An advent sermon…

Preached on Wednesday in the First Week of Advent 2018

The Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford

Readings (KJV): Isaiah 8.16-9.7, James 2.14-end.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The writings of James are perhaps not what we want to hear in the middle of this month of over-indulgent shopping, eating and drinking, but there we are – it is in the lessons appointed for tonight, and they are eerily similar to the readings we heard on Monday evening – where James admonishes us to be “doers of the word and not hearers only”, and yesterday he further beat us up last night, reminding us of the one of the ten commandments I personally struggle the most with – “Love thy neighbour as thyself”.

There’s almost as if there would be a thought behind the way the lectionary is put together…

To hear all of this during the busiest shopping month of the year, (the Christmas shopping in the UK last year was worth almost £79 billions!) to me almost feels like a slap in the face.

Even more so, when we see one of the largest economies in the world fires teargas on innocent children seeking refuge. Apparently there was no room for them in the inn…

We need not even look across the Atlantic Ocean… Here, in England’s green and pleasant land, the food bank use has increased with more than 52% since the roll out of Universal Credit in the areas where it has been adopted as general policy, and Oxford has more people per capita sleeping rough than most other places in England.

Almost every Sunday at High Mass in this very chapel, we hear the priest recite the Summary of the Law, in which we find the words “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, to which we all reply “Lord, have mercy upon us and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee”.

Does it sound like something that needs repeating?

To me, it actually feels like James wrote his letter to us in present-day western society, rather than in the late first century, and that he sees us in our bleakness and failings in asking what we, ever weekday at noon,  ask the Blessed Virgin to pray for us to become – “That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”.

It is not exactly as if this call to care for the vulnerable is unique to James either – in Matthew’s gospel, in the story where Jesus puts himself in the position of the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner, He Himself declares: “ Verily I say unto you – Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, ye did it not to me”.

So, having now been beaten hard with Scripture – what can we do then? If it is as James said that faith without works is dead, then what are the works?

Can I suggest that we do what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in his sermon at the Royal Wedding earlier this year:

“Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.”


In my imagination that leads us towards a world where we all manage to keep both faith and works together, not in tension, but as in parts of the same whole.

I can see a world where all of us God’s people, will keep Christ in Christmass not only by keeping Mass in Christmass but also by seeing Christ in our neighbour, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely, protecting the oppressed and vulnerable, and sheltering the homeless.

I can see a world in which we prepare for the coming of Our Lord and Saviour not only by buying the most advanced toys, or by cooking the most elaborate Christmas meal or by having the straightest lines walked by the servers at Midnight Mass, but also by doing those good deeds that the same Christ has commanded us to do.

A homily is perhaps not the best place to list all the things you can do, even if you cannot fit in volunteering at the foodbank or at the Samaritans into your busy schedule, but there are many charity shops that will happily accept that Christmas gift from old aunt Joan that you simply don’t like, or many charities selling Christmas cards where part of the profits go to the charity, or indeed many charities that would welcome a penny or two.

However, I think it might be equally as much, if not even more so, about a change of outlook, a heartfelt change of priorities, and so, let us pray:

Lord, when we strive after healing in the world and nourishment for those who hunger, we find you on our side. Whenever we long to see your face, help us not to avoid the corners of our communities where you most often dwell. Stir our hearts that we might seek and find you today in those places where you have promised to be. Amen.

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Ron and Luke – Two Peas in a Pod?


I have now written, and preached, my sermon for the First Evensong of Saint Luke, and you can find it on this link. The readings were Isaiah 55 and S Luke 1.1-4.

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Holiday is over!


Stained Glass Window, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

And so, I find myself at the end of my Easter holiday. This week saw both a trip to London to attend a High Mass of the Annunciation at my old home parish and a visit from my sister. It was, as always, lovely to be back in the parish that re-kindled my will to discern a vocation to Holy Orders back in 2014-5, and to see old friends!

My dear sister had a less-than-promising start to her visit to Oxford, as the coach broke down when I went to meet her at the airport, leading to me being 30 minutes delayed. What I didn’t think of when I updated her by texts of my adventures was that not all Swedish PAYG phones work abroad. Hers just happened to be one of those that don’t… In the end, we found each other at the airport, and had a good time together, exploring various shops, markets and museums here in Oxford (including Christ Church College and Cathedral, where the picture above was taken).

It is now Sunday in 0th week, and I have served at the parish church for the last time until June, and led Evening Prayer in the same church wearing full academic robes, for the first (and probably last – it was awfully hot!) time. Term begins in earnest here at the Domus tomorrow morning, and I am rather looking forward to the busyness of it all again – it will be very good to be back on a regular schedule!




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A Week Off Work


Paper dress and mens’ suit from the exhibition Victorian Passions and Pursuits, Blenheim Palace

And so, the first week of the Easter holiday for us interns is over. This week, I have managed both a trip to London and hosting a friend. While I very much enjoy meeting up with my London friends, it was wonderful to have a day pottering around London on my own, with nothing in the diary apart from a haircut. (I usually get my hair cut at a barbering school in London – check them out!) I saw a few churches I haven’t been to before, and a museum I didn’t even know existed. I also managed to re-visit a few favourite haunts, and it was with a happy mind (and full stomach!) I returned to Oxford.

Then, my friend Monika arrived, and we have been busy since she arrived 🙂 Shopping, Oxford sightseeing, churches, Masses (both high and low), a fair few pubs, plenty of walking, and much more. The highlight of Monika’s visit has to be our visit to Blenheim Palace and the nearby town of Woodstock. Blenheim Palace remains to this day the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. It was built in the English Baroque style, and was finished in the 1720s. It is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but other residents have included an (slightly mad) amateur scientist, an American railroad heiress, and Queen Anne’s Mistress of the Robes.

The Palace is open to the public, but the present Duke still lives there with his family. On our visit we explored the state rooms, as well as the formal gardens, park and pleasure garden with butterfly house. Being a non-driver (at least in this country) I very rarely get to see big country houses, so to have access to one nearby is a treat. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (despite the fact that we gave the merry-go-round a miss…) and I will most certainly return again!

We continued our tour to the nearby town of Woodstock, which at one point was most famous for its bell foundry, now a small and cozy country town. (The Woodstock Festival, however, was named after the Woodstock in New York State…).

By the time this is posted, Monika has returned to Sweden, and I am catching up on sleep after having walked her to the 5.15am airport coach to LGW…. I am looking forward to another visitor this week – my younger sister is coming for three nights, and after that, we face 0th week, and the start of, what looks like a busy, Trinityterm here at Pusey House.

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A Holy Week


High Altar, St Barnabas, Jericho

A somewhat belated Happy Easter to any and all! While I have seen neither Easter Bunnies nor Easter Eggs, I had the privilege of celebrating the Sacred Triduum at St Barnabas Church, Jericho. I served every single service throughout the Triduum: Maundy Thursday gave us the Mass of the Last Supper, where the Priest Celebrant washed the feet of (some member of) the congregation. The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday allowed us to consider Christ’s death on the Cross, venerate said Cross and receive Holy Communion from the reserved Sacrament (during the Mass of the Last Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is taken to the Garden of Repose). Following this liturgy, the Altar is completely empty, and all remaining consecrated wafers are consumed – Christ is no longer present in the Church apart from on the Cross. Holy Saturday ended with the Easter Vigil, where we light the new fire (and the Paschal Candle) and celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Easter Day is also a very festive High Mass, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament ended Holy Week.

We are now in the Octave of Easter, and I am on my Easter Holiday. While I had one friend staying with me during the weekend of Palm Sunday, I still had to work then – I now have two weeks off. Currently, I have Monika staying with me, and when she goes back home to Stockholm, my sister comes to visit. I thoroughly enjoy lazy mornings, walking around town and popping into a pub, should it take my fancy etc. Working the Triduum was immensely rewarding and moving, but it is very nice to have some time to rest and recover! (I even got a full day in London all on my todd pottering around and visiting various churches on Tuesday – just what the doctor ordered!)

Meanwhile, most of my spare energy is being spent on thinking through the move in August (I am going to cancel my lease on my flat in Stockholm, and move permanently to the UK). Obviously I will not be able to take all of my belongings over here, not even if I at some point get a flat or house of my own, so a lot of careful weeding will have to take place. I assume there’ll be more on this blog about that later in the spring…

For now, I’ll sign off and go to bed 😉


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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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