St Alban: Wisdom of Solomon 3, 1-4, 2 Timothy 2, 3-13 & John 12, 24-26
I wanted to celebrate St Alban this year, whose actual feast day is on the 22nd June, because this church was established way back in 1290 as a minster of the then St. Alban’s Abbey; now St. Alban’s Cathedral. Being a minster meant that the church existed to serve both the local community and a number of surrounding villages. It's a vision I want to re-capture for this church. With our liturgical and musical tradition it is something we can do.
Alban himself was a man of great courage; like our patron Laurence he was martyred for his faith. In often wonder, why the great martyrs were prepared to face death firmly in the face and embrace it. Its a sobering thought isn’t it? Would we be prepared to follow in their footsteps if asked to do so? In Winslow physical martyrdom is unlikely, but around the world there are still many, many, places where to be a Christian is to risk life and limb. We should always pray for those whose faith might mean paying the ultimate sacrifice.
So why would the likes of Laurence and Alban be prepared to risk all for their faith? As is said last week I suspect its because deep down they were utterly secure in their own identity. They knew that their primary identity was in Christ. Such knowledge is the source of ultimate, maybe even eternal, peace and freedom. St. Paul in the reading from the epistle captures this dynamic when he writes:
‘If we have died with him we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.’
The red martyrs who died for their faith, such as Alban and Laurence, challenge us to reflect on the depth of our faith. Faith in this sense doesn’t just mean belief, or even believing the right things, it means something far deeper: knowing that our deepest and eternal identity is in Christ and that this simple fact changes everything.
As I have already said in Winslow it is highly unlikely that any of us are going to face the possibility of risking our very lives for our faith. But, we are all called on to become what the church came to call ‘white martyrs.’ Each and everyone of us should be prepared to own the name ‘Christian.’ Each and every one of us must be prepared to profess to the truth of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. Each and everyone of us should be prepared to become ‘a good (foot) soldier of Christ Jesus,’ and so what if we take a little stick, or if people think we are a bit odd? We should take great courage in the notion that if we seek to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, things we happen around us, for as St. Paul says ‘the word of God is not chained.’
Like Alban we too are called upon to be people of prayer. It is through prayer, talking to God and more importantly listening to God, that our lives are changed and that we become the sort of people who serve others secure in our own identity. Its through prayer that we become resilient. It is through prayer that we develop that deep sense of peace that we hear about in the Old Testament reading where Solomon writes that ‘their departure was thought to be a disaster, their going from us their destruction, but they are at peace.’
Alban and Laurence were men of deep prayer. Through prayer they cam to know and own their deepest identity as beloved children of God. This sense of Peace allowed them to act courageously. The fact that we still tell and celebrate their stories today proves one thing above all else: ‘that the word of God cannot be chained.’
My invitation to you this week is to reflect on the lives of Alban (and Laurence) and let their stories lead you into an ever deepening faith.
John the Baptist, Luke 1, 57-66, 80: Jacqueline’s first Eucharist.
I would like to start by saying what an honour and privilege it is to be here to preach at Jacqueline’s first Eucharist. Thank you for inviting me.
I thought this morning that I would talk briefly about various aspects of priesthood, through the lens of John the Baptist. Now, I know that John the Baptist wasn’t a priest but the last of the prophets, so please do indulge me.
I think that through the character of John the Baptist we can gain an insight into four of the attributes of priesthood: the call to repentance which is of course followed by the act of absolution; the call to bring people into the sacramental life of the church; for John this was through baptism, for priests following the death, resurrection and ascension this has meant baptism and celebrating or presiding at the Eucharist and, perhaps, most problematically the call, like John the Baptist, to act as a prophetic voice, calling the people of God to act like the people of God, whilst simultaneously daring to speak truth to power.
If I were a participant in the Radio 4 show ‘Just a Minute’ I would have been buzzed out of contention by now, for repeating the same word over and over again. That word is ‘call.’ Jacqueline like, I hope, all priests didn’t choose to become a priest; she was called, by God, to this joyful yet challenging and unsettling state we call priesthood.
Priesthood can often feel strange, us priests can frequently feel as though we are in the ‘wilderness.’ Sometimes it can feel as though there isn’t really much solid ground beneath our feet; priests you see frequently stand in the breach between God and his people. Jacqueline is going to spend much of the rest of her life feeling as though she is the ‘wilderness,’ not knowing what she really should say, or could say. But, the really good news is that although this is true she will, like John the Baptist, become ‘strong in spirit.’ God will give her the words to sing salvation's song with humility, pointing away from herself and towards Jesus.
My hope is that Jacqueline will become strong, or stronger, in spirit simply by living out her priesthood; by being a person committed to calling people into repentance and then giving the life changing gift of absolution, by celebrating the sacraments and, by continuing to speak prophetically; daring to say those things which might occasionally be unpopular, challenging or disturbing always in the interests of a more Christ-like church and, a more godly world. All of this must of course be underpinned by a deep commitment to prayer, for it is through prayer that character grows and we slowly, but surely, grow into the image of Christ. It is through prayer that we begin to realize that it is character rather than mere competency that makes the compelling difference. It is through prayer that we become living icons for Christ.
So what of you, and your relationship with Jacqueline and indeed all priests?
Maybe I have already given the answer: to commit through prayer and the quality of your relationships to help Jacqueline, like John the Baptist, who was so nurtured by his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, to grow and become stronger in spirit, so that she, and all other priests can, live out our priestly calling.
One last thought: if you commit to praying for Jacqueline, perhaps asking in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, that she may be ‘endued with righteousness’ and be blessed by the ‘healthful Spirit’ of ‘grace,’ you too will change and grow in Christian character and, as we all grow together we become what the New Testament describes as a ‘royal priesthood,’ or the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ or even a ‘Holy Communion,’ of God’s people; we become God’s partners in achieving the breaking in of the kingdom ‘here on earth as in heaven.’
Jacqueline today our prayers are with you as you preside at the altar for the first time. Our prayer for you is that you may throughout your priestly ministry build authentic Christian community by leading God’s people to repentance, absolving them of their sins, and feeding them prophetically through word and sacrament.
2nd Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 3, 8-15, 2 Corinthians 4, 13 -5,1 & Mark 3, 20 – end
A few years ago a number of colleagues were at my house in Padbury enjoying a drink and a chat when one of them saw a photograph of a young eighteen year old Andrew, dressed in his rugby kit, and said ‘wow you used to be good looking.’ I didn’t, still don’t, know how to take this!
I love the line in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: ‘even though the outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.’ It’s pretty realistic isn’t it? Yes, we are all getting older and, yes, this implies a bodily change, but the good news is that as we mature in our Christian lives our inner nature is renewed and we become more Christ-like. The way we grow is of course through our daily and weekly habits: prayer, bible reading, and corporate worship.
All of our spiritual practices should be undertaken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This Trinity let us seek to remain open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who leads us into a deeper relationship with the Father and the Son. Let us not forget how we start our worship each and every week, by declaring that we meet in ‘the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
As Christians we need to remain open, always, to the work of the Holy Spirit whose roles are to guide us, shape us, encourage us and lead us into all truth. To ignore the prompting, leading, and real presence of the Holy Spirit is to ‘blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.’
When we live lives shaped and informed by the work of the Holy Spirit the remarkable thing is that we grow into our true and deepest identity. It matters not a jot how we look and whether ‘our outer nature is wasting away,’ for what matters more is the that our ‘inner nature is being renewed day by day.’ As our inner nature is renewed the really great news is that we too learn to look beyond mere externalities and the superficial things and, our whole system of valuing people changes. We begin to realise that worldly success and status aren’t important. We begin to realise that the only important thing is being committed to doing the ‘will of God,’ and that this implies living by the rule of love with its twin characteristics: ‘love of God,’ and ‘love of neighbour.’ When we live our lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit our lives, mysteriously, become simplified.
But, something even more remarkable happens: we stop being terrified, afraid or anxious. In the reading from Genesis Adam says to God: ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked.’ What Adam had failed to realise was simply this that God was far more concerned with his inner nature than his outer nature. God couldn’t care less about Adam’s ‘outer nature.’ The great satanic trick started with Adam and continues into the present day. The trick is to get us to believe that God is somehow impressed with our outer natures: our height, weight, athletic ability, status and the size of our bank balance. To assume that God is overly concerned with these things is to relegate God’s values to the crudest of human metrics. And the trouble with human metrics is that they tend to exclude rather than include. When our impulse is to demarcate and exclude, rather than include, we distort what it means to be a ‘brother, ‘ sister,’ or ‘mother,’ in holy communion, in Christ. This is something we simply mustn’t do!
I would like to finish with a quote from the Rachel Wilson. Rachel is a priest in the Church of England. She also has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. She writes as follows:
‘I know that for some of my friends, especially Christians, the notion that God intends me (this side of heaven at least) to be as I am is controversial, but it is something that I am convinced of, and when I came to that conclusion it was utterly revelatory; if I am indeed what God has made me, then I no longer need to worry about failing to be like others, but can succeed in being myself.’
When, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, claim our deepest identity, we succeed at being our best selves, and begin to understand that God is above all interested in our ‘inner nature.’ When we refuse to listen to the voice of temptation telling us that we aren’t worthy enough just as we are we become the sort of people who build authentic communities simply by doing the ‘will of God.’
So, this Trinity let us open ourselves to the transformative, liberating, simplifying, fear-beating, and relationship-building power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit and be amongst us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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