Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 22B

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2009 at 12:25 am

“Israel” is almost constantly in the news.
And is in our first reading.
What we need to aware of, is that the Bible’s “Israel”
is not the modern political “Israel”.

“Israel” in the Bible refers to God’s faithful people,
a people, sure, defined by blood and culture,
but a people we believe is redeemed and redefined
to include us and all people who recognise and respond to God at work
through Christ our Lord.

“The Pharisees” on the other hand, appear often in the gospels,
but most of us know little about them.
They saw themselves as “Israel”, God’s faithful people.
They were a popular lay movement,
a genuine expression of popular piety.
At one level, they were a very “good thing”.
Jesus could at least talk, travel and argue with them.
In a sense, they were on the same journey, however distantly.

The Pharisees tried to carry the practice of the Temple Priests,
tried to take the holiness of the Temple out to the world.
Their ritual purification before eating
mirrored that of the Priests as they ate the Bread of the Presence,
which had been offered to God in the Holy of Holies.

They wanted to do the right thing.  Holiness in daily life.
But it got a bit stuck there.

The minutiae of the rules, and a fear of getting even near the rules
took over, and the whole reason for  having the rules was lost.
The Pharisees took the basics of ritual and practice,
the requirements of the Law
and “built a fence around them”.
In other words, lest they get close to unintentionally contravening the Law,
the Pharisees extended their practice, just to be on the safe side.

Without wanting to canonise Lou Reed,
I don’t think God wants us to  “Take a walk on the safe side”.

Apart from anything else, your attention gets distracted.
Instead of just washing your hands – good Health and Safety stuff,
you wash your whole forearm.
You’re on a whole obsessive-compulsive tangent there!

And while you’re washing and rewashing your hands –  or your bronze kettles –
while we’re caught up in the minutiae of religious or quasi-religious practice
we miss the heart of our faith   … and the faith of our heart.

Now, I have no doubt that there were many faithful Pharisees
whose practice gave expression and focus to a living faith.

Those of us of an Anglo-Catholic disposition are similarly placed:
with ritual, symbol and sign,
… we have make sure this is matched by practical, pragmatic faith lived out
and a regime of personal piety.

And it is not in any way inconsistent
that if we have a place for the drama and richness of our liturgy,
we have also a depth and demand for the heart of our faith.

The very fact that we may do some things almost as a matter of course,
crossing oneself, kneeling, genuflecting
– a bit like the meditative music of Taizé
draws us beyond the words…
offering us the opportunity to engage with the wholeness of our bodies
and the heart of our Tradition.

Hypocrisy was the most consistent of Jesus’ indictments
of the “religious” people of his age,
is about the inside and the outside not matching up.

Jesus doesn’t condemn the Law.

The idolatry Jesus points towards is the same that James describes:
If any are hearers of the word and not doers,
they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror.

Narcissus, that beautiful figure in Greek mythology,
who is transfixed by his own image in a lake.
And, unable to look away, drowns.

Ritual and tradition can help us find a path towards God,
but if miscast, can simply reinforce our sense of our own centrality.
As people of faith, we’re called to discover God.

James’ theology is clear, and we’ll hear it again next week..
Loving service, compassion, being mindful of and giving to others
is the fulfilment of the Law.
To be “religious” without these things is meaningless.
As empty as the bronze kettle you might find yourself scrubbing.

Nice to look at, … sad to have set your salvation on.

As Christians we believe that God was in Jesus Christ somehow embodied,
was given substance in a figure who went around doing good,
teaching, ttouching and healing those at the margins.

And James invites us to continue the Incarnation:
He says, Be doers of the word, not merely hearers.

Our actions are the expression of our faith.
Faith and works.
For all the arguments over centuries
of clever Church voices, they cannot be divided,
like who we are, and who we say we are.

The Pharisees were keen to make sure the inside and the outside
of the cup and the kettle were uniformly “clean”.
Jesus, I think, did appreciate the metaphor…

Let’s ask ourselves
whether the outside and the inside match.


The Assumption

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

Preface for the Assumption:

Today the virgin
Mother of God
was taken up into heaven
to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection,
and a sign of hope and comfort
for your people on their pilgrim way.
You would not allow decay to touch her body,
for she had given birth to your Son,
the Lord of all life,
in the glory of the Incarnation.
Therefore we sing: Alleluia!

Response to “The Press”

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 at 11:15 am

Dear Friends,

 You may well be aware of my reported comments, regarding a recent high-profile trial, in The Press on Saturday: personal and ill-advised correspondence made public (written after the media made public and made much of horrific injuries, the awful and unfounded claim of provocation, raking-over an alleged relationship history). 

 The recent trial of Clayton Weatherston has caused great public comment, and – as one closer to the events at the time (both in terms of geography and, particularly, people) – I was concerned from beginning to end with the way The Defence conducted themselves.  I felt and feel that the family of Sophie Elliott were put to anguish, grief, delay and public hurt unnecessary and unmitigated by Weatherston’s legal team.  Perhaps those legal persons had little choice in that, perhaps not.  Anecdotally I am aware that some colleagues were unimpressed by their conduct.  Regardless, and not wanting to associate myself with the likes of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, victims and their families must surely not be further abused through some sort of legal game-playing.  As a legal lay-person, that’s what our justice system sometimes looks like in such circumstances.  Aiding and abetting.

 I believe in a God whom we sometimes name as Judge, but who is not dispassionate and cold.  God does take sides, and claims his cause with that of the poor, the weak, the voiceless.  Who chooses to claim the Cross: death, dishonour and abuse.

 I should not have emailed in offence, frustration and yes, anger, the office of the Queen’s Counsel concerned; but she, and we, do not live in some pristine legal vacuum.  Precisely this kind of compartmentalised and dysfunctional view of the world lies at the very heart of this appalling crime.  I should not have been naïve and inattentive enough to imagine such correspondence would not be used by the recipient in the media.  I did not, of course, comment in any way publicly during the trial about my concerns, and would not have subsequently, had not Mr King approached the media.  I want to make it clear that my correspondence is in no way associated with the reports of threat and abuse that Weatherston’s legal team have reported following the trial.  That is utterly inappropriate.  My words were strong, but certainly not hateful.

I do hope, as per my intention at the time, that Mr Weatherston can come to terms with his actions.  He needs our prayers, as do the Elliott family, as does our justice system, our prosecutors and defence counsel.  With the media, their job is unlike any other: sometimes they hold lives, reputation, memory in their hands.

May those who have died, particularly at the hands of others, rest in peace.

May God’s healing and comfort be with those who long for it.

May God give us wisdom to know when, where and how to act,

                                                                                                                                Fr Tim

Homily for the Holy Name

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2009 at 11:08 am

At the Community of the Sacred Name, Christchurch,
August 8, 2009

Names are important.
I have a favourite poem by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown
set to music by Peter Maxwell Davies.
The first letter of each line forms the letters of the name of a child,
first baby to be born in a depopulated village for 32 years.
It was sung recently at her wedding.

It is an indulgence,
but in keeping with the promise and hope of our Gospel and this Feast
I might read it to you.
The Archbishop of Canterbury also makes a guest appearance:

Let all plants and creatures of the valley now
Calling a new
Young one to join in the celebration.

Rowan and lamb and waters salt and sweet
Entreat the
New child to the brimming
Dance of the valley,
A pledge and a promise.
Lonely they were long, the creatures of Rackwick, till
Lucy came among them, all brightness and light.

Names are important.    Names disclose identity.
Children are named in the hope of their growth,
in their honouring the name of a family.
In their discovery of who they are.

Names are taken, new names.
In Scripture, in religious community, in the union of families,
names become symbolic of new relationships, new hopes realised,
new commitments undertaken.
In the promise of Joseph’s dream,
in the promise of the Annunciation,
the profound reality of the Incarnation is underscored:
God proclaims God’s presence born among us
not just in the prophetic Emmanuel,
“God is with us”,
but in the ordinariness of a common name.

“Jesus” was not an uncommon name in first century Palestine.
Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous,
which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, or Joshua,
or again Jehoshua,
meaning something like “God saves”
or “God is my salvation”.

An ordinary name.
A very long way one might think
from the absolute uniqueness and sanctity of the Tetragrammaton,
the four letters of the Divine Name that could not be spoken.
Clearly Jesus, “God saves”, is a name powerful in meaning,
as his living, dying, and rising to new life for and with us bears out.
But it was also an ordinary, unremarkable name.

The holiness of God,
inapproachable and inconceivable,
takes our humanity in Christ Jesus,
and makes this one common name
uniquely holy.

Brings to our lips the Name of one who knows glory and grief,
drudgery and divinity,
and who sanctifies each moment of our being.
The Incarnation hallows every moment,
and makes every human name in some way holy.
A community of prayer such as this
knows that this is also indicative of God’s will for us,
that each ordinary moment, and each ordinary act
might be infused with the presence and holiness of God.

The very name of Jesus in some Eastern traditions
is itself a prayer, contemplative, complete.

Yet as Paul reminds us,
the name of Jesus does not hold us still.
We are in this Name caught up in the proclamation
in prayer and service and, as St Francis noted, occasionally words,
the proclamation of the truth it embodies:  “God saves”.

The holiness of God and of the Name that is above every name
calls us to be holy,
and to bring the fruits, the demands of that holiness
into fuller reality:  love, compassion, justice,
not just as abstract concepts, but as real and tangible
as the Incarnation itself.

The holiness of God revealed in Jesus gets its hands dirty,
reaches out and embraces the untouchable,
lifts up the downtrodden and the frail.

We who find the Holy Name upon our lips
are invited to recommit ourselves this day
to the ministry and vocation
that we have been given, all of us in distinct measure:
adoration, intercession, faithfulness, loving service.
And to find in every common moment
of days more unremarkable than this Feast
the sanctifying certainty of the Incarnation,
even the gift of our Lord Jesus, Most Holy.

I began with a lyric,
and it is very much in poetry and hymnody
that our contemplation of the Holy Name is shaped.
I’m sure you can bring to mind texts that speak
of the power and beauty of the Name of Jesus, almost effortlessly.

One of the great poetic contemplators of the Holy Name
was Bernard of Clairvoux.
Perhaps his most famous text is Jesu dulcis memoria,
but it was one among many.
He writes:
“The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts,
fills the soul with noble sentiments,
strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections.
All spiritual food leaves the soul dry,
if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus. …
Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart.
This name is the cure for all diseases of the soul.
Are you troubled? think but of Jesus,
speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse,
and peace descends anew from heaven.
Have you fallen into sin? so that you fear death?
invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning.
No obduracy of the soul, no weakness,
no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name;
there is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy name.
Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger?
invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish.”

So may it be for us, who gather to confess the Name beyond all earthly honour.
To pray for this community,
and to commit ourselves again to Jesus’ service,
love and, we pray, eternal companionship.

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 19B

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2009 at 6:51 am

Our Gospel this morning is again part of the lengthy reflection by the Evangelist John on Jesus, the Bread of Life.

It’s a metaphor and reality that clearly Our Lord’s first audience struggled with.  It has resonances backwards into the Old Testament, forwards into the Last Supper and Eucharist, and eternally as a pre-figuring of the Messianic feast.

In the crudest sense, there is truth in the phrase “you are what you eat”.  We have to eat to stay alive, and what we eat is what we build our being out of in the long-run.  What better in substance and symbol than Eucharist?

It is about transformation.  Somehow by participating in this mystery, we are changed.  We incorporate, physically and in mystery, something of the divine within us, and are thus somehow growing in our ability to be in and to be aware of the presence of God.

We are fed, literally and in ways we cannot comprehend.   With food we could never work for or purchase.

None of us “understands” this Sacrament.  That’s why we have recovered the tradition of children receiving Communion after Baptism alone.  Putting pay to any idea that we can only receive after Confirmation, when we’ve worked out exactly what’s going on.

Of course at any age we approach with awe and a sense of the simple profundity of what we are doing.  But really, we only know our hunger and our thirst.
As Rainer Maria Rilke writes,
That’s when I want you—you knower of my emptiness,
you unspeaking partner to my sorrow.
That’s when I need you, God, like food.

This is a dynamic relationship, and while we are physically living, we are offered the mystery and immense gift of connecting, physically, in this Sacrament with the God who seeks us out.

Each of us, in our own way, is invited to respond to this bread and this wine and to utter as we receive, our “Amen”.

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 18B

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2009 at 11:26 am

St Michael and All Angels School
Founders Day 2009

Let me ask you a question:
Is it better to have found
or to have founded?

Words can sound nearly the same
but mean something quite different.

Is it better to be a finder or a founder?

One sort of person makes discoveries,
sees things that are there.

The other sort sees things are aren’t there yet,
and builds them.

I don’t know about you – and I like finding things –
but to make something yourself and to share it with others
is pretty special.

Today is our School Founders’ Day.
When we remember the people who 158 years ago
looked around and said “we need a school”.
And not just any school:
a very special school, part of the work and life of this church.

…I like to think of the difference between finding and founding
as a bit like the difference between fast food and good food you make yourself.

We all like fast food:
it doesn’t take much time to get it,
it tastes quite yummy.
But it’s not something that we have to work for,
and its not something that really builds us up.
Well, …it might make our tummies big if we eat too much,
but it doesn’t help us grow properly.
And, I don’t know if you’ve noticed,
but you go into a fast food takeaway,
and on the wall are all these wonderful pictures of the food.
And you order, and look at the picture,
and look forward to yours arriving,
but it’s always so much smaller and plainer-looking than the picture.
And I always feel a little bit disappointed at what I’ve found.

But good food, food we make ourselves,
that always seems to taste better than you expect.
Because you’ve been part of building it,
it satisfies even more.
Think of the wraps and sushi and pizza that we made last term.
That was food that was not only good to eat,
but it made us feel good too who made it.
That’s food that’s good for the body and the soul,
because it’s not just filling us up.
We’ve worked at it, and so it’s nourishing, feeding us, deep deep down.

Jesus says that he is the bread of life.
He is what feeds us deep down in our hearts and souls.
We meet him today in bread and wine
at this Table, where he feeds us.
Not just for one day when we find him here,
but for the rest of our lives,
every day growing and building and being nourished by Jesus.

The founders of our school knew that.
They built and they worked not just for today, for the fast food market,
but for the nourishment of our minds and bodies and souls,
and for those who will come after us.

So today we say thank you
for the gift of S. Michael’s School and Church.

Turning to the older demographic here present:

To understand the gospel we’ve heard today,
you need to know that this is the day after Jesus feeds the 5000.
After five loaves and two fish
are somehow enough for a vast crowd of people.

The idea of what is “enough” is a tantalising one
and a rather foreign concept to our age.
How can you have enough?
All our lives we’re bombarded with the idea we need more,
and are somehow inadequate.

St Ignatius, on the other hand, wrote at the turn of the second Century:
“Jesus, with you by my side, enough has been given”.

But, here is the crowd,
looking it seems for a sequel to yesterday’s miracle.
Wanting – like the Israelites wandering in the desert –
to stagger from one miracle to another,
manna from heaven.

Not really sure they’re ready to trust this God,
but knowing that they surely need food and water.
Seeing extraordinary things happening around them,
but failing to see beyond the things themselves.
Marvelling at the microchip
but failing to see the extraordinary universe that has made it all possible.

What God offered the Israelites,
in the face of their lack of confidence in the divine direction,
in the face of their nostalgia for Egypt and the perverse certainties of slavery
– if you know the story – it’s a very simple lesson in trust and radical economics:
Enough food, enough manna from heaven, for each day, for each person.
Jesus would teach his disciples, then and now,
to pray that we might be given bread enough for the day.
In the middle of recession and all its attendant scares,
maybe that might give us food for thought

Back to the gospel.  The crowd asking Jesus questions.
They already know the answer they want
– a miraculous breakfast, the satisfaction of fast food.

The kind of theology and dialogue with God
that fills a gap, but hardly nourishes.
Pre-packaged, brightly coloured, undemanding.
High on things we crave,
things, though, that may turn out to be less-than-good for us.

Hunger is a sign.  We know this:
it’s our body signalling that we need substance and sustenance.

Our gospel reading this day seems to call us to be attentive to our hunger.
Hunger for food, hunger for security, for possessions, for God.
It seems to call us not to fall into that easy trap
of looking for the kind of food that’s all packaging and gimmick.
The flashy food we all too often think we want,
that mostly fails to satisfy.

What if we were to pay attention to the hunger,
to the rumbling emptinesses of our age and ourselves?

St Michael’s Church and School were both founded
with the intention that they might nourish a new city.
We continue to grow in that.
Not looking for the hollow calories of the hamburger,
but the true food of faith and learning
that equips us to feed others also.