A Sermon preached on Trinity 9 by Fr Michael on the feeding of the five thousand in John's Gospel.
The Gospel reading for today is probably one of the best known Bible Stories
That story is as a parable to me, revealing a truth that is very real to sincere practitioners of the faith. That a tiny morsel of bread and a sip of wine from a cup can enable us to go home wonderfully full-filled from just a sip from a cup and morsel from a piece of bread.
It is as if we have feasted at a lavish smorgasbord.
That is the sort of thing Jesus does. It is one of his specialities. With a blessing from his hands the little becomes large, the weak become strong, the blind begin to see, the poor become rich, the losers become winners, and the no-bodies become the first citizens in the realm of God.
If we offer to Christ whatever small gifts we have, it will surprise us what he can do with them. It is as simple, yet as profound, as that.
If we are to really experience the truth which threads through this story in John’s Gospel, we must first be open to it. We must allow Christ to become hands on.
We must, like that boy long ago, put our resources into the hands of Christ. There is no way around it.
There are thousands of wistful, religious folk, who have never experienced the beneficence of Jesus.
Because they have never thrust all hesitation aside and committed all they have and are at the disposal of the Lord Jesus. All, I say, nothing held back.
The cautious folk might protest: “But only those who fully believe can commit.” That is not as true as it sounds.
What is truer is this: “Only those who will commit will fully believe.” Repeat: “Only those who commit will fully believe.”
There was an advert on television recently that featured the tourist attractions of the north of Scotland. It sought to induce us to visit that rugged, wild slab of our country, which was, and in many ways still is, largely unspoilt.
This ad insisted: “You’ll never, never know, if you never, never go.”
That, my friends, is spot on. You will never, never know if you never, never go. One cannot experience the expanses, of this great area unless we visit. Films and books will only take us to the edges. You have to be there.
You have to be there.
You will never, never know if you never, never go.
But how much more true is it for the realm of God? That beauty and richness which Jesus taps and releases among us, is amazing.
It is the brave new territory of God to be explored. But you will never, never know if you never, never go to Christ and place your hunger and poverty, together with your few gifts in his strong yet gentle hands.
In industrial relations we hear of “productivity agreements.” Well, my friends, there is no productivity agreement to equal that of a life blessed by Christ Jesus. The saving grace and the enrichment grace of Our Lord can always do “abundantly above all that we can think or ask.”
With Jesus depositing unstintingly, the full time results are much more than wages. Producing high returns for your small investment is not contingent on your input but on God’s infinite resources
What blunt and clumsy tools are human words in this context!
As a Priest, given a privileged position to share the good news, I often become frustrated by the dismal inadequacy of my words.
How can one find words to describe to interested yet hesitant souls the change that Christ can make? How can one explain the mind-boggling, soul-stretching trip on which we find ourselves in His company?
O the wonders of the new territory that opens up for our exploration! The sense of wonder that is evoked in common situations and the glory that is glimpsed in special moments!
That spiritual halo of Divine purpose that surrounds mundane events! The “twelve baskets” that are left over from what you thought was going to be a barren situation!
O God! If only I could find adequate words!
I sometimes wonder whether Jesus felt a similar frustration with words?
Maybe that is why he used his special intellect, his unique genius, to shape those incomparable parables that he told to the people.
His parables are like art works, like the paintings of the masters. In our Lord’s case, his parable-paintings are supreme masterpieces!
Once we really contemplate these masterpieces, they will haunt us all the days of our life, teasing and guiding, confronting and enlightening, healing and ennobling us.
Yet even with Jesus, his brilliant parables were of no avail unless his hearers were ready give the God of Jesus a fair trial.
Unless they were willing to stop prevaricating, then step up and be blessed by the Christ. Only then did they discover that even a smidgen could become a smorgasbord in God’s realm of grace, mercy, peace and joy.
By the grace of God, what was true still is true. The equivalent of a lad’s five barely rolls and two fishes feeding a large crowd, still happens.
Time after time it takes place in the experience of those who are prepared to deposit all that they have and are with Jesus, the only authentic Son of God.
If you are one of those who does not believe any of what I’m saying perhaps you’ll never, never know, if you never, never go.
If you are one of those who looks around the Church and sees nothing but flaws, failings and weaknesses, it’s because you are hungry to be fed with the Living Bread. You don’t realise it because the devil has jaded your soul, you’ll never, never know, if you never, never go.
Please, if you are one of the hesitant ones, take the plunge. Dare to trust Christ, and then it will be party time. With the Lord, life becomes a celebration.
We can dare to laugh, even in hardship. We can dare to celebrate, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
We can become more than we ever were, and grow personally in ways we would not have planned for ourselves.
Delight replaces duty, big steps supplant intentions, and a stumble and a fall are no longer the cause for despair. It is party time!
Time to taste and see that the Lord is good.
But you will “never, never know if you never, never go” to the man from Nazareth and say. “Here I am Lord. Count me in. This is a journey I am not going to miss.”
A sermon preached Sermon preached on the Feast of John the Baptist June 24th 2018 by Fr Michael Fuller
Behind the story of the birth of John the Baptist in St Luke's Gospel there are two stories of silence.
The first story of silence is that of the people of God.
This week to our shame we have seen a collective silence from the people of God. Our world has seen a real-time human rights emergency generated by the elected officials of the United States: many professing to be pro-life and claiming faith in a olive-skinned refugee, Jesus, whilst allowing migrant families to be ripped apart and children to be housed in cages, quoting the Bible while they do it.
If there was ever a time when the Church should have been visible and vocal it should have been now. If there was ever a moment moral leaders were made for it, surely this was one.
In what is considered to be one of the seedbeds of human rights and freedom is where we our spiritual leaders should have stood bravely and speak the hardest of truths and complaints this surely must have been one. It did not happen?
Did our Archbishop condemn the behaviour? Did Pope France’s speak out? Did Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general, Muslim Council of Britain raise an objection? Was the Chief Rabbi on holiday?
Many of these would-be prophets have been silent. Why? Was it out of cowardice, self-preservation, or worse still, agreement with the sins of that administration?
It is not the churches task to distract us for an hour or so and sidestep the urgency within the world, whether it be in the United States, Syria, or amongst the Rohingya refugees.But there was silence, silence!
In our Gospel story there was the normal noise of the world going on, the markets were bustling, the birds were singing, but there was a difference for them. There was a voice missing from their world. The voice of God had fallen silent for four hundred years. God was not speaking to God’s people.
They reread the promises of Isaiah and the prophets. Rather like we hear from the Old Testament, week after week, of God speaking to God’s people and comforting them, but they were memories, not living experiences.
The second story of silence is that of Zechariah. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were old and childless. There was no way they could have a baby.
Then an angel comes and tells Zechariah that he is to have a son. But he doubts, so he is made deaf and dumb. His silence is total.
He cannot hear the birds singing or speak any words. I reckon that inside, his thoughts were racing, and if he were anything like me he would have been turning over the words of the angel, the words of God, in his mind again and again. The echoes of the voice of God bouncing round his skull in the silence.
Both of these stories of silence meet and are shattered by the cry of newborn baby. For eight days he is nameless. Then the day of circumcision arrives, the day on which this boy is marked as one of the people of God.
He needs a name, his father is silent and so they ask his mother. She surprises them with her choice, “John”. A name meaning God has given, God is gracious, God has shown favour.
But that can’t be right, there is no one in the family called that.
Maybe we’re so overwhelmed by the miracle of this child that we’ve forgotten the proper traditions they think. We’d better check with his Dad. And his dad speaks.
The voice of God that has been echoing round his skull in the silence bursts out of his mouth. “His name is John”. God is gracious. God has given; God has shown favour. God is speaking to God’s people again.
The people are awe struck. The mix of odd events, of an old couple finally having a baby, of Zechariah’s silence, and of this new name fills them with wonder. “What then is this child going to be?”
We know that he was to be the one who spoke to God’s people, calling them to turn back to God. He was the one who pointed to Jesus as God’s ultimate word to God’s people.
John’s birth broke the silence of God and Zechariah, and his life was spent speaking God’s voice into the noise of the world.
I wonder what our story of silence is? What odd combination of events has bought us to this point? What is God saying to us today, where is God’s voice speaking?
What then am I going to be? What then is St Cyprian’s going to be?
Are we going to be those that follow John’s example? Are we willing to be those that bring God’s words to the people? Are we going to break the silence? Are we going to speak out? Are we going to be those that point to Jesus?
With John will we insist that it is not about us, it is always about Jesus?
Will we be the ones that call the people to follow our example and to repent, to turn away from the way that they are living and turn towards God?
That is what I believe that I have been called to; it’s what I believe that all God’s people are called to. To speak out against injustice and speak of Jesus.
A sermon preached on Trinity Sunday 2018 by Mr John Blackburne, Churchwarden and Ordinand.
'By the Grace of God I am what I am'.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians Chapter 15 verse 9 St Paul writes; ‘For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.’ St Paul is witnessing to his past in order to appeal to the people of Corinth to believe in the transformational power of God Father, Son, and Holy, Spirit. It is the Grace of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit – the unmerited favour of the Trinity that converts Saul from the person holding the coats of those who stoned the first martyr Stephen in Acts chapter 7 into Paul the greatest missionary in the Church’s history. Over the course of the Church’s year we have witnessed to: The creation of the world by God the Father; Then we have witnessed to God establishing a relationship with the people of Israel in Genesis; We have witnessed to the incarnation; God the Father seeking to restore his broken relationship with mankind by God taking on the face of Jesus - it is not just God that we see in Jesus it is God-the-Son. His entry into the world made the world a different place, a place of renewal - a place of re-creation - just like after the flood; And this incarnate God can be known sensibly; The people who encountered Jesus did the people who encountered him did so as a living breathing people interacting with him: So in Christ, God comes to meet us where we are as humans and leaves us with a promise and the gift of the Holy Spirit; The Holy Spirit gives us the power to do the things God the Father and the Son calls us to do that we do not have the power to do ourselves – The Spirit gives us the power. So St. Paul points to the power of that Trinity as one Godhead with three personalities. Three in one. Now I am sure over the years on Trinity Sunday you have heard many earnest attempts to describe the Trinity. But the Bible tells us that it is impossible for us to fully understand the reality of the Godhead; Psalm 145 verse 3 says ‘Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised and his greatness is unsearchable’ – God is unknowable. That is why St Paul does not describe what God looks like, but what the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit does for us. The Holy Trinity transforms us and gives us the power to become the children of God. So in our first reading today: Isaiah considers himself unclean and he cries out ‘woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips’? So the seraph touches his mouth with a hot coal from the altar of God and says: ‘Your guilt is departed and your sin is blotted out’. Isaiah then has the power to say ‘Here am I send me’. In the second reading: St Paul tells the church in Rome that by the gift of the Spirit we have a gift of adoption as children of God and joint heirs with Christ of the kingdom of God - the unmerited favour of the Trinity transforms us. In the Holy Gospel - We hear the unique claim of revelation: John chapter 3 verse 16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ Now that new life is not life postponed, it is not new life when we die it is new life now. The promise, we have is now, the hope we have is now, the new life we have is now, it is the reality of the Trinity, the grace of the Holy Trinity. By the grace of God I am what I am. So today think about what the Trinity does for us – ponder what we have said in the Creed. The church struggled for hundreds of years after St Paul was martyred to come up with that formulation – it was in the Bible but not given a name. Ponder the most important line - Although he be God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by the taking of Manhood into God. He takes us and our humanity up into God. In Christ we are lifted up to take our place with God – Father Son and Holy Spirit. If you look at the famous image of the Rublev’s Icon the Trinity on the front page of the service sheet you will see seated around three sides of a table the Holy Trinity their wings touching three persons and yet one. The fourth place at the front is left open - it is open for you. God in Jesus lifts us up by the grace of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit you are lifted up to take your seat at that table. For by the grace of God – Father Son and Holy Spirit - I am what I am. 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.