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William Sermon.jpg

The Rev'd Canon Dr William Taylor

   Lent 1 2017

Office Manager

Readings:  Genesis 2:15-17, 3;1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

 

The Remembrance of God’s Name

In China, a couple of weeks ago, I was with a friend who wasn’t feeling well, and he decided to go to a traditional Chinese doctor – a cross between an acupuncturist, faith healer and fortune teller. We began a lively conversation, in which he asked me “What is your name?”  “William,” I replied.  “Is that your real name?”  “Yes. It is.”  “Is it your inner name” “Yes, it is.”  “What does it mean?”  “Protector” I said.  “Do you identify with this inner name?”   “Yes,” I said “it’s my baptismal name, one which reaches back generations in my family, and one which is written in my heart.”  He seemed happy with this, and then kept repeating my name while he needled my friend. It was all very interesting, and only this week I was in a training seminar in the Diocese at which we were looking at appropriate methods of appraisal or, to use the jargon, Ministerial Development Review.  With others, I do this for clergy in the Diocese and this week we were looking at a new book on appraisal, in which we use Emotional Intelligence and focus on the name of the person – what is the name with which you identify, and which resonates with you?  I recommend this book – Wisdom Road, by Viv Thomas.  Lest you think this is straying into psychobabble and counselling, neither of which I find particularly helpful, let me root this in theology, which after all is what I am supposed to do.   Today, in our Lent Series we are invited to consider the Remembrance of God’s Name as a major part of our identity. 

 

The national Lent Course of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is reflections on how our encounters as Christians with other faiths enriches our own faith.  This is certainly true in my own experience where, having lived and worked in the Middle East, my faith has been enriched by my encounter with Islam and with Christians who live as small minorities in the Muslim world.  I have been enriched by my own encounter with both, and continue to be enriched by them as I hope I am always learning.  So, I am glad that we are using this material locally through the Kensington Council of Churches and through Churches Together in Notting Hill. You will see details of how you can access this course in one of the four fliers we are giving out today.

 

Remembrance is central to what we do as Christians, and we hold this in common with the other major world traditions. The material we will be using this week, focuses on Sikhism, and the Naam of God.  Listen to this, from the Guru Granth Sahib, “Take love as your pen and with reason as scribe enquire of God and list his commands. Write on that paper the Name with your praises, write of the infinite power? They who have treasured your name in their hearts bear the marks of your grace on their brows.  For grace is the means to obtaining the Name; all other is bluster and wind” This is of course from Sikhism, but the same is shared especially in the Abrahamic tradition of which we are inheritors.

 

Let’s stay with this concept of the name and expand it by adding remembering.  First, the name.  In the Biblical tradition, the name is considered to convey both meaning and power.  So, in the book Genesis we hear, for example, that the animals and beasts are names – and whatever its name was, that was its name.  Pronouncing the name was to identify with its source of power.  We know this even at a street level- if you call after someone “Hey you”, this will be far less effective than calling out “Hey Larry.” The name here conveys knowledge and spiritual power.  Any priest or psychoanalyst also knows this very well – for it is when we can name our demons and speak them out that they no longer have power over us.  The opposite is also true – when we cannot name and speak out our demons, then they continue to have power over us. This is basis to many forms of addiction therapy through the 12-step process.  I don’t really need to say these obvious things, but they do connect us to the power of the name.

 

Now the act of re-membering.  In Anglo-Saxon, re-membering means literally putting back together the pieces which have been scattered.  Our disjointed members are put back together – both within ourselves and within the body to which we belong- in our case, the Christian Church, the re-membered Body of Christ. If we go to its Semitic roots, this concept of putting back together is even more powerful.  In Hebrew, the word is Dhikr- it means literally a piercing- in this case, the veil of time is pierced by the act of remembering.  In Dhikr, the remembering of God’s name, we are taken beyond space and time into the realm of the eternal.  This we see most clearly in the Old Testament in the Name of God “I am.”  This name of God is called the tetragrammaton, and is four consonants in Hebrew. YHVH.  In English, this becomes Yahweh Jehovah, but what it is linguistically is the verb to be, but in Hebrew it has no tense.  So, who is God?  I am who I am.  Or I was who I was.  Or best of all I am who I was and will be or I will be who I was and am.  Here, the believer is taken out of the realm of space and time by the remembrance of God’s name.  So too in mystical Islam, the Zhikr, or ritualised dance of the Sufism, recalls the name and power of God through recitation of the Holy Name.

 

In our own Christian tradition, here we use the Greek word anamnesis – the act of remembering, and it is most clear in our central act of worship; the Holy Eucharist.  Here, we take and we re-member the Body of Christ by becoming it.  In anamnesis, the act is not a passive one of simply remembering some event from the past.  In the act of remembering, time falls away, the veil of the past is pierced, Christ is re-membered, and becomes dynamically present now – both in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but also by the action of the Holy Spirit as you and I become the actual Body of Christ in the world.  How dynamic and freeing is that?

 

So, this Lent, we have many opportunities to realise that we are known by name to God, and loved by him as we are.  The Lent exercise we are inviting all regular worshippers to do is to respond in thankfulness to this generous and overflowing love for each one of us, whom he calls by name.  Please take the leaflet away with you and use it in your prayers and reflection inviting a response of generosity of heart and hand to the love of God, who loves us first- by name.  At the same time, we begin today our preparation work for First communion and Confirmation at Easter, and as usual, we have several adults from the house of Islam who will be making this journey.  When the Bishop confirms at Easter, he will say “Mohammad, God has called you by name and made you his own”.  May we take strength and encouragement from this naming, as an act of loving, this Lent. Then, we will stand in solidarity with Jesus, whom we hear in the Gospel for today “suddenly angels came and waited on him.” May those same angels of God know us by name and minister to each one of us this Lent. Thanks be to God.

Sunday Before Lent, 2017        

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Readings: 2 Peter 1:16-end, Matthew 17:1-9

Today we heard the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus before his three chosen disciples on the mountain, wherever it was.  If you go to the Holy Land on Pilgrimage, it depends who you are going with as to where you are taken.  That’s obvious.  A Zionist pilgrimage will take you to Zionist sites.  A Living Stones Pilgrimage hosted by Arab Christians would take you to other sites.  If you go on a pilgrimage organised by a western church, you will go to Mount Tabor in Galilee which is the site traditionally associated with the Transfiguration from the western tradition.  If you go on a pilgrimage to Orthodox sites, you would go generally go to the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, as there is a traditional association of the Transfiguration with that monastery.  In the apse of the Monastery church, there is a stunning fifth century Mosaic of the Transfiguration.  This is in addition to the site associated with Moses and the Tablets of the Law and the Burning Bush- so there are lots of images, and whatever feeds you is that which you will latch on to.  So I want to talk about two aspects of what we might glean from this story of the Transfiguration, and how it might be speaking to us today.  The two aspects are these – experience transfigured and experience transformed.

First of all, Experience Transfigured.  At its bottom, this is what religious experience will do for us. I am interested in the work of the existentialist philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who writes about the role of memory in identity.  This is basic to community cohesion, and is part of the reason why contemporary British society is in trouble, as it has no memory.  A society without memory is one which is easily manipulated, as it has no historic truth claims on which it can rely.  Partly for that reason, we see the growth of the manifestation of certain forms of state control of every aspect of life.   British society is already one of the most surveillance societies in the world.  In the past 10 years, over 2,600 new laws have been passed, affecting every area of life. The Christian tradition forms part of our communal history and communal memory.  Governmental talk about British values has what an Orthodox observer has called " societal Alzheimers" as it speaks about these values as though they came from nowhere and have no background in history.    And when the teaching of history in many schools has all but ceased, then we move into dangerous territory.  Cardinal Vincent Nicholls  has pointed out that it takes simply a few hours for a young person to be radicalised through the internet as they are, to use the chilling phrase of Islamist internet groomers, " clean skins" .  There is no background to help shape and form. Ricoeur points out that with memory, individuals find their rightful place in society, and society finds a secure identity, without some of the more neurotic forms of state control.   In the end, a state can control many things including when you should die if you are no longer economically productive.  But the state cannot control memory. Identity and memory are, for Ricoeur, at the heart of human experience.

Take religious experience, for example. We may assume that in all churches and faith groups, there are people who have had at some stage a religious experience. There may be people in churches who have religious experiences all the time.  Some of them are even clergy, although that may be rarer.   This experience of being taken out of oneself and onto another level of understanding and experience is what religious faith should be able to offer.  If it cannot do this, then something is wrong.  This is why how we prepare for worship, how we carry it out, what we invest into it, and so on, is of great importance.  All the preparation, all the thought and care, which goes into good liturgy, is to enable the experience to speak for itself, and to take the worshipper beyond him or herself.   On the other hand, if you arrived at this or any other church and found the priest fumbling about saying what do I do next, or should we sing something at this point, or any other form of being not quite together, what you would be left with is an experience of that individual, and not of the message.  In other words, the postman had become the message.  All good liturgy is designed to allow the postman to be that – simply the delivery mechanism that allows the worshipper to enter the realm of the numinous- to be aware of being connected to the greater whole.  This, in some senses, is transfiguration – where we are literally shown a different shape.  And it is this, which defines a worshipping community – being shown the different shape and possibilities of life in God.  This is experience transfigured.

Now experience transformed.  What is interesting and important in the account of the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew is what comes next.  The disciples want to stay in the experience they had had but Jesus insists on going immediately down the mountain.  And what does he find there?  Screaming human need as expressed through demonic sickness.  There is a purpose to this.  We can only deal with the daily realities with which we live because of the experience of transfiguration which tells us that there is another perspective, another experience.  If there were not, it would be too awful to communicate.  This gives us the perspective we need to enter effectively into the fray of life, with all the outrageous slings and arrows it throws at us most of the time. This time of economic and political instability ought, if anything, to underline this for us as people of faith.  The reality of mortgages, debt, pressure, depression, exhaustion, burn out, fake news, false news, and post-truth politics or any of the things that we deal with on a daily basis would be totally overwhelming without this.  Add to this the global pressure of what we see daily – global warming, cold conflict, hot conflict, poverty death and disease, and we have no idea where to turn.   A dramatic calendar example of this is the Feast of the Transfiguration, which falls on August 6th.  This is also Hiroshima Day, when the world commemorates that extreme of human sickness and violence in nuclear obliteration.  Transfiguration holds the key to understanding this. Sickness, evil transformed by the transfiguring light of the experience of Jesus Christ on the mountain. This can also be our experience, which is one of the reasons why we offer anointing with oil and the laying on of hands today as we prepare for Lent.

This Wednesday we enter the solemn season of Lent in the Gregorian calendar.  This year the Gregorian and the Julian Easters are the same – April 16th. The traditional focus of this season in the lives of the baptised household of faith is threefold – almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.  This year, we are offering opportunities for all of those things together in the community of this Church.  Do use them.  They are not exercises in spiritual navel gazing, but a real way of being aware of the transfiguring power of the faith in transforming all our experiences.  It’s also an opportunity to take a sober look at something we often overlook – myself.  So give yourself some time this Lent.  Look after yourself.  Discover some of the traditional wisdom of the church in addressing the human condition in the light of faith.  Do not despise the discipline of fasting.  I am told it was fashionable in the 1960’s and onwards to say, “ Lent isn’t about giving things up.”  Well, I’m not sure where that came from but it wasn’t from traditional Christian wisdom.  My fast might be from food, or it might be from the verbal putdown ready on the tongue. Both address the central reality that as a person I can be transfigured, and in that transfiguration, I am open to the possibility that all experience can be transformed.  If we don’t see the need to give things up in ourselves, and fasting from some of the nastier bits of our character, then we don’t really have a starting point.

So come and join other brothers and sisters in the faith as we begin Lent together on Wednesday.  Think about using the resources of reading.  The Lent Study is on how Christians relate to people of other faiths – one of the pressing realities of our time. The Diocesan project to which we will be giving is supporting schools in Mozambique and Angola. All of this helps to connect us with a greater reality than ourselves, which is really the experience of transformation, which the Christian faith holds open to every believer.  Peter reminds his hearers of that when he says that men and women, “moved by the Holy Spirit” will be open to transform the world.  A world transfigured.  A world transformed. Can we do it?  Yes, we can!

Epiphany 2017

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SERMON BY THE VICAR

As we celebrate light from the east in this Feast of the Epiphany, I am reminded of a conversation between Mahatma Ghandi Gee and Sir Winston Churchill.  Churchill once asked Mahatma Gee “What is the view on this question in the east?”  To which Mahatma Gee responded “East of where?” 

That’s the first of three aspects pf this season of the Epiphany, which I briefly want to speak about. Visitors from the East came to worship the child Jesus at Bethlehem.  The New Testament calls them magoi.  We know that one of the terms for priests of Zoroaster in the Greek language was magoi.  So the wisdom of the east (in this case Persia) came to worship Jesus. What we do not know, because the Bible does not tell us, is how many there were.  Some Orthodox traditions have 12 Kings, others 7. The number of Kings cannot be important because the Biblical account does not tell us how many they were. What we do know is that three recorded gifts to the child Jesus were gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are gifts of adoration and worship, given in commitment.   This is important for all of us, because it emphasises the importance of adoration, or worship for each and every one of us. Whatever our age, whatever our background, whatever our faith, as human beings this is our first and most basic human response- worship and adoration.  It is our faith which makes us fully human and fully alive.  This is shared by all the great religions. It is a treasure and richness, and as material riches increase, it is often the first thing that is lost.   We should try not to lose it, or if we have lost it, to recover it.   As children of God we come before God in worship, adoration, and thanksgiving- as magoi from the East. The Benedictine view, of course, is that simple physical work is a form of adoration.  For that reason, this year we will be inviting people to renew their commitment to helping the work of the church in physical and practical ways as a form of adoration. 

The second theme of this Epiphany season is the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  Baptism is the sacrament that unites all Christians as they share in the death and resurrection of Christ.  It gives Christians their identity, and it gives them commission to ministry in the Church.  So as baptism gives all Christians their identity, so for people of other faiths it is a reminder of the importance of commitment in the faith.    Whatever our faith, we need commitment to it to live out our values in a tough and difficult world.    Those who have chosen education for their children know that this comes at a cost which will not be seen through without commitment – commitment of the parents, commitment of the children and students to hard work, and commitment by staff and teachers.  Without commitment, none of us will achieve anything in life.  So Baptism as Reminder of the importance of Commitment.  This is profoundly and deeply anti-cultural.  In contemporary culture all arrangements, all relationships, are disposable, and changeable.  It’s not unusual now for people simply not to show up for a meal, having accepted the invitation. A better offer may have come in the meantime.  So we are inviting people in this church in the course of this year to renew their commitment as a manifestation of the commission to ministry, which is baptism.  Let’s all consider this year how we can be counter cultural and show our commitment in practical ways to our church and our faith. The basic form of commitment we show to each other is of course through this shared meal, the Eucharist.

 

We stay with the theme of meals for the third theme of the Epiphany season- the miracle at Cana of Galilee.   This was the wedding party at which Jesus was present where he turned water into wine.  As a priest, I particularly enjoy wedding parties, and I often remind people that we have no record of Jesus at a wedding ceremony in a religious building, but we do have a record of his attendance at a party.  So the wedding party at Cana in Galilee is a reminder for all of us of the importance of celebrations in life.  Today is such a day of celebration.  And I do not need to remind anyone of the fact that celebrations are always shared – never alone.  We all need occasions to celebrate, and our religious faith often gives us such an occasion.  Anyone and everyone can and should celebrate- even that most basic of celebrations – the miracle of staying alive another day.  Today we share this celebration together of the Epiphany with the gifts offered to Jesus. As we celebrate together, so we build up community and our knowledge that we are interdependent on each other. We become, together, a community of celebration, marked by joy.  So this year, let’s recover that basic sense of celebration in all that we do. This too, is counter-cultural, as tired cynicism may be the prevailing cultural norm. The wedding at Cana as celebration.

So on this Feast of the Epiphany, and was we begin a new year, think of these three things- adoration, commitment and celebration.  They are no bad way to begin a new calendar year, with a resolution that we realise that our Church is only as good as the input we put into it.  Together, we can achieve great things.  So at the beginning of 2017, my prayer for us at St John’s is that, as we share the load together, so we can make this year and decade ahead one of real wonders.  Adoration, commitment, and celebration come to us in this Feast and season of the Epiphany.  Adoration, commitment, and celebration will help all of us through life in our shared pilgrimage together – so please take a moment to reflect on how you can share your gifts for the good of church and society.  During Lent this year, we will be inviting everyone who is a regular worshipper how we can do this together. May God bless us all in this Holy Season of Epiphany as we show, and share, the gifts of God in adoration, commitment, and celebration.

 

 

Christmas Day Sermon 2016

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CHRISTMAS DAY 2016

 

READINGS: Isaiah 9: 2-end

                      Titus 2: 11-14

                      Luke 2: 1-14

This Christmas morning we have come again to hear the message of the angels, in Luke’s moving narrative. The heritage we bring to this story is one of ethereal beauty and splendour: the velvet, starry night, the darkness of the stable; the gentle sounds of the animals, the sudden radiance of the angels.

Yet of course the birth of Jesus was, in historical terms, an insignificant event. It takes place in a tiny, unimportant province, far from the seat of power. The wider stage is the Roman Empire under the Emperor Augustus – the great Emperor whose rule had heralded the pax Romana – a golden age of peace and security for the Empire. The “Saviour” of his people – Augustus was called – you can still see this title, still inscribed on surviving coins and monuments.

In a territory ruled by the great Augustus, Luke gives us this story of the birth of a child to a poor family: of a heavily pregnant woman forced, because of the Emperor’s casual decree, to travel the rough road from Nazareth to Bethlehem; of an arrival in a town plunged into chaos by the census decree; of all lodgings taken; of the pain and fear of childbirth in a cold stable; of the newborn child, placed unceremoniously in an animal’s feeding trough.

Not that ethereal or splendid after all you might think. The only people who  know of this event are shepherds – smelly, uneducated nobodies – people on the margin of things; too insignificant, to the Romans, even to merit inclusion in the census. Yet something has happened – for into the shepherds’ dark night of watching breaks the shimmering glory of the angel host, with its message of the birth of a child which “good news of great joy for all people.” (2:10).

There is a message here: forget the Emperor Augustus, Luke is telling his listeners, he is not the Saviour of the world – it is this baby – a child of poverty and exclusion; he is to be the only real Saviour.

This is the extraordinary claim of the Christmas message: that God slips quietly into the world – as a newborn infant, laid in animal’s feeding trough. Every mother knows the utter vulnerability of a newborn baby. And this, Luke says, is how God comes to us: needing human hands to hold him, a mother’s milk to feed him, a mother’s love to nurture Him.  And yet...as Mary bends to kiss his face – she kisses the face of God.

This is the true mystery of Christmas: that a Divinity – beyond human comprehension – is willingly confined within a human baby and has become fully human. This is the mystery of God’s in-carnation – the Word that existed before all time has been made flesh in time for our sake.

What does this tell us? Two things, I think: First that God comes to us in weakness. He might have come with power and triumph – but He does not. The incarnation shows us that there is a different way.  In a world ruled with force by a Roman Emperor this is the birth of a new King. Yet no one, except a few shepherds, knows of it.  As we look at our world this Christmas (the violent destruction of Syria; the perversion of Islam by brutal extremism in Iraq, the misery in the refugee camps); and perhaps too as we look at our own lives, we can see how important this Christmas message is. The desire for power, the fear of loss of control, the use of force to maintain it: it is all ultimately empty – it is death dealing. God puts all this aside in the act of incarnation. The incarnation is a willing letting go – God makes Himself power-less for our sake.

Secondly God comes to us in total sympathy with our human condition. By entering human history as a baby born in poverty he identifies himself with the powerless, the oppressed, the homeless and the needy. The Hebrew word for this is “Emmanuel” – meaning God is with us – this is a statement of divine solidarity with humanity. For those who have least, this nativity story is especially precious. Our fellow Christians, celebrating Christmas in the refugee camps of Iraq will know that. And yet, we are all in need. We are in need of healing and of hope. The coming of the Christ Child, in the cold of the winter stable, is a glimmer of light in the darkness – of hope in the midst of fear. Two thousand years ago this light and hope came to us, and, two thousand years later it has not been snuffed out. God is with us, He shares in everything that makes us human – our fragility, our weakness, our vulnerability, and our need for love. He heals and restores our humanity by taking the whole of it into Himself. So this Christmas we can bring to Him, our joy and gladness, of course, but also those things which, when we look back on the past year, we would lay aside if we could – our sorrows and fears, our failures and our disappointments. The peace the angels speak of is more than mere absence of strife; it is the hope of a restoration to wholeness for each individual that accepts it.

‘The people that walked in darkness’, the prophet Isaiah said, ‘have seen a great light’ – may you know the light, the joy and the peace the Christ Child brings, in your homes and in your hearts, this Christmas. Amen.

Midnight Mass 2016

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Midnight Mass of the Nativity 2016

Readings:  Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1: 1-14

Welcome to the celebration which transforms our lives, the Birth of Jesus Christ. When I was reflecting on what had transformed my life in 2016, I came back (more or less) to the same answer- the love of family and friends, which I have resolved never to take for granted - - oh, and of course, through which I encountered The Crown and Westworld. Both have given me what I want to say this evening. 2016 has been a deeply challenging year  So this transforming celebration gives me two aspects I'd like to speak about at this Midnight Mass – word and flesh.

First, word.  We heard these words in the Gospel, “In the beginning was the word.”        The words of course are a deliberate echo of the first narrative of creation in the Book Genesis, which starts “In the beginning” Here, the astonishing claim is being made that creation is being remade.  John is saying the world is now being re-created and at the same time you are being recreated. I am being recreated.   We become, through this birth, a new humanity. West world has helped me realise this.  The series tells the story of robots who are created in human image.  They look and sound exactly like humans, but are made in a factory and are robots. This really represents the growth of AI or artificial intelligence, and, though presented in Sci Fi form, is not far from the truth and from reality.  The series poses, in sharp relief, the question which many say will be the only question for the 21st century – what makes the human person?  What makes you and me human?  The answer lies in what we celebrate today – God unites himself to humanity, so that humanity may continue its journey towards God – as T S Eliot wrote, “In my end is my beginning.” This is the true word.  And in a year which has seen what many call the death of politics and the beginning of the era of post-truth politics we desperately need this. I take a simple example from this rapidly growing church.  People feel lost through the post-truth era in which we now live, and see the failure of the institutions which surround us – the EU, Parliament, especially in its abdication of the responsibility to govern, the United Kingdom itself, all accompanied by the rise of the far right, the rise of social fragmentation and fanatical extremism, and the collapse of the world order as we have known it since the end of the Second World War.  A scenario, as the Prince of Wales pointed out this week, which has frightening similarities, in Europe, with the 1930’s. especially with the rise of xenophobic nationalism and the rejection of the liberal ascendancy which has been taken for granted until now.  In this scenario, people feel lost and bewildered, so it is no surprise that we see a return to the true word which will both sustain and energise.  As a little microcosm we are witnessing the rapid growth of this church, fuelled of course by immigration which brings the wholly positive benefits of people who are far more confident in articulating their faith.  So over the past decade we have seen a fourfold increase in the numbers of people regularly attending this church.  This year we saw the largest attendance on record at our Carol Service.  So this brings me to the first part of the answer as to what makes us fully human- we are a part of God, because god becomes part of us. This is the true word.

And this immediately brings me to the second point “ The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  God becomes fully human.  And what characterises our human condition has been described as radical insecurity.  The word used in Greek for dwelt among us can be equally translated into English as “ pitched his tent among us.”  Here, into the world of radical insecurity comes God.  This too make us fully human.  And we need no reminders of this.  This year has seen Europe trying to respond appropriately to the desperate needs of refugees and asylum seekers escaping the killing fields of Syria, Iraq, and other places, often placing themselves at the mercy of people traffickers and dying tragically in the Mediterranean, described recently by Pope Francis as the sea of death.  Our Junior Church display at the back of the church shows these images. And this is not just a European issue.  The most recent estimates are that 65 million people are on the move globally, forced out of their homes by war, violence, poverty, and the effects of global warming. This is true humanity, and for all the props we may put around ourselves in terms of material possessions, this is also our narrative. The trafficked people in this church, together with a good number asylum seekers and refugees remind us powerfully that their lot is our lot.  We are bound together through our shared humanity.   

I have spoken about word and flesh, and asked the question “ What makes us human?”  The second century church Father Irenaeus wrote this”  The Glory of God is a human being – fully alive.” What we celebrate tonight makes us fully alive – in fact buzzing with life, as through we had had several Red Bulls for breakfast. And we can and will do our part in making 2017 a real year of hope, where we work at demonstrating a more hopeful, and therefore more Godly, world order.   It may even address issues uncomfortably closer to home.   A survey by the Primary Care Trust of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea confirms the fact that two Wards of the Borough situated right next to each other have the UK’s widest gap in life expectancy.   This gap, currently off 10 years, widens every year.  I do not need to list the obvious social consequences of this huge disparity living side by side. Violence and social fragmentation are the lot of too many people on the streets of London, which this year saw too many teenage deaths from stabbingsWorking closely with the Probation Service, as we do in this church, I see new hope emerging all the time out of lives seemingly wrecked. When I visited someone in Wormwood Scrubs, he said to me,       “ I’m at rock bottom now, and life can only get better.”  That’s the job of all os us, the new humanity.

This Midnight Mass is often a poignant time of year for individuals.  We all bring our own stories to this celebration, and for most people these stories are mixed- some good, some bad, some achievements, some failures, some foolishnesses, some regrets.   So whether this year past has been for you an annus horibilis, or whether it’s been a good year, may you know that you yourself are the glory of God, as a human being, fully alive. .  The birth of Jesus Christ changes everything, as we live it year by year.  It can even change that most unchangeable of realities, you and me.   To use words of John our Patron set for this Midnight Mass of the Nativity, “Behold, I make all things new”  May this continue to be true for all of us, and may 2017 be for our whole world an annus mirabilis,  a year of grace and wonders.

 

Freshness leads to Hope.  The year ahead could be a particularly significant and hopeful one for the whole of our world.  New and hopeful starts abound- not least through the climate change agreement reached in Paris. A new start for the millions of people displaced by war and violence, and now living as refugees and migrants.  In this Borough, I am proud of the role of the churches, St John's in particular, in getting ready to welcome the fifty most vulnerable refugees from Syria who we will be welcoming on 2016.  The Filipino Chaplaincy in this church continues to amaze me by its energy and hope, symbolised for me by our new friendship with the X Factor Filipina girl band 4th Impact.  We will be unveiling big plans for that community in 2016, and their role as key partners in the Gospel in doing our pastoral work with people, where we will see new energy and initiatives in the year ahead. This irrepressible energy is also symbolised for me By The Zimmers, a group of 50 Jewish pensioners with a combined age of 3,700. Their CD, Lust for Life contains such gems as Fight for your Right to Party.  Why speak about this?  Because, they are justsmall examples of the spirit of hope which religious faith will bring to every situation.  The Bishop of London has written about this   “ It is hope” he writes,” which can give a meaning to life and history and which gives us the courage to continue on our way into the future together.” 

 

ADVENT SUNDAY 2016

tobi iyanda

                              Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-end, Matthew 24:36-44

 

We begin a new liturgical year today, as Advent Sunday, this Sunday, is the beginning of the Church’s year. Advent is the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and the traditional themes of this period are Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell  – cheerful themes for this time of year. These traditional themes are ones which are part of life and part of the Gospel – as the Christian Gospel is not always like a light and frothy coffee. But I’d like to distil those traditional themes into two areas which I understand as themes coming out of them – faithfulness and preparation.

 

We heard Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew talking of his understanding of the end times and speaking about Noah and the flood.  Friends of mine moved to live by a river in the West Country this year, and this last week were flooded when the river broke its banks and they were marooned in their house.  Being unable to get to hospital because of the water, my friend then inconveniently gave birth in an upstairs room, husband by her side, water in the sitting room below.   Mother and son are both healthy.  And they called the boy – Noah.   Noah is used in the Old Testament as an archetype of both faithfulness and preparation.  Noah is faithful to God because he listens to him, and Noah is the one prepared because he makes preparations for the deluge.  As you know, in the Old Testament, the forces of chaos are often symbolised by the unrestricted waters of the flood.  The primeval watery chaos of Genesis is described using the Hebrew term Toho ve Bohu.   This is the destructive power of the elements, as anyone who has lived through flooding will know.  Much of our flooding is, of course man made, and it was interesting in this last week to hear the Prime Minster of Fiji invite President elect Trump to Fiji to see the reality of global warming and the rise in sea levels.  But we can prepare, and Noah as the archetype of faithfulness and preparation is not a bad theme for us as we enter another year in the Church’s calendar on this Advent Sunday.  So it is faithfulness and preparation about which I want to speak.

 

Faithfulness.  All Churches are required to be faithful.  This may take many forms, and it certainly has different manifestations.  Faithfulness may be demonstrated in our keeping faith with the wellsprings of faith.  For example, I believe it would be impossible to continue as a Parish Priest without the daily offering of regular, disciplined, sustained prayer.  Good days, bad days, up days, down days, Prayer is there at the root of the tree. If the roots are not nourished, the whole tree dies.  So it is with us.  We need to remain faithful to our roots through regular prayer.  That’s why coming together week by week to be nourished by the sacrament matters more than we can easily explain.  We are often told that without vision the people perish.  So it is in this matter of faithfulness.  As a Church, we must remain vision driven to be faithful to our origins.   We know that Churches which slip into maintenance mode, delude themselves, and are probably in all reality in decline.   The same is true with our bodies.  If we don’t look after them, they go into decline- which they will do quickly enough anyway, without any help from us.  In this process of faithfulness, we therefore need each other, because there are times when I can lend support and help to my neighbour, and times when I need that help and support from them.  These are all aspects of faithfulness.  There are other manifestations.  You could also argue that the income of a church is a manifestation of its faithfulness.  When churches are seen to be giving, generous, active, and vision led, then the income will follow.  This is as night and day. To take one example – when we started our restoration work, we had literally not one penny in the bank, but through faithfulness and being vision led, we have raised nearly £1.5million and completely changed our building to be more effective in service to God and neighbour.  So in terms of faithfulness and our income, what has happened in the Parish this year? Some areas of our work are high performers and are ahead of their targets – music and the Filipino Chaplaincy are just two of them.  One aspect, however, lags behind, and that’s our regular committed stewardship giving to support the work of the Church throughout London – so this Advent, if you’re in a position to help, please consider a thanksgiving offering to help us reach our Diocesan Common Fund target of £78,000.  For me, this form of giving is always about thankfulness and doesn’t represent at all grim duty.  I give, because I am thank ful, and because I am thankful I am joyful.  That’s how it works.

 

Now, Preparation.  Advent, which begins the Christian liturgical year, is a time of preparation.  Spiritually, we go back to our roots to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  This is a coming like no other, because it will have an effect on all our lives.  Advent helps us to get the spiritual balance right.  Traditionally, the time of Advent is a time for reflecting on the things, which we would actually rather push away to the back of our minds.  Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. The last things, the end of time.  All our religious tradition teaches us that to live in a state of preparedness represents being spiritually awake.  That’s certainly true.  The Gospel set for today reminds us that, mercifully, we are spared any knowledge about the end of things.  We don’t know. The Christian tradition is, in this sense, the opposite of that most widely read woman in England, Mystic Meg. Hear this, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”   My grandmother told me that we should always change our underwear, for we never knew if we might be involved in an accident. Preparation, keeping awake, being ready.  There are many ways in which the life of a church will demonstrate this, and one manifestation will be a church’s expenditure.  How we spend our money will not only demonstrate our priorities, but also our preparedness for the future.  So what has happened in 2016? We have kept our expenditure down by controlling costs, and spent where we have to. In addition to the Common Fund payment, there are all the regular bills- utilities, keeping the church open, insurance, running the office and paying those who work for us, which is the bare minimum to function.  At the same time, the level of our activities increases daily – from the beginning to the end of this year there has been a dramatic increase in the range of different community groups using this church. Improving our facilities and being ahead of the game is also a manifestation of being prepared and ready- not just for the now, but for the future.

 

So as we enter this season of Advent may it be a time for all us of faithfulness and preparation.   It’s also true to say that with this in mind, much of the physical preparation for Christmas, which we make as a Church and community, as families, and as individuals becomes less stressful.  These twin towers of faithfulness and preparation will encourage us as we start another year. It’s pretty simple.  It isn’t rocket science, but if we are able to live it, it will transform our lives. Paul can often be a stern and gloomy moralist, but today he encourages us in this final word from his letter to the Romans, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.  The night is far gone, the day is near.”  In faithfulness and preparation, may all of know God’s blessing this Advent, as we prepare to welcome Jesus the Christ into our lives. 

All Saints 2016

tobi iyanda

Readings:  Daniel 7:1-3,15-18, Ephesians 1: 11- end Luke 6:20 -31

Today we keep the Feast of All Saints.  Week by week in the Creed we say that we believe in the Communion of Saints - the Communio Sanctorum. This is a great comfort to us, that we are surrounded by the saints who pray with us constantly.  That's part of the reason why we make a " big deal" about the saints liturgically- in a sense we are recognizing what is already there, and sometimes take for granted, like family. This is something shared by all the mainstream traditions of the Christian Church. I'm fortunate, in that in addition to my parish work here, I am exposed to different traditions of the Church through the ecumenical work I am asked to do.  And this year has been a fantastic encouragement as our ecumenical work has jumped forward in leaps and bounds - this Autumn alone, major new initiatives have been launched between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, with the Serbian and Russian Orthodox Churches, and a major new agreement launched only this week between the Anglican Communion and the Oriental Orthodox Churches – Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, Indians, and Syrians. Before Christmas, there will be an opportunity to hear of these new things in more detail.   A basic principal of ecumenical work is working first on the things that unite, building up friendships, and only then focusing on that which divides.  And one of the things we have been able to focus on in recent work is the shared traditions of the Saints.  So I want to focus today on just two aspects of what the saints might mean for us - the saints are those who form our common identity, and the saints are those who enable us to endure.  Common Inheritance and Endurance.

Firstly, Common Inheritance.  Our whole landscape is shaped and formed by the common inheritance of the saints; take our geography and place names - whether you are visiting St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, St Paul's School, or Magdalen Colllege. Our place names often refer to this common inheritance of the saints. If you are in a church by the sea, it is more than likely that that Church will be dedicated to St Nicholas, the Patron Saints of sailors. Hospitals, are often dedicated to St Luke, or Bartholomew, as in our Barts, as Bartholomew was traditionally associated with lepers.  The list is endless.  And when Patraiarch Kyrill of Moscow was here a few days ago, the icon he gave out to the hundreds who went to see him was the icon of the saints of the British Isles as these are common to all of us - Columba, Iona, Alban and so on. But this is more than historical antiquarianism.  We are shaped and formed by the inheritance of the saints as they are also a living presence now, with their different qualities and traditions - be they 21st century saints like St Theresa of Calcutta from the Albanian and Indian traditions, or Nicolai Velimirovich from the 20th century Serbian tradition, or the more than a million martyrs of the Armenian genocide of 1915/16, all of whom were canonized last year.   They pray with and for us, and the more spiritually open we are, the more we will feel and experience this.  In Rome, a few weeks ago, it was no fantasy or illusion to feel the palpable presence of the saints as The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis prayed together in the Church from which St Gregory sent St Augustine and his monks to England in the 6th century.  If the religious antennae are working at all, we will always be aware of entering places where, as T S Eliot put it, “prayer has been valid.” And it is this prayer which unites us into the communion of the saints.  Communion is different from communication as communion has an inescapably organic quality.  One of the lectures I gave to young seminarians in the Theological Academy in Tbilisi Georgia last year was on the distinction between communion and communication, and I will never forget the look of terror on most of their faces when I asked them to locate the off button on their mobiles and switch them off.  Being out of communication, we could enjoy communion.

And now endurance.  Scripture tells us that the saints are those who have come "out of the great tribulation" and have endured. The saints invariably have a gritty, often uncomfortable quality, as they are not shaped and formed by focus groups.  And we need this quality right now, especially in societies such as our own, and possibly across the Atlantic, where we see the death of political optimism and principle, with nothing to raise the sights and the soul.  How sad and fallen for us as a society that we now find ourselves needing a designated person in every Borough to report hate crimes, one of the boom industries of post-Brexit Britain.  But endurance in the English language is an ambiguous word, and I am reminded of the Church in which I was a curate by Oxford Circus, where someone once asked why Father so and so was preaching twice in two weeks, and the response came, quoting Scripture, " Endure hardship as a good soldier."  But it isn't that sort of endurance I am talking about but the quality of faith, being rooted in communion, which inspires and uplifts - like the Beatitudes which we hear again today. Here is our manifesto, " Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." This, the manifesto of the saints, speaks directly into our times, be it to the children of Calais now beginning their new lives here, to the citizens of Aleppo or Mosul, experiencing their own fiery ordeal, or to anyone who is conventionally on the margins. These words were ringing through my head in the last week as I listened to a man from Homs in Syria, all of whose family had been killed, and he was left alone waiting to start a new life in the generous country of Canada. The saints are those who endure, and they surround and uphold us.  In the communion of saints, therefore, we are not separate from each other, and we are certainly not separate from those who experience war, famine, and persecution, some of whom bless us with their presence in this Church as we are now.  Speak to any of our Farsi speakers, if you want to hear firsthand.

So, on this Feast of All Saints, we give thanks for all the saints of God, past and present, near and far, known and unknown.  We are in communion with them and they with us, and they give us the strength of purpose to endure and carry on in The Way. This is our shared inheritance, and it gives us our identity, just as the Beatitudes which we hear today, gives us the manifesto of the saints, who surround us as we pray. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Sermon Trinity 15

tobi iyanda

Readings:  Jeremiah 18:1-11, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33

 

Purposeful Direction & Generosity of Spirit.

 

You may know the story of one of the Mitford women.  At the start of the General Strike in 1926 they were asked to show that they knew about the realities of life and were not simply airhead socialites.  She was asked to draw up a household budget with an annual income of £400 a year.  She duly did this with the first item. “Flowers.  £380.”  The readings for today give a different perspective.  As the holiday season comes to an end, schools return, and Autumn beckons, we too look ahead, encouraged by the readings set for today, and I want to give our looking ahead at this hinge moment of the year two headings – purposeful direction and generosity of spirit.

 

First purposeful direction.  Most of us need this most of the time, and those who are in positions of leadership need it all the time. We see it clearly in all the readings set for today.  The story of the potter in Jeremiah is a symbol for that openness and generosity of spirit which allows us to be shaped and moulded by God.  The New Testament reading is Paul writing to an aristocrat, Philemon, begging him to release his slave Onesimus, appealing to his generosity of spirit in doing so.  And the Gospel reading combines both with the images which Jesus uses of having to do strategic planning at the same time as being open to the spirit.  Through all of the readings runs the theme of purposeful direction.  Without it, Jeremiah could not have been open to God, and Paul would not have appealed to his aristocratic friend Philemon.  And of course Jesus says which of you wanting to build a tower would not first work out the cost? And that’s true of everybody.  None of us achieves anything without purposeful direction. If we were constantly blown off course by the slightest wind of opposition or criticism, then we would achieve nothing.  That’s certainly true of leadership in the church at any level, where like a distorted Alice, we get six criticisms before breakfast.  Let me quite specific now about our Parish of St John.

 

I believe we are extremely blessed and fortunate in our greatest resource, which is of course people.  We are a growing Parish with our two electoral rolls.  We have huge human diversity, many languages and different cultural backgrounds.  Many people give of their time and their resources generously to make ministry happen in this place.  In terms of leadership and direction, we express our aims clearly, simply, and specifically through our Mission Action Plan.  This year we have been particularly blessed in having had a skilled spiritual guide help us look at ourselves and our priorities.  You can see it on our website.  This is our purposeful direction.  It is not a woolly document, but it is visionary and realistic in equal measure. We could not have achieved what we have achieved in recent years without this purposeful direction, and I salute everyone who has helped to make our dreams reality.  The areas of our success are obvious – the growth of the Filipino Chaplaincy, now in a new phase of planning for its future, the restoration of our building to serve God and the community, the restoration of the organ and the musical tradition of the place, and a new sense of beauty and vigour in liturgy.  These are just some of them.   Of course, there are areas of weakness – we have identified our children’s work as being an area for concentration, as well as stewardship, or our giving of money to enable the mission of the Church continues to be our Achilles heel. So what will give us this purposeful direction, and what is the difference between that and stubbornness or arrogance?  Part of the answer must lie in the second point I want to make.  Generosity of Spirit.

 

In both the New Testament readings set for today, we get something of this sense of this generosity of spirit.  First, in respect of our attitude to ourselves and other people. A Christian monk, living as a hermit once expressed his vocation in these words “To fall and get up again.  Fall and get up again.” In the Gospel set for today, we see the combination of purposeful direction and generosity of spirit which marks the Christian Way.   Here we see generosity of spirit in action.  So using this Gospel paradigm, we may want to ask ourselves the question, from where does this generosity of spirit come, and how we do we practice it, both as individuals and as a community?  Generosity of spirit always comes in the context of deep personal knowledge. What I mean is this.  All of us need this self-knowledge, and the more active and involved we are, the more its importance increases. The told of classical Christian spirituality through retreat, through self-examination and reconciliation are an essential starting point, and from that starting point we can then go on to express our generosity of spirit in practical ways, including the giving of money. Let me again be quite specific.  We have said very clearly as a Parish that our obligations to the Diocese, which we call Common Fund, should be met by our dedicated giving, which we call Stewardship.  This year, our commitment to the Diocese (Common Fund) is £78,400, so by this time of the year we should have raised £47,317. At the end of July, we had raised £31,730 and were therefore £15,587 behind budget.  So throughout this month of September we will be inviting all regular givers, and those who are not yet regular givers, to prayerfully review what we are able to give to enable the Parish and the Diocese to flourish.  If we cannot meet our Common Fund through Stewardship it will have to be met from reserves, and that way is the way of oblivion - in 3 to 5 years it would be game over, and the doors clang shut, like BHS.  I also describe it as functional atheism, because it means that we do not believe that we have a future. But of course we do have a future, and our generosity of spirit will enable us to see this.  Giving of money is a spiritual barometer, for we give as we understand, and our spending of money will always reveal where our priorities lie. 

 

So with these two things- purposeful direction, and generosity of spirit we will be properly equipped for the at times stressful business of ministry – especially when the ordained ministry is viewed simply as a diocesan tax collecting machine.   We need this generosity of spirit as individuals; we need it as a community.  I do believe that we are fortunate here at St John’s in that we do see these qualities in the Parish right now. How could it be otherwise for any community which places Jesus at the centre of the faith?  The Jesus who both challenges us and leads us on all the time. Most of all, as we gather at this Eucharist, may we be renewed by the presence of the risen Jesus who holds us, and gives us that purposeful direction and generosity of spirit which all of us need all the time.   Thanks be to God.

 

 

      

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary

tobi iyanda

Readings: Isaiah 61: 10,11, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 1:46-55

 

On October 10th this year, we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death on active service of Ralph Adams whose memorial is on the south wall of this church.  He was shot down over France at the age of 20 in the plane he was in. The local school of St Francis of Assisi have been doing a fascinating project on him, which will be available in the Autumn, before we have the service of commemoration on October 10th.  We know much more now about the first World War than we did a few years ago, and one of the moving accounts of the final moments of soldiers on the battle field was how often their last words were mother or mum. One of the most sacred aspects of a priest’s work is to be with people at the end of their lives, and for me, it is always moving and basic.  Our last words are very often Mother. I also think of the Armenian woman survivor of the Armenian genocide who I was with as she died, and at the very end she could only speak Armenian, which she had not spoken since being a small child with her mother. This is reality very close to something very primal and basic and probably something to do with pain.   But when the reverse happens, and a mother buries her own child, the pain is even greater. I know from my own family’s experience that there is probably nothing more painful than for a mother to bury a child.  It feels like a cruel reversal of the natural.  We expect in the course of life to bury our parents, but not the other way round.  In this Church, one of the more powerful pieces of religious art is the distraught Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross is Emmeline Halse’s powerful depiction on the reredos.  This is a mother’s pain.  And it is the Blessed Virgin Mary whom we commemorate today, together with most of the rest of the Christian world.  So today, I want to speak about the Virgin Mary today by using Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ, published by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, or ARCIC.   This is a groundbreaking document, and it not only goes beyond many of the old, worn-out stereotypes and positions, but also brings our two Churches significantly closer together.  In particular, I want to use two insights from that book, Mary pain-bearer, and Mary, mother of consolation and strength.

 

First, Mary pain-bearer.  Any mother knows that this is one of the things mothers do, from the pain of child-birth to the shared pain of rearing offspring, to use a farming term.  This never goes away.  Anything your child does at whatever age will affect you, for good or ill.    This is part of being connected through the human family, and isn’t necessarily restricted to those who are biological mothers.  There are many who take on and experience this mothering role, both men and women, who may not have produced children of their own.  This is part of the destiny and role of the Virgin Mary, willingly accepted.  When the child Jesus was brought to the Temple by his mother, Simeon said to her amongst other things.  “ And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  This is Mary, pain-bearer, and in Christian spirituality it has been especially powerful and helpful.  My own mother chose this reading at the funeral of her own son, my younger brother.  ARCIC recognises this in these words, speaking of Mary the pain-bearer at the foot of the Cross:  “Understood in terms of discipleship, Jesus’ dying words give Mary a motherly role in the Church and encourage the community of disciples to embrace her as a spiritual mother.”  This, amongst other reasons, was why the early Church gave Mary the title Theotokos, or God-bearer, because it is ultimately God who shares all human pain by becoming fully human.  Anglicans share this term with the universal Church, and it has been a joy in this Church to have commissioned a twenty-first century icon of Mary the God-bearer pointing to her Son.   This helps many in their worship, and can be real source of unity.  An urgent contemporary issue is of course how Christians and Muslims can find common ground.  What better person than the Virgin Mary to do this, as she holds a place of high honour within Islam.  Go to any Marian shrine in the Middle East, and you will find it full of Muslims, especially women, invoking Mary the Pain-Bearer.

 

Now Mary, mother of consolation and strength.   Mary sings the Magnificat, her song.  We hear this in the Gospel set for today, and indeed it has a central place in the daily prayer of the Church.  Come to this Church on any day to Evening Prayer and this Gospel canticle, the Song of Mary, is recited every day.  Marian devotion thus takes pride of place in the universal Christian tradition. Why has this song been such a powerful influence on Christian spirituality?  For an answer, we need not go to the rich, the powerful, and the self-contained, because it is manifestly not their song.  It is the song of the powerless throughout the ages, which is also a song of strength and of defiance.  Let me quote again from the book :  “ In Mary’s response, we can see an attitude of poverty towards God that reflects the divine commitment and preference for the poor.  In her powerlessness, she is exalted by God’s favour…Issues of justice for women and the empowerment of the oppressed have arisen from daily reflection on Mary’s remarkable song.  Inspired by her words, communities of women and men in various cultures have committed themselves to work with the poor and the excluded.”  So this is not a quietist piety, but an active, powerful, revolutionary one.  It is no surprise that the Church of England, often siding with secular power at the expense of the poor, has not been particularly keen on Mary, mother of consolation and strength.  The Chaplains of the East India Company in India were forbidden from saying the Magnificat, the song of Mary, lest it gave the native Indians the wrong idea.  Remember this was the Church which produced “ the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, he made them high and lowly, and ordered their Estate.”  But Mary, mother of consolation and mother of the poor comes to invert all of that in her Kali-like turning of the world upside down.

 

So we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary today and join our prayer to hers.  As we pray with her, so she prays with and for us.  This a model of mutual listening, and one which all communities should take to heart. She could not listen to God and give her “Fiat” if she was always uttering and opining, and nor can we.  We recognise through her that the vulnerable and helpless have a special place in the economy of Grace – one of the most powerful reasons we baptise infants.  I end with words again from ARCIC on Mary’s special place of honour for all Christians: “The Scriptural witness summons all believers in every generation to call Mary “blessed”; this Jewish woman of humble status, this daughter of Israel living in hope of justice for the poor, whom God has graced and chosen to become the Virgin mother of his Son through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.  We are to bless her as the “handmaid of the Lord” who gave her unqualified assent to the fulfilment of God’s saving plan, as the mother who pondered all things in her heart, as the refugee seeking asylum in a foreign land, as the mother pierced by the innocent suffering of her own child, and as the woman to whom Jesus entrusted his friends.  We are at one with her and the apostles, as they pray for the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church.”  So today be encouraged by Mary, Pain Bearer and Mary, Mother of Consolation and strength. When we speak or pray with her, she always listens.

 

Further Reading:  Mary, Grace & Hope in Christ  (Morehouse Publishing) ISBN 0-8912-8132-8

Trinity 10

tobi iyanda

Readings: Hosea 11:1-11, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

 

Enhanced Reality is much in the news.  Latterly, we have been pleased by the Government’s exemption of incense from its list of performance enhancing drugs, even if it is.  Or take Pokémon Go.  I’m fortunate to work with younger people so they teach me all the things I need to know.  This church, for example, in the course of the last week, became a Pokestation, with lots of people inside the building looking for the Pokémon go creatures. I had that sense of enhanced reality when I was having lunch in the church and a colleague told me that I had one on my plate – called Crabby.  “I can’t see it” I said,” and anyway it’s crabby who is eating” The creatures in Pokémon Go all have a religious genesis, as they take their origin from the world of Japanese Shinto-ism.    In that sense, I find them a useful reminder of the fact that our faith, too, gives a world of enhanced reality, where we are able to see beyond the veil to a greater reality.  The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote “The world is shot through with the grandeur of God.”  He had the visionary and poet’s eyes to see it. All our readings today point us to a greater reality, of life beyond the veil of tears.  And we desperately need this visions of what might be right now.

 

Take the first reading from Hosea for example.  Here is a love story, where the Prophet’s own situation is used by him to reflect on the love of God which will not let us go. His wife had abandoned him and become a prostitute, but he never gave up his love for her, and used it as an analogy for God’s love for us, ever faithful ever constant.  Or the reading from Colossians, where “You have died”, writes Paul, “and your life is hidden with God.”   But the ultimate blast of enhanced reality comes, of course from the Gospel set for today, in which Jesus says “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.”   The enhanced reality of our faith, therefore gives us an alternative world view which takes us above and beyond the tragic and depressing realities we see around us on the surface.  So I want to take the perspective of our faith for a short reflection on just two recent manifestations in our contemporary life, as I believe that they help us greatly.  The first in Brexit, and the second is the sickening violence we have seen in many parts of the world including France. Both are bewildering and at times can seem overwhelming, but our faith teaches us that they are not.

 

Let’s look first at the unfamiliar landscape we find ourselves in in this country post Brexit.  The uncertainties around us are enormous – is it brave new world in which we are set free from the shackles of a rigid, secularist, Napoleonic project, or is it a sinister rise of introverted faux-nationalism, in which we become the hermit Kingdom before we rip ourselves apart in a Balkanisation of our already dis-United Kingdom?  It is of course a coin with two sides, and I do believe that the churches and the faith communities have a particular role, as they always have had, in raising the sights and vision, so that we constantly become aware of the enhanced reality which is us through our faith.  Let’s take one example – the dramatic rise in hate crimes since Brexit, in which those who espoused this poisonous world view have been somehow emboldened. Threats against Poles, threats against Jews, threats against Christians, all are presents in a political landscape where generic groups of people are targeted as the source of all our woes.  History teaches us that there are parallels with the world of Germany in the 1930’s.  In this toxic environment, the Church will continue to stand firm in rejecting all branding of people by generic type.  We are the first and only truly genuine multi-national, where are links with our brothers and sisters in the faith re worldwide.  So for the sound of slamming doors post Brexit, expect to hear the quitter sound of doors being opened.  On a small and local scale, the invitation to this Parish to celebrate our common faith in Santiago de Compostela is already on the table for next year, and it’s up to us whether we respond. There is also a reassurance job to be done, as I was doing this week with a very scared Polish family, already seeing themselves amongst the long line of deportees with their belongings in a handcart.  We have seen this before.  So in this new world, it is up to us to make something positive out of it, to raise the sights, to be vision led, and to see the enhanced reality which our faith gives us.

 

Similarly, in the frightening spectre of random violence which we experience all around us -be that in gun crime in the United States, or in the violence of so-called Islamists throughout the world – in France, in Tunisia, in Kabul, in Pakistan, in Egypt, in Syria, in Brussels, in Munich, in Istanbul or anywhere else.  Recently, I felt very close to the grief of my Turkish friends, having been in Istanbul airport when the bomb went off, killing so many innocent people. All violence against innocent people is sickening and is a blasphemy against God and humanity, dramatically symbolised by the murder of a priest while saying Mass – reminiscent for us, in this country, of the murder of St Thomas Becket at his altar in Canterbury Cathedral, or for Latin Americans in the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, or for Filipinos in the murder of Archbishop Alberto Ramento, for Ugandans in the murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum, or for Egyptian Copts the murder of Father Raphael Moussa at his church in Gaza earlier this month. Here again, the church will bring a different perspective and will never retreat into the world of fear.  Listen to these words of Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church on the murder of Father Raphael Moussa “What must be considered very clearly and with great concern however is that an attack on any individual member of a society is an attack on that same society and what it stands for, so our prayers are not only with those who have suffered these unspeakable and horrid violations, but for the society that is undermined and made more vulnerable with each and every one of these incidents” . Or these of Pope Francis on the murder of Father Jacques Hamel“ The world is at war, but it is not a war between the religions.” We can be sure, that as we work to raise our sights, to rise above hate, and to engulf the world in wave of prayer and love, we will be joined by people of good will from all the faiths, including Islam. This is the enhanced reality of which we speak. This is real and only war on terror.     

 

In conclusion, we are those who worship amidst angels and archangels, who assist us in our prayers.  And in the place of daily prayer- over there in the Chapel – the dramatic image of Michael the Archangel is a powerful reminder of the assistance and protection the Christian faith offers to all those who have eyes to see the world in enhanced reality.  Thanks be to God. 

Feast of Saints Peter & Paul 2016

tobi iyanda

Feast of Saints Peter & Paul 2016

 

What was your reaction to the news on Friday morning?  Mine was immediately to pack my bags, and I will be leaving the UK on Tuesday evening.  Please don’t all clap at once! Whether you were pleased or dismayed with the outcome of the Referendum, uppermost in my mind is the grieving family of Jo Cox, only one of the tragic consequences of this unnecessary Referendum.  Listen to what the Bishop of London said to the Diocese on Friday morning.

 “The referendum result has not changed the facts of geography. There will clearly be a period of turbulence and I am very conscious of the fact that the large majority of those under the age of 25 voted to Remain. We shall have to work hard for national unity under these circumstances. Meanwhile, we in the Church will continue to cultivate our already-close relationships with Christians throughout Europe, and indeed throughout the whole world." 

The Referendum has opened up huge divisions for us – divisions between and within families, divisions between communities, divisions between London and the rest of the nation, divisions between nations, and divisions within the whole world.  Listen to just two of them which I witnessed on Friday.  One was a younger person (under 25) saying to a middle aged person, “You have stolen my future.”  The second was a woman in her 90’s who came to Notting Hill from the Caribbean in the early 1960’s as part pf the Empire Windrush generation.  She said “I have not heard the language about immigrants which we have heard over the past weeks since the race riots of Notting Hill in the 1960’s.  I feel we have been put back 50 years as a society.” So in these circumstances, we in the Churches cannot sit by as passive victims.  As the Bishop said, we have work to do in helping to heal the divisions, so let’s Take Back Control and start that work now.  Just spend a moment or two talking to your neighbour, and suggest just one way you personally can reach out to someone you know voted in the opposite way to the way you did.

In societies which work and are holistic, any way forward for the Common Good will involve both sacrifice and joy, which in some senses are the opposite sides of the same coin. Today we are given a good focus for that twin approach on the day on which we commemorate two of the pillars of the Church in Saints Peter & Paul. This time is known as Petertide and is the traditional time in our Church when deacons and priests are ordained.  I was ordained deacon and priest on this day somewhere in the mists of time. Ordination involve of course both sacrifice and joy, so it’s those two things I want to speak about.

First, sacrifice. Making a commitment for life, be it through marriage or ordination inevitably involves sacrifice.  When we are organically bound to other people, or to another person, we will not always get what we want.  This is healthy as any parent knows in rearing children – a child continually given what it wants when it wants it will not grow up into a rounded individual.  It is the same with us as adults, and certainly true in the ordained ministry.  One of the things you are told in the ceremony of ordination is “You cannot bear the weight of this ministry in your own strength, so pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  We wear red vestments today to honour the ultimate sacrifice of life as we commemorate the death by martyrdom of both Peter & Paul.  On the one hand, pray God that we are not called to that ultimate sacrifice, but on the other remember the words of T S Eliot who wrote, “A Christian martyrdom is never an accident.”  This is not something for the mists of history, but is real and alive today – I think of our brothers and sisters in the faith in Iraq and Syria, or Pope Francis in Armenia this weekend commemorating the million and a half martyrs of the Armenian genocide 100 years ago.   This helps to give me perspective in the ordained ministry on bad days when the priest is using as the punch bag for people’s unresolved fears, angers, and frustrations, or when people in our own society simply treat the Church as a commodity to be accessed whenever it is personally useful to them, and the prophetic ministry of the priest seems to be subsumed into being Chaplain to family life of a congregation. Regular health checks through spiritual review are vital for the priest in these circumstances. Personally, I have found working with the Windsor Leadership Trust very helpful in restoring balance and vision.  In that context, I was asked recently, in front of quite a large group and with no notice, to pick out the two most significant moments of my ordained ministry.  The two which came to my head were sacrifice and joy.  The first one was lying in my bed in a sealed cellar on the day the air war began in Baghdad, gas mask by my bedside, together with the syringe to inject myself with anti-nerve agents, if they were necessary.  I put on loud music, “The Final Countdown” by Europa to drown out the wailing of the air raid sirens.  Never have I felt more alive, or more called to be doing what I am to do as a priest than then. In the sacrifice came the joy.

And now Joy. I have a vivid recollection, in my School Chapel, of one of the most miserable looking priests I have ever seen talking to us about “The Duty of Joy.”  I didn’t get it. It is of course intimately linked to sacrifice – in that when we lose ourselves for another, we are taken out of ourselves, and above and beyond, to the place of joy.  And joy, of course, is completely different from happiness. Joy comes partially from being set free from the tyranny of the self.  Now to the second personal insight which I was asked to give.  I think the second moment for me as a priest to feel so alive I was tingling was the day I resigned from a job which I had done for just one year and in which I was deeply unhappy.  The sense of stepping out of depression into joy, and at the same time of sliding off the greasy pole, as I gave in that resignation letter was something quite palpable. This was simultaneously joy and sacrifice, as I had no idea what I was going to do next. But we are actually never alone in what we do. For Christians, of course, this joy comes from being organically bound into the Body of Christ especially through our sacramental participation in its deepest joys, Baptism and Eucharist. So it is a double joy today to be baptizing Jasper and Rory into the Household of Faith, giving them the wider support they will need as they grow. Filipino baptisms are especially joyful, in this context, as the child will often have 30 – 40 godparents.  When I asked about the reason for this, I was told “Don’t you know it takes a village to raise a child.”?  So congratulations to the family and supporters of Rory and Jasper – what a fantastic day for twin brothers to be baptized, on the feast of Saint Peter & Paul.

In conclusion, as we celebrate Peter & Paul, please continue to pray for the ordained ministry – especially the 32 deacons and 45 priests who will be ordained this year in our Diocese at this season.  And as you remember them recall that all ministry is rooted in Christian baptism, which is both joy and sacrifice.  Remember the 5 people from this Parish who are presently considering a vocation to ordained ministry and will be at an important event tomorrow. If you know people who may be considering this call, give them a prod. And as we remember Peter & Paul, we recall Peter’s confession of faith after he had betrayed his Lord three times, and then three times redeemed himself with his confession of faith that Jesus is Lord.  In good modern democratic societies such as ours, societies that are exclusively inclusive and intolerantly tolerant, the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is rather unfashionable -  if not entirely jarring and subversive. So in a climate such as ours it may well be tempting for the church to bend the word of truth to suit our own expectations.  Our word of truth right now is that division can and will be healed – using the iconic image of Paul embracing Peter shortly before their deaths as martyrs. Here joy and sacrifice meet, as we Take Back Control for the Common Good. Thanks be to God.

 

Sermon Trinity 2

tobi iyanda

 TRINITY 2, 2016

Galatians 1:11-end, Luke 7:11-17

 

The great eighteenth century Russian Orthodox Saint Seraphim of Sarov wrote this, “When I am dead, come to me at my grave, and the more often the better. Whatever is in your soul, whatever may have happened to you, come to me as when I was alive and kneeling on the ground, cast all your bitterness upon my grave. Tell me everything and I shall listen to you, and all the bitterness will fly away from you. And as you spoke to me when I was alive, do so now. For I am living and I shall be forever.”  Interestingly, this connects us to the events of this coming week, where for a short time, all of us became a community of celebration through the corporate personality of the anointed Monarch.  We are being invited, through the symbol of her anointing, to reflect on our own calling, both as individuals and as a community. So the two things two things I want to speak briefly about, community of life, and corporate personality.

 

Community of Life.  Both readings set for today speak about the new life which the Christian faith offers.   The first way we do this together is by worship. Joining a community of celebration in sacramental worship lifts me above and beyond myself, and in so doing, gives life to the individual and community.  We do not need to understand the words of the worship – and, in truth, we seldom do.  A sacramental community of celebration, such as any Eucharistic one, renews the individual and society. The Orthodox Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios wrote this in a new book, Mission in Christ’s Way,” Worship liberates the believer from narrow patterns of thought, from passions and most of all, from his suffocating egoism.” Worship unites the believer with Christ, and with the entire church of the faithful, with those who have lived and died, and with those who will live in the future.”  In other words, worship takes us beyond ourselves, makes us truly alive and truly human, and through us gives life to the societies in which we are set.  This is true for Anglicans & Orthodox, for British and Russian, in the common task we face of giving life to our deadening materialistic societies. This is a corporate civility, so I want to talk about corporate personality.

Corporate Personality.  This week’s commemoration of the 90th birthday of the Queen has its heart the anointing of one person – the Monarch. This is the meaning of anointing.  Through the sacred and mystical ceremony of anointing, be that the anointing of infants and adults at their baptism, the anointing of the adult who has turned to the Christian faith at confirmation, the anointing of priests and bishops when they are ordained, the final human touch of anointing when we die, or the anointing of Monarchs at their Coronation, we are brought into mystical communion with the divine and with each other.  Through this anointing, The Monarch becomes her people, and the people are their Monarch. Orthodoxy retains this sense in the crowning of the couple in their wedding ceremony as Kings and Queens of creation. Of course, all power can be abused. But the abuse of a thing isn’t really an argument for its discontinuation, and at the same time as celebrating the right use of power under God, we pray earnestly for all those who suffer from its abuse, as we see so plainly in Syria right now.  A protection from this kind of abuse is the understanding of corporate personality in which the ruler finds true contentment as the servant of God, and fulfilment through that of her subjects.

 

Community of Life and Corporate Personality are both affirmed in the Gospel set for today, when Jesus brings to life the widow’s Son, for in raising him to life he restores community.  For us, the identity of the community of life is strengthened and enhanced visibly by Baptism, Word, and Sacrament, and the daily beating heart of the community connecting with the Divine in daily prayer.  This is truly life giving. These two insights, or something similar, could have been offered in the current dispiriting debate about our membership of the EU.  Instead we have seen the corporate failure of all politicians of all parties, not one of whom has attempted to lift our sights to the greater whole.  This is leadership cowardice of the highest order. I would love to have heard, from at least one politician, of what Britain can offer to Europe, and where we locate Europe’s soul. The timing of the bringing together of the relics of St Thomas Becket from different parts of Europe (mainly Hungary) in the week past is no accidental timing on the part of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.  Actions, we say, speak louder than words. Nor is the timing of our weekend of celebration and renewal next week accidental.  For the past five years, we have done the hard work of renewing this building in service to God and community, and now we celebrate the achievements of that hard work, we turn simultaneously to the future as we ask ourselves, under God, where our priorities should lie for the next five years. Connecting people through families and children will surely be high on the agenda, with the development of a strategy and a budget for this most important of works.  

 

So as we celebrate our membership of the community of life through our anointing, we are brought into that liberty under authority about of which Archbishop Justin frequently speaks.  I started with Russian Orthodoxy so I end with it.  Six years after the consecration of this Church, in 1851, St Philaret of Moscow, preaching on the occasion of the birthday of Tsar Nicholas I said of the believer (you and me), “The worshipping believer is set free. This is the freedom of which neither heaven nor earth can restrict.”  Thanks be to God for our membership of the community of life and our connectedness to the community in this country, in Europe, and the world.

 

 

Easter 7

tobi iyanda

Readings: Acts 16:16-34, Revelation 22, John 17:20-end

What is heaven for you? In this post Ascension period, our thoughts are directed heavenward.  We know of course very little about what heaven is or might be, except that in the Gospels there are significant references to food in heaven – the heavenly banquet etc.  If heaven has references to food, there are also significant references to the music of creation. On this Sunday after Ascension, and the Sunday before Pentecost, I want to speak about the spiritual and Pentecostal role of music in worship, and about a plan we have right now to offer the renewal we are experiencing to God and the insights of others. Three points - First, music as a vehicle of the Spirit, and second music as mission, and third renewal in our lives.

 

Music as a vehicle of the Spirit. The act of making music, which of course involves listening, is a spiritual work in itself.  Benedict famously said “He who sings once prays twice.”   Music of course can have an other-worldly or heavenly character and can speak directly to the heart.  In this sense it is Pentecostal or charismatic. It also involves temperament or taste. Winston Churchill famously said of bagpipes, “Best played underwater.”  What you respond to in music will be different from what I respond to.  For this reason, it’s very important for a Parish Church to have a wide range of styles and repertoires and not be stuck in one groove.  This means of course that there is nobody who will like all of the music all of the time, but that’s family life where we don’t always get what we want and sometimes have to step back so that others can flourish. But whatever we like, in terms of taste, is secondary to what music is doing.  It has the power to speak directly to the heart, and can circumvent words, always a useful thing for worship in the classical western tradition, which often has placed too much emphasis on the use of lots of words words words in worship. Music, as Scripture tells us and as we know from experience, has the power to heal.  I have a friend who has had locked in syndrome for years after being knocked off his bike. The only stimulus he visibly responds to is music. Some of this is of course to do with our own bodies.  Music therapists tell me that music with tempi of 70-80 beats a minute echoes the average beat of the human heart.  Faster tempi will stimulate, and lower temp will relax.  So sleeping during Choral Evensong can also be a spiritually regenerating experience. We believe that that which is made reveals something of its maker. As we await the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost next week, music can be a powerful vehicle for all of us, in releasing those Pentecostal gifts in each individual, and on the church as a whole.  Beautiful music should help in creating the beautiful people we can all become through the working of God’s Holy Spirit.

 

Now Music as Mission. The report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Music says this on music in the liturgy, “Its drawing power should not be underestimated and a parish with a lively musical tradition is more likely to grow in membership than one where the musical contribution to worship is insignificant.” This Parish has been very clear throughout the recent organ project in our rationale for doing this work.  It was not, and is not, to give us an expensive new toy to be locked away in a cupboard.  It was and is to offer the best to God in worship and in so doing, attracting others to The Way. This extension of the work of the church through music has always been a principal motivating force for me. When we started the work, one of the options open to us with our dying organ was to simply abandon it, and get in a worship band or a CD player with karaoke hymns, as many other places have done. For what it’s worth, not only do I believe we made the right choice, but also that the renewal of the musical tradition of this Parish is leading to significant growth, which in turn could and should lead to renewal in our own spiritual lives.

 

Pentecostal Renewal. It is this significant growth and renewal which we now wish to analyse and harness in an open weekend which we are calling Blessing for a Change.  I do believe that we stand, in this Parish, on the verge of a significant change of gear. For this reason, we are planning a Parish Renewal and vision weekend between June 10th -12th.  You will see the details in the handout which comes out today with the weekly notice sheet.  We are very fortunate to have secured the services of Canon Robin Greenwood to lead us through this.  Robin Greenwood, Fellow of St John’s College Durham has spent a lifetime helping Parishes look at themselves in order to release their potential.  Latterly, he has been doing this through a developed theology and practice of blessing and abundance.  The basic principle is this – when we know we are blessed, then that sense of blessing will release new energies in an abundant overflowing as we bless all those around us. For what it’s worth, I do believe in my heart that now is the right moment in the life of our Parish to do this.  We see significant growth all around us – in our structures, in our activities, and in our building.  Now is the time for this new energy to renew each and every one of us in our spiritual lives as we respond with generosity and abundance to this new life all around us.  The glass is no longer half empty but half full. For our Parish structures, we will need to have the mechanisms in place to channel the creative energy of the new growth we can expect, not least in younger people and families.  We have exciting times ahead.

 

So in the period after the Ascension and as we wait for the sending of the Holy Spirit are thoughts are directed heavenward as we join in the heavenly music of the spheres.  We thank God for the gift of music to speak to our hearts through the work of the Spirit.  We thank God for the faithfulness and generosity of the many who have made our regeneration plans come into being, and we plan for exciting and renewing days ahead as we work with God in the Missio Dei with music as a blessing to be shared. As we approach the end the Easter period we can be sure that as we do this work, God is working through us.  Words of Jesus which end the Gospel set for today assure us of this fact “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” As we await the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost may we all pray “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”

Easter 5

tobi iyanda

Readings: Acts 11:1-18, John 13:31-35

If you hadn’t noticed, we are in a period of intense political activity - in London, in the UK, In the United States and the Philippine Presidential elections. There are as many choices open to us as in a supermarket- how London will be governed, whether the UK will remain part of the EU, and how America and the Philippines will be governed. The pulpit generally isn’t the place for party political exhortations but the right and duty of the church to offer its insights on the health and direction of society, including our political life will continue.  One of my favourite remarks of Pope Francis recently was a response to a journalist’s question when he returned from the Island of Lesbos with Syrian refugees in his plane.  The journalist asked whether the church was getting too involved in politics to which he responded that those who say that the church should not be involved in politics need to see a psychiatrist. So in this political frame, and with the American elections in mind, no advocacy of any particular candidate was being suggested when we sung the hymn This Joyful Eastertide with its line “Till Trump from east to west shall wake the dead in number.”  The politics of Libya are also much in the news right now as it struggles not to become an offshoot of so-called Islamic State, and it’s Libya which gives me the three images I want to use today, when we hold our Annual Meeting, look back at what we have been up to, and plan for the future.  I have used these images before, but return to them again and again as they give me my manifesto for how churches work. In the East of Libya, not far from Benghazi, you will find a Museum called Qasr Libya, with a fantastically beautiful sixth century Byzantine mosaic floor of a church.  It is a riot of colour and creation, and in the middle of it are three images of veiled Byzantine women called Ktisis, Kosmesis and Ananeosis. These three Greek words describe the life of all churches in all places – they mean foundation, decoration, and renewal. They are a cycle and one leads to the other which leads to the other in a continuous cycle. They are also a brilliant summary of what the Easter season means.

 

First, Ktisis. Foundation. All churches have foundation narratives- founded by St Peter, founded by St Augustine, founded by Gregorio Aglipay etc.  You will see our foundation narrative from 1845 onwards displayed in the history exhibition around the organ. I believe there are startling similarities now with 1845, when we were founded. Here are some of them.  London growing at an unprecedented rate, fuelled by immigration, new technologies emerging which were transforming society, a struggle within the Church of England for dominance from the warring factions within it, but above all a growing disparity between rich and poor – in our case, with the rich at the top of the hill, and the poor, and migrants, elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why, as we celebrate 10 years of the Filipino Chaplaincy, this church made a bold and prophetic move, which at the time generated some visceral reaction from some sections of the press. Here’s an extract from the Evening Standard at the time.  Referring to me, the article said “He has filled the church with cleaners.”   Actually, I think I’d like that put on my tombstone, please. How we perceive our foundation remains basic to our identity, which the Easter Season reminds us is none other than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the empty tomb.  This is the ultimate foundation.  The other thing of course, which gives this church its identity now, is how, in the second half of the twentieth century, new structures were drawn on the ecclesiastical drawing board, forming Parishes joined together with St Mark’s, All Saints, St Clement and St James, and St Peter’s, leading to our re-foundation as St John’s in the twenty first century, discovering our new, twenty first century vocation.   All were products of the time, and all have contributed to shaping who we now are.  But foundation is not only backward looking – like the Roman God Janus, it looks behind and before, so now we turn to Kosmesis.

 

Kosmesis, or ornamentation, leads naturally on from foundation.  As the ekklesia, or church, looks to its foundation, at the same time it grows, beautifies and adorns itself.  This may be manifested in gold on the altar or in the icons, but more importantly, beautification is a process which all Christians and all Churches are called to.  In a culture of Botox and liposuction, this is easily misinterpreted but the basic question for each and every one of us as individuals and as a church remains – “How can I become that person of incredible beauty which God intended me to be?”   The paradoxical answer to that question from Christian theology is of course through our death.  We are not yet what God intended us to be, and the Resurrection of Christ from the dead tells us that this is work which continues beyond the grave.  The Orthodox Church calls this doctrine Theosis – if we allow God to work in us, we become creatures of indescribable beauty, especially when we have shed our failing and corruptible bodies. It was the second century church father Irenaeus who said        “The glory of God is the human person, fully alive.” Kosmesis has also been some of the rationale which has led us to raise and spend more than £1.5 million on improving our facilities so that we remain what we were created to be – the centre of the community, worshipping the Triune God, with Font and Altar defining us, and in the process beautifying and transforming the world. At the back, you will see a display of the next stage of this work in lighting, decoration, and the Tree of Life.  This is an incredible vocation, and one which daily energises me more and more.  It’s this which makes Parochial ministry not a drudge, but a spiritualised form of a daily high intake of Red Bull – a constant explosion of energy, which leads to Ananeosis, or renewal.      

 

As the cycle continues, all churches need to renew themselves.  That’s a truism for all institutions, but especially for Churches – if they do not constantly re-invent themselves, they die.  All the readings of the Easter season demonstrate the new life, or re-invention, of the Resurrection community. The Resurrected Christ says to his community – as we have shared the resurrection experience together, so now you will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue my work. In other words – it’s now down to you, it’s now down to me, it’s now down to us, to get on with the job in hand. This is renewal, or ananeosis.  We have experienced this renewal in this Church of St John over the past decade, when the Church has changed so rapidly that in many senses, it is a totally different Church from the one it was. 10 years ago, the Parish had an electoral roll of just over 100.  Now our combined electoral rolls are over 400.  One of the many encouraging signs for us right now is not only our growth, but also the fact that we are more reflective of the rich diversity of London, especially this cosmopolitan, diverse, and mobile part of it – look at the nationalities and languages present in this church now – Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Sudanese, Lebanese, Singaporean, Filipino, Turkish, French, Spanish,  Ghanaian, Nigerian, Eritrean, Welsh, Sottish, Irish, English, and even people from Yorkshire. This is Pentecost, and the life of a renewed church. Of course, it isn’t perfect, and there is much work to do – later on, we will be reporting growth in our income from lettings, and our repairs and renewals being under budget, but also our Achilles heel is our giving, which we call stewardship.  As you know, our stewardship – the giving of money from each and every one of us, does not over the basic costs of the Parish.  This remains a challenge for us, and one which speaks directly of faith -  for we give, as we understand – Archbishop Justin, from a business background, often says that money is simply theology in numbers.  So this is just a snapshot of our work. Through it all, remains the faithfulness of the people of God, day in day out, as we go about our work often unseen and unsung.

 

So on this day when we report on what we have done in the last year, I thank you, brothers and sisters in Christ, for being part of the ongoing story of faith in this place.  The contribution to the life of this Church, which every person makes in good faith, is hugely valued.  Each and every one of us is valued by God. All of us together are given the mandate to get on with the Opus Dei – the work of God in the world. The bigger picture of the international scene desperately needs our contribution, not least in supporting our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith in the Middle East. This week I was taken by Muslim friends to see Another World:  Losing our Children to Islamic State at the National Theatre. The play makes clear what we all know, but also what our secular fundamentalist society refuses to see – that where there is a spiritual vacuum, it will often be filled with poisonous ideologies and creeds, such as that manifested by Da’esh. With hundreds of thousands of others, I welcome the House of Commons Resolution this week that the actions of so called Islamic State against Christians, Yezidis, and others constitutes genocide. The ugliness of Da’esh, in this scheme of things, when it comes to an end (as it surely will) should lead to trials in The Hague for those who have committed atrocities against the beauty of the human person.  As people of faith living the Resurrection life, we are called to show the action of God in the world as sheer beauty, and reject any distortions of the divine and human image.  For my own part, I rejoice in this community, and this Opus Dei will continue to be my principal energy and focus for as long as I am able, in the grace of God, to do it. So together, we look to our foundation (ktisis) in God, our beautification (kosmesis) through his Son Jesus Christ, and our renewal (ananeosis)through the Holy Spirit. The fruit of this Trinitarian life will be shown by the quality of our life together as a worshipping community, as we say Thank God for the past, and “Yes” to God’s present and future.

SERMON BY THE VICAR: The Baptism of Christ 2016 Readings: Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

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Have you ever wondered why Christ was baptised with water, why Christ was baptised in the Jordan River, or why we bother baptising anybody?  As a person who is paid to think about these things, I have wondered about all three and today I’d like to suggest three answers for those three questions on this day when we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Christ.  The Baptism of Christ is one of the three central themes of this Epiphany season, together with the arrival of the Kings and the miracle of water into wine.   I want to draw on the readings for today to illustrate what it might mean for us now, with my three answers to those questions.  First – why was Christ baptised with water, or chaos, then why was Christ baptised in the Jordan River, or chaos reclaimed through the Spirit, and finally why baptise anybody, or commission to ministry.  One leads to the next, and at the beginning of a New Year, should see us well as we look forward.

 

So first why was Christ baptised with water, or chaos.   The first reading we heard from the book Genesis is one of the two accounts of creation in that book.  If you ever want to floor doorstep fundamentalists asking you about the Bible, ask them for these two accounts in that book.  The first one pictures the primeval state as a watery abyss, and the second pictures the primeval state as a waterless desert.  They seem to have their origin in different creation narratives from different sources.  Both are very ancient and go back to the dawn of recorded history.  This one probably draws on Sumerian and Babylonian accounts, which we know of from the fourth millennium before Christ.  The people of Sumeria and Babylonia depended for their lives on the unpredictability of the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates, in Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq.  These waters, like all water, were at the same time both life giving and death dealing.  Water represents both life and, potentially, death.  That’s part of the reason why the Hebrew rhyming phrase “toho ve Boho” is used to describe the formless void.  In those formless waters lurks chaos.  This is a synonym, of course, for the human person, in whom lurks chaos.  When we name this chaos, then we have power over it, and it no longer has power over us.  Any priest or clinical analyst knows this well.  When we name our demons, then they no longer have power over us.  We name it and own it, that it may not own us.  One of the demons with which we live is violence – the violence and murder we see in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Paris, Beirut, Tunis, and Nigeria.  The violence and disorder of the human person is symbolised by the water, and Christ enters it by going down into the water. The Christian Church, I would suggest, has a particular perspective on the importance of confronting the chaos within all of us, and naming it.  This is our starting point with the water of baptism.  The destructive force, the Tsunami within every person, is named, claimed, and in the process transformed.  If this is true for us as individuals, it is certainly true of the international order. One of the people on the streets of Paris recently said he was lighting a candle so that darkness would not triumph. This is Christ entering the water – the verb baptizein means simply “ to submerge.”

 

Now why was Christ baptised in the River Jordan? My answer for this is chaos reclaimed through the Spirit.  In the Gospel we heard of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.  You know, of course, that the Jordan or Rift Valley is the lowest place on the earth’s surface – 1,000 metres below sea level.  The same point about entering the chaos is being re-enforced, this time through sacred geography. Early icons of the baptism of Christ show demons in the water, which Christ is transforming through his baptism. The symbolism of the Jordan Valley is equally obvious – down to the lowest place of human need comes our God in Christ.  The water and the chaos is transformed in the new creation. If you now fast forward on the theological time zone, you come to Christ creator of all Things (Pantocrator) completing creation on the cross with his words “It is finished.” And what happens?  A spear is pushed in his side, and blood and water come out – the blood of the Eucharist, the continuing life of the Church, and the water of baptism by which we enter the new creation, and reclaim the chaos in the water.  Every baptised person is also a spirit bearer.  This is why we symbolically anoint with oil at Baptism. The baptised, in whom the watery abyss lurks, are now living a new life in the power of the Spirit.  All the baptised have this innate Pentecostal authority and gift.  In living churches and Christian communities, this mysterious grace can be seen again and again in the lives of individuals as they grow into that Pentecostal authority and dignity which is given through baptism.  I’ve been privileged to see at first hand the baptismal authority of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq, who themselves have been displaced by the most barbaric violence and brutality under Da'esh.   Those people have the baptismal authority of the anointed person, the Christ bearer and Spirit bearer. . The same can be true for each and every one of us.   This is the new life of the baptised.  It’s always fresh, always new.  Unlike us, it never grows old, and when it’s really working it can be seen especially in the lives of older people as they are continually renewed by the Holy Spirit.  The chaos within is then given new perspective, as its energy, potentially destructive, is channelled into this new Pentecostal life.  Chaos reclaimed through the spirit, and baptism in the Jordan River at the lowest place on the earth’s surface.

 

And finally, why baptise anybody or Baptism as Commission to Ministry. “Baptism represents life-long growth into Christ… and “baptism is commission to ministry.”  Our Baptism is not simply for us as individuals, but also commissions us to active ministry in the world.  It calls us to exercise that innate baptismal authority in work for the common good.  We see this most clearly, of course, in the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan.  This baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry.  So it should be with us.  We are led through this commission to ministry into new ways of doing things and new ministries all the time.  One of the principal jobs of any priest, especially in the parochial ministry, must be to release the baptismal energy of the communities we serve. It’s fascinating right now to see how new and more diverse forms of ministry emerge in and though this community.  For example, the recent and dramatic growth in our own Filipino Chaplaincy. Or take the willingness of many, not all believers, to contribute their energies and resources to the work of the Church, and the fact that we were able to raise a million and a quarter in three years.  People get it.  They see the relevance and importance of having a building which speaks of God to the community through being open, in top condition, and used daily from morning till evening.  We need to harness this energy and willingness. So at the beginning of a new year, ask yourself the question, as we ask it as a community, “into what new areas of ministry is God leading me?”    This is baptism as commission to ministry, or why we bother to baptise anybody.

 

In summary, we recognise and name the chaos, we transform it by the Pentecostal energy of the Holy Spirit through baptism, and we move on to exercise that commission to ministry in new and surprising ways.  We turn to do this now in the baptism of Jamie and Samuel.  And the baptism of these two brothers on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ gives us all new energy as we recognise God speaking directly to each one of us in these words “You are the beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”

    

National Cathedral of the Holy Child, Manila

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Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Dr William Taylor, Sunday, January 3, 2016

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1: 10-18


In this joyful season of Christmas, and before the crib with the Holy Child, I salute you in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ with warm greetings from your brothers and sisters in Christ in the Diocese of London. Our readings today all communicate that joy in the faith which we experience at Christmas, with the central message which we heard from the Gospel of John “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is the amazing centre of our faith, that God becomes fully human in order that each one of us – you and me- might become fully God-like.  Much of my work in the Diocese of London is with the Orthodox Churches, where this central truth of our faith is known as Theosis, and this process of becoming fully God-like in this teaching of he continues, of course, after our physical death.  This central message of our faith communicates the joy of Christmas, in which God gives us the greatest gift of His Son, fully human, living as one of us. All our readings today continue that sense of joy which comes from the Incarnation.  This, of course, has profound implications for each one of us as we live out our faith wherever God has placed us.  So today, I want to draw out just two of those implications.  First, the meaning of the word became flesh, and second what it means for us to become Godlike as sons and daughters of God.

So first the meaning of the incarnation.  When we say the word became flesh and dwelt among us, if we went to the original Greek, we would find that the words, when we translate them into the English language, actually mean, “He pitched his tent among us.”  This communicates the radical insecurity which characterises our human condition.  When we achieve material wealth and material stability, this can partially disguise the sense that, in our lives, we hang by a thread which can snap at any time – the Tagalog expression “Kapit sa patalim” expresses this sense of radical insecurity very well.  Those who feel close to this are those who have experienced real loss – loss of homes through war and violence and natural disaster, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of health.  I felt this very clearly in 2014, which I began with the devastated communities from Typhoon Yolanda, and ended among the refugee camps of Iraq amongst Christians who had fled from the violent barbarism of the so-called Islamic State. Here, the radical insecurity which characterises our human condition was very clearly felt and shown, and called out a response of working together to relieve human suffering.  The Tagalog concept of Pakikisama expresses this well- working together and sharing the burden, so that no one is left alone on their loss. This, for me, is the meaning of the incarnation.

Now to the second point – that as God becomes fully human, we might become God-like as sons and daughters of God.  This concept, expressed in the word Theosis, gives each one of us a unique dignity which nothing can remove. The unique and inalienable dignity given to each one of us I see very clearly through the ministry with migrants.  I never use the term ministry to, because ministry, when it is effective and real is always two way.  In fact, I receive far more than I give through the people with whom I work.  In my case, I am especially blessed to be working amongst the Filipino Chaplaincy of the Diocese of London, with its gifted priest and lay people. Some are newly arrived, some are undocumented, some are longer established, some have dual citizenship of the Philippines and the UK, and (increasingly) many are British born.  The energy and enthusiasm of the Filipino Christian community appears as a spring in the dry desert of secular fundamentalism which increasingly characterises the British political establishment and ruling class. The Filipino Chaplaincy of the Diocese of London, ecumenical in its expression, and staffed by priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente is showing a new and twenty first century way, after we see the bankruptcy of the twentieth century desert of secularism. I thank God for this.  In the part of London in which I live and work we can expect to see some concrete results in 2016- not least showing migrant to migrant ministry as we receive our fair share of the 20,000 refugees from Syria the UK has committed to accept. We hope to work together in this task, with the Filipino Chaplaincy taking in its part in welcoming these new arrivals in Britain. Why do we do this?  Because as we become more and more God-like as sons and daughters of God, we will show that unique and inalienable dignity which is given to the human person, wherever they are from. This will strengthen the people of faith wherever they are, and I thank God for it, as we are changed into God’s likeness.


So as we begin this Year of Grace 2016, I pray that this central message of the joy of Christmas will carry us through whatever lies ahead – both good and bad. I thank God for the prophetic ministry of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and all the churches of the Philippines.  I pray that the year ahead will be full of acts of mercy, as decreed by His Holiness Pope Francis, who experienced first-hand this last year the infectious and joyous faith of the Filipino. This is what it means when we read and say, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  A very happy and blessed Christmas and New Year to all.  Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon.

Remembrance Sunday 2015

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SERMON BY THE VICAR, REMEMBRANCE/ALL SOULS 2015

Today, together with the whole country, we are commemorating Remembrance Sunday, established at the end of the Second World War to be the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day, November 11th. In this, we salute and honour those who have died for our country on active service in our armed forces, right up to today. This is an act of remembering, and it’s in that spirit in this Service that we hold in the loving embrace of God all our loved ones, whom we see no longer. The act of remembering, whether it be in the special circumstances of honouring the dead who die in war, or own loved ones who have died, either peacefully in their beds at the end of a long life, or in tragic circumstances where life has been cut short, is the same. So what are we doing when we remember?  And how is remembering in this liturgical context different from a wistful nostalgia, where we long for things and people who have gone from us?   I want to begin to answer that by using two words – one English, one Greek. The English word is – re-membering and the Greek is anamnesis.

The English word is re-membering, pronounced as two words, hyphenated.  To re-member is literally to put things back together, joining up the pieces to make them whole. It is the opposite of dis-membering.  So when we join up the pieces, we see the whole picture, and if we can say that of our lives, we are doing pretty well. In this context, like many other people have been fascinated by NASA’s Space programme, especially Voyagers 1 and 2, now into their 33rd year of inter-galactic travel.  Currently, space scientists are attempting to send messages from the earth, summarising life on the planet in one sentence.  What would you write? The ability to do that is an act of-re-membering, putting together the pieces.  Those who have lived on earth and do so no longer form an integral part of that picture.  They have formed and shaped us in many and often unseen ways. The other current happening which calls for re-membrance, putting together the whole picture, is of course the refugee and migrant crisis. As I try to do this myself, the image which come to my mind is the lifeless body of little aylan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach. As we re-member him, so we re-member all those who are fleeing war, poverty, and persecution- all of it made by us, the human race.  The UNHCR currently estimates that around 59 million people globally have been uprooted by war, violence, persecution, poverty, and the effects of climate change.  This year, it has been an important part of –remembering by our religious leaders to continue to point out this bigger picture to politicians.  Pope Francis did this in his encyclical Laudato Si and his address to the UN, as did Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly in London last week. And our Christian faith gives us the ultimate context for our re-membering.  Listen to these words from the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue, published last week with the title In the Image and Likeness of God:  A Hope filled Anthropology, “To be fully human is to know, love, and delight in God and to share in God’s life as far as created beings may. Thus it is in praising and worshipping God that we discover who we are as human beings.”  We become fully human, therefore, when we re-member.  Bereavement is an integral part of this process of becoming fully human

And it is bereavement which connects the reality of those who die in armed conflict with the day-to-day reality of the death of those we love.  Scripture reminds us “ in the midst of life, we are in death.”  As we know, death can come peacefully at the end of a long life, or it may come painfully, suddenly, violently and senselessly.  This makes the pain of bereavement even sharper, and actually if we are honest it never goes away.  Time we know is a great healer, and memories fade, but the reality of human bereavement is one which the Christian faith has always taken seriously and acknowledged.  The orthodox Christian belief in the continuation of life after death, gives it another perspective, but it doesn't actually take away the experience of pain and loss.   It is not for nothing that the Litany of our Church prays for deliverance from “ violence, murder, and dying unprepared.”  All of us pray for the grace to prepare properly for our deaths, and it is part of the privilege and duty of the priest to accompany people in this, their final journey.  So we bring before God our own experience of bereavement and we offer it to the wider perspective of the healing love of Jesus Christ.   Later on in this service, there will be an opportunity to light a candle in memory of loved ones, and place it symbolically on the cross.  The cross, as more candles are lit, becomes then a cross of light.

This is the perspective which we bring to this service of remembrance today, which brings me to the second word, anamnesis. Christian remembering is rooted in what is called in Greek anamnesis.  Anamnesis is very different from memory, and nostalgia is totally alien to it.  Anamnesis is at the heart of Christian and Eucharistic theology.  In anamnesis, the thing remembered becomes dynamically present to the here and now, as linear time falls away.  We do not simply remember Jesus Christ as a historical figure, but Jesus Christ in this Eucharistic theology of anamnesis becomes dynamically present now in the Eucharistic assembly, you and me, and in the bread and the wine.  This is fantastically freeing, and it is the perspective which we bring to all our experience of bereavement and memory as we commemorate those who die in war, and all the faithful who have gone before us.  We are set free to enjoy, in this sense, heavenly communion.  Again, the symbol for this is the cross in light.  You will no doubt remember that it was the Emperor Constantine who saw the cross in light as a pointer to his new life in Christ.  The Cross in light was accompanied by the Latin words In hoc signo vinces – “ By this sign conquer”.  You will find this cross in light with the same motto on the kneelers of this church.  The cross in light is symbolically at the root of our prayer.

So allow the liturgy of today to do its own work.  Restrained liturgical words and symbols will do a far more effective work than hundreds of words of any preacher.  I was reminded of this recently when a suddenly bereaved person said to me “ I don’t want you to say anything.  I just want you to be here.”  So today on this Remembrance Sunday, we hold in the silent love of God those who die for their country in war, together with all those we have loved and see no longer.  There is a tombstone, which proclaims, “ Where you are, I once was. Where I am, you will be.”   This reminds us that our destinies are bound together through the loving embrace of God in Jesus Christ.  For it is Jesus Christ who has gone before all of us, which enables us to pray in the words of the Russian Kontakion the Dead which we will sing later, “ and weeping o’er the grave, we make our song.  Alleluia.  Alleluia.  Alleluia.”

 

 

 

Laudato Si

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SERMON BY THE VICAR

September 20th 2015 St Matthew

Laudato Si

On Friday, 36 new members of the Community of St Anselm from 5 continents were commissioned in Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury as Abbot of the Community in a moving and historic service.  At the heart of the Service was the personal commitment of each member as they were called out by name and each responded, in their own language, “Here I am”.  This is of course a biblical phrase from the calling of Samuel. I want to use this phrase in a brief reflection this morning, as we commemorate St Matthew in the middle of a Time for Creation.  The reflection is on Pope Francis recent encyclical entitled, Laudato Si or “Praised Be” from the Canticle of the Sun by St Francis, his Patron. It addresses the twin themes of climate change and population movement – I’m not going to give a general summary as I did this in June and you can see this on our website.  The 190 pages of the document are all downloadable for free from the internet. The reason I want to use the phrase here I am is because it evokes an inescapably personal response.  The twin themes of population movement and climate change are not somebody else’s problem – they are mine and they are yours.  Here I am is also a profoundly empowering approach.  When we realise we are part of the solution by our actions, then the feeling of helplessness which these global sometimes engender disappears.  None of us is helpless to act.

 

So First of all,   “Here I am” and population movement. The present large scale movement of people out of war and conflict zones should not surprise anybody.  We did not need a crystal ball to foresee this – and yet our policy makers and politicians have been unable to act and are seemingly frozen by fear of doing the obvious and right thing. The response of Europe collectively has been shamefully absent leading many to ask what is the point of a union which is no union and which cannot act collectively when it is required to do so for the Common Good. The Common Good lies at the heart of Pope Francis encyclical and at the heart of Catholic social teaching. Listen to these words from the encyclical “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”  This will inevitably lead to large scale and mass movements of populations forced from their homes by drought or conflict over scarce resources. This is what we see now, and unless Europe and our world can act collectively for the common good, the population movements we see now will be chicken feed compared to what we will experience in the future – “ we aint seen nothing yet.” So on the principle of Here I am, let’s bring this closer to home.  The UK Government has given an undertaking to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years. The UNHCR points out that this is roughly 40 people per Constituency – hardly an unmanageable figure, and it is the view of many that this is too low. Moving yet closer to home, what can we do as a Parish and what can I do as an individual.  There are many ways in which each and every one of us can act – if you want to see some of them, there is a handout at the end of this service which will be on the website on Monday morning. We are fortunate in having some direct access to the human stories behind every refugee, and do not always have to relay on the filter of our media.  Next week I will be in Macedonia and Albania, which is already on the radar as the next flashpoint, so I hope to bring back more insights in which we can be directly involved.  As a Parish there is much we can do, blessed as we are with resources – principally our human diversity.  Tomorrow at your PCC meeting, we hope to be able to plan direct support for at least one migrant family thank to some generous funding which will enable us to do this. Here I am amidst movement of people.

 

Now here I am and Climate Change. This is what Pope Francis writes “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever, “and this “Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, and by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.”  Here the principle of Here I am is obvious.  We are again fortunate in the Parish in having a vigorous Green for God movement which brings before our eyes the countless ways in which each one of us can act. . Here are words from the encyclical “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” he writes. We should also consider taking public transport, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling. The times are urgent.  This December in Paris the COP21 gathering takes place. (http://www.cop21paris.org) Leaders and representatives of more than one hundred and ninety countries will be meeting together to try to agree measures necessary to avoid damaging changes to the planet and its inhabitants, including a possibly catastrophic 2°C rise in global temperatures.  Having seen the total failure of governments to act collectively for the Common Good, it would be easy to become cynical about their ability to rise above self-interest, but I do beleivethat our Christian faith will keep on calling out to everyone “ Here I am”   We can and must act.

 

For us, it is our Christian faith which makes all the difference.  We are not left feeling helpless or powerless to act because at the heart of our faith lies reverence for the created order and each other.  The whole point of the pope’s encyclical is summed up in an almost throwaway line towards the end.  This is what he writes, Individuals must act “By the way, why are we here on Earth in the first place? “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Responding to these two big issues, when we say “here I am” will liberate the mind and the heart and lead to a metanoia or change of consciousness.  It’s no accident that I’m speaking about these things when we commemorate Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist who was called from the selfish pursuit of money to something more liberating.  He was set free, and so can we be when we say “Here I am.  Send me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity 14,2015

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SERMON BY THE VICAR, Trinity 14, 2015

Readings: Proverbs 20, James 2, Mark 7:24-end

If you have had a holiday over the summer just gone, maybe you spent at least part of it in a car. Cars can be at time unreliable friends, and, as I have an old car, I spent some of the time in August by the side of the road waiting for my car to be towed into the garage to be fixed yet again. Fixed in my mind right now is an incident with a car which changed the course of my ministry, and my heart.  25 years ago, Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait.  I was then serving in Amman, Jordan, and outside my church a group of four Filipina women appeared in a Bentley.  “Father” they said “what can we do with this car?”  Like thousands of others, they had been working in Kuwait, and been abandoned by their employers, who had fled to Saudi Arabia, leaving them to fend for themselves.  They simply took the keys of the car, and drove it to Amman, where they abandoned it.  Within days, we had thousands of others- like them, all stranded.  Within days, the churches had responded by setting up camps for them where they stayed until they were repatriated.  I think this encounter changed the course of my ministry and life, enlarged my heart, and enabled me to see refugees and those fleeing from war in a different light.  For many, the tragic image of the lifeless body of the three year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying dead on a Turkish beach may have done the same.  What is required of us now is an urgent question requiring urgent action, and as always, Scripture, our Christian tradition, and our reason will have urgent guidelines for us.  The clear thrust of today’s readings is our responsibility for each other.  This from Proverbs “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.”  Or this from James “Faith, by itself, if it has no good works, is dead “or this from Mark, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” These biblical insights all point to the central truth, which we see from our Christian tradition and our own reason, that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. For an answer, I’m going to use three Latin tags which you can see at the base of an Egyptian obelisk in the Vatican, Christus Vincit, (Christ Conquers), Christus Regnat ( Christ Rules) and Christus Imperat, (Christ commands).  I used these three Latin tags in a setting of a new anthem using the words of William Wilberforce” You can look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know” All these words speak with startling contemporary relevance right now.

First Christus Vincit.  Christ Conquers.  These words have been, and are, of enormous comfort and encouragement to those who experience the abuse of earthly power.  This abuse is not, and will not be, the final word. In almost daily contact with my friends in Syria, I know that this sustains them, as does the knowledge of our prayer and action with them in mind.  The present tragic situation of Syria and Iraq will not endure for ever, despite the total failure of our political leaders to understand and grasp the moment.  One hundred years ago, the map of the Middle East was redrawn by Britain and France in the Sykes-Piquot Line.  Today, as I speak, the map of the Middle East is again being redrawn, but our political leadership is not there helping to assist this process, and be ahead of the game.  Instead, it has been left to those of malevolent and violent intent, principally IS with its ideology of hate and death.  To seize the initiative with a vision for a new Middle East can only come through the concerted political action of the international community through the UN – but the vision and the will to do this is not there, as nation states follow their own vested interests.  If it is Christ who conquers, and not a Kalashnikov or a barrel bomb, then this needs to be translated into the concerted international will of the world community working together for the good of all.”  The Christian Just War theory assists, with an appeal for increased humanitarian intervention, and the prospect of the perpetrators of war crimes being brought to justice – be that now or, more controversially, from the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is Christ who conquers, not a cruise Missile.

Next Christus Regnat. Christ Rules.  For those who experience plenty, it’s very easy to forget this, and to assume that we rule ourselves through our reliance on our material stuff. In today’s Old Testament reading, Proverbs reminds us what happens when people forget where they have come from and on what their life depends.  This often happens in “easy” times when everything is going well and we have work and money in the bank. More often than not, people return to the Lord through disaster, when something completely outside their control happens. James makes the same point with these words, which we just heard, “Faith by itself, if it has no good works, is dead.” This gratefulness to God for all we enjoy lies at the root of the lives of all healthy churches, and will lead us to action for the common good.  Right now, it is right, I believe, as the public is now doing, to demand the Government reconsider its less than generous response to political asylum.  Germany has promised to take in 800,000 genuine political refuges, Britain 600.  Many are asking, at least, for an urgent debate in Parliament this coming week to address this very question.  The churches can play a vital role.  Take one example, the Bishop of Norwich recently worked with the County council to identify unused housing stock, and immediately rehoused thousands of political refugees.  Theism is civil society and the churches working together for the goof of all. But most importantly, with each one of us, when Christ Rules in our hearts, we will respond with an overflow of infectious generosity.

Now Christus Imperat, which some English wag wrote should be translated in the contemporary British context as “Christ suggests, rather quietly, definitely apologetically, and as one option among many after first testing the waters timorously with a focus group.” Christ commands as we live the Gospel life.  We believe that when we live in this way under the command of Christ, human society and the church will flourish.  Christ commands, translated into our daily life, will enable us to be bold and confident as we plan our lives together under God.  If Europe is to mean anything, in terms of values and relates it should be possible to work together by: agreeing which countries will take how many asylum seekers; by establishing well run reception centres at all the pinch points – Eastern Turkey, the Bulgarian border with Turkey, the islands of Kos and Lampedusa, and on the coast of Libya.  In these centres, people could have their claims assessed, the genuine separated from the opportunistic, and the genuine resettled around the world, including the United States, who have been curiously silent on this subject. The financing of this work can be done by the international community working together and perhaps, in Europe’s case, immediately diverting finance from yet more unnecessary prestige projects. In this country, we have a long and distinguished history in welcoming refugees from violence – Huguenots, German Jews, Hungarian, Ugandan Asians, and so I could go on. I also recall that I was publically welcomed to this Parish when I was inducted by Michael Portillo, his father a political refugee from Franco’s Spain. This is the new world which all can inhabit.  Christus Imperat.

These three Latin tags have sustained God’s people in good times and in bad, in times of plenty and ease, and in times of persecution. They speak of the true freedom of the baptised believer as freedom under authority.  This is the Gospel life, the life of abundant and overflowing generosity.  The Gospels tell us, with the analogy of the wedding feast, when we live like with overflowing generosity, we will be blessed. And we are, of course, all blessed, as we share in this foretaste of the heavenly banquet where Christ invites and says to each one of us – “Friend come up higher.” 

Feast of Peter & Paul, June 28th 2015

tobi iyanda

 

SERMON BY THE VICAR

Feast of Peter & Paul

The Church keeps the Feast of Sts Peter & Paul today, going back to ancient origins of the commemoration of their martyrdoms on June 29th, in the Gregorian calendar.  Their relics were also translated on this day. Relics are an important part of our Christian story. You may know the story of Gervais Phinn, a former inspector of Schools in Yorkshire who once telephoned a church school, dedicated to st John the Baptist, to get the aswermachine with this message.  “This is the head of John the Baptist speaking.  Please leave your message after the tone.” As we know, the relics of St Peter are presently in Rome, and form a basic foundation in the claim of the Bishop of Rome to be the successor of St Peter.  In the Eastern Syrian tradition, St Peter was Bishop of Antioch before he was Bishop of Rome, so this is one of the many disputed claims within the Christian Church.  Nevertheless, contemporary ecumenical convergence, especially for Anglicans and Roman Catholics afford His Holiness the Pope a primacy of honour, even if not of jurisdiction.  One of the roles of the Pope, within this primacy of honour, is to address the oikoumene - the whole inhabited globe.  This he has done with his encyclical, published last week, entitled, Laudato Si or “Praised Be” from the Canticle of the Sun by St Francis, his Patron. It addresses the twin themes of climate change and population movement, and I give you a brief summary.

 

1)      Climate change has grave implications. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.”

2)      Rich countries are destroying poor ones, and the earth is getting warmer. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”

3)      Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

4)      The importance of access to safe drinkable water is “a basic and universal human right.”

5)      Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, and “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.”

6)      Population control does not address the problems of the poor. “In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.” And, “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.”

7)      Gender differences matter, and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”

8)      The international community has not acted enough: “recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” He writes, “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” And, “there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.”

9)      Individuals must act. “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break                            with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” he writes. We should also consider taking public transit, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling.

10)   “By the way, why are we here on Earth in the first place? “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he writes.

 

So here, in nutshell, is what the Pope presents.  For him, and for Christians generally, these are not simply scientific and technocratic questions, but also spiritual ones “Why we are here on earth in the first place?” is a question addressed to everybody on the planet. It is addressed to the billionaires of our Borough, as it is addressed to the drowning refugee in the Mediterranean, without distinction.   And here’s the rub, because climate change will continue to force mass migrations of people as we see right now across Europe.  This too is a moral and spiritual question and I for one hang my head in shame at the UK Government’s shameless and shameful policy in this regard.  Take refuges from Syria, torn apart by a brutal civil war.  Between 2013 and now, the UK Government has accepted 80 vulnerable Syrian refugees.  In the same period, the German Government has accepted 20,000.  This figures speak tragically for themselves.

So on the Feast of St Peter & Paul, we thank God for the prophetic ministry of Pope Francis, and for all those prophets – bishops, priests, and deacons, who commemorate their ordination on this day.  We pray for the 40 deacons to be ordained in our cathedral next week, all called to a bold and prophetic ministry in our city.  We thank God the churches are far ahead of governments and civil society in addressing the twin evils of climate change and people trafficking.  We thank God for the apostolic ministry throughout the worldwide church, and we continue to pray for its well-being and its safety as it carries out its ministry, founded on the rock of the Apostles.