Monday, 18 January 2010

Haiti, holiness and miracle

I wanted to avoid attempts at "explanation" when I preached in St. Cuthbert's yesterday. What can you say in the face of natural disaster and human suffering on such a scale? You can link to the sermon itself here. The text isn't immediately displaying for me, so if you have a problem give the page a few moments and then scroll down. For a preview, this is how I started:

When you live in a Vicarage, one of life’s pleasures is in encounters with the unexpected caller at the door. There have been a few this week, so if you’re one of them, count yourself in! Highlight of the week was on Friday afternoon when I opened the door to find a man standing there with a slightly confused expression: “Hallo,” he said. “Is this the Holy Cottage?” I think he’d seen the plate on the wall saying “Vicarage.” So I was sorry to disappoint him: “Well, you might think this is the nearest thing to a holy house on Church Bank, but actually I think you want Holly Cottage - and that’s on the other side of the road.”

In the midst of my sense of lassitude and gloom about the weather, that delivery man with a package for a neighbour brightened my day and cheered me up. He made me laugh, but he also made me think… Either the address label was mis-spelled or he’d mis-read it. He came looking for a place he’d thought was called “Holy…” - and he’d found me!

It’s humbling for a priest to be alongside a person when he or she is looking for something which can be described as holy… numinous… beyond our understanding of the mundane. One of the complaints of evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is that religious faith doesn’t make rational sense. Faith makes claims which can’t be verified, which go beyond what reason can ascertain. And much of what they say is true. You can’t reduce faith to a matter for argument and proof. It’s when people have a sense of the holy - when they’re reaching out for something that they can’t express in words, but know in their heart to be real - that they are moving beyond rationalism. Religious faith doesn’t need to be irrational - I hope it isn’t! What faith points to is a desire for what is true. And truth as it touches us most deeply has its source in God, and reveals to us what is truly holy.

We find that truth and holiness revealed in the encounters between Jesus and so many other people recorded in the Gospels. I read one of them in the Gospel which was set for the Eucharist on Thursday of last week, St. Mark’s account of a man described as a “leper” who comes to Jesus and pleads with him on his knees: “If you want to,” he said, “you can cure me.” “Of course I want to!” Jesus replies. Jesus stretches out his hand, touches the man, the leprosy leaves him and he is immediately cured. There’s no “how” or “why” here. Just need on the part of the sick man - and the clear statement on the part of Jesus that healing is central to his calling and purpose. “Of course I want to cure you,” says Jesus - and he does.

But even as we read that story of the healing of a sick man in his need, we can find ourselves asking the question, if Jesus can heal that leper why are there so many other sick people in the world? Why doesn’t he heal them? Why are so many people suffering now after the earthquake in Haiti? Why have so many tens of thousands of people been killed there, why do so many more lie sick and untreated in the hospitals, or dying in the streets? What sort of a world has God made in which there is so much potential for suffering?...

read on...

To donate - the Disasters Emergency Committee is coordinating a relief appeal by major charities including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam and Save the Children.

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