In Loving Memory: Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians 13
You are all here today because you have lost someone dear to you. Someone you cared about and loved. That person is of course no longer here with you, at least in the physical sense. And, of course, that is both sad and painful. Today is an opportunity to own and hold that pain.
But, it is also an opportunity to reflect and remember. All lives are a gift from God and all lives leave us with a gift. We are nurtured and matured partly through other people. We learn to love because we have been loved. We learn of those wonderful and divine qualities that the 23rd Psalm recounts: loving-mercy, goodness, restoration of the soul because we have experienced them through those who have loved us. We learn to live and live well because others have lived and lived well, and that’s what makes death so painful.
However although death is painful we must also learn the arts of remembrance and thanksgiving. It is through remembering that we keep the spirit of our loved ones alive within us and it is through thanksgiving that we keep love alive within us.
The reading from 1 Corinthians 13 comes to the most amazing conclusion: ‘and now faith, hope and love, these three abide and the greatest of these is love. What this one short verse is saying is simply this: that love cannot be extinguished. Love always has the last word. Love wins out.
I would like to finish by offering you two certainties and one hope. The certainties are that you loved the person you have come here to remember today and that they loved you. Let the certainty of love be enough. Let the certainty of love sustain you and keep you moving ahead. The hope is that death is not the end of the story, even if and when it feels like it. Take to heart the last words of the Psalm:
‘and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,’
All Saints: 1 John 3, 1-3 & Matthew 5, 1-12
Has anyone here got a favourite saint? Well, I have two favourite saints - Andrew and of course Laurence. I had to say that didn’t I? But I also like some of the more unusual or bizarre saints, people like St. Jacqueline who decided that she was called to live in a tree from where she regularly rebuked Pope Innocent III for his wickedness, or St Sithney who believed that God had asked him if he’d mind being the patron saint of dogs and spent the rest of his life dressed up as a dog.
But seriously, why bother? Why bother celebrating and remembering the Saints? Well apart from the fact that some of them are really amusing they help bring the Christian story to life. Saints are animators of the gospel. Yes, I know we have the official saints whose status is granted by the Pope after a period of beatification, but we also have the broader ‘communion of saints', those inhabitants of heaven who have helped nurture and shape the life of faith. Saints are people who inspired by the gospel stories and the person of Jesus leave their mark. Saints are people who incorporate God’s story into their own life story. Saints are people who contemplate the gospel truths, exercise compassion towards others and act with courage.
We all have the opportunity to become saints but more importantly we all have the opportunity to shape an earthly communion of saints; a communion which provides an effective witness to our Christian faith. That’s one of the reasons I like the concept of ‘All Saints’; it reminds us that our witness is to be collective as well as personal.
So how do we mature towards sainthood? I would like to suggest that it is through opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit within us and by praying, in the words of the reading from 1 John, that we may one day ‘be like him;’ Jesus. And, it is also through contemplating the words of Scripture, perhaps especially the words of the Beatitudes, that we have heard in the reading from Matthew’s gospel. These are verses that Bishop Steven would like the diocese to contemplate and digest. He believes, and I agree with him, that if we can take the beatitudes to heart we will become a more Christlike church. We will become a more holy, or saintly, church. And, it is through sharing in the Eucharist. It is through sharing in the Eucharist that we become one body.
Prayer, scripture, Eucharist. As I said last week these three are our spiritual nutrients. If we engage with these three with open hearts and minds we will grow into the likeness of Jesus. That’s the genius of Christianity. We need to be as Saints in the world today. The future of the church depends on ordinary people just like you and me opening ourselves up the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Can I ask you to take the pew sheet home with you and reflect on today’s readings each and every day and take them to heart? These readings are too precious just to be Sunday readings. They point us in the direction of becoming a more Christlike church, and that, in a nutshell is our mission.
Sermon - Francis of Assisi: Micah 6, 6-8 & Luke 12, 22-34
In recent years there has been something of a recovery in Franciscan Spirituality. If you were so inclined you could begin a journey of inquiry which could ultimately lead to you becoming something called a Third Party or Tertiary Franciscan; living as a Franciscan brother or sister in the community. I strongly believe that Francis is very much a saint for our times and that we need to learn lessons from the life and witness of St. Francis. Clearly the current Pope, despite being a Jesuit, also believes this to be the case.
St. Francis famously heard the voice of God saying to him ‘rebuild my church.’ We too need to hear that voice. The job of building the church is after all never done and in each generation it feels as though the church loses sight of the essentials. The essentials are the building blocks which allow us to rebuild the church. So what are these essentials; the bricks and mortar of our faith? The answer is given in the readings:
That we should ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with y/our God.’ These are lovely words, but they are also active words. We are not only to talk prophetically about justice but we are to do justice. We are to love acts of kindness, both when we receive them and when we give them and, we are to walk, that is to say press on through life, with a spirit of humility. Francis, with the prophet Micah, insists that we should be ‘doers of the word.’ Our faith should be both active and highly infectious.
The gospel reading points us in the direction of trust and simplicity, or even poverty of spirit. These are to be are underlying attitudes or beatitudes. Why should we care about justice, kindness, humility, trust and simplicity or poverty of heart? Well the answer is three-fold: first because they are good for us, they bring us back into relationship with God. They are essential spiritual nutrients; our five a day (justice, kindness, humility, trust, simplicity / poverty). Secondly, because as I have already suggested they are the bricks and mortar that help re-build the church. A church which isn’t characterised by the active living out of these virtues is a dying, decaying church. Such a church can ultimately only become a ruin, an historic artefact, a place that points towards a legacy lost. Do we want to become such a church? Thirdly, and most importantly, because these virtues are in and of themselves evangelical.
This week I was struck, as I mentioned this morning, by a young woman who wishes to convert to Christianity on the basis that she has encountered what she believes to be an authentic expression of Christian communal spirituality. I was also moved to hear the story of an Israeli woman who visited this church during the week and was amazed by the words on the door ‘all, yes all, are welcome in this place.’ She told a member of the congregation that what she sensed when she went into the church was a sense of deep peace and even deeper love. These are amazing accounts. They are real testimonies to how the Holy Spirit works, when the commitment exists to ‘rebuild the church,’ using the bricks and mortar of:
- Doing justice
- Loving kindness
- Walking humbly
- And all, in a spirit of trust, simplicity and poverty
These virtues form the very essence of Franciscan Spirituality. They are ours to re-capture and enact. If we do so we will like Francis ‘re-build’ the ‘church.’
Let me finish with a quote attributed to St. Francis which I would invite you to take home with you and mull on:
‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel only using words where necessary.’
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