St Cyprian’s December Newsletter, Thought for the month.
My dear Friends,
There’s no Advent in Scripture. In narrating the events leading up to Jesus’ coming into the world, Mark, the writer of our liturgical Gospel for this coming year, makes no mention of such things; whereas Luke not only presents an account of the circumstances and the people involved but also re-creates the atmosphere and the state of mind in which the events were experienced.
One of the most prominent elements of this spiritual world is joy. The angel promises Zechariah that he will have “joy and gladness” at the birth of his son and that many will “rejoice” at his birth.
The recurring Greek word is agalliasis, which indicates the eschatological jubilation that will burst forth at the time of the Messiah. At Mary’s greeting, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy”.
This note reaches its foremost high point in Mary’s exclamation: “My spirit rejoices egalliasen in God!” It spreads out in the quiet joy of friends and relatives around the cradle of John, the precursor, finally and fully exploding at the birth of Christ in the cry of the angels to the shepherds: “We bring you good news of a great joy!”
St Luke’s account is not about just a few scattered mentions of joy but rather about a steady stream of quiet, profound joy. It’s an example of the sober intoxication of the Holy Spirit. The people’s joy is a true spiritual intoxication, but it is also sober.
They do not exalt themselves; they are not concerned about having a more or less important role in the kingdom of God that is beginning. Nor are they concerned about seeing its end; Simeon, for instance, says that the Lord can now allow him to depart in peace and disappear.
Where does this joy come from? Of course, the ultimate fountain of joy is God, the Trinity. But we are in time and God is in eternity, so how can joy flow between these two dimensions that are so distant from each other? We discover that the immediate source of joy is in time: it is the action of God in history—a God who acts. At the point at which a divine action “comes down” into history, it produces a vibration and a wave of joy that then spreads out “from generation to generation.”
Each action of God is a miracle that fills heaven and earth with wonder: “Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it,” exclaims the prophet; “exult, O earth”.
The joy that burst forth from Mary’s heart and from the other witnesses to the beginnings of salvation is wholly based on this point: God has rescued Israel! God has acted!
A quality of joy flows from the very moment it begins to operate—and even before it is operative, when it is announced as already determined by God and on the verge of being demonstrated.
The Bible sings of the joy that is born from what God “is about to do”: “Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I am about to create” (Isa. 65:18).
This is the kind of joy that flows from Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth and that releases the profound energy of the Spirit to make the mother and the baby in the womb rejoice.
The baby in the mother’s womb is precisely the best symbol of this salvation in its emerging state: it is already present in the world even if it is not recognized and perceived except by the few who are directly involved in the event. It is the joy of expectation that every mother knows.
So even while it is God’s acting in history that occasions joy, Christian joy does not come from the outside but from the inside. It is “the fruit of the Spirit.” It is born of the mysterious and current action of God in the heart of a human being in the state of grace. Because of this, it is not extinguished even by tribulation.
One needs to be aware of the cross to speak of this joy and to understand what is being talked about. Suffering puts us in contact with the supreme action of God in history, which is the cross of Christ. The cross is what keeps Christian joy sober. It is in suffering, said Francis of Assisi, that one experiences perfect joy.
I have spoken of joy according to God’s word. Human beings have their own idea of joy.
If we turn to Mary’s hymn of joy, the Magnificat, we notice the difference: “My soul,” Mary sings, “magnifies the Lord, . . . for he who is mighty has done great things for me.”
Mary’s joy is objective and arises from a joyous occurrence. The biblical perspective is historical and based on facts; the actions of God that always and unfailingly have their effect.
Despite all its limitations, the human desire for happiness is nevertheless an extremely positive sign inscribed in our very nature. It bears witness that we are created to be happy. But our hearts will always be restless until they rest in the One who is the font of all happiness.
In this time of expectant joy I hope you will make time to wait upon God, the God who loves to be in communion with us. Then having waited make it our mission to share that joy in the world around us.
May the peace of the Christ child fill your hearts and lives at this amazing time.
December 16th 4.00pm Family Carols with children in mind
December 17th 6.00pm Nine Lessons & Carols
December 24th 11.30pm Midnight Mass
December 25th 10.30am Mass of the day with carols
December 26th, the Feast of St Stephen. We join with our friends and neighbours at St Paul's Rossmore Road at 10am for a celebration Eucharist followed by a Community Lunch.
Gifts of greenery to decorate the church through Advent and over Christmas will be gratefully received.
Our amazing, talented and hard working treasurer, Will Parry, who has held this position over and beyond the call of duty has, to use his own words, decided, ‘to hang up his abacus’ at the end of this year. This will not be an easy position to fill but if you could help, please let the wardens or me know. A great big thank you to Will.
May I commend to you a prayer for our Parish, please: O God, Creator and giver of all things, bless our parish in its united endeavour. Strengthen our faith. Grant us a spirit of self-sacrifice, so that, with your grace, we may provide for the needs of our parish and those in need, glorify you, and sanctify ourselves, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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.