St Paul, and Mark Twain on nudity


Preached Wednesday after the Third Sunday in Lent 2018

in the Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

 Readings: Psalm 37, Exodus 15.27-16.35 & Ephesians 4.17-30

“But the salvation of the righteous cometh of the Lord, who is also their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall stand by them, and save them, he shall deliver them from the ungodly, and shall save them, because they put their trust in him”. (Psalm 37.40-41)

In the name of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”. We do not know if Mark Twain had Paul in mind when he wrote this passage, but the use of the imagery of clothes to symbolise the change from the old man to the new is certainly striking. I read somewhere that in the early Church, the candidates for baptism would take of their old clothes before the baptism, thus symbolising that they are leaving their old life behind. Once out of the watery grave in which they had been immersed, they put on new clothes, to symbolise that they had become new humans in God.

True to form, with this being Lent, there is a lot on lasciviousness, deceitful lusts and the like in the text, but I would suggest that we can actually look at the text from another angle, my KJV Bible has as the heading of the page “Exhortations to unity, holiness and love” – which somehow sounds a bit more appealing.

In the earlier parts of this letter (for those of us whose minds have wandered during Evensong over the past few days), Paul is talking about the great privileges of the new Christians, and, as is rather obvious, we are now in the part where he instructs them to walk in the way of the Lord (something that seems to be his favourite pastime….).

It is very easy for us to look at the readings from Ephesians today as a moral checklist,

  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t go to bed angry
  • Don’t steal
  • If you are inclined towards theft, work with your hands instead
  • Don’t say non-edifying things

If we do that I think that we are doing ourselves a disservice (regardless of my slightly OCD fascination with lists, and the fact that each and every thing on this list is good and commendable). I don’t think that Paul’s intention when writing this letter was to provide a tick-box exercise, a form that basically says, “Jump high for Jesus and he will love you. If you jump higher, he will love you more”.

I would like to propose that this is not a “to do”-list, but rather a description how someone who has put upon himself the new man looks like. What someone who has been transformed by Jesus looks like. What someone who truly had become a new human in God looks like.

St Augustine writes, in his De Quantitate Animae:

Therefore, although here one thing led us to another, still I do like to spend some time on a discussion which serves to teach the soul the lesson that it must not fall back on the senses any more than necessity demands; but it should rather retire into itself, away from the senses, and become a child of God again.  This is what it means to become a new man by putting off the old.  To undertake this is absolutely necessary because of the neglect of God’s law: Sacred Scripture contains no greater truth, none more profound. 

I would like to say more about this point and tie myself down while I am, as it were, laying down the law to you, so that my one and only concern might be to render an account of myself to myself, to whom I am above all responsible, and thus to become to God, as Horace says, like “a slave who is his master’s friend.”  This is an achievement that is utterly impossible unless we remake ourselves in His image, the image He committed to our care as something most precious and dear, when He gave us to ourselves so constituted that nothing can take precedence to us save He Himself.

But to my mind this calls for action than which is none more laborious, none that is more akin to inaction, for it is such as the soul cannot begin or complete except with the help of Him to whom it yields itself.  Hence it is that man’s reformation is dependent on the mercy of him to whose goodness and power he owes his formation.

So, then, we can see that we are dependent on the mercy of God. God, to whose goodness and power we owe our formation. God, without whom we cannot take off the old man and put on the new. God, who shall deliver us from the ungodly, and save us, because we put our trust in him, who has made us new men.

“But the salvation of the righteous cometh of the Lord, who is also their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall stand by them, and save them, he shall deliver them from the ungodly, and shall save them, because they put their trust in him”.

In the name of the Father +, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

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Christ in the Desert


Vigil for the First Sunday of Lent, 17 February 2018

The Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford

Readings: Genesis 3.1-6, 2 Corinthians 6.1-10, S Matthew 4.1-11

Father: All those words and thoughts which come from thee whilst thou bless them and make them fruitful. And all those words and thoughts that come not from thee but from our own vanity wilt thou forgive. Amen

There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, (…) this time she found a little bottle on it, and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words `DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters.

It was all very well to say `Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. `No, I’ll look first,’ she said, `and see whether it’s marked “poison” or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them (…) and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

However, this bottle was not marked `poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.

This quote, from Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, might be known to a few of us. The book itself was written by Lewis Caroll, son of an Anglo-Catholic Priest, and himself an Anglican deacon…(who, as an aside, once went to Russia with Henry Liddon, who in turn is made immortal by having the sitting room at Pusey House named after him…)

So much about the Oxford academic – but indulge me by listening to me talk about Alice herself for a while longer. “Drink Me”, said the bottle. That’s a temptation if I ever heard one – especially as the bottle wasn’t marked “Poison”. Alice gave in to the temptation and drank. (For those who want to know what happened to her after she drank from the bottle, I recommend you read the book – it celebrates its 153rd birthday this year).

Some of you might ask what this all has to do with the gospel for the first Sunday of Lent? Well, isn’t young Alice’s way of dealing with that mysterious bottled temptation the exact opposite of how Christ reacted when the devil tempted him in the wilderness?

It was a rather quick turn of events, wasn’t it? In the end of chapter 3 of the same Gospel, we hear how Jesus was baptised, and then, all of a sudden, the devil takes him out to the wilderness to tempt him.

This temptation itself came after Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights – a timeframe that might seem very topical at this very day… At Pusey House, as in many other Christian communities, we have been talking about our Lenten disciplines recently, a discipline that (ideally) should last for 40 days and 40 nights.

As someone whose general attitude towards temptations – at least those of a gastronomical nature – tends to be the same as the American novelist Rita Mae Brown – “lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself”, I can say with confidence that if someone came to tempt me after 40 days of fasting, they would find me an easy target…

HOWEVER – Christ was NOT an easy target. He did not give in to the evil one’s attempts to make him prove himself regardless what the prize would have been – regardless how much (if you’ll allow me to continue to refer back to a children’s book) the drink in the bottle tasted of pineapple, roast turkey and hot buttered toast.

But, why was Christ led into this temptation by the Spirit? Surely, the prayer is “lead us NOT into temptation”…. Could it have been a rite of passage, to show that he could withstand Satan’s temptations?

The first temptation, to turn stones into bread, is often understood as challenging Jesus to misuse his miraculous power to satisfy his own hunger because he doubts God’s provision. The challenge is not to perform a show miracle since there is not an audience in the wilderness. Rather it refers to the grumbling that Israel did in the wilderness complaining to God that they were hungry so eventually God sends manna and quail.

Will Jesus the Son of God fail the test as Israel did or will Jesus persevere in trust toward God? Remember, Jesus is famished after his long fast, so Satan urges Jesus to satisfy that hunger immediately. The first temptation, then, was to be selfish, to think only of himself. To satisfy an immediate urge or need without looking at the bigger picture.

The second test is to put God to the test, to see if God is trustworthy. This second temptation is a spectacular use of spiritual power. Jesus is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple and told to throw himself down because God would send angels to rescue him. Turning from the physical needs of hunger to the spiritual realm, Satan uses this profound temptation to see if Jesus will use the divine shield to maintain his own safety.

Will Jesus seek to avoid all pain, suffering and hardship? Whenever there is trouble will he call on Daddy to save him? Will Jesus adopt the attitude that he is invincible? That he can do foolhardy things throughout his life and not have to worry about the consequences of his actions? Jesus rejects this enticement. He chooses the harder road and we know where that journey will take him on Good Friday.

The third temptation is the one that still plagues most leaders in our world today. Political power – control of vast territories, empires and resources. To be the most powerful leader in the world. Remember, that first century Jews were expecting a Messiah to be an earthly king, a strong military conqueror who would defeat the Romans and regain all of Israel’s ancestral homeland. A mighty warrior who would lay waste to Israel’s enemies and rule the entire world bringing peace and prosperity to God’s chosen people.

Jesus could have had all of this – fame, riches, power. He could have been the Messiah people wanted him to be. All he had to do was bow down and worship Satan. I find it amazing that we still use this language in our society today. We often describe people who seem to have it all as “selling their souls to the devil” in order to achieve their level of success. The temptation is real. Who will we serve? Jesus reviewed his options, made his choice and took a stand. He could have had it all, but he decided to shun the easy path. With all the energy he could muster, he emphatically cried out, “Away from me Satan, I will serve God alone”!

Like Christ, we too are tempted, but the tempter doesn’t necessarily show himself with horns and a tail, but in other, more worldly ways. Let us pray that we too, when that moment of trial comes, can muster the courage to follow our Father’s will, to cry out, like Jesus did: “Away from me Satan, I will serve God alone!”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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Over a term in Oxford…


Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House

I just realised that I haven’t posted anything since I moved apart from the texts to my homilies…

The last time I left you, dear readers, I was preparing for the move to the noble city of Oxford. By now, I have been here for five months, and I am completely convinced I made the right move by changing careers (again, some of you might say….)!

As you all know (who am I kidding, let’s rephrase: as I have already said on here): I am a Chapel Intern/Pastoral Assistant at an Anglo-Catholic student chaplaincy in Oxford. Pusey House was founded as a ‘House of Piety and Learning’ in memory of E B Pusey, one of the main figures within the Oxford Movement. As someone who is a major bookworm, living under the same roof as the biggest theological library in Oxford is a great blessing.

Being in the Home Counties have been a great blessing for many reasons, the foremost being that I have been able to meet up with loads of online friends, most of them I started talking to online while still living in London. Working in a place such as the Domus Puseiana has also given me lots of new friends – and I am working on introducing old friends to new friends – a post-Lenten project, maybe.

Oxford in itself is a wonderful city, especially those rare moments you find yourself being the only one wandering down a certain lane, or walking past the castle, or in the University Parks, or…… OR – when you’re all alone late at night in your House Chapel that’s all dark bar the sanctuary lights…..

Anyway, I meant for this post to be much longer, but I thought this would be better than nothing, as I am currently busy preparing for our Ash Wednesday High Mass tomorrow.




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Conversion of St Paul



24 January 2018

Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

Readings: Jeremiah 1.4-10, Acts 26.1-23 

Father: all those words and thoughts which come from thee, whilst thou bless them and make them fruitful. And all those words and thoughts that come not from thee but from our own vanity wilt thou forgive. AMEN.

When I first came into Chapel this evening I thought there was something wrong. We’re all in gold – the colour of celebration, and not the red for martyrs. Now, I am not accusing the Sacristan of not doing his job, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Today we are not commemorating a martyrdom as is usually the case when we have an “Apostle-Day”, but rather the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, when he, so to speak, was ‘made’ into the Apostle Paul.

While the exact details of his death are not entirely clear, most historic sources do agree that Paul was martyred by decapitation, and a large number of these sources claim that it was by the order of the emperor Nero. So, his martyrdom is celebrated on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul on 29th June, and on the 25th January (for which we celebrate the first evensong today) we celebrate his conversion.

The Apostle Paul was, as many of you might know, a prolific letter writer, giving advice to the congregations of the early Christian Church, and he is still to this day considered one of the more prominent early theologians.

I have to admit that a stubborn person like myself can actually find Paul to be rather interfering (telling all those budding congregations what to do and how to live their lives), but in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles today we see a much more human side of him. He describes his past as someone who persecuted the earliest Christians, who then, when he saw “a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 1.13)  – eventually was converted to Christianity.

Paul wasn’t only converted to Christianity, he was called to ministry – “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26.

As someone who is in the very initial stages of discerning a possible vocation to Holy Orders in the Church of England, I have, quite naturally, been reflecting quite a bit about both my faith and my possible vocation recently.

The calling from God to Paul, who in his former life as Saul of Tarsus, persecuted, imprisoned and even worked for the execution of Christians, seems to me as Scriptural affirmation of the twenty-sixth article of religion in the Book of Common Prayer – Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament.

Now, I can feel the Fathers looking at me with worried eyes – please do not take this as me encouraging people to go out and be “evil men”, to quote the BCP, on the contrary. What I want to do is to point out that the calling Paul had, indeed the calling we all have as Christians, come from God and is not dependant on ourselves, but that we can only do it by His Grace.

Now, many Christians believe St. Paul’s calling, his conversion is like most conversions we know of, from an immoral to a moral life. But that wasn’t Saul’s conversion at all. His was from a false notion of a holy life to a true notion. He was a zealous follower of God. He had come down from Turkey to Jerusalem to study at the feet of the greatest rabbi of the age, Gamaliel.

As a young man, he had such zeal to keep the community of Israel together that he made it his mission to try to stomp out the heretical sect that was dividing Judaism and blasphemously claiming that a carpenter from Nazareth not only was the Messiah, but the Son of God and would destroy the holy Temple. That’s why he was hunting Christians down.

In the persecution of the Church, he was the furthest thing, for example, from Herod, who hunted down the baby Jesus in order to preserve his own privileges. Paul’s conversion was, rather, from a false notion that we are saved by our external adhesion to all the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, to the true one that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We are saved by Christ’s work, not our own. The culmination of the saving life of faith he wrote about in his letter to the Galatians when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

The true notion of holiness is to die to ourselves so that the Risen Christ truly can live within us, reign within us, sanctify and save us and make us his instruments to co-redeem the world. Holiness is union with God. Since we are saved by grace, and grace is not a thing but a participation as a creature in the life of the Creator, Christian conversion must be continual, because it’s based on a continued encounter with the Lord, as he seeks in us to form us more and more in his image with our free fiat. In St. Paul’s life we see that conversion was not a one-time thing but a continuous reality as he continued to grow in the Gospel that he was fearlessly and faithfully proclaiming.

Isn’t it apt, then, that this feast should be the finale of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? This week, or, well, octave as it was originally known, began in 1908, and was eventually blessed by Pope Pius X. This week was based on the prayers of Christ Himself: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (S John 17.20-21)”. It is rather fitting that this octave ends with the Conversion of St Paul, whom we can see in his letters condemning division and exhorting unity, for the churches in Corinth and in Rome, asking them to live this life of holiness to allow the risen Christ to truly live within them.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God who by thy holy apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications for all men: We humbly beseech thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity and concord; and grant that all they that do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.










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Homily for St Nicholas Day


Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

Readings: Isaiah 8.16-9.7, James 2.14-end


For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

In the Name of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

How would you like it if your identity was stolen by a fat, bearded man in a red jumpsuit? Well, that is what happened to St Nicholas. This bishop of Myra had his identity stolen by Father Christmas, in what must probably be one of the world’s most famous identity thefts…

Nicholas is the patron saints of such a diverse group of people as children, coopers, sailors, broadcasters and repentant thieves. (He also happens to be co-patron of the Lutheran cathedral in my home town Stockholm…) It is also said that he got so angry at the heretic Arius during the Council of Nicaea that he went up and hit him in the face. Luckily, that’s not how most Church of England meetings end up at this present day…

It is interesting that the readings we had for the Evensong tonight should be the same as the ones for the Christmas Midnight Mass, and that the saint commemorated today is one so significantly associated with Christmas, to the extent of him showing up in many houses around the country on Christmas Night.

While hitting an opponent in a meeting square in the face might not be what James was talking about when he talked about salvation through work in the New Testament reading today, in his other acts Nicholas was a primary example of translating faith into action – one of his more famous acts is supposed to be the reviving of three girls murdered by a butcher to be sold as ham, as well as the paying of the dowry for the three daughters of the poor man, which is supposed to be the first instance of “Santa Claus” throwing things down the chimney close to Christmas.

This much for the former bishop of Myra. As this is the final Wednesday Evensong homily preached in the Chapel of the Resurrection for 2017, I shall try and focus more on the event which Isaiah prophesied – the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Already here, in one of the prophets from the Old Testament, we see an idea of all that Christ would be. To quote Iranaeus:

“He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering; that He sat upon the foal of an ass; that He received for drink, vinegar and gall; that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death; and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.”

In a little while, we will be given the world’s greatest gift from God – as we heard in the psalmody a little earlier:

The Lord looked down from heaven, and beheld all the children of men: from the habitation of his dwelling he considereth all them that dwell on the earth. He fashioneth all the hearts of them and understandeth all their works”[1]

In his prophesy, Isaiah talks about a wonderful counseller. Wonderful in this context does indeed also mean good, and nice, and all other such superlatives, but what we also need to remember is that, in this context,  it actually also means “beyond the normal capacity to perform”.

The prophet also refers to Christ as Mighty God, someone using this might to do all the things that his mighty counsels talk about and actually translate them into action – to absorb all the evil thrown at him, and to defeat his enemy – indeed something far beyond the normal capacity to perform!

He will also come as the Prince of Peace, someone who will always do what is best for me, to be there for us, to be our only mediator and advocate with his Father, and who died on the Cross to redeem our sins.

For those who don’t know me very well, I am rather active on Twitter, a form of social media which lets you post short snippets of your take on the world, and most of my clergy friends on Twitter will soon start tweeting things along the line of “let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year”, and that is actually an exhortation (to borrow a word from our dear BCP) I would like to make my own tonight.

Christmas should not only be about the things that the slightly morphed version of a 3rd century bishop throws down your chimney, but about something more profound.

Friends – let this Christmas be about the world’s final and greatest King, the King to end all kings, whose kingdom and peace will never stop expanding. Let it be about the Rescuer that we all need. Let it be about the Leader that we all long for. Let it be about the answer to the heart’s great questions. Let it be about Jesus!


[1] Ps 33. 13-14 Coverdale Version

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Word Of The Week: Courage



Homily preached at Choral Eucharist 9 November 2017

Hertford College Chapel, Oxford

Readings: 1 Thess 2, S John 16 (NRSV)

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

In the name of the Father +, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Have you ever heard of the “Dependent Order of Really Meek and Timid Souls”? When you make an acrostic of the first letters of its name, you have the word “Doormats.” The Doormats have an official insignia—a yellow caution light. Their official motto is: “The meek shall inherit the earth, if that’s OK with everybody!” One would assume that this order is not full of brave and courageous people….

Did he know? Did Jesus know what was going to happen? Admittedly Easter is quite far away, but  I thought these readings were quite apt for discussing the subject of courage, which is the word of the day.

Courage. It’s a somewhat old-fashioned word, isn’t it? At least to me, it brings about mental images of valiant knights in shining armour riding in on a white horse to save the fair maiden from the jaws of the dragon. As a matter of fact – that is the complete opposite to how Jesus approached the end of His life – he came riding on a donkey.

We have all exercised courage some way or another, be it with or without equine companions. Those of you who are freshers this term have taken the step of moving from home, for most of you maybe to a strange city, without the comfort of family and friends readily available. For others it might be taking up a new job, or maybe entering the lectern to teach or preach for the first time.

On Sunday we celebrate Remembrance Sunday, commemorating all those brave members of our armed forces who have died in the line of duty. In 2017 we especially commemorate the battle of Passchendaele, where at least 260 000 British soldiers died.

Here we see a courage that many – myself very much included – would never be able to show. Here we actually see the knights in shining armour fighting for the free world. Other people who died for their beliefs can be found on the walls of this very chapel – the Jesuit martyr St Alexander Briant, the 2nd century martyr St Eustace and the 16th century martyr William Tyndale.

Today, the Anglican Communion commemorates Margery Kempe, a Norfolkwoman who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century. She was a woman who most certainly was NOT a member of the Dependent Order of Really Meek and Timid Souls… In proclaiming her faith she blatantly defied the bishops of her day, and she was indeed tried for heresy, but never convicted. Instead she continued to proclaim the Gospel faithfully. That must also have taken a fair amount of courage…

In the Gospel for today St John recalls Jesus’ words to prepare his disciples for his death on the Cross. Jesus knew what was going to happen, indeed it was foretold. Facing that must have taken quite some courage.

However, courage in the face of death, although extremely commendable, might not be the most common sort of courage one have to muster… I have already discussed the courage it takes to take a step to doing something new, be it moving to a new university, a new job or teaching or preaching for the first time.

It also took quite a lot of courage for the early Christians, which St Paul’s description of his time in Thessalonica in the Epistle tells us about. Is that a courage we, as Christians have today? Do we actually dare to live a Christian life in the modern world?

I am not talking about some kind of overly pious living, where one wears hair shirts and goes around beating oneself up, but rather a way of living in a way that transfer the Gospel into action. (How one does that, however, is a matter for a completely different homily, as I fear the Chaplain will have words afterwards if exceed my time limit by too much….)

Of course, we see our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, these days more than ever our fellow Christians in Egypt. For them to live their faith does basically take the same courage as the people who fought in the battle of Passchendaele. Once again, however, that is a (very urgent) topic to be discussed at some other point.

What I am talking about today is the courage needed to live in a way that shows people the love of Christ for all people, men and women, old and young, conservative or liberal, gay or straight, rich or poor.

Given all the other acts of courage I just have mentioned, one might argue that the act of living a Christian life in itself isn’t necessarily something that takes courage, but I would claim that in an increasingly secular world, that is actually the case.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel those comforting words – “the Father himself loves you”, and let us, while resting in those words, go out and show people that very love. Go out into the world and let it be done as He Himself said “take courage, I have conquered the world”.

O God, give us courage: courage to make experiments, and not to be afraid of making mistakes; courage to get up when we are down and to go on again; courage to work with all our might for the coming of thy kingdom on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.


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Homily Ss Crispin & Crispinian




 Wednesday 25th October 2017

Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

Readings: Job 33, S Luke 7.36-end 

Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

In the Name of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

We really should be appalled by Jesus’ actions in St Luke’s Gospel today, shouldn’t we? I mean, the Son of God first choosing to dine with someone who denies his divinity, then the very same Christ allowing a woman of the street to anoint him with expensive perfume?

It was truly and utterly disgraceful….


I assume no one in Chapel tonight would be surprised to hear, that my answer to that question is an unequivocal NO.

The reading would be quite easy to use as basis for yet another warm and fuzzy homily about God not condemning anything and permitting everything, but I think that we can use the texts today to examine ourselves, rather than as an excuse for being lenient.

The fallen woman is forgiven by Jesus, because ‘she loved much’. Christ pardons sinners. This, to me, is one of the most profound things about Christianity. We all fail, we are all sinners, but we are all forgiven. During Mass, we all confess our sins, and the Priest absolves us, in order for us to be able to receive the Blessed Sacrament ‘because it is requisite, that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with quiet conscience’. After this, we come to the Communion and receive the ultimate sign of Christ’s redeeming death on the cross for us, the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus shows us the same mercy that he showed the fallen woman – our sins are forgiven – ‘thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace’ – if we examine our minds and confess our sins.

The examination of conscience might sound terribly outdated and pious, but it truly helps us benefit from the holy Sacrament, so that we ‘dwell in Christ, and Christ in us; we are one with Christ, and Christ with us’ as the BCP rite for Holy Communion says.

As St Paul said – ‘This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.

HOWEVER – regardless of Christ’s forgiveness – there’s something else, that is also very profound for any Christian community – being in love and charity with our neighbour as the BCP says in the rite of Holy Communion – and as we just prayed – forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

This act of love and charity is something that is very often mentioned in Scripture, but what does forgiveness really mean? What does it mean to forgive your neighbour? The seventeenth century nonconformist preacher Thomas Watson had a very useful definition in his work ‘Body of Divinity’:

“When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them”

The same Thomas Watson also said: ‘We are not bound to trust an enemy, but we are bound to forgive him’.

So, to forgive, then, becomes a duty – a duty that indeed is helped by the forgiveness we receive from God, but nevertheless a duty. The act of reconciling oneself to ones neighbour is never easy, but through that very same forgiveness received from Christ on the Cross, we are given the peace to forgive those who trespass against us.

This then means, that Christ’s attitude towards the fallen woman was not so disgraceful at all – he was merely doing his duty, just as it is time for us to do our duty and forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, who hast reconciled us to thyself through the cross of thy Son, and hast committed to us the ministry of reconciliation: Grant that we who bear witness to thy reconciling word with our lips may also demonstrate thy reconciling power in our lives, through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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