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William Sermon.jpg

The Rev'd Canon Dr William Taylor

Sermon by the Vicar Remembrance Sunday 2017

Office Manager

 REMEMBRANCE/ALL SOULS 2017

 

In October this year, together with much of the UK, we observed black history month by holding some inspirational workshops for different schools here in the Church.  The workshops, through interactive presentations, told the story of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the role of William Wilberforce, and hisconnections with this organ.  As you know, in the course of restoring and relocating it, our archival research showed the connections betweenthisorgan, then in Clapham, and William Wilberforce.  We developed the narrative that the hymn Amazing Grace, written by a former slaver, was probably first heard on this organ.  So we feel proud to have our own connection with this important event in world history.  Black history month is an opportunity for voices which might not normally be heard to be voiced out, and in doing so, remembered. This leads me to what we are doing today. Remembering. But we do it in a uniquely Christian way.  Why do I say that?  Because Christian remembering takes the past and renews it in the present.  Christian remembering is therefore not passive but active. The Greek word anamnesis describes this. Anamnesis is the Christian context of renewing the legacy of the past by recalling it in the loving embrace of God, present in the here and now.  Let me be more specific.

 

Thomas Jefferson, one of the five drafters of the Constitution of the United States of America, wrote this in 1774  “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time” And it was this, of course, which went on to be enshrined in the Constitution of 1776 in these words  “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote these words, owned more than 100 slaves, considerably less than the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who owned more than 10,000.  Recalling our shameful past is painful for everyone involved – either our shameful collective history or shameful bits of our own past. But the doing of it is also healing. That applies to today also, which formspart of what is called healing of memories. Healing the wounds of the past, not by forgetting them, but by holding them in the loving embrace of God in the here and now.  And today, this commemoration has two aspects.  We remember those who die for this country in war, and simultaneously we recall our own loved ones whom we see no longer.  All this is part of what makes us who we now are, both as a nation and as individuals.

 

First of all the national.  Since the end of the Second World War, this Sunday, Remembrance Sunday (the closest to Armistice Day, November 11th) has been the day on which we commemorate as a nation all those who have died in the service of their country, especially in our armed forces.  In terms of our national identity, there is something of a national conversation at the moment about what it is to be British. Our evolving national story is of course set in the much larger room of our place within the worldwide community of nations.  Politically at the moment, there are many different voices claiming to be able to assist us in developing our place within the community of nations, and great care needs to be taken that we remain an outward looking community embracing those who offer their skills and lives here, from wherever they have come and however long they have been here. So whatever our national identity is and will be, we remember all those who have helped to formour national consciousness by having their lives taken from them in War, be that First or Second World Wars, or any of the ongoing conflicts since then – the list is long an growing, as any visit to the national arboretum in Staffordshire shows. So today, we commemorate all serving personnel in the armed forces who have died following the line of duty.  We honour their memory and offer sympathy and support to their families. This act of worship, then is a place of both pain and hope.  In other words, a place of bereavement.

 

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.  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 own 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.  As I said at the beginning, Christian remembering is rooted in what is called anamnesis.  Anamnesis is very different from memory, and nostalgia is totally alien to it. 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, through the action of the Holy Spirit. 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.  It was the Emperor Constantine who saw the cross in light before the battle of Milvian Bridge in the year 312 as a pointer to his new life in Christ and later baptism. The Cross in light in Constantine’s vision 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 therefore symbolically at the root of our prayer.

 

So allow the liturgy of today to do its own work. 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 all our destinies are bound together as we race towards the grave, held in 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.”

Simon and Jude

Office Manager

Sermon by the Vicar, Saints Simon & Jude 2017

Readings: Isaiah 28:14-16, Ephesians 2:19-end, John 15:17-end

 

To my knowledge, there is only one shrine dedicated to St Jude in England - which is in Faversham in Kent.  As you know, St Jude is commonly thought of in western culture as the patron saint of lost causes. Once, when I went to the shrine in Kent, one of the people looking after the shrine asked me if there was any special reason why I had gone there.  I attempted to introduce myself by saying "I'm a parish priest" and wanted to go on but before I was able to, the man simply said " Oh, I see.  we get lots of those."  I didn't say any more - but if I had been able to I would have been able to explain that in London, generally parish priests don't feel like that, and I certainly don't.  Only a couple of weeks ago, in a major consultation on the Parish system held at St Mellitus College here in London, Bishop Graham of Kensington defended the Parish system in the aftermath of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.  Before any of the statutory agencies made their presence felt, it was the Parishes of this neighbourhood, this one included, which were there, on the ground, doing the job they are intended to do in caring for the people of the neighbourhood, regardless of background, and on the basis of need alone.  So, a lost cause this is certainly not. But let's look a little closer at Jude and Simon, as I do believe, like most saints, they speak directly to us today.

Simon and Jude are not heard of in the New Testament other than a few references in the Gospels and in the letter which bears Jude's name.  The tradition, in both east and west, which is very early so is probably rooted in historical fact, is that they went to Edessa (or Urfa) in what is now eastern Turkey, and from there on to Persia, where they were both martyred for their faith - giving them their symbols of the axe by which, by tradition, they were beheaded.  Simon is generally referred to as the Zealot to distinguish him from Simon Peter, or Cepha.  Jude is associated with him again by tradition, in that not many people were prepared to pray through him because of the proximity of his name to that of Judas Iscariot.  Whatever the case, they have been associated together and share the same feast day since the fourth century.  The fact that they died as martyrs also strengthens their links with all the faithful, especially in our own time, which in many ways is the time of martyrs. Martyrdom also currently has a bad press as it may, in tabloid culture, be associated with suicide bombers and other forms of hate crimes.  But Christian martyrdom is never like that as a martyr who sought his or her own death would in our faith no longer be thought of in that way. So, if we want a clue to what the meaning of contemporary martyrdom is, and where it is rooted, I suggest that we turn to the scriptures, and especially the readings set for today. From the three readings, for me, two key words emerge - The Cornerstone, and the Advocate. Without these there would be no roots and shoots of the faith of the martyrs or our own faith.

The Cornerstone.  This is a biblical word used throughout the scriptures and it describes the solid foundations on which faith is built. For Christians of course, this is Jesus Christ.  For this reason, one of the earliest descriptions of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is Lord.  This is a title giving authority and weight to the stature of Jesus Christ in relation to our own lives.  But very quickly, and by the time of the fourth century, the Christian creed of Nicea Constantinople, which we recite every Sunday, describes Jesus Christ as truly God and truly human.  In other words, if we want to become truly human and alive, Christ is our model for in him we see God.  From the same period, it was Irenaeus who said, " The Glory of God is a human being fully alive." With Christ as our corner stone we become fully alive and living for life.  A common misperception of martyrs is that they somehow had a death wish.  But the reality is the opposite.  If we are truly alive with Christ as our corner stone, then death is nothing at all, and certainly nothing to be feared. Other so-called foundations on which we build are generally found to be wanting when we find ourselves at rock bottom.  If we have built our foundations on money in the bank and we lose it, we are without foundation.  If we have built our foundations on another person who deserts us, we are without foundation.  We do know this, but the temptation is often so great that we can't resist it - there's probably nothing more terrifying or untrue to say to someone else " You are the reason I get up in the morning."  Until you're not there. In his book, Prayer and the Pursuit of Happiness, Bishop Richard Harries points out that these projections onto other people are only natural in a secular society. In a believing context, God is the all knowing, the all loving, and the rock, but in a secular society we have a natural tendency to project those things onto other people, and of course it isn't sustainable. But Christ, truly God and truly human, is the unchangeable cornerstone, for the martyrs and for all of us.  This is the root of the organic tree.

Now the Advocate.  This is a term for lawyers who speak on our behalf in court, and of course The Holy Spirit.  And in the organic tree of faith, it is the Holy Spirit which enables the tree to flourish and grow.  We need roots and foundations, but the roots and foundations need to produce flourishing and abundant growth.  For this reason, we pray, " Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth." The martyrs and heroes of our faith showed both deep roots and firm foundations in the cornerstone, but also were flourishing and fully alive, showing organic growth like a tree.  This is another reason why death would be nothing at all, as of course the Holy Spirit continues to be the advocate beyond our physical death.  These two things have been central to Christian martyrs throughout the ages.

This is the contemporary and indeed timeless context in which martyrdom is set.  Do not think of it as something out there and back there in time.  The twentieth century, sometimes called the century of blood, was the century of Christian martyrdom, not least through the numerous genocides which took place throughout the century. In 2015, in a moving and powerful collective ceremony in the Armenian Church, one and a half million martyrs of the Armenian genocide in 1915 were canonised at one stroke.  The Nazi holocaust of the Jews and others is at the same time commemorated in the Memorial at Yad Vashem in the State of Israel, but there are many other martyrs and victims of genocide from that century who have no memorial - be that in the gulags of the Soviet Union, the killing felids of Cambodia, or the silent mass graves of Rwanda or Srebrenica. In our own twenty first century, we need to hold in our prayers the victims of the genocide waged against Christians and Yezidis by Da'esh, whose fantasy Caliphate now lies in the ruins it was always destined for, and there will be an urgent need to bring to justice those who committed these crimes against humanity.  We are fortunate and blessed to have many regular worshippers in this Church who come out of a context of active persecution and potential martyrdom.  As we all learn together, it is for that reason that we have given supporting Christians in the Middle east and in areas where persecution is to be expected, a high profile in our Mission Action Plan.  Martyrdom is not a strange out there and back there experience.  It is now.  So, let's use the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude to ask ourselves individually and collectively " What is our Corner Stone?”  and “Do we allow the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to be active through us?” If the answer is yes, all our challenges will be put into perspective, not least our use of money in supporting the work of God's Church. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, can then be invoked elsewhere! Happy Feast.    

Michael & All Angels

Office Manager

Readings: Genesis 28:10-17, Rev 12: 7-12, John 1:47-end

 

Wherever I go there are Angels.  Today I look at a church full of them, I have just, the internet is full of them, and our experiences on a daily basis can be angelic.  When was the last time someone called you an angel? This Feast of St Michael and All Angels is also so significant that this academic term in many institutions is called the Michaelmas Term, and look outside the south door of this church and you will see Michaelmas daisies. From the internet, to art, to university terms, to flowers, Michael and his angels are with us.  The readings set for today also give us the perspective we need to understand a bit more about the significance of angels.

 

First the reading from Genesis.  Judaism inherited its belief in angels mainly from ancient Sumerian religion.  Jacob and the angels, which we just heard is a manifestation of this. Angels, winged messengers of protection, appear in all the great religious traditions of the world, and Judaism simply inherited this.  Because of their universality, they are great unifiers, as any believing person of any faith will tell you today. They serve an important role in our faith, and today we have a great opportunity to be reminded of that.   The late and great Bishop John Robinson wrote in his book, But That I can’t Believe (designed for the sceptical British public),             “ When you say to someone, ‘Be an Angel’ you are not saying to them ‘Go and grow feathers,’ you are saying to them, ‘Go and do something angelic.’  A simple paraphrase is “ An agel is what an angel does.” So even in sceptical liberal secular democracies they serve an important role.

 

Look around this church, and you will see angels – angels in the windows, in the icons, angels on the reredos behind the altar, a large icon of St Michael in the Chapel over there, and angels in the pew next to you.  We also pray in this and every liturgy with angels and archangels who we do not see – or perhaps you do?  In this sense an angelic being needs no defence, as they simply are – part of the created order, which we humans are given a mandate to care for, especially during this creation time when we focus on our care for creation. Winged, post-gender beings are, I believe, particularly helpful for we non-winged, gendered beings, as they lift us above and beyond ourselves.  Angels symbolically fly above all that restrains and hinders us as human beings – especially as we grow older and our frail body becomes a tattered thing upon a stick. Children generally have no difficulty with angels, especially as symbols of protection.  We remember that angels particularly surround the young, the weak, and the vulnerable. I had a powerful reminder of this in Kosovo, when I visited a couple of years ago.  One of the EU monitors guarding an Orthodox monastery there said to me as we went in, “We’re protecting this church, especially the priceless frescoes of angels,” to which our Kosovar Muslim guide responded, “I think you’ll find that they are protecting you.” 

 

The Greek word for angel, angellos, or Semitic Mallai’k, Farsi Freshte, denotes a winged messenger.  Winged because their message is not limited by the usual constraints of time and space.  Messengers, because they simybolically convey messages from God.  And here we need the eyes of faith, because the messengers can come in very many different forms, and often what is required of us is the openness and faithfulness to receive their message, especially when the message comes through unexpected channels.  St Benedict, a great believer in angels, speaks about the importance of being open to the message of the angels, particularly through the youngest member of the community, and of course through strangers and guests.  This is particularly important in the monastic practice of hospitality based on the concept of entertaining angels unawares.  We too need to be alert to this in becoming a hospitable and open community. I am very aware of having a good number of angelic visitors here today, if we use the young and guests as their archetypes.  I’m also very aware that in the local response to Grenfell, the local community and other well-wishers acted in this angelic way as they brought comfort and relief to victims of the tragic fire. There is an important fifteenth century icon from the Russian iconographer Rublev which illustrates this well.  In this icon, sometimes called the hospitality of Abraham, we see three angels. It is a depiction of the Holy Trinity in angelic form around a symbolic meal.  The symbolic meal is of course the Eucharist, and what’s of particular importance is that the angelic figures are all outward looking as they invite the believer into this joyous feast.  This is one of the ways we pray with angels and archangels as they assist the host of this Feast, Christ himself, in inviting people in to it. Eucharistic hospitality, assisted by angels, is therefore always outward focused as all are invited to this Feast.

 

So as Robinson wrote, an angel is what an angel does.  They protect, they communicate, they guard – as in the symbolic victory of good over evil which we heard in the Revelation to John. If we allow them to, they take us to soar with them, they help set us free - which is one of the reasons I included that reference from the John Mason poem in the piece we commissioned for the blessing of the organ “If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free, angels alone that soar above, enjoy such liberty.” And today, this collection of angels, seen and unseen, like that poem and the Rublev icon, help us to celebrate that joyous feast in which all are included.  For this reason, if I were in a position to make that decision, I would introduce into our church immediate inclusion into that feast upon baptism, as our Orthodox brothers and sisters practice, with baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist all in one hit.  But that’s another story.  Today we simply celebrate Michael and the whole company of angels. Every one of us is protected by this mighty host, especially when we celebrate the joyous Feast of inclusion in this Holy Eucharist.  What more do we need?

                                                                                          

Trinity 12, 2017

Office Manager

Readings:  Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-end, Matthew 16:21-end

Beginning a new job is often a daunting experience and sometimes a steep learning curve.  Shortly after I was ordained going to work at Lambeth Palace was one of those experiences for me. Having to learn the niceties of protocol at high speed and on the job, I once accompanied the Archbishop to a diplomatic reception and was walking ahead of him.  Before his presence was announced to the assembly, he quickly leant forward and murmured in my ear” Get behind me Satan.”  We heard these words of course today.  Just as behind has a double meaning in English, so the Greek word opiso also has a double meaning.  Behind is not just a physical position but also conveys the sense of being behind someone in the school of life as we learn from them. That’s the sense I want to convey today, as we get behind the agenda of God, so we are caught up into the Divine life.  The Divine life is conveyed today by the name of God which we are given in the first reading.  I AM. This of course is the Hebrew tetragrammaton, the four consonants of the name of God which is not a noun but a verb.  And it’s three aspects of the verb God I want to explore briefly today as we look towards the Autumn and the renewal and refreshment which we hope and pray it will bring.

The name of God is the verb to be.  In Hebrew, it’s 4 consonants without vowels – YHWH.  When we transliterate this into the Latin script and the English language it becomes Yahweh or Jehovah.  But it isn’t a noun or a name – it’s a verb, and the verb to be.  Hebrew verbs also have no tenses, so the name I Am could be also translated I Was or I will be.  Or I was who I am and will be.  Here we are taken right into the heart of God who is without time, and as we get behind him, so we are caught up into the Jetstream of God, without time and pure action. Now if that doesn’t excite you on a beautiful September morning, then I guess something might be missing.  So let’s look briefly at those three aspects.  I Was.  I am.  I will be.

I was. The Christian Gospel of Good News works both with the natural order - through, for example, the rhythms and cycles of nature, and at the same time radically inverts them.  In many ways, this is the central paradox of the Christian faith which takes the natural world, works with and through it, and at the same time subverts and turns it upside down.  For example, the central image of Christianity – the cross – an instrument of painful death for convicted criminals, becomes the central symbol of the intersection of the timeless with time. Death, to the secular mind the end of things, becomes the beginning of things. Take the example of the tragedy which befell our community at Grenfell Tower.  The indescribable horror of death by fire or asphyxiation or jumping remains the I was of secular mind.  But in the timelessness of God, and in the complete inversion of the natural order which comes through the Christian Gospel, I was becomes I am and I will be simultaneously.  Those who have died through this or any other tragedy, in fact all the dead are no longer I was but as we get behind God, we all become I am and Will Be.  This is not some false security blanket or as Iris Murdoch said, “All that consoles is fake”.  It’s the opposite.  It’s the deep truth of our life in God, and the perspective we bring to our work, and the fuel which gives us the energy to keep on doing it.

Now I am. In many ways, I am, is the central image of western society and culture since the enlightenment.  I think therefore I am.  I shop therefore I am.  The autonomous individual is King and whatever I want is my right.  Technically, this is called affective individualism, and it means that the atomised individual is always sovereign.  But here again, the Christian Gospel comes with its critique, as the teaching and the practice of the Christian Church was and is to show a radically different world from the so-called natural order of dog eat dog and the weak go the wall.  In this new world, the Magnificat is the song in which the poor are fed and the humble lifted high.  Affective individualism can never do this, which is one of the reasons that without the critique of the faith communities western society will end in sterile and arid ways from which disaffected individuals will seek violent release.  Watch the 4 episodes of The State on Channel 4 which tells the dramatized stories of people disaffected by western society and going to fight for Islamic State, now in their final days. Having just come back from areas liberated from Da’esh or Islamic State I found it no accident that much of the violent and disturbing graffiti they left behind, especially in churches was in European languages.  The I AM of western society, itself a kind of violent suppression, has become the trigger producing the ugly reaction which we see in Da’esh and other forms of violent reaction against western individualism.  But my experience was also in the light of the reconstruction of life which the Easter people – the Christian Churches of Iraq- are doing with astonishing speed and energy.  Here we see the real I AM, of life in God’s slipstream.  Home communities being rebuilt with the energy of the Resurrection. This is the real I am, in the slip stream of God.

And finally, I will be.  In 2017, I will be 10 kilos lighter.  I will be Master of the universe when climb to the top of my organisational greasy pole.  I will be many things.  But in the eyes of God, all are seen simultaneously- I was, I am, I will be.  One of the most powerful films I saw in 2016 was the film Arrival – which tells the story of 12 UFO’s coming to earth with creatures inside them.  The world’s top linguistic experts cannot work out how to communicate with the creatures until it is discovered that their language is circular, not linear, and that they do not exist in time, by which time the creatures have become bored with trying to communicate with humans, and fly off again in their space ships. You can imagine why I found this so riveting. The power of religious language and life in God is that it is cyclical, not linear, and that it gives the power of seeing in multi-dimensional ways.  It is not one dimensional.  Take the responsibility, which we heard in the New Testament reading, to care for the stranger.  You could say that this is simple effective social policy – but it’s much more than that, because our Christian tradition and religious language in general has the capacity to invert all that we see, where I am the refugee, or I was the refugee, or I will be the refugee.  Even our use of language can powerfully demonstrate this multi-dimensional way of seeing things, especially when we think of the Christian status of the refugee. Please read this.  Now read it from bottom to top.

I hope in these examples, I have given the sense of the Christian Church working through the natural order and at the same time subverting and inverting it.  We live in God’s slipstream of time – Was, Am, and Will be simultaneously.  As the season changes from summer to autumn, this is a small example of God’s natural world showing time as cyclical.  In the Christian tradition, time is cyclical and not linear.  This allows all of us to get caught up into God’s slip steam as we get behind him as I was becomes I am and will be.  All at the same time. This is the life of the Resurrection as we enter the Autumn and why Alleluia is our constant song.

 

 

REFUGEES

 

They have no need of our help

So do not tell me

These haggard faces could belong to you or me

Should life have dealt a different hand

We need to see them for who they really are

Chancers and scroungers

Layabouts and loungers

With bombs up their sleeves

Cut-throats and thieves

They are not

Welcome here

We should make them

Go back to where they came from

They cannot

Share our food

Share our homes

Share our countries

Instead let us

Build a wall to keep them out

It is not okay to say

These are people just like us

A place should only belong to those who are born there

Do not be so stupid to think that

The world can be looked at another way

 

(When you have read this, now read it from the bottom to the top)

 

 

Trinity 7

Office Manager

Readings: Romans 8:26-end, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

These are challenging readings at the end of the school term, and the beginning of the holiday season. Of course, not everyone takes a holiday at this time of year.  Many people need to work throughout this period; some cannot afford a holiday, and some take their recreation at other times of the year.  Whatever the case, this time of year is as good as any other to reflect on the need for everyone to be recreated through recreation. Who does not know the relief from stress brought by a break, or by doing something completely different?  If you work with your head, it may be working with your hands.  If you work with your hands, it may be not having to do that.  It may be doing more physical exercise or sport. Time for reflection also gives us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves, whether we are using the opportunities open to us, and whether we are making best use of the talents and gifts which God has given us. The readings for today help in some senses, but the blessing is mixed.

First, from the Letter to the Romans. Here, Paul writes about the afflictions and hardships he has personally experienced.  His reflection helps and encourages all those who are going through tragedy and persecution – be that the people of our community at Grenfell Tower, or the people of Mosul in Iraq, recently liberated from their oppression under Da’esh.  Personally, I will take great encouragement from being with them and learning from them in a short visit next month. What Holy Scripture is is a record of God’s dealings with real communities and real people. The Scriptures are not a distilled potted philosophy with simple words of wisdom appropriate to all times.  They are a record of human activity as a mixed bag of things- like every one of us.  No-one is a cardboard caricature of only one quality or characteristic or personality trait.  We are a bit good, a bit bad, some successes, some failures, and so on. This is true for us as individuals, and it is true for us as communities. So Scripture is what it is, a record of God’s dealings with flawed humanity, told from a flawed perspective. But the positive point of this is that God can and does use the most unlikely people as his co-partners- and the most unlikely people are you and me.

 

The New Testament reading which we heard conveys a similar perspective.  Paul puts it like this. “If God is for us, who is against us? “and then goes on to write one of his great phrases, often used at funerals and times of distress, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, the prayer of Paul is that we may know ourselves as loved by God and totally intrinsic to God’s plans for the world. Here is a plea to remember our first love for Christ and be lifted up by it. This is again, as the first reading, the sense that God works through ordinary fallible human beings to achieve the extraordinary. In other words, faith in God will sustain us through the good times and the bad.

Now come immediately to the Gospel of Matthew. In this passage, we hear no less than five different parables drawn from everyday life to illustrate our relationship to God.  Above all, the parables demonstrate that the love of God becomes effective through us, acting in the world as co-creators with God.  God’s love is not magic, but needs to be made real and worldly by our working together in and for God’s plan for the world, which is for good and not for ill.  Here again we have Holy Scripture as a record of God acting through the most seemingly senseless and brutal situations. The Christian Gospel very rarely fits into any neat system, it does not have predictable consequences, and it contains within it good and bad.

From these readings, here’s a clear message.  Ordinary fallible human beings are the medium God chooses to use for his work in the world.  Wicked Kings, ordinary commoners, all of them have their role to play. Secondly, the scriptural message is clear, “Keep your first love for the Lord.” It’s also an important and basic message on a day on which we baptise Leyah.  In this baptism, we are reminding the community that we are all loved by God as his sons and daughters, and as we bring Leyah to the font for baptism we pray for her and for her family, that this physical act, this sacrament, is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us all.  Leyah is an infant and is 100 percent dependent on that love of god being expressed through those who are responsible for her, principally, (but not exclusively) her parents.  But we do not bring up children in isolation and I return again and again to the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”  In baptism, we rest in the love of the Lord, and in doing so are re-created.

This is the ultimate context for our recreation.  Taking time out can allow us to be reminded of what’s important in life.  Especially in this neighbourhood, one of the difficulties for people is achieving this work-life balance.  Most people work too hard and too long, and I’m constantly listening to and observing people who are so exhausted that they are on the verge of collapse.  I’m guilty of it myself.  But as the former Bishop of London often said, “No-one ever went to their grave saying I should have spent more time in the office” But I would suggest that plenty of people express the opposite.  Remembering what is important in life may come from our taking time out, switching off, and remembering that I can switch off my iPhone, and the world will not collapse.   I am not indispensable. So, if you are having a break, enjoy it, banish the iPhone, switch off the phone, and do something you wouldn’t normally do. If you’re not having a break, then equally well remember our dependence on God, the sustainer of all things, through good and through bad. I am a great admirer of the fourteenth century Ara traveller Ibn Battuta, whose route along the silk road I partially followed. Ibn Battuta, wrote this after having been robbed and having only been left with his underwear “I have never encountered on my travels anything but good fortune.” Take that as an echo of the readings which we hear today, “” If God is for us, who is against us?” If that isn’t a model for our creation and re-creation, in good times and in bad, then I don’t know what is, especially as we turn to the font for the baptism of Leyah.

 

      

 

ST Thomas

Office Manager

Sunday, 2nd July 2017

Readings: Habakkuk 2;1-4, Ephesians 2:19-end, John 20: 24-29

Facing adversity, Building Resilience, Finding Joy is the title of the New York Times best seller right now.  Published earlier this year, it is no accident that this book sells so well, given the times we are in.  So, with acknowledgment to the authors Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant, I want to use these three themes today when we commemorate St Thomas.  For me, they describe the message and meaning of Thomas, the message and meaning of our times, and the message and meaning of our Parish of St John So I’d like to use these three themes of facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy as we celebrate St Thomas and to encourage all of us to vision and engagement, as we launch our new Mission Action Plan for the year ahead.

 

Facing Adversity.  This is true for our community right now, grieving the death of an unknown number of people in the Grenfell Tower which is now an open tomb, and latterly by the apparent collapse of politics as we have known it, both in our country, and more specifically in our Borough. We should not be surprised by the latter. Membership of political parties has halved since 1980. This is a statistic I have long been aware of and use to some irritation in Kensington & Chelsea, when secular fundamentalists smugly tell us that religious faith is a minority sport to be practiced only by consenting adults behind closed doors.  Many of the general elections in this country in the third millennium have seen the lowest turnout in General Elections since universal suffrage was introduced.  This is one manifestation of the spectator society, where output is more important than outcomes.  Output means an interest solely in process, where outcome means conclusions.  In leadership of course, this can be disastrous, be it in political or religious leadership.  Joe Klein in his recent book Politics Lost put it like this. “Pundits like pollsters get most of their information by looking in the rear view mirror, whilst real leadership has involved the defiance of conventional wisdom and often breaking the rules.”  The Bishop incarcerated in a military jail in the Philippines whom I was privileged to visit last week, is a prophetic leader who has refused to be bowed by the might of narco-politics in that country.  But he is also resilient and joyful, as we sat together on the floor his cockroach infested cell. Thomas too faced adversity with the loss of His Lord and the apparent collapse of all that he had believed in. This Parish, in its contemporary form, born in 2003 was also born in and through adversity with the litigious manifestation of the collapse of the former Parish.  In our own lives, we face adversity most often through bereavement.   But this is only the beginning, for through adversity we can build resilience.

 

Now Building Resilience.  The Prophet Habakkuk in the first reading puts it like this. “ Write the vision.  Make it plain on tablet.  If it seems to tarry, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not delay.”  In other words, put your mission statement up in words of one syllable in easy to read print.  Any successful business knows that, and churches which are successful know it too.  What is the vision of an organisation - be that business, political party, or church?  Be sure that if the majority of people who are involved in it cannot answer the question, then it will surely fail.  This is certainly true of the political process where we are told that “Brexit means Brexit.”  This is of course the language of Alice in Wonderland, so it should be no surprise that people are disaffected.   But get the vision right first and communicate it, and the resources to facilitate it will follow – that means principally people and money.  Let me give one tiny local example from 10 years ago in this church.  It was something which quickly led me to understand how I should operate here. The benches on which you sit today were installed in this church 10 years ago.  The project to replace the old and broken seating ran for 12 years, in which there was a high investment of energy in output, process, etc, which is sometimes called consultation.  But it was only when an outcome was produced – i.e. saying what we wanted that almost immediately the means to carry it out came – literally within days.  This is Vision preceding Finance.  We could duplicate this again and again. It happened again with the restoration and I know it will happen as we move forward in the future.  This is building resilience and one of the reasons we involve more and more people in the production of our Mission Action Plan which we launch this week. Nationally the same is true, for it is only when the Brexit process commands large cross-party support and community buy in that confidence will be restored – the same is true for our Borough facing the collapse of confidence in its ability to hear and act for the victims of Grenfell Tower. Get the vision right and the rest – especially money- will follow. Habakkuk put it like this, “the righteous live by their faith.”

 

Now Finding Joy. For Christians and people of faith, this comes from faith.  For Thomas, it came from his confession of faith  - “my Lord and My God.” We know already that membership of political parties is haemorrhaging, as one manifestation of the spectator society.  This has been true in the same period for membership of mainstream Churches.  The Diocese of London kicks this trend, and is growing. Many of its Parishes- including this one- are growing. But flourishing Churches will only be healthy when many many people are involved in the load bearing which is essential for churches to grow and flourish.    A Church by its definition is the opposite of a spectator society.  Its mission can only be carried out properly when all the baptised realise the commission to ministry which is baptism.  The commission to ministry can be expressed in many different ways – often unseen and unspectacular, from the ministry of a practical man who unblocks a blocked drain to the ministry of an elderly housebound woman who prays the Jesus Prayer whenever the bells ring. The man who cleans the carpets in this church is Hungarian and he taught me the Hungarian phrase “sok kicsi sokra megy.” Many small things add up to a big thing.  Take another parochial example.  We are in touch with many couples seeking marriage and many families seeking baptism.  The pastoral opportunity here is for these many different people to catch the vision which we offer, which will undoubtedly lead to engagement. The vision which we offer as a Church in this most divided of Boroughs in terms of the gap between rich and poor is in fact a heavenly vision of joy, which acknowledges none of the human divisions between rich and poor, skin colour, language or old and young. In this work, which is for everyone, the Church is far ahead of the rest of society, especially party politics.  In this work, the church and the world does find, and will continue to find, heavenly joy.

 

To conclude, Thomas was the one who was the “no can do” type, which you find in every organisation.  But he was offered vision, and from it his joy followed. In this case, it was sight and experience of the resurrected Christ.  Doubting Thomas is the archetype of all who need that reassurance. Get the vision right, and the rest will follow.  These are words of Jesus in the Gospel set for today, when we commemorate Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  So doubters and believers alike celebrate Thomas, celebrate the new energy and growth in this church, and always, always, may we have the courage to face adversity, build resilience and find joy.

Easter 2

Office Manager

Acts 2:22-32, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-end

You make the first blow” the priest said, as he handed me the sledge hammer. Smash went the sledgehammer into the reinforced concrete of the altar.  I guess this hasn’t happened for 500 years, I thought, that an Anglican priest was helping to smash up an altar in a Roman Catholic Church. The scene I am describing happened recently in a Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, where the priest and the community asked me to help them demolish their old church in readiness for the consecration of a brand new one. The whole community turned out with hammers and sledgehammers and within a few hours it was gone. No-one was paid, and it was astonishing to see how effective an operation it was.  This was a church in which the community had buried their dead, got married, christened their babies, and much more.  But they knew that they had outgrown it, and that the times demanded something new.  They had given sacrificially to build a brand new much bigger Church and there it was ready for use.  For me, this was a practical demonstration of our Easter faith in action leading us on to new things, which the church is always called on to do. St John’s of course, has a history of remaking itself in different alliances as partnerships came and partnerships went. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century St John’s had as many partners as Henry VIII had wives. But at the beginning of the twenty first century this Parish had a unique opportunity to start again from scratch.  So more than a decade on from that new beginning, and on a day of our Annual Meeting, it’s no bad thing to pause and reflect on where we have come in these years, and to reflect in this Easter period on where we might be going. To do this, I’m going to use the three headings used in our Annual Report Confident, Compassionate, Creative.

Confident in speaking and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first duty of any Parish Church and the first duty of any priest must be to model what that confidence looks like. For me, this is encapsulated by the phrase of the second century Ireneus who said, “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  Confidence in the Gospel will bring us individually and corporately to living springs of water which will continually refresh us and make us fully alive, especially when the going is tough, and we appear to be in a desert.  Those springs of life come from open access to the sacraments of God – principally, of course, Baptism and Eucharist. From the beginning, our driving pincinciple has been to relocate baptism as the foundational sacrament, commission to ministry, and the source of any authority in the Church.  I would say that the principal theological discovery ecumenically in the second half of the twentieth century was the rediscovery of the significance of baptism. The open policy we have in respect of the pastoral offices has borne fruit in this period, in which we baptised nearly 500 new Christians, and united 150 couples in the sacrament of matrimony. I recognise that this decade’s work would only be a morning’s work in Churches like Mozambique and the Philippines, but the secular desert in which we operate makes this a bit more challenging for us.  Central to the re-ordering and liturgical work we have done has been to place the Font where it belongs at the heart of the worshipping community.  At the same time, and drawing on an older identity of the Parish, we have re-introduced a more expansive celebration of the Eucharist, using all of the Church, and revitalised the organ.  It could have been open to us to go down the route of musical accompaniment from the piano or from a worship band, but we took the line that the older identity of liturgy here using the organ would serve us best in the twenty-first century.  I believe this was the right decision, and take encouragement from the external validation we have received in restoring and relocating the organ. In shorthand you could describe all of this work as the rediscovery of the numinous, or the vertical element of our work.

Compassionate – in serving communities with the love of God the Father. As we could call rediscovering our relationship with God the vertical work, so we could call serving the community the horizontal aspect of our work. Sociologically, one of the most distinctive aspects of this Parish is the very wide gap between rich and poor, a gap which has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. In this scenario, houses are no longer homes but high value assets, to be sweated until everybody bleeds.  Remember, too, that one of the characteristics which now defines this part of London is the fact the largest number of jihadists who have gone to Syria are from this Borough and from Ladbroke Grove in particular. So social fragmentation and alienation is the context in which we work.   Partially to address this, we established the Filipino Chaplaincy for the Diocese in this Parish, a work which has renewed and refreshed us in countless ways so much that now half of our electoral roll come from that community. This too simply reflects the global reality that in the twenty first century the leadership of the church, in energy and numbers, will come from Asia – principally China. We look forward at the same time to the next Pope being a Filipino. The next stage of our work in serving the whole community was the creation of new community facilities utilising the west end of the church. The use of the three new rooms, the opening of the Kitchen, and the use of the church and Undercroft 7 days a week has made the church what we always wanted it to be – the thriving and beating heart of the community.  The days of this church being silent and locked have become a distant memory, not even known to those with more recent associations. If we call this work the horizontal element, and we place it on tracing paper on top of the vertical work, we produce of course the cross, which the theologian Paul Tillich called the intersection of the timeless with time.

 

Creative – in reaching new people and places with the Good News in the power of the Spirit. The Cross at the heart of our faith, and the Cross in Light has guided us in this element of our work. Look at the underside of the kneelers in this church with their Latin inscription, in Hoc Signo Vinces – by this sign conquer.  This is the cross in light.  Over the last 12 years, this has been the most dramatic change, where we have literally and symbolically opened up our building to serve both purposes, vertical and horizontal.  In this work, we realised that all churches in London, in addition to being Parish Churches, must have some kind of niche market. For us, this has been the focus on music and the arts.  So in this period, we created the Sacred Space Gallery, the Mayfest, lunchtime and evening concerts, choral and organ scholarships, children’s music and much besides. The Church is now open 7 days a week from morning until evening, and used by a cross section of groups too large to be listed in this short reflection. In our Mission Action Plan for this year, we identify children and young families as where we wish to invest our resources and energy in the immediate future.  The spiritual desert of secular fundamentalism in which we live make this an urgent priority as the children of our society become increasingly starved of substantial spiritual food.  At the same time, we are launching next month the new worshipping community of the Filipino Chaplaincy on Ascension Day.

We have achieved much in this period, and I thank from the bottom of my heart all those who have constructively engaged with this work. But there is much more to do, and some aspects of our life which are less than brilliant- principally our giving.  At the end of the life of the previous Parish, and throughout our 14-year history, the regular committed giving of regular worshippers has not been enough to even cover our obligations to the Diocese which we call Common Fund.  The decision of the PCC that stewardship giving should be simply for the Common Fund has helped significantly, and people have responded generously, but we still have some way to go, and have set up a new group to give this the dedicated spiritual attention it needs.  For the longer term, say the next 10 years, this must be addressed if the Parish is to continue to have a viable life of its own. There is much to do, and an understanding of sacrificial giving is often a first step in the lifelong journey of faith. It was for me – I only realised that the Church was something real when I was asked for money.

So, in this Easter period, and today when we celebrate the confession of faith of the Apostle Thomas, what of the future?  All we need is the confession of Thomas “ My Lord and my God.”  When we can say this with confidence and fluency, all the rest will fall into place. For all that has been, we thank God, andto the future we say  “ Yes.”

 

EASTER DAY 2017: Sermon by the Vicar

Office Manager

Readings: Acts10; 34-43, John 20:1- 18

This week we entered the Heart of Darkness. I am of course speaking about Holy Week, in which we entered the heart of darkness of betrayal, collapse, violence, judicial murder and execution.  The events of Holy Week take us to where we are, and are inseparable from the celebration of Easter, when we join in the triumph over evil and death which Jesus Christ accomplished for us by his victory over death.  The tomb is empty.  It is not a symbolic resurrection, but a real one. We live the heart of darkness, as we have felt and seen with the Coptic Church in Egypt on Palm Sunday, the dropping of MOAB, the Mother of All Bombs, on Afghanistan, and the nuclear posturing of the United States and North Korea which could obliterate us all. There is an Easter hymn of the Orthodox Church addressed to Christ which says this, “You descended to earth to redeem mankind – and not finding him there, you descended to Hell.  There you found him.  There you rescued him.” Holy Week and Easter speaks directly to this Heart of Darkness which is the human condition. Like many others right now, especially with the growth of AI, I am asking the question what makes us truly human? Netflix has helped me with this, especially the gruesome series west world.  West world is a theme park filled with robot humanoids and it raises the question what constitutes the human person.  It raises the questions of free will, choice, the soul, life and death.   There are also other images which mirror this and speak directly of the new life of Easter, principally from nature and the natural environment so I want to use those this morning. As a farm boy, I have always responded to the rhythms of nature.  So I want to use three images this Easter Day from the natural world – growth, flowering, and mature stability and death.

Growth: The reading set from the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of Peter’s confession of faith. In it, we are presented with a picture of a man who testifies to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead with fluency and confidence.  Remember the earlier stories of Peter which we have heard from Palm Sunday onwards of Peter as a broken man, half destroyed by his own betrayal of his Master. Betrayal is a very real feeling abroad right now, especially in our own society and culture.  People feel betrayed by their elected representatives, particularly in the handling of the often infantile and rarely uplifting debates about Brexit, as we alienate all our neighbours and move into a worldview akin to the hermit Kingdom.  At the same time, we see the rise of hate crimes and overt xenophobia.  This cannot be a healthy model for the future in which we look to growth- economic growth maybe, but more importantly growth in the human experience as rounded, connected, and spiritual beings. But if we want to see real growth, go back to the reading.  Peter is the one who betrayed Jesus Christ and now in Peter we see a man transformed.  Something has happened to him, and he has a confidence and an authority which was not there before, and this confidence and authority has followed on from a very public betrayal and collapse.  The betrayer becomes the defender.  As a priest, I see this again and again – individual’s lives transformed by the grace and power of the Resurrection life, leading them on to things they could never have dreamed possible. I would say that this is one of the principal jobs of priests in Parishes – to nourish, develop, and coax this change into being – in individuals and in community, to raise the game, to be vision led, and to be open to the many possibilities for change and renewal. This is Growth, and thank God we experience this in this Parish and Diocese in spadefuls.

Flowering.  We flower and flourish when we are with others, which we call community. Community is an ambiguous and tendentious word.  Many of the people who speak about community are exactly the ones we would like to run a mile from. You may be thinking that right now.  But like it or not, the Christian community is marked by the characteristic of being a Resurrection community.  Without this, the community is nothing.  Listen to this: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”   This community, marked by the Resurrection, is the opposite of a club. Take the word used to describe this community – church.  This English word translates the Greek ekklesia.  The ekklesia in classical antiquity was the municipal authority of a town – the Borough Council you might call it.  And to be a member of the ekklesia, you had to be an adult, freeborn, male. What did the early community of the Resurrection do?  It took this term, ekklesia, and immediately transformed and publicly subverted it by admitting women, children, and slaves.  No more dramatic and public redefinition of language could have been possible.  The ekklesia reborn – no longer a club, but a living community of the Resurrection.   When churches live this new life, they flourish and flower.  Why should it be that the Diocese of London has been for the last two decades years a growing Diocese?  Part of the reason must be the huge variety of backgrounds, languages, and cultures, present in our Diocese and City of London, with more than 200 languages present in the Church schools of this Diocese. During this time, immigration into London was higher than any other world city, including New York and Los Angeles.  A very convincing case can then be made that the flowering of our world city is directly attributable, partly, to this high rate of immigration. Immigration and emigration are part of what has always shaped our community. These insights from our Resurrection faith will continue to be offered to society as a whole, “What makes our community healthy and whole?”  Over the past months, I have been privileged to see this happening with the group of people from Community Payback/ Probation Service I work with week by week in this Church. The offenders I work with, now majority Muslim, teach me this daily in the life of this Church. This is community in living action, helping to put right what has gone wrong, so that all may enjoy mutual flourishing.

And now, mature stability and death.  Speaking as we find is an aspect pf mature stability, as in the recent recognition that what is happening to Christians and other minorities in the Middle East under Islamic State is Genocide.  Exactly a year ago, Parliament voted to recognize this persecution as genocide.  Yet we still wait. Listen to this from Fiona Bruce, MP, published this week “Those who remain in the region face ongoing religious taxes, torture and rape. At this Easter time, it is salutary to remember that the Romans ultimately outlawed crucifixion as too cruel a punishment, even by the standards of their day – yet today, crucifixions are being carried out as one of many horrendous forms of persecution against Christians.” This maturity and stability will come in part from people of faith, not least from the Christian community. Addressing teachers in Catholic schools on the subject of radicalization, Cardinal Nicholls recently pointed out that it takes only a few hours on the internet for a young person to be radicalized as they are, in the chilling words of Islamic State groomers, “clean skins.”  In other words, the spiritual vacuum of our secular society leaves children and young people dangerously exposed.  A convincing case could therefore be made against the prevailing secular fundamentalism that it is a denial of the human rights of children to be spiritually equipped. A particularly small minded, yet vicious, manifestation this year comes from Tesco and Cadbury is banning the term Easter on chocolate eggs.  The Easter eggs on offer today do not come from either.   Being spiritually equipped in the face of death also characterizes the human condition at its best. As you know, the Gospel of John which we heard today mirrors Genesis in what is technically called typology.  The Genesis narrative opens with the words “In the Beginning” - this is mirrored by John consciously as he begins his Gospel, “In the beginning was the word.” If John’s account is therefore of the new creation in Jesus Christ, what completes creation?  In the words of a Russian Orthodox theologian, it is the three words of the dying Jesus on the Cross “It is finished.”  It is no accident that these words are found in the Gospel of John only, and not in the other Gospels. The words do not refer to his own life on earth, but to creation which is completed through the creator being crucified on the cross. In other words, if birth is the beginning of the human experience, it is death which completes it and makes us fully human. Our true humanity is yet to be revealed – so everything from our birth to our death is characterised as we shelter ourselves in a fragile tent.  This is the human condition, and Jesus who goes through persecution, judicial murder, death and resurrection is the archetypal human. The Easter community is the extension of this new humanity as we are born again through our baptism, our life in community, our physical death, and the glorious life of the Resurrection.

The Christian community has at its heart, Mary Magdalene’s, the Apostle to the Apostles, declaration of faith “I have seen the Lord.”  If we are able to say that in our hearts, then we are truly living the Resurrection life – growing, flowering, maturing dying and rising to new life all the time.   “I have seen the Lord.”  For we are an Easter people, and Alleluia! is our song.  A happy and Blessed Easter.   

   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        

tobi iyanda

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

tobi iyanda

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

tobi iyanda

 

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

tobi iyanda

 

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.