Word Of The Week: Courage

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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

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HOMILY

PREACHED ON THE FEAST OF Ss CRISPIN AND 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….

OR WAS IT?

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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Saint Luke – Physician of the Soul

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HOMILY PREACHED AT SECOND EVENSONG OF THE FEAST OF ST LUKE THE EVANGELIST

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

Readings: Ecclus. 38.1-14, Col. 4.7-end

Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it. 

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

With all the talk about physicians in the readings today, one could probably be excused for thinking that today’s Evensong was tailor made for the British Medical Association…. but don’t worry, I shall not try and instigate a strike!

The Collect for today calls Saint Luke “a physician of the soul,”, and he is believed to be the author of both the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles (neither of which is 100% verifiable). All of this means that – in order for this to be a proper homily rather than a guess-work, we will have to look for other sources of information.

(We do know, however, that he is the source of two of the most well-known parables – the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan)

SO – where do we start? Father Isaac Williams, at the time curate to John Keble, wrote the following[1]:

“There is something peculiar in St. Luke’s day, something calm and soothing connected with it; it occurs at a time when summer often revives a little before it finally goes, and sheds on us a parting smile; there is something in St. Luke’s own character which speaks of healing to both body and mind, like the good Samaritan, into the wounds of both pouring oil and wine.  We connect his Gospel especially with the Atonement, and the mercies of God to penitents; it is the storehouse of consolation, in incident, and parable, and precept; the source of evangelical hymns.  To these we may add the personal history of St. Luke himself.  In the service for the day he is brought before us as the faithful companion of St. Paul in the last view we obtain of the great Apostle.  While St. Paul is strengthened for his last trial, and ready to encounter death with calm hope and joy, the good Physician is found by his side in his chains.  The recurrence therefore of this day is like the last gleaming of the year itself at this season, when a serene and bright interval precedes its close.”

Even though Paul’s exhortation to Archippus that we just heard in our New Testament reading clearly was meant for him and not for Luke, I want to propose that it is equally as valid for us in this world, and who better to model our fulfilment of ministry on than Saint Luke himself?

Now, how do we do this? I apologise in advance, but I am going to be slightly provocative….

A few days ago, I had a chat with someone who suggested that the Church of England needs a second Oxford movement. What better day and what better place to ponder how that could happen than here in Pusey House, only days away from the exact 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his theses to the Church door in Wittenberg?

I want to propose that we do try and change our focus slightly. Let us change the focus from sexuality and synod debates, from powerpoints and popes, from lace and worship bands and onto things that really matter:

Let us, like St Luke, be physicians of the soul- let us be a Church that walk alongside people from all stages of life, regardless of age and social background, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of origin or race, regardless of appearance and regardless of churchmanship.

Let us, like St Luke, be a church that welcomes everyone without judging, so that, by being living examples of the love of Christ, we can draw people closer to God.

Let us also, like a certain Doctor Pusey suggested, use the beauty and splendour of Anglo-Catholic worship as one way of doing this, and to bring, to use one of his old sermon titles ‘The Holy Eucharist a comfort to the penitent”, and by doing so show the origin of the Christian welcome we want to show – the gift from God of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Death on the Cross.

Might this be what we are called to do as followers of Christ? To bring that all-encompassing love He showed for us by dying on the Cross into the world, and actually transfer the words of the Gospel into action, to heal souls, comfort those who grieve and be faithful companions to one another, to be, as St Francis says – instruments of peace.

Let us pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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

[1] Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints’ Day, Rivingtons, London, 1875.

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Homily for Harvest Festival 2017

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Short homily preached at the Vigil Mass on 30th September 2017 (Vigil for the Harvest Festival) at St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford. Readings: Deut 26.1-4, Gal 6.6-10, S Luke 12.13-21.

“Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he posseseth”

In the Name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Not the easiest of parables to preach on, I have to admit (especially if your brief is to be….well, brief). If we try and set this parable in context, Jesus was talking to his disciples about hypocrisy and the duty of ministers of the faith. In the middle of this, Jesus Himself gets interrupted by a man asking him to judge on an issue of division of inheritance. (It is comforting to know, as a rookie preacher, that not even Jesus Himself could keep everyone’s attention all the time….)

We have just heard Jesus giving an answer worthy of a politician, in that he doesn’t really provide a solution to the issue, however, His answer points towards something much more profound than division of inheritances, namely the state of your soul.

This evening we start the celebration of the Harvest Festival here in the parish, which will culminate with an abundance of fresh produce being auctioned off in aid of Farm Africa tomorrow, so trying to steer the focus away from the gathering of riches today might seem like a contradiction in terms.

However, if we look at what St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: ‘let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith’ we see that both our produce action at the Smoko tomorrow and the parable Jesus told his disciples is not about avoiding earthly riches, but rather to use all our talents and assets to do the work of God.

St Ambrose writes in his On the Duties of the Clergy: “There are many kinds of generosity. Not only can we redistribute and give away food to those who need it from our own daily supply, so that they may sustain life, but we can also give advice and help to those who are ashamed to show their need openly”.

All of this goes to show that the amassing of worldly riches in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but we do have a duty as Christians to help our neighbours.

So maybe that is the spiritual fruit of the Harvest Festival – we harvest the Lord’s gifts and use them both for ourselves and to help the world – could that be the way to benefit from the abundance of things that we do possess in this day and age?

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for all the good things you continue to provide for us.

Don’t let us take your gifts for granted or abuse them.

Instead, help us to always rely on you in faith.

Use us and what you have given us for your good purposes.

In the Name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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Review: The Lindchester Chronicles by Catherine Fox

Just before I left for Walsingham I treated myself to the trilogy of books known as the Lindchester Chronicles, by Catherine Fox, author and wife of the new Bishop of Sheffield. The trilogy is set in the fictional diocese of Lindchester and we meet, amongst others, the Bishop of Lindchester (Conservative Evangelical with a secret), Archdeacon Matt with his gingham clergy shirt and the former-chorister-gone-naughty-boy Freddie May. 

All three books are extremely well written, and it is very obvious that the author is someone who knows quite a bit about the Church of England. The books cover everything from meetings with the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral to the issues of homosexuality and clergy. As the books are all fairly recently written, Mrs Fox even manages to address the issues that arose after the CofE voted to allow women to the Episcopate a few years ago. The author’s descriptions of the Cathedral City of Lindchester and its surroundings are vivd enough that you can close your eyes and picture yourself standing there, looking at the Cathedral. 

As someone who, until yesterday, had a rather lengthy commute, I managed to finish all three books (you have to love the Kindle!) in less than a week, which probably says all about how much I recommend them. They are by far the best books set in a Church environment I have read since Fr Greeley’s White Smoke. 

You can buy all three books on the links below:

Acts and Omissions

Unseen Things Above

Realms of Glory

DISCLOSURE: I may be an affiliate for products that I recommend. If you purchase those items through my links I will earn a commission. 

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History goes in circles

I’m told by social media that today was the day in 2015 when the Swedish population register registered me as living in Sweden again, after 2 years in London. It is very fitting then, to have signed the forms telling the same government agency that I am once again moving to the UK. I am still struggling with realising that I actually am moving back to my beloved UK again, so I fear I have been slightly lazy when it comes to packing…

Given this laziness, I was very happy indeed today to have my sister and her boyfriend around to help me pack and carry things down into my storage room. Their help was invaluable and I think we managed to accomplish more in one day than I would for an entire week by myself.

So – one more week left at work, and 17 days until I move to Oxford. After today’s progress, I think I can dial down the stress level about the packing significantly, but it will be extremely interesting to see if I manage to do everything at work that I have set out to do before I move….

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Holiday in retrospect

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Last week I was on a much needed holiday to Walsingham and London. Walsingham is a small village in Norfolk famous for its Shrine of Our Lady. In 1061, a pious English noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, had an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, telling her to build a copy of the home in which the Annunciation took place. It was build, and then, during the English Reformation, destroyed in 1538. Fr Hope Patten, who was then the Parish Priest in Walsingham, restored the Shrine 400 years later in 1938 and it is today one of the most popular places for pilgrimages in the Church of England.

Worship in Walsingham is very much “high”, and there are daily Masses said, along with various other liturgies, including Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and daily Confession.  There is also the village itself, with various charity shops and pubs as well as a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox Church and a Methodist chapel. This year was my second visit, and I very much hope to come back again soon. The only downside to going is the long journey, I was on the road for 12 hours. First I had to get from my place to Arlanda, then a plane from Arlanda to Heathrow, then train Heathrow-Paddington. After that a cab from Paddington to Liverpool Street, train Liverpool Street to Norwich, bus Norwich to Fakenham followed by the final bus from Fakenham to Walsingham! Sometimes, one would require a private chauffeur… For more information – check out the Shrine’s website here.

Returning to London Sunday a week ago, the week that followed was spent in London. I managed to attend Mass in different Churches, as well as visit a few art exhibitions and museums, sadly none of the exhibitions/museums left a lasting impression. It was, however, very good to catch up with friends old and new, including my first ever visit to a proper private club (the kind with leather sofas and butlers, not the kind with scantily clad girls).

Of course, some shopping was done, but not of the usual tourist variety, instead of bags and bags from Primark I return home with, amongst others, a full set of the Divine Office (£35!!) and various devotional items. I also had to put a pack of Cocodamol in my shopping bag, due to my Otitis Externa returning – extremely painful, so this post will be slightly briefer than planned…

I’m starting to realise that I only have two weeks left of work, and four weeks until the move – 30th of August is when I, once again, become a UK resident. Very much looking forward to that….

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