Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

Andrei Rublev's icon of the Trinity was modelled on an earlier icon depicting the Hospitality of Abraham. The hospitality shown to three mysterious strangers by Abraham was the theme running through today's Old Testament Reading, the Gospel showed us the hospitality given to Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary, and the New Testament Reading from Colossians referred to Christ as the image (literally icon) of the invisible God.

So I found myself preaching what was really a meditation on the dual call to action and contemplation. Where love and charity dwell, there God is to be found. The icon itself invites the observer into an encounter with the divine - how do we respond? Click the link for what I said - if you find the document doesn't appear, tweak the side button and then play with the tools to size the page as you wish.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Good Samaritan at St. Cuthbert's

What I omitted to say in my last post and in my sermon last Sunday is that the Good Samaritan is depicted in the central window behind the High Altar in St. Cuthbert's - here it is! Above it is Christ depicted as the Good Shepherd. We'll keep that for another time...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

St. Benedict and the Good Samaritan

Rules for the Lectionary mean that today's Feast of St. Benedict has to give way to Sunday observance - not a bad thing when today's Gospel is that of the Good Samaritan.

We managed to bring both into our celebration of the liturgy. I was struck by Benedict's desire to provide a Rule for the sake of orderliness, but with the affirmation that it's a "school for beginners" rather than a straitjacket. And there's the likely problem for the Priest and Levite of the parable missing the point because of rules - and the lawyer doing what he can to fit them to his purpose. Benedict's purpose is to lead people to "eternal life" and it's St. Luke's Gospel which makes the inheritance of eternal life the point of the lawyer's approach to Jesus - unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Mark who have Jesus' questioner simply ask "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

This is an extract from my sermon, the whole of which you can find by clicking here:

The thing to know about the Rule of St. Benedict is that it was written as a result of his desire to bring orderliness into the way his brother monks lived, at a time when so many thought they could do whatever they pleased. Benedict wanted to establish what he called “A school for the Lord’s service” - and his purpose was so that those entering into it would find their way to “blessings in eternal life.”

That’s something that we must not miss in today’s Gospel reading. Of all the Gospel writers, only St. Luke tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The story has an introduction which Matthew and Mark also record, but with a twist. In Matthew and Mark’s accounts, Jesus is asked, what is the greatest of the commandments? - and it’s Jesus who sums it up: love God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength - and your neighbour as yourself. But it’s a bit different in Luke. Luke tells us that Jesus was approached by a lawyer who wanted to know what to do in order to inherit eternal life. And Jesus simply turns the question round: what does the religious law tell you? And the lawyer gets the answer right:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

In the Prayer Book we call these words the Summary of the Law. It’s everything that’s necessary reduced to just these few words about love - do this and that’s the way to find eternal life. That’s the aim of St. Benedict when he wrote his Rule. It’s the whole point of the Scriptures - to get us into God’s kingdom, to share with him in eternal life...

In preparing to preach I noticed that the priest - the first person not to stop and help the wounded man - is very definitely going down the road, so he must be travelling away from the Temple and Jerusalem. I didn't have time to go into this. But, aware of the argument that the priest and the Levite don't stop because they fear becoming ritually unclean, I'd like at some point to explore why the Gospel seems to be so definite that they are going away from the place where they need to be "clean" - and still they don't stop...

Would we?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

“Trust, Courage - and Virtue…”

This is the title of my page in our newly-published Parish Magazine for July and August. Click here to find the whole issue in full colour. And this is what I wrote on the View from the Vicarage page:

I’m sorry that this issue of the Parish Magazine is appearing a bit later than usual - though it’s a double issue, so you’ll have plenty of time to read it!

One of the reasons I’ve been delayed is that I attended our diocese’s annual Clergy Summer Gathering over three days at the end of June and beginning of July. The theme this year was Trust and Courage in Ministry Today. There was much that was thought-provoking in the insights of the speakers, and much cause for gratitude in being able to share with fellow-priests and deacons in formal group-work, over meals and in the bar. Amongst other things we did was to engage in a Socratic dialogue to discern the meaning of good ministry and to sit down together to watch the film Doubt (my second viewing and I still don’t know what I think).

But the vital theme was how we experience and manage to convey a sense of trust in ministry. Trust is vital to the way we live. Robert Innes, former Vicar of Belmont, now at the Anglican Pro-Cathedral in Brussels, led us through the issues brilliantly with reference to issues in the medical field - how you trust your doctor after the Harold Shipman murders, how you feel about hospitals as a result of the Alder Hay and other scandals. He could have talked about the issues that bear directly upon the Church. But the fact is that trust is so central in so many parts of life: Thick Trust - which we need in family relationships which knits trust and love into personal bonds; Thin Trust - what we need in “regulated” professionals not least doctors and priests, where we rely upon their availability, confidence and relationship; Trust in Institutions - which might be Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or Parliament, and is a reminder that a priest’s or a local church’s reputation is bound up with the institution of the church.

How can we build trust? The answer is simple: by being trustworthy. But of course there’s a lot involved in doing that simple thing.

In this we were helped by sessions on Virtue Ethics - basically doing the right thing, not for what I might get out of it, but because it is right. Bishop Tom took this on by looking at the specific Christian Virtues: Patience - not to be too quick to judge, and patience needs to be filled with prayer; Charity - a habit of the heart to be cultivated, “if there’s a chance, let’s be generous!”; Chastity - not just for monks, but about real relationships in their richness where we can look beyond sexual motives; and Humility - the sober recognition of my God-given gifts, and how I can use them in service.

All too brief a summary - but lots to work on for everybody…
Martin Jackson

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Music at St. Cuthbert's

The lack of posts on this blog is not due to an absence of activity in the parish - quite the opposite! Following the Confirmation at the beginning of June we've had a Summer Fair, a Concert to aid Sunday School Funds, a Fashion Show and all the staples of parish life. And it's also been renewal time for CRB checks on parishoners who work with children and vulnerable adults - just finding the time to sit down with each individual to check that people are really the people they say they are and that they really do live in the house where we're sitting has been a great test for my diary skills (I know I've been visiting you here for the last 16 years, but can you please prove this is your house with a gas bill no more than three months old?). Thank goodness that's over for another five years!

Music Sunday, an initiative by the Royal School of Church Music, was an occasion we observed on 13th June. Click here for the sermon that Rosie Junemann, our Reader, preached that day. I'm afraid that my recent homilies haven't reached a sufficiently scripted form for up-loading. Catch me "live" or not at all at present!

And the music theme continues...

On Sunday 11th July we welcome the Sage Chamber Choir to St. Cuthbert's for a Concert in church at 7p.m.

Tickets in advance or on the door are £5.

I know there's a clash with a certain football match that evening... but you'll probably still get home in time for the extra time and penalty shootout. So do join us! - for those who don't know the North-East, the Sage is the top music venue in our region, the home of the Northern Sinfonia as well as the Chamber Choir. This is a rare opportunity to catch a top choir on one of their excursions further afield.