Sermon 5th June - St. Laurence
Let me start by asking a question. Is there anybody you consider to be a hero? It doesn't need to be someone famous, although it might be. I think, although I am slightly guessing, heroes are afforded their status based on two criteria: what they do, or achieve and just as importantly how they achieve it. Sadly, I suspect that in today's culture many are more interested in what we might think of as 'mere achievement' rather than the character.
I think that there can be little doubt that Laurence quickly became a hero to the early church. Laurence is of course our patron saint. There is a chapel dedicated to St. Laurence in Salisbury Cathedral and, the ancient European Cathedrals of Genoa, Lugano, Prague and Trogir (Croatia) are all dedicated to St. Laurence. In more recent times the cities of Amarillo (Texas) and Berthangandy (India) have also taken the name of St. Laurence. When Sadiq Khan was installed as Mayor of London in Southwark Cathedral, the Dean saw fit to invoke the spirit of St. Laurence.
And yet, St. Laurence was not an ecclesiastical high flyer. He wasn't an archbishop, bishop or even a priest. He was a deacon. He never rose above the first rung ladder on the church's ladder of hierarchy. Maybe he would have done in time, who knows, but his martyrdom got in the way.
His martyrdom got in the way because he understood what the gospel is all about. He knew that you cannot serve two masters, you either serve God, by following in the footsteps of Jesus, or you serve yourself. He understood that God cares for the poor, the weak and the marginalised. He understood that the middle classes, of which he was a member, have an ethical responsibility to use their assets judiciously. He understood a basic Christian truth:
That assets should be used to help people, rather than people being used to to build assets.
'If you have many possessions make your gift from them in proportion, if few do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.'
'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.'
The readings inform us that what is at stake is our own souls; it is our souls that the world wants to steal, not simply our 'stuff.'
Laurence had an eye for the common good. He understood that people are the treasure of the church. Its a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn. Loving service, hospitality to all, irrespective of worldly rank, status or achievement should be our central, Christian, concerns. Everyone in God's house deserves the best. No one should be treated differently; that's why its so crucial to the practice of our faith that we all share one common meal, the Eucharist. Its the one meal where everyone gets to eat and drink the same amounts from a common set of vessels.
It is my hope that this church will continue to regard St. Laurence as our local hero and to be inspired by his story. The story of this humble deacon must entourage us to embrace the dangerous and dirty pursuit of holiness. Like Laurence we need to look to the common good whilst regarding the poor, weak, rejected, different and marginalised as the treasures of the Church. As the reading from Tobit reminds us: ' do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.'
And, if we are serious about a deacon shaped ministry we need to make sure we are active in the community, serving the community and its needs. I hope that St. Laurence week is a catalyst for our ongoing, diaconal, ministry.
As a 'good Anglican' I am going to leave the last word to Pope Francis, who in the following reflection captures the essence of Laurentian spirituality, the ministry of the deacon and the dirty work of holiness:
'I like to use the image of the field hospital to describe this church that goes forth. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care so that its soldiers do not die.'
St. Laurence, I suggest, should for us, not simply be a name on our letter heading, but our hero of the faith, a Saint whose spirituality and influence lives on and informs our mission and ministry in, but more crucially for, this community and especially its most vulnerable members.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
First Sunday after Trinity (Mark 7, 1-13)
Imagine being an observer at a family argument. Maybe some of you have been. Frequently family arguments erupt when one member, or faction, within the family want to head off in a different direction. The protagonists may well be newer or younger members of the family, who see the world through a different lens.
The problem with being on the sidelines, watching, is that at some stage the uncomfortable feeling begins to emerge that you may be forced into choosing sides. And, this is what the story from today's gospel reading is all about. The disciples are put into a position where they are forced to witness a face off between Jesus and the Pharisees, the guardians and elder statesmen of the Jewish faith. And, the Pharisees are not impressed with Jesus and his table manners! What seems like a small incident then erupts into the mother and father of all arguments; the normal pattern for all family arguments! The Pharisees reprimand Jesus and his followers for failing to keep the Jewish purity laws, but the bigger criticism is that Jesus and his friends are playing fast and loose with the tradition. The tradition is of course built around a specific 'understanding' of Scripture.
Jesus then erupts, accusing the protectors of the tradition of being hypocrites. His accusation is savage. He says to the guardians of the faith that you know full well what the real tradition is, but that you have chosen to manipulate it for your own political and selfish ends. You are hypocrites. Your hypocrisy is also made even worse by the fact that you know how to manipulate the tradition to make it look as through you speak for God, when you don't you simply speak for yourselves. He gives an example to validate his claim:
He tells the Pharisees that by claiming all of their assets are Corban, offerings to God, they are deliberately using a religious concept, to create a loop hole and break the mandate to honour their fathers and mothers. Jesus criticism is in fact even deeper than this for what he accuses the Scribes and Pharisees of is not only hypocrisy but the deliberate and political manipulation of Scripture. Heresy in other words!
So what has Jesus to say about Scripture, which he clearly esteems and believes contains everything necessary for instruction into how to live a good and Godly life?
Jesus reminds us that Scripture contains the commandments of God and, that the commandments of God are concerned with how we treat each other. Real faith is evidenced not by what we say, and how we say it, not by the rituals we keep, and the doctrines we espouse but in how we live our lives; how we relate to each other.
Are love and service our central concerns? How serious are we about hospitality, healing and the dirty work of holiness – these should be our gospel concerns.
We can manipulate Scripture and invoke the tradition to endorse all manner of claims, but this is to misuse Scripture and to fail to understand the tradition we have inherited. Jesus' own understanding of Scripture is based largely on the prophecy of Isaiah with it's emphasis on justice and liberation of the oppressed, the lonely, the marginalised, the excluded and the poor; hospitality for all.
These were Jesus' real preoccupations, and he didn't just pluck them from nowhere. He took them from Scripture and he urged his followers to make sure that the tradition should never be used to avoid the real mission of the church.
So, as always when faced with family arguments we come back to the question: whose side are you on? I hope and pray that we are on Jesus' side, Amen.
Somewhere in all of us is to be found an inner geek.
I suspect that most of us have a subject, or range of subjects, we know an awful lot about, whilst having to admit that our area of specialised interest may not be particularly riveting to the population at large. There are of course television programmes set up entirely to celebrate the 'inner geek:' Mastermind and University Challenge being obvious examples. If I were to appear on Mastermind my chosen specialised subject would be Bill Beaumont's 1980 Grand Slam Season! I know all about it, even the oddest of facts.
The concept of the Trinity is one that has exercised some of the geekiest theologians. Tomes and tomes have been written of the Trinity. In recent times theories of the social and economic trinity have come to the fore. The Trinity is the concept par excellence for theologically minded geeks. And yet, I like the simplicity of the model which stresses creator, redeemer and sustainer. For me the implications of believing in a trinitarian God are just as interesting as trying to understand the specific nature of the Trinity. What are the consequences of believing in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Of course there are many and so this morning I want to suggest just two: unity and progression.
Christians hold the Trinity to be three persons in one each with their own distinct role. Confusing; perhaps? But, maybe not so confusing when we think that we all as an individual person perform different roles. I am a husband, son and father. I am a priest and, a neighbour. I am a friend and colleague. I would want to suggest that unity is found in the way that all these different roles relate to each other. So unity must incorporate difference. But unity doesn't just incorporate difference it also esteems each and every good and virtuous relationship and attribute. The Trinity only makes sense through its internal relationships, with each party to the Trinity respecting the role of the other. Jesus blatantly and explicitly reveres both his Father and the Holy Spirit. Unity is concerned with respecting and revering the different roles and skills that others bring and then integrating them with due reverence into the whole.
Do we as churches do this? Or do we sometimes compete and insist there is only one way of doing things which, of course, is always our way? Turning to progression:
Jesus in promising the gift of the Holy Spirit makes it very clear that part of his role is to 'lead us into all truth.' Earlier in St. John's gospel Jesus has made it very clear that the apostles are not yet ready to receive all truth. Nor, I suggest are we. We need to regard ourselves as people on a journey, pilgrims. Yes in time we will know even more fully, but not yet. For the present, as St. Paul reminds us, we know only in part. And, if we want to progress as individuals and the Church we need to allow ourselves to be led. We need to focus less on leadership and more on being simple followers of the way, trusting that we are being led by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who teaches, sustains and leads us. The Holy Spirit I would want to suggest is alive and active both inside and outside the Church.
One final thought: I suspect that progression, for Christians and the life of the Church, in some ways means throwing off all unnecessary certainties and coming back to the rule of love: love of God, love of each other with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus. St. Paul makes this point in the epistle: 'Since we have been justified by faith we have made peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Jesus is the 'way, the truth and the life,' the one through whom we 'come to the father,' and, if you remember from last weeks gospel reading Jesus did in fact set a condition for the receipt of the Holy Spirit: 'if you love me and keep my commandments I will send you another advocate.'
So let us as people of faith, this Trinity Sunday, focus on Jesus, on loving Him and keeping His commandments, so that we too can enter fully, progressively and, eternally into the life of the Trinity. Amen.
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