Sung Eucharist with Baptism; Gospel Luke 15, 1-10

 

Let me start by asking a question: have you ever been given anything that you really treasure; something so personal that if you lost it you would move heaven and earth to find it?………

Well, today’s Gospel reading is all about God’s desire to find us and befriend us. The message is really basic and straightforward. All of us are uniquely loved by God. God looks at you and me as his treasures. I suggest we need to know this. Knowing that we are loved by God, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, ‘to infinity and beyond,’ is the basis for both healthy self-esteem and, our ability to keep the commandments to love God and, to love our neighbour as ourselves. We can’t love our neighbour as ourselves unless we first know ourselves to be loved and treasured. It’s a simple, and obvious, formula.

 

It’s a formula that the Irish priest-poet captured as follows:

‘You need to be generous to yourself in order to receive the love that surrounds you.

You can suffer from a desperate hunger to be loved.

You can search long years in lonely places, far outside yourself.

Yet the whole time, this love is but a few inches away from you.

It has been at the edge of your soul, but you have been blind to its presence.

We must remain attentive in order to be able to receive.’

 

In a few minutes I am going to baptise Baby George and in doing so I will be expressing God’s abundant love for him.

As I baptise George can I urge you all to remember the voice that came from heaven at Jesus’ own baptism; ‘you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ We are all beloved of God, we are all the lost coin, the treasure that God values beyond price and wants to find. So this week can I encourage you to pause a couple of times a day and remember this, maybe even saying to yourself ‘I am God’s beloved,’ and just see what difference it might make. It might just make an enormous difference.

But, now we turn our attention to George, a true treasure, and soon to become a baptised member of the Church. Amen

 

xxxxxxxxxxx

 

Evensong: ‘One World.’ Readings: Amos 5, 4 & 11-15, Luke 16, 19-end

 

Do you remember where you were on September 11th 2001?

I was in my office at Old Mutual Asset Managers on Cheapside in London. When we became aware that the first tower had been hit we assumed, like the vast majority of people, that a horrendous accident had taken place. As we watched Bloomberg News on the giant television screen which was permanently on, it became clear, as the second tower was attacked, that what we were witnessing was raw, undiluted, violence; violence that its perpetrators were later to seek to justify by reference to their religious beliefs. Of course true and real religion can never, ever, endorse or validate violence and atrocity.   Fifteen years later and we, the world that is, continue to witness religiously inspired hatred on an almost daily basis.

I would want to suggest that all people of faith need to think very clearly about what it means to be a member, a follower, of a religion. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all Abraham religions; we share a common heritage. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in ‘Not in God’s Name,’ an absolute must read, stresses that men and women of faith all share a common vocation: ‘to be a blessing to the world.’ Sacks suggests that Abraham always sought to be ‘true to his faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.’ Abraham was recognised as a true and Godly man by the pagan priest Melchizedek and by the Hittites. How seriously do we take our vocation to be a blessing for all, irrespective of human identity markers? If we really care about peace, reconciliation love and justice I would want to strongly suggest that we need to develop the capacity to look beyond…...beyond difference. This doesn’t mean ignoring difference, after all as a Christian I want to own my distinctive set of beliefs and experiences, but it does mean seeing each and every person as worthy of God’s blessing, as a member of the human family.

This point is stressed in our readings: the Rich Man doesn’t recognise Lazarus the poor man at the end of his drive as being worthy of compassion and inclusion. He wants to exclude him, he wants to live in his own gated residence, entirely on his terms. He is of course able to do so; but just consider the eternal consequence.

In the Old Testament reading the prophet Amos urges the religious community to: ‘seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord the God of hosts will be with you…..hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.’

We must strive to pursue all that leads to the common good and to be a blessing to all in our own community and, we must pray for and help assist in material ways those who seek to be a blessing to some of the world’s most vulnerable people through our works of charity. This is how we exercise the ‘dirty work of holiness.’ We must never use our religious beliefs and faith to exclude but rather always to include, for that is how we exercise ‘hospitality,’ and, we must always look beyond obvious differences, seeing each and every person as a child of God, for that is how we offer affirmation and, ‘healing.’

We may not be able to put an end to religiously inspired hatred and violence, but what we can do is to commit to making this place a place of true religion; a place of real blessing, a place where God is known for his abundant goodness. To do is in fact our vocation; yours and mine, Amen.

Every family has one, don’t they, the ‘interesting’ relative that you don’t quite know what to do with, where to sit him or her at family gatherings.

It’s a bit like that with the Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches esteem and venerate Mary, the Protestant Churches keep an acquaintance of sorts, remembering her in and around Christmas, and the Church of England – as a Reformed Catholic Church, for that is our self-descriptor – doesn’t know quite what to do.

The Anglo Catholic constituency within the C of E family venerate the Blessed Virgin on a week by week basis and whilst their Evangelical cousins make sure that they remain in touch on an annual basis at Christmas time. Maybe this is an oversimplification, but you get my drift. As someone who stands in what I would describe as the Modern Catholic tradition I esteem Mary highly, for it seems to me that there is no escaping the fact that she is ‘the Mother of God.’ This makes her special. Mary’s vocation was to give birth to Jesus, and if you think about it that too is our job. So we should be, at the very least, deeply inspired by Mary and her life story. In being inspired by and in looking up to Mary we can perhaps learn a little bit of what it means to live as a Christian, for she is in many ways the prototype Christian.

First, I would suggest, it simply means being open to God and then saying ‘yes,’ to His call on our lives. We should never forget that when Mary is given the unique vocation to be the Mother of Jesus her response is ‘let it be with me according to your word.’ Is this our response, or do we quietly whisper to God, ‘terms and conditions apply?’

Then we can learn from Mary’s simplicity and humility. She has no airs or graces. She doesn’t regard herself as superior to anyone else, even though she has been given the job of giving birth to Jesus, our saviour; which if you accept the Christian story, must be the single most important job ever. Listen to her words, ‘for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant, surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’ Mary recognises that her blessing is simply in being the privilege of being chosen to bear Jesus. Do we recognise that this is where our real blessing lies? Or do we look for kudos and prizes? I know I sometimes do.

Finally, I think Mary has a lot to teach us about constancy and fidelity. Her young Son, our Saviour, must have driven her to despair at times; don’t our relatives and friends to just that? And yet Mary, despite her highly unusual Son, hung on in there, and was there for him. She nurtured Jesus, she facilitated the process of Jesus maturing into His role and His vocation. Do we nurture others, even when they behave in seemingly bizarre and unorthodox ways? Or, do we occasionally succumb to the temptation to insist that folk would behave as we would have them behave and take on the job, roles and responsibilities that we think would be good for them? I am sure that Mary must have felt that Jesus wasn’t really headed in the right direction, and yet she didn’t stand in His way and insist that he changed track. Instead she nurtured him and let him go.

And, she remained faithful. When we arrive at what must have seemed like the end of the Jesus story, there we find, yet again, Mary, stood at the foot of the Cross. However, as we all now know the Cross wasn’t the end of the story. However Mary does remind us that in order to experience Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost we first have to go the Cross. We have to look agony, defeat and death in the face and remain faithful to the story. How prepared are you to do this? Again sometimes I don’t want. Sometimes if I am honest I would prefer Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost on easier, softer, cross-less terms. The trouble is that it just doesn’t work like this.

 

So here is the challenge:

Let’s not be embarrassed by Mary. Instead let’s welcome her and learn from her life story. Let us remember that she was the first person to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, to give birth to Jesus – which remains our vocation – and that she did it with simplicity, humility, constancy and fidelity. Surely these are the qualities that we should aspire to as we seek to grow the Christian story in this generation? Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

2016 has been a remarkable year; a year where hatred and violence have dominated the news, a sad year, one for which we must lament. It feels like a godless year. This week’s savage murder of Fr. Jacques in some ways adds to the feeling of godliness-less; there is something truly awful, sadly not unique, about a priest being murdered in the sanctuary. Brother Roger of Taize was murdered whilst at prayer,  Oscar Romero was brutally murdered in El Salvador in 1980. All three men, Fr Jacques, Brother Roger and Archbishop Oscar Romero were simply doing the things that men and women of God do each and every day; reading from Scripture, praying for the world, celebrating Christ’s presence amongst us in word and sacrament. They were doing the ordinary business of the Church, through which the extraordinary love of God is declared.

The offering of God’s love is, put simply, your vocation and mine.

It strikes me that the events of 2016 and, especially those of the last week invite us to answer to answer a very straightforward question:

‘When times are tough, when violence and injustice seem to reign supreme, how should we respond and relate to the world around us?’

And, maybe, today’s readings help. Both Paul and Jesus inhabited a deeply troubled world, a world where people were often put to death for their religious and political beliefs. Indeed, both Paul and Jesus were put to death. In fact, they both knew that they would be put to death.

 

St. Paul writing to the Colossians suggests that whatever else is going on around them that they ‘seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.’ To my mind the things that are above include perfect justice and, perfect peace. If we were to wind the reading from the epistle on a few verses Paul suggests the following as a rule for Christian living: ‘As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness, humility, meekness and patience……... above all clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’

St. Paul insists that the Christian community, even in the face of atrocity, must always be open, inclusive and outward looking. It is to be an example to the wider world simply through its very existence; meeting together, praying together, participating in the sacraments together are in themselves all acts of Christian mission;  but they also the goods which equip us to go out into the world, free from fear, and get on with the ‘dirty work of holiness.’

 

The only alternative choice to compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness and love, is isolation and withdrawal. We can, like the rich man in the gospel, seek to cut ourselves off from the world and focus solely on our own happiness and enjoyment. We can regard material security as a safe guard. We can, like the rich man, deceive ourselves pretending such an approach will benefit our very souls:  ‘And I will say to my soul, Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  But, ultimately this is the strategy of the ‘fool.’ Our real goods are prayer, scripture and the Eucharist, or word and sacrament, if you prefer. These are the things that sustain and equip.

The opposite of foolishness is wisdom, and so if we are wise our response, in the midst of darkness, should be to recommit ourselves to living as God would have us live; relationally, with compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness and love.  These should be the characteristics of our common life as the Church and they should also be the virtues we take out into the world as we engage in the ‘dirty work of holiness,’ Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown