When I was a small boy I had a wall chart which told the story of British history. My dad occasionally used to read to me before bed, from my wall chart. I went to sleep having heard about some of the great figures in early English history, people like Alfred the Great, who the Church remembered last Monday and, Edward the Confessor whose life the Church of England celebrated on the 13th October. I remember being captivated by such figures. Not all of the Saints departed are as famous as Alfred or Edward or, indeed the biblical saints; the apostles and disciples. Over the course of the next few days the Church will remember several lesser known characters: Winifred, Malachy, Martin of Porres, Cybi and Illtud.

Some may ask ‘why bother?’ Why bother remembering the Saints? I would like to suggest three reasons:

First, they have the ability to captivate us, or enliven us. They bring the Christian story to life. For the most part the Saints are men and women who have taken the gospel at face value and applied it to their daily life. Often applying it to their daily life has involved taking a stand against the prevailing political, religious and social norms of the day. Think of our own Patron Saint, Laurence who refused to bow to the demands of a fat and bloated Roman elite and insisted that wealth should be used to serve the needs of the poor and needy and, not the rich and powerful. In recent times think of Bonheoffer – not an official Saint - who stood up to Hitler or Desmond Tutu – also not an official saint - who refused to accept the legitimacy of apartheid. Bonhoeffer’s commitment cost him mortal life, Tutu’s resistance could easily have done so, but thankfully didn’t.

Secondly, the saints challenge us to ask ourselves ‘what and who do you prize and value.’ The Saints, it appears to me, constantly remind us to go back to the beginning, to Genesis and, in particular Genesis 1 verse 26 in which we are told that God made humankind in the Divine image. All true Saints recognise that all men and all women are made in the image of God and, that this has implications for how we live our lives. In God’s economy there should be no second class citizens. Laurence knew this, as did Bonhoeffer and Tutu. Do we?

Thirdly, the Saints can help strengthen faith and alleviate doubt. If some of the greatest and bravest figures in history can believe in and seek to live a life moulded by Jesus then why shouldn’t I? Why, shouldn’t you? If some of the brightest minds in history can believe in the resurrection what is there to prevent you, or me, from believing in the resurrection?

The ‘saints’ that I have referred to are famous, but not all saints are famous and this leads me to suggest that true saints also possess one further quality; humility. Saints know that their job is to serve and not be served. They know that the one they serve is Jesus and they also know that Jesus is served through the way we respond to others. Saints don’t look for earthy glory, they may in time be remembered by the Church but that can never be part of the saints’ motive. True Saints also know that they are not perfect, far from it; they just like us are in need of forgiveness. I suspect many of the saints would be highly embarrassed to know that they are remembered and celebrated by name.

It is right that we remember the saints, and it is also right that we aspire to one day be counted amongst the saints. When I die I hope that I will join the communion of saints, I hope that the same is true for you. But in the meantime let us open ourselves up to the mercy and forgiveness of God. Let us carry ourselves with humility. Let us learn to value all people as created in the image of God. Let us take a stand for gospel values even when it inconveniences us to do so. And let us live as people who believe in the power of the Resurrection. Then one day, he Jesus, might say to us: ‘come in and take your place in the Communion of Saints,’ Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

Sermon Bible Sunday 25th October


I suspect most of us have experienced what I call ‘night before syndrome.’ Night before syndrome
refers to the heightened sense of emotion we experience the night before a big event. NBS often
comprises that strange mix of excitement and anxiety. I wonder when you might have experienced
NBF? Perhaps before your wedding, or the night before receiving exam results?

My most recent personal experiences of NBS include the evening before my ordinations; first as
deacon, then as priest. Before ordination you are taken away on retreat for several days and, the
retreat culminates the night before the ordination when you receive something called the Bishops
Charge, following the Bishop’s Charge would be deacons and priests are invited to take their
ordination vows. One the vows deacons and priests make is ‘to preach the Gospel afresh in every
generation.’ It is a solemn vow which is ritually reinforced during the ordination service itself, for
immediately after the Bishop has ordained the new deacons and priests they are given ‘the book.’
When I was ordained deacon I was given a copy of the New Testament and Psalms, when I was
made Priest I was given an entire Bible!

I think that in giving Bibles to the newly ordained the Church of England is taking seriously St.
Paul’s claim that ‘all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be
proficient, equipped for every good work.’

This verse has also been a source of huge controversy. What does it mean? Does it mean that God
effectively wrote the Bible, with the authors of the various books and genres in the Bible acting as
old fashioned secretaries taking dictation from the Chief Executive of the universe? Some have
argued that this is precisely what this passage means. But, this is a new idea, introduced in
Victorian times when historical accuracy came to be seen as the only method of discerning fact
from fiction. But, it is not my belief. So you might ask what to I believe about the Bible?

Well, I believe the Bible tells the story of salvation history. It shows us what people have thought
about God both when they have been correct and, when their understanding has been wide of the
mark. I also believe that Scripture literally speaks to us about what God prizes and values with this
being done in the Old Testament through the prophets. The prophets constantly stress for us the
importance of justice, peace, self sacrifice, and holiness. The prophets, I believe not only speak for
God, but the depict God. They tell us something of the very nature of God.

And from a New Testament perspective God is uniquely revealed to us in the person of Jesus.
Jesus, let us not forget, is the ‘fulfilment of the law and the prophets.’ If you want to meet God, be
healed by God, look at Jesus, read about Jesus, interact creatively with the Gospel stories about
Jesus. Don’t leave the gospels stuck in black and white on the pages of your bibles.
And, then we have the epistles – perhaps the trickiest bits of the Bible. Paul’s letters can be
classified as specific or pastoral epistles, written to specific communities at specific times. So we
need to be careful and discern what is purely contextual and the extent to which we can
generalise from his writing. Later in the Bible we find the general epistles, early examples of Round
Robin letters, their authors include James, Peter and John. These epistles were meant not for
specific communities of faith but the entire community of faith – the One Holy Apostolic and
Catholic Church. The general epistles stress the importance of hospitality; God’s desire to include
all.

So what are we to make of the Bible and how are we to engage with it so we preach the Gospel
afresh in every generation? I think we need to take the big biblical themes of justice, peace, love
holiness, hospitality, and healing with utter seriousness. We need to mediate on the great biblical
themes and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us; sanctify us. We also need to regard Jesus as the
living word, the Alpha and Omega, the one for whom we were created, otherwise we simply
become students of Christian history. And, we need to learn the art of discernment and this
implies learning how we take an ancient text and use it to work out how to respond to the myriad
ethical and spiritual challenges that face us all today.

Anglican theology takes Scripture incredibly seriously, our theology stresses that all Scripture is
inspired by God. Our creeds – which can be though of as Scripture in miniature – provide us with
the basis of Christian belief. But, Anglican theology also stresses that Scripture is something to be
engaged with and entered richly into, not simply as a set of rules and regulations to be applied to
any given situation, and certainly not as a set of proof texts to validate any prejudices we might
hold on any given issue, but as the inspired word of God. We must never forget that religious folk
get God and Scripture wrong. In modern history just think about the Dutch Reform Church and
how it used Scripture to validate apartheid.

Anglicans practice the art of biblical discernment by accepting that Scripture provides the
foundation of our belief, but by also insisting that Scripture is read in conversation with three
other dynamics: tradition, reason, and experience. It is through this approach that we can trust
that the word of ‘God remains alive and active,’ and that we can, with utter confidence, ‘preach
the gospel afresh in every generation.’ And, when we preach the Gospel lives are touched, and the
World becomes a better, more Godly, place. Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

St Luke the Evangelist 18th October 2015

 

Over the last couple of months I have been thinking about this church and what it is that we might focus on. I am cautious of management speak in the Church and don’t particularly want to start creating mission statements and so forth. But perhaps some ongoing aspirations might be useful?

So I have spoken with the wardens, serving teams and clergy about an approach I am calling the 3 H’s. Holiness, Hospitality and Healing.

Recently we have focused quite a bit on hospitality. Harvest calls us to a ministry of radical hospitality, and last week I suggested that the Church needs to constantly ensure that it is ‘building longer tables and not higher fence.’ I believe with every fibre of my being that a truly hospitable Church will thrive and grow.

I also believe that an inhospitable Church will be a diminishing Church, not only numerically but also spiritually. So hospitality –radical all embracing - hospitality is crucial.

 

But so is the ministry of healing and, of course St Luke is the patron saint of physicians. As a Church we can learn an awful lot about two of our three H’s from the narrative that surrounds St. Luke. To quote again from the extract I read at the beginning of the service:

The distinctive theology found in Paul’s writings is virtually unknown in those of Luke but, as a gentile, Luke makes clear that the good news of salvation is for all regardless of gender, social position or nationality

And this must be the basis of our approach as a Church if we are to take hospitality and healing seriously. Our hospitality must be offered to all, fool stop. And, the Church must be both a place, and a people, committed to the healing of all hurts, wounds, grievances and resentments:

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you, heal the sick who are there and say to them the ‘kingdom of God has come near you.’

 

Let me finish with two distinct challenges Luke might pose us:

First Luke, as gentile, knew what it meant to be excluded by the religious elite. We must make sure that we continually look out for the modern day gentiles – our outsiders - in our midst. We must also always avoid the tendency to regard ourselves as insiders, or members of some form of Christian elite. Luke with his stress on all rejects the idea of religious superiority. We too must shatter all such concepts, if we are serious about hospitality and healing they must be an anathema.

Secondly, we must recognise, as Luke did in his role as evangelist, that we, the Church, Christ’s body on earth, in the here and now, offer the hospitality and healing of God. We are simply the means through which Jesus’ love may be transmitted.

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you, heal the sick who are there and say to them the ‘kingdom of God has come near you.’

It is the hospitality of God and his healing touch that we must communicate and, that mandates growth in holiness.

So there you have it, my three aspirations for this Church: holiness, hospitality and healing. I have a sense that if we commit to these three it might make a big and enduring difference. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown