Sermon 1st October St Michaels and All Angels; Hebrews 1, 5-end & John 1, 47-end
Angels are an interesting subject. We don’t really know a lot about them and we don’t, at least knowingly, seem to bump into them in our everyday life. They are strange and other. Maybe, that’s part of their rationale. Angels are quite an interesting phenomena for our times, because they simply cannot be empirically, or scientifically, proved. This week I have asked a fair few people ‘do you believe in angels,’ and I have been surprised to discover that many people, rationally minded people, do indeed believe in angels.
Angels have of course been the subject of films and music – think Dan Brown, Robbie Williams and Abba – so there is undoubtedly something intriguing about them. I particularly like how Abba describe the angelic rationale:
‘I have a dream, a fantasy, to help me through reality, and my destination makes it worth the while, pushing through the darkness still another mile. I believe in angels, something good in everything I see, I believe in angels.’
Angels for Abba exist to accompany us through reality, occasionally, grim reality, helping us to keep in mind that we have a final destination. A destination that will be defined by goodness.
Angels, I think, help us to keep hold of the notion of goodness even when things seem dark. Angels are light bearers. The collect that I read just a few minutes ago stresses the role of angels in ‘helping and defending us on earth.’ I suspect that many of us will at least have had a sense such an unexplainable angelic presence; a force or power that keeps us going. It is this sense that I suspect allows rationale human beings to say, yes ‘I believe in angels.’
The ‘first Christian theologian’ Origen was convinced that angels were real spiritual beings and, that our destiny is to become one with the angels, as members of ‘the communion of saints.’ Liturgically we celebrate our destiny through the words in the Eucharistic Prayer where we proclaim that in our earthly communion we are joined by the ‘angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.’
There is a saying, isn’t there, that such and such a person maybe ‘so heavenly good that they are of no earthly use.’ Well, I suspect that the angelic role is to ensure that we are of earthly use, whilst continually holding before us the notion that heaven is to become our spiritual home. The gospel reading concludes with the words ‘very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man,’ Jesus in other words.
The use of the metaphor Son of Man is used to depict Jesus in his fleshiness and humanity. Angels, although they are ‘other world’ beings exist to help us become more fully human, so we can be of earthly use, as ‘this world beings’ They do this by defending us and shining light into, through and beyond the darkness for us. I don’t think it is possible to logically and empirically prove that strange phenomenon called angels exist but I do think it is credible based on experience to testify to the angelic presence. So like Robbie Williams, Abba, and the theologian Origen I too believe in Angels.
One final thought: when we share in the Eucharist today lets seek to do so in the belief that we truly are sharing in our earthly communion alongside the ‘Angels, Archangels and All the Company of Heaven.’ Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
Sermon for Addington Harvest Festival: Psalm 65 & Luke 12, 16-30
A couple of years ago when my elder daughter’s boyfriend came to stay we invited him to our harvest festival service. He looked confused which was strange because he is a very intelligent chap. ‘What’s a harvest festival he asked?’ We explained. ‘Oh’ he said, ‘we have a similar festival on Jersey,’ where he is from. On Jersey their harvest festival is to celebrate the work of the fishing industry. We are about as far from the sea as you can get so I suppose a festival to celebrate the off-shore fishing industry wouldn’t really work here. But, I think that it is important to celebrate and give thanks for harvest in the context you are located in. We are blessed to be surrounded by beautiful and gently mellow countryside.
Celebration and thanks, or gratitude, are two of the key harvest watchwords. At harvest we celebrate the work of all who work the land to provide us with food and harvest reminds us of the importance of gratitude for the beauty of the natural environment. The words of the reading from Psalm 65 make precisely this point:
‘You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it, the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon trucks overflow with richness, the pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout together and sing for joy.’
Harvest invites us to give thanks for the inheritance of the natural environment, or created order. We should also, of course, treat it with dignity and respect. If the reading from the Psalm leads us into attitude of respectful gratitude then the reading from Luke’s gospel prompts us to thinking about simplicity and, ‘enoughness.’
I profoundly believe that we, as a species, need to recapture the virtue of simplicity. We need to develop a richer understanding of the stanza in the Lord’s Prayer where we say ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ When we pray this line we are also saying ‘please help us to ensure that the produce of the earth’s goodness is equitably shared.’ This sentiment, expressed in one stanza, stand in opposition to the aspirations of the rich man – or ‘fool’ – in the gospel story.
From this benefice we can’t change the world, but we can play our part, and we are playing our part. We will continue to play our part. Through playing our part, through living the harvest virtues of gratitude, simplicity and generosity with a commitment to equality and justice we can help shape the world for the better and surely that in a nutshell defines our ‘harvest vocation?’
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
Sermon Trinity 15: Exodus 16, 2-15, Philippians 1, 21-end & Matthew 20, 1-16
As some of you may know last week my daughter went away to university. I was tempted, before she left, to take her into my study to give her some advice, but I thought better of it; probably wisely! However, if I had given her some life coaching what better words could I have used than those offered by St. Paul to the Philippians: ‘only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ I wonder if I had said this how she might have reacted?
But, for us as Christians surely this advice should be our Rule of Life: ‘only live your life in a manner worthy of Christ.’ What, does this mean? What does it mean to live an active life worthy of Christ? Obviously it means lots of things but let me this morning focus on just two virtues: grace, simplicity.
In God’s economy grace is the currency. In the parable from the gospel we heard that the workers who arrived on the scene at the very end of the day were paid the same as those who had worked all day. This in many ways seems unfair and unjust. But, is it? Grace, I think, is an absolute currency given in totality and, incapable of division. The workers who arrive at the end of the story, who by the way are only not working because they haven’t been spotted as available for hire, under God’s economic scheme are entitled to the same treatment, or the same receipts, as those who have worked all day. This is how it works in God’s economy. And, if God – as represented by the landlord in the parable – can be seen to be acting gracefully, so must we be.
Yes, we too need to consider whether we are prone to falling into very this worldly modes of thinking; modes of thinking where what we receive is more important than what others receive; modes of thinking where notions such as the ‘last shall be first,’ are best left in the bible rather than taken out from the bible and used as a guide to how we live a truly Christian life in the here and now, as evangelical witnesses to lives lived in ‘a manner worthy of the gospel.’
Our only real concern if we are to live a life ‘worthy of the gospel of Christ’ should be that we have enough for our own daily bread; not that we have more than others. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ what we are really saying is, ‘help me to live simply and without jealously of others,’ or perhaps, ‘help me to be content with enough so others can have more.’ This is what it means to live a life of simplicity.
I would like to suggest that recapturing the essence of simplicity is one of, perhaps the most important, economic and theological tasks of our day. As a people who desire to live our lives ‘in manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,’ we need to re-learn to trust in God’s covenant promise of ‘enoughness,’ just as the Israelites had to learn that all they needed was meat in the morning and bread at night. We need to ponder on that one stanza from the Lord’s Prayer ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ and its real-world implications. In some ways it is an horrific line. What if God granted our prayer and all we were left with was enough for our needs for the next twenty four hours?
Let me finish by telling you about a lady called Chiara Lubich, who wrote a wonderful little book called The Art of Loving. Chiara Lubich was a young woman in the heavily bombed Italian city of Trent during the second world war. With a few other young women of faith she decided to test God out. She decided that they would seek to live according to the economics of the gospel. This meant trusting God and making a conscious decision to live a life of utter simplicity so that there was always something left for the most vulnerable – least productive - people in the city. Lubich believed with every fibre of her being that all are one, all are equal, in the Kingdom of God. She took to heart the notion of ‘giving so that it would be given unto you.’ In her own words: ‘if we had only one egg in the house for all of us we offered it to the poor. And, what do you know, in the morning a bag of eggs arrived.’ Lubich who fed literally thousands of people during the second world war and who went on to establish an international ecumenical movement believed that accepting God’s grace combined with a human willingness to live a life of joyful and loving simplicity was to live life ‘in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’
One last thought: living a life worthy of the gospel is, when all is said and done, our only real evangelical witness to the vibrancy and truth of our faith. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
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