped that many will make an effort to learn about this Gospel attributed to St Mark. It is the oldest and shortest of the Gospels. It seems that the wheels that are the process of selecting a new Diocesan Bishop are still revolving, albeit very slowly. Please continue to pray for those selected to elect a new Bishop, that prayerfully and with diligence (and perhaps a little more speed) we might know our Lord’s will in this matter!
May I remind you that prayer MUST be at the heart of our Parishes life? Morning Prayer is said, using the BCP, Monday – Friday at 8am and we join St Paul’s, Rossmore Rd for Evening Prayer from CW at 5pm. Evening Prayer on Saturday is said at St Cyprian’s at 5.30pm. This is an opportunity to pray together for the life of our church.
The Mass setting and voluntaries for October are to be found on the Services pages of our website.
A Sermon preached at the Patronal Festival September 15th by Archdeacon Rosemary Lain-Priestley
Readings: Ezekiel 34.11-16. ! 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.