A sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff on the Feast of the Epiphany. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. S. Matthew’s Gospel, the second chapter, beginning to read at the 11th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Readings: Isa 60.1-6; Eph 3.1-12; Matt 2.1-12
“Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory. All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.”
These words make up the conclusion of T. S. Eliot’s masterful ‘Journey of the Magi’, no stranger to us here. The genius of Eliot’s poem is to make the visit of the Magi at the birth of Christ a reflection on the meaning of his death for all our deaths.
'Were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.’
This isn’t poetic license on Eliot’s part. The Scriptural account of the visit of the Magi also combines birth with death. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold for kingship, incense as indicator of divine presence and worship; myrrh for the anointing of the dead. These three gifts, when given to the Christ-child sum up the entirety of Christian doctrine. God, born as one of us, reigns on earth as in heaven, and death itself will be defeated by this child.
When we look at our first reading, from Isaiah, prophesying the coming of the gentiles with gifts of gold and frankincense, we see that Eliot takes his lead from St Matthew. The inclusion of myrrh highlights the importance of the death this baby will undergo.
Earlier in the poem, Eliot has one of the magi recounting their journey toward Bethlehem.
‘Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation; With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky, And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, And feet kicking the empty wine-skins’.
The imagery is rich. This child’s death hangs over the poem. ‘Three trees on the low sky’ and ‘pieces of silver’ prefigure the betrayal and crucifixion. The 'temperate valley, smelling of vegetation’ the ‘vine leaves over the lintel’ hark back to the beginning of creation itself, and the lush garden of Eden in which we fell. The ‘running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness’ look forward to baptism, our path toward light out of the darkness of this world.
The magi journey toward Bethlehem through a strange land, of empty wine-skins. A land just as moribund as the kingdoms to which they return: these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.’
They come to realise the futility of earthly power, that their kingdoms and worldly positions belong to an age now past, the old dispensation. They look forward to the consummation of all things, ‘another death’. They look forward to the death of the Christ-child they have just paid homage to.
They return home and their world is turned upside down. They glimpse a little of the what Christ comes to accomplish.
Each week in this place, we make a similar journey to the magi. We come here from wherever we live, passing through streets which ring empty with their promise of easy happiness through buying this or consuming that.
We come to the Sacrament, journeying to the altar, to receive what appears to us simply bread and wine only to find something (you may say) satisfactory. We encounter something more, something which satisfies our deepest longings in a way we don’t quite understand.
We come away, back to our places, back to coffee after Mass, back home; each week slightly altered like the Magi.
Everything seems the same, but each week we get the tiniest glimpse of something different. Another way of living, another set of possibilities, another presence in our lives beyond that which the world around us recognises; that world full of people clutching to their gods of this product or that experience.
We return to our places, our homes and our kingdoms, slightly more ill at ease with the world around us, slightly more aware of the Christ-child in our lives. And we ask ourselves, what did we give the Christ-child when we encountered him in that place?
A sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff on Sunday 29 December 2018 (Christmas 1) After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Words from St Luke’s gospel, the second chapter, the 46th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Readings: 1 Samuel 2.18-20,26; Colossians 3.12-17; Luke 2.41-52
They grow up so fast these days. It seemed only on Tuesday that he was newly born, and now he’s twelve and teaching in the Temple. Where do the years ago?
Did you have far too much sherry at Christmas in 2018, and wake up twelve years later? [Ask Fr Michael what happened with the Brexit agreement. You’ll never believe what they did at the last minute…]
We hear about the adolescent Jesus in our Gospel reading, as the lectionary struggles to squeeze Jesus’ lifetime into a year. In a few weeks time, we’ll move to thinking about his baptism as an adult, the temptation, and the start of his public ministry.
In this episode, the twelve-year old Jesus goes missing. Every parents' nightmare. They think he is travelling with them only to find he didn’t set out on the journey with them. The first century equivalent on Home Alone 2.
They rush back to Jerusalem, only to find him in the Temple. When I try to recall this passage from memory, I almost always get the detail wrong.
In my mind’s eye, the youthful Jesus is in the Temple, teaching the religious elders of the day. Telling them what’s what. Sorting right from wrong.
But when we look at the text of St Luke’s Gospel, we see this isn’t exactly what’s going on: ‘they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.’
Even in his youth Jesus teaches not by declaration, but by challenge and enquiry; just as he will throughout his adult ministry:
‘Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Whose image is this and whose title? Do you believe this? Who are my mothers and brothers? Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
St Luke’s account of this episode ends by telling us Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. St Luke wants us to remember the account of Samuel’s growth in stature we read in our first reading.
Samuel is a child given entirely to the Lord by his mother Hannah. Our Lady’s song, the Magnificat, echoes Hannah’s song earlier in the first book of Samuel. Whereas Hannah’s song is a song which describes what God always does, Mary’s is a hymn of triumph about what God has done in Christ: ‘cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty’.
This child isn’t just a child given by his parents to the Lord.
This child isn’t just a child given by the Lord to his parents.
This child isn’t just a child, but is the Lord himself.
In Christ, God has taken us to himself. In Christ, God has revealed himself to us. In Christ, we learn what true wisdom is.
‘They found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’.
Wisdom takes nothing for granted. Wisdom searches, challenges, questions received “wisdom”, and the way we do things around here. Wisdom is always open to God's challenge to reform our ways of thinking and being to be more closely aligned with God’s will.
Jesus not only teaches us the path to wisdom by the questions he asks in his day. He not only teaches us that true wisdom comes from careful discernment and diligent questioning of what we’ve come to believe.
Jesus is himself God’s question to us. A challenge to all the ways of thinking and being that we human beings have set up for our selves. He comes to us as one of us, he is rejected by all of us, he dies for all of us, and he rises again to invite us to new ways of thinking and being, to new ways of living the Risen life with him. Being born into poverty, becoming a refugee, dying as a political criminal. Jesus’ entire life is a constant question to worldly ‘wisdom’ and respectable points of view. Jesus ever asks us to question whether our ways of doing things are the way he call us to.
‘They found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’.
What is Jesus asking us today?
What is Jesus asking of us today?
How are we being called to follow the Wisdom of God in this place? Sermon preached by Fr Michael Fuller at Midnight Mass December 24
I suppose one of the significant changes in the way we see Christmas in this country has been brought about by the Christmas television ads. They start very early in December, if not before, and there seems to be a great competitive spirit about them.
I find after a while their repetition becomes not just a distraction but creates a determination not to shop in that particular Store.
What influence do they really have? Do they inspire us to think more closely about the real significance of Christmas?
I think the one I liked most was the Waitrose ad. The Waitrose ad suggests that there are some things that are too good to wait for but then I realised that not everyone would have seen this because Waitrose is not available nationally.
One ad that the Waitrose ad was based on was the John Lewis one featuring Elton John.
In one of my previous parishes there was an absolute plethora of Class A celebrities. One of these was the amazing Elton John and John Lewis this year has chosen him as their celebrity to promote the Christmas offerings.
Just like the Christmas story itself, this one has divided opinion. We watch time roll backwards down the years, taking some of us down memory lane as we watch Elton John grow younger and younger, until finally we see him as a small boy rushing into a 1950s sitting room where his wrapped gift awaits.
It’s a piano, and he strikes the notes that will launch him on his extraordinary career. And as we see Elton again as he now is, the words say, ‘some gifts are more than a gift.”
Some gifts are indeed more than a gift, and the gift that God sent to the world at Christmas was the gift of a child in a manger. It didn’t look like an event of universal significance – just another child, born on another day in a troubled and uncertain world. But on that day, something began that would be change the world for ever.
Mary, Joseph, shepherds and then kings began to realise that they were at the beginning of something extraordinary: a gift that is more than a gift.
And God’s gift is certainly more than a gift because it is the gift of love.
Because God who made us loved us so much, and God is hurt when we we’re hurting and when we hurt each other, because God suffers when we are in pain.
And God wanted to bring that love to us directly.
It meant that God came to know from the inside what it means to be human.
And what God wanted us to know, personally, was that God loves us. It was like God couldn’t tell us enough. God knew we often don’t listen. God had to prove it.
And this was God’s way.
By tradition, we think of this baby being born in the night. Actually, we don’t know what time of day it was. But in God-speak, the baby was born in the darkness, and the baby brought light into the darkness, and the baby was light, THE light.
And that darkness is all our darkness’s rolled into one: the darkness of pain, the darkness of despair, the darkness of mental anguish, the darkness that all that bad news brings with it.
And the light kindled by that baby born in Bethlehem made a difference. The darkness thinned out like it does when a new day is dawning.
There was hope, there was joy, there was faith and there was love. All these are signs of the light.
This was truly a gift that was more than a gift! I wish you a happy, holy, light filled Christmas, for you and your loved ones.
Sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff 25th November 2018 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’ Words from the Gospel according to St John, the 18th chapter, the 36th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. When you’re ordained, and you have to give an assembly or preach at a Church primary school, you can almost guarantee that no matter what you ask the children, the first answer will be ‘Jesus’. ‘Who is the Queen of England?’ ‘Jesus?’ Depending on the churchmanship of the school, and how many children were listening to the question, the second answer might be ‘Mary’. Once those stock answers are out of the way, real answers to your question emerge which can sometimes be just as disarming. In some primary schools I’ve been to everyone from Elizabeth I to Theresa May has been on the throne, with a whole host of celebrity figures in between. Today, the Church asks us who is King? And we answer, ‘Jesus’. All well and good, but what does it mean for us to proclaim Christ as King? One thing we do know, is that Christ’s kingship is no earthly kingship. Even in Poland, where Christ has been declared earthly king, Jesus isn’t king over us in the sense that he’s head of state. Jesus’ kingship transcends earthly kingship. ‘My kingdom is not from this world’ as we read in our Gospel this morning. Jesus’ kingship isn’t an office he holds, or a role he assumes. It’s not a position of political authority within the ordering of human society. Unlike earthly kingship, Jesus’ kingship stems not from what he does, or what election he’s won, or which royal line he’s born into. Jesus’ kingship stems from who he is. Jesus’ kingship isn’t awarded by birth, or political success, or by popular acclamation. Jesus kingship stems from who he is. Emmanuel. God with us. The Word made flesh, whose coming we shall soon be preparing for during Advent and celebrate at Christmas. The Alpha and the Omega. The one who is and who was and who is to come. Jesus is King, because Jesus is God. Jesus’ kingship stems from his divine nature. Not just as King ‘over us’, but God 'with us’. Often, we think of our celebration of Christ the King as being a reminder that if we put Christ in his proper place in our lives and in our nation, peace and good earthly conditions will follow. There is truth in this. Pope Pius XI, whilst promulgating the feast of Christ the King, saw no ‘reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth - he who came to reconcile all things’ if we acknowledge Christ’s kingship in our lives and in our world. Today’s feast invites us not only to recognise where we place Christ in our lives, but who that Christ is. And to rebuild our lives on that foundation. Pius XI promulgated the feast during the 16th centenary celebrations of the council of Nicea - the council which confirmed once and for all the eternal divinity of the Son. Reflecting on the that year of celebrations, Pius XI: ‘We have commemorated the definition of the divinity of the word Incarnate, the foundation of Christ's empire over all people’. The Kingship we celebrate today is the Kingship of God himself. ‘His dominion is an everlasting dominion, that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed’. Today’s feast reminds us who Christ is. ‘Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made. Who for us, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man’. As we say each and every week in our creed. Today’s feast is an invitation to reflect on the claims the Church makes about Christ, and what it means for God himself to become one of us. This is how God choses to be King 'with us’ and 'for us’. Being born as one of us. We know where this kingship will lead him. To die for us, to be crucified as one of us. To be put to death for claiming to be king. In this death, his kingship is revealed, and with it what it means for us to live under his rule. Not to build for ourselves any earthly kingdom, because God has numbered the days of all earthly kingdoms. Not to take for ourselves any earthly power or throne, to withdraw when others would make us king or resist the allure of high office [as we see Jesus doing in our second reading]. Rather to follow the kingship of the one who is King forever. To empty ourselves, to pour ourselves out, to take up our Cross and follow him. In the words of Pius XI: ‘He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God’.
Sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff November 4 2018
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” words from the book of Deuteronomy, the 6th chapter, beginning to read at the 4th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Readings: Deuteronomy 6.1-9; Hebrews 9.11-14; Mark 12.28-34
As a good Catholic, I love ritual. Liturgy and ritual breathes order into the chaos and turmoil of life.
So committed am I to ritual, so devoted to genuflecting, that I’ve found myself on one knee in the aisle of a cinema more than once, surprised that I’m facing Tom Cruise or Judi Dench, and not our Lord on his altar.
Ritual doesn’t just feature in our life at Church. We all have things we do each and every day, at the same time, or on the same day each week. Growing up, one such ritual was coming home from school. Daily arguing with my brother about what we’d watch on television… before settling down to watch my brother’s choice… which was almost always Pokemon. If you’ve not been lucky enough to watch an episode, or play the related game, Pokemon are a whole series of creatures, some cute, some terrifying that the have to be caught and used in battle. To be victorious you ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ - as the series catchphrase went.
Pokemon experienced a resurgence in popularity last year with the release of Pokemon Go! A game for smartphones that let you catch Pokemon all around you. Last week, the Catholic Church released ‘Follow JC go’, inspired by this Pokemon game. Instead of mythical creatures, you’re invited to ‘catch’ the Saints of God, learning about them as you do. ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’. Both games are over when you’ve got caught them all - whether Saints or imaginary creatures. Catch them all, and the game is over.
Our reading’s this morning remind us that the Christian life is nothing like Pokemon Go! Or even the Vatican’s ‘Follow JC Go’. Unlike these games, which finish when you’ve caught them all. The Christian life only really gets going when we’ve given God our all, when God has grabbed us for his purposes.
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’. Our first reading reminds us what God demands of us. Nothing less than the whole of our selves. All our heart, all our soul, all our might, all our effort, all our skill. All our time. All our money. All our lives.
So total is the demand and so important that the Israelites are commanded to keep these words at the forefront of their minds at all time, literally. They are to bind them on their head, fix them on their hands, write them on their doorposts.
Why? Because it is so easy to forget and to give to God only a little of our heart, only a little of our soul, only a little of our effort, or time, or money, or skill… Often we don’t give to God from the best of what he’s given us, but from the scraps left over. The loose change in our pockets, or the least time we can get away with per week.
But God doesn’t reject the morsel we give. He takes our poor offering and he magnifies it. He makes the most out of the little we give. As our second reading reminds us, he purifies our dead works, and transforms them into the worship of the living God.
We can’t earn our salvation. Life in Christ is free and total gift. We don’t earn our place in heaven because we give more, or work harder for God. This is the message of our Gospel. No amount of ‘burnt offering or sacrifice’ will put us in God’s good books.
God doesn’t love us, because we love him. He doesn’t reward us with stuff, because we give him stuff. It’s the other way round. We love him, because he loved us first. He called us into being. He calls us to this place. He calls us to love him with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds, with all our strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
We love him, because he loves us. He shows his love for us by creating us, by dying for us, by giving himself to us even now in this Mass. And he calls us to do the same. To give us ourselves to him, as he has given himself to us. And to make this gift the foundation of the whole of our live.
To be transformed by the love with which he loves us, to be founded on the gift of Christ himself, and to give back to him from the gifts with which he has given us.
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”.
What are you holding back from God?
How is God calling you to respond to his love, poured out for us even now in this place and in this Mass?
What is God asking of you today as you love him with every ounce of your being? Fr Simon Cuff
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.