Sunday, 23 November 2008

Feast of Christ the King

The forecast snow and ice didn't materialise in anything like the quantities prophesied by the BBC last night. However, in view of the 1 in 5 hill on which our church is built, it seems that a few people decided to play it safe - though when it came to the time of Communion there were actually more in the congregation than I'd thought. Sunday School numbers are being hard hit by Dance School preparations for December concerts.

Which is a shame, because the Feast of Christ the King is a wonderful climax to the Church's year. Not without its share of questions, however, ranging from the motives of Pope Pius XI in instituting the Feast in 1925 to the interpretation of today's Gospel Matthew 25.31-46: how do we balance our understanding of the Son of Man judging between sheep and goats and the Christ who is the Good Shepherd of all the flock, and who goes out of his way to bring back the wayward?

Well, you can find what I had to say about these and other things here. And I hope that readers of the homily - as well as those who heard it - will appreciate the depiction of Christ in majesty which surmounts the windows of the west wall of St. Cuthbert's Church. It's just a pity that it's so high and everyone faces the wrong way... But then again, the east windows are well worth looking at too.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Investing Capital - Using your Talents

Sunday's readings with the parable of the three slaves, each given a different number of "talents" to look after by their absentee master, made for lots of interesting possibilities in the light of the present financial climate. You can read what our Reader, Paul Heatherington, had to say by taking a look at his sermon for the Sunday Eucharist.

I'm not sure how I would have approached the story myself. I think there's a real issue as to what Jesus is doing when he tells stories. I don't think parables are there to be explained. And while Jesus may start off with the words "The kingdom of heaven is as if..." those words "as if" are perhaps the give-away: not "exactly like," but more "compare and contrast." Hear the story(or read it) and then ask what it says to you. There's the whole issue of whether people should have slaves. There's the question of the Master's absenteeism - is God similarly absent as far as most people in today's society are concerned? And doesn't the slave digging the hole for his one talent make a reasonable point? Arguably the Master is pretty mean and avaricious as well as devoted to his long holidays. If he's out of Dragon's Den with a massive portfolio elsewhere, he hasn't ensured that his investment opportunities at home have the support they might well need. And he doesn't seem to trust the slave who gets only one talent - or else he'd have given him more (but see what Paul has to say about this). How would you feel if you were this least-trusted and least-valued slave?

And who knows what to do with their investments these days?

So why does Jesus tell this parable? Presumably because he was touching on live issues. And still he does today... But don't take anything for granted, he seems to be saying. And as for Matthew 25.30 and the designation of the slave as "worthless" before his ejection into the "outer darkness" - don't get me going... Except to ask, isn't Jesus simply provoking us? When we want to write people off, he's there to trip us up as to the implications. The Good News of the Gospel is not "weeping and gnashing of teeth," but the one who comes after the wilful and wayward like the shepherd looking for the lost sheep. No condemnation in that parable. If God has a place for the wanderer who goes straying, why not for the "slave" who has been demeaned, distrusted and trapped into fear of his avaricious Master? The answer - it seems to me - is that he has because God is not the "Master."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remembrance Day - and what churches are for

I preached on Sunday - Remembrance Sunday - but the words don't get any easier, and I didn't script what I said. So no links for a sermon.

Today, Tuesday 11th November, is of course the actual date of Remembrance Day - and the 90th anniversary of the ending of the First World War. But in the Church's Calendar, we remember also that it's the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. Perhaps we don't make enough of the conjunction of this feast day and our remembrance of the victoms of war. Famously St. Martin was first a soldier of the Roman army before his Christian faith led him to a different vocation. The Church of England's Collect for the Day reminds us of this:

God all powerful,
who called Martin from the armies of this world
to be a faithful soldier of Christ:
give us grace to follow him
in his love and compassion for the needy,
and enable your Church to claim for all people
their inheritance as children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Though we could perhaps do with some reminder of his growth in holiness, his life as a hermit and monk before his call to be a bishop, and the magnetism with which he drew people to join him in his way of life and as a follower of Christ...

I first visited the Basilica of St. Martin in Tours over 20 years ago, and I hadn't remembered it as much more than a rather dark and dim place. But I went back last year (and again this year!), and the place seems transformed from what I'd remembered. The huge church is itself a wonderful place of prayer with a Community of Benedictine Sisters to assist in welcoming visitors. Clear signage and displays are a help - but most it's the fact that you can't miss it as a place of prayer. When I visited this year, there was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the main church. And the shrine below is a place of stillness and deep prayer.

And what else are churches for? Actually Ruth Gledhill, in the Sunday Times and on her blog, has carried a story about Sir Anthony Caro's work in creating Le Choeur de Lumière (Chapel of Light) in the Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg, near Dunkirk, France. It's worth taking a look at the pictures of what he has achieved. His work is part of the restoration of a church which was destroyed in the Second World War, when a British pilot, realising that he was going down, took the decision that to avoid civilian casualties in a built-up area he should crash his plane into the roof of the church and so to avoid the surrounding houses. So there's a story of heroism and a continuing memorial to his deed, to the bravery of so many and to the sanctity of life.

Monday, 3 November 2008

All Saints & All Souls

At St. Cuthbert's we keep All Saints' Day on the nearest Sunday to the actual date of the Feast. Because All Souls' Day fell on the Sunday it's been transferred to the following day, i.e. this evening. So today's tasks include checking the lists of the departed who are to be remembered at our Parish Requiem this evening - and another pewsheet to keep us right.

After several failures in attempts to up-load homilies preached at St. Cuthbert's, I seem to have been successful this week. So to find what I had to say about All Saints and Richard Dawkins's agnostic London Bus adverts, just click this link...

Back in the Parish

I was away with my younger son from Monday to Friday of last week - half-term, and probably the last opportunity for some time to get a break together as GCSEs loom, winter draws in and Christmas approaches.

As ever, we booked rather late in the day, but were delighted to get accommodation at Rydal Hall, the Carlisle Diocesan Retreat and Conference Centre. I worried that there might be too much exposure to "religion," but - apart from a parish group - everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. Members of the group itself were chatty, especially in the bar, and communal mealtimes were fine - good food. I'd recommend it, especially the special offer on Monday-Friday Dinner, Bed & Breakfast breaks.

Not sure I'd want to go there for a retreat though - and that reminds me that I'm now well overdue for a proper retreat. During the last year I've only managed two formal Quiet Days - and one of these I led, while the other I organised...

But for a general refreshment break, you can't beat the Lakes, and Rydal Hall is well-situated to make the most of one. Autumn colours were at their best, though we also experienced some pretty extreme weather, as you can see from some of my pictures if you click here