Please take your time to read through selected sermons we want to share with you.
Gibraltar Synod Opening Mass 2020
Genesis 1.1-25; Psalm 33.1-9; Romans 1.18-23; John 1.1-14
My dear friends, it is good to be among you once again as we begin our work this week as a synod. As you know, a “synod” is more than simply a meeting. Synod is a theological word which means “together on the way”. It is the Church of God being together on the way of Jesus. That is what we are about in these days. We seeking to be “together on the way” of Jesus, as leaders in this archdeaconry. And as leaders, we return to our communities, after the synod, ready to invite others into this great procession of God’s people, on the way, which we call the Church.
We are at the start of a new decade. It has not begun well. Politicians have taunted each other with weapons, just drawing back from the brink in Iran and Iraq. A new virus is spreading. The family of European nations is about to be altered radically in a few days’ time, as one country has decided it wishes to walk, not together, but on its own.
But much more serious than all of this, as we have seen in news reports from Australia, Indonesia, and elsewhere is that we have begun a decade of extreme climate emergency. Those who have planned this synod wish to turn our attention as God’s people, quite rightly, to this urgent matter of our responsibility as caretakers of our home, Planet Earth. As we face this impending emergency our scriptures today speak to us clearly.
When you open the Bible to the first page you come to this momentous passage on creation. We read that the whole world was created by God, who saw it was “very good”. The first verses of scripture affirms that nature—sky, sea, land, and the creatures that dwell there—has great value in God’s eyes. A little later in the same opening book of the Bible, human beings appear, men and women created in the divine image and likeness, and – interestingly put into the garden of paradise to care for it.
A quick aside about this text from Genesis: I know you do not need reminding, but you do know that Genesis is not a scientific document, don’t you? It is not a historic description of what happened at the beginning of the universe. Scientific reporting is completely alien to the genre of Biblical writing. We do not read Genesis because it is deemed to be scientifically and historically, and even literally true. We read the Bible because we, the people of faith, are seeking in the sacred text the eternal word of the Gospel, the good news of God’s love and care for us. So this poetic text from Genesis is filled with truth, but not scientific or historical truth. It is a more wonderful and mysterious truth about God’s gracious, creative power; it is the wonderful good news about God. So we have got that out of the way!
The other major reading today zeroes in to the core of Christian faith: the truth that in Jesus Christ God became a human being to redeem the world, to heal the world, to restore the world. The gospel proclaims beautifully: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. This is the most radical statement that Christians make: God became created matter. The all-holy, eternal God, creator of the Cosmos, personally joined our fallen and corrupt world in order to restore it and save it. This is known as the doctrine of incarnation, from the Latin in carne, “into flesh.”
Now friends, here comes some deep theology! Theology is not boring, it is exciting! I hope you can share my excitement: we tend to think flesh means what is physical, perishable, vulnerable, finite, the very opposite of what is divine. Right? But it is not quite so simple. Some of you know that I am a bit of a science fiction buff. But not only science fiction – I am also fascinated and attracted to the great scientific field called cosmology – that branch of science that looks at the origin and evolution of the universe. It is with the backdrop of cosmology that I think about this flesh that the eternal word became:
The prevailing cosmological theory today holds that everything that exists comes from a single moment about 13.7 billion years ago. A single speck exploded in what is rather inelegantly called the Big Bang. As all the matter expanded, swirling galaxies formed; gravity pulled atoms together which formed stars. Burning stars turned basic hydrogen into the more complex elements that we have in our periodic table. Around our particular star some elements formed the planets of our solar system, including Earth. Three and a half billion years ago another momentous change took place on earth: some molecules coalesced to form living cells. Over eons these living cells burst forth and flowered into all the living beings we have today. talk about being fruitful and multiplying!
So, out of the Big Bang, the stars. Out of the stardust, the Earth. Out of the matter of the Earth, life. And this life has developed in a multitude of ways: single celled plants and protozoa, trees, fish, insects, reptiles, mammals among whom eventually emerged human beings. Everything that exists has its origin in some explosion billions of years ago. So quite literally, human beings are made of stardust.
We know from biology that human beings share with all other living creatures a common genetic ancestry. Worms, cabbages, blue whales, we are all genetic kin in the great community of life – the building blocks of DNA are the same. But we are no ordinary animal: our human brains are so complex that we experience self-conscious intelligence and freedom. We experience love and thought. The Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel says human beings are the “cantors of the universe”; we, among all the creatures of Earth, uniquely are able to sing praise and thanks to God, in the name of all the rest of the cosmos.
Here is what I find so wonderful, so amazing, so humbling in this theology: when the Word became flesh, when Christ was born of Mary, like all human beings he carried within himself this ancient signature of the cosmos, the geology and life history of the Earth. He became part of the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas, and which goes back to the cosmic dust of which we are all composed.
Incarnation therefore means that by becoming flesh, God confers blessing on the whole of cosmic reality, in its materiality. There is no longer a barrier that distances us from the divine. Flesh and divine are now one: The material world becomes a sacrament, remember that a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of God’s real presence. That is why Pope Francis says, “A Christian who fails to protect the environment is a Christian who does not care about the work of God.” Human action against the planet, against other creatures, is nothing less than a profoundly sinful violation against God.
Sisters and brothers: we must acknowledge that the environmental emergency is a spiritual problem. And environmental justice is not just another item on a long list of things that the Church promotes, like mission, evangelism, peace: the care for creation is at the heart of all we are about. It is Christian! The Metropolitan Police in the UK have declared groups that work peacefully to advocate climate justice, such as extinction rebellion, or Greenpeace as extremist groups. Martin Luther King Jr while in prison wrote, “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice”. The Church’s concern for the environment is not political – it is not about simply embracing the manifesto of the Green Party. It is Christian – and if the Metropolitan police have it is extremist, then so be it. We Christians are extremists!
Now some feel that this cosmological theology is eccentric because surely theology is about human beings, after all. But what an arrogant position this is – as if all that God is interested in is us! But note that in this Genesis story the first blessing pronounced by God is NOT a blessing on humankind, but a blessing on the other living creatures! So much for our anthropocentric world view! Our abuse of the earth part of the sin of humankind. And it is a sin based on a bad theology which assumes that we are the centre of the universe, and therefore things are here for our taking and abuse.
The refrain in this Genesis poem is that God saw that creation was good. Even those things we might question as being good – like mosquitos, or disease-causing microorganisms, or Brussels sprouts. But as we think of our humble place in God’s creation we realise that just because it might not seem good to us – we are not the centre of the universe, and God did not make a mistake about that part his creation that we don’t happen to like. Everything is good. The Gospel of St John underlines this for us: “All things were made by God, and without God was not anything made that was made.” Everything is here for a reason. Ecologists know this. As soon as we touch one element in an ecosystem there are consequences for the whole system. Kill off nasty foxes and the population of rabbits will increase. Then the amount of grass will decrease because the increased population of rabbits would be eating it, and reduced grass means more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Everything is good and connected and part of God’s plan.
So Genesis and St John’s Gospel present us with great theology. So what? What about our own parish, our own communities, our own challenges locally? Friends, we worry these days in the Church of England about decline in numbers and attendance (except in our great Cathedrals where people are still increasingly finding a home). Now here is a thesis I have been promoting for a while now: I maintain that if the Church begins to demonstrate to the world in her life and in her teaching that she believes in something supremely important and valuable to humanity, then people will wish to join this movement of Jesus. People nowadays tend to regard the Church as an institution devoted to the spiritual matters of her members, to our own “well-being”, to our own needs. (Or that the Church is only interested in sex! That is a trailer for Wednesday!)
Sadly few people in the world today, and especially young people, expect from the Church an interest and practical involvement in down-to-earth matters like the environment. People come to our services and perceive little that relates to such matters as the wellbeing of our planet. Now here is where we can begin to transform this perception. As Anglican Christians our services are sacramental. They are not airy-fairy, nebulous events. Our liturgies involve flesh, blood, water, oil, human touch, beauty for the eyes and ears, and if we are lucky, even for our noses! Our worship as sacramental Christians involves this very created order, this physical world, which God entered in the Incarnation, and which is now in danger. The Church’s attention to the ecological crisis is not something which should be considered novel or trendy. It is rooted in our theology, it is rooted in our liturgy. All we celebrate in our liturgies is related to this widespread concern for the care for creation.
There is a reason why the eucharist is at the heart of our life and why it is central to our Christian existence. Never let it be displaced: It is so much more than a mere memorial or a nice cosy fellowship sharing. At the Last Supper Jesus took bread and wine into his hands and he gave thanks to God for them. Human beings tend, in our sinfulness, to grab things without any thankfulness to God. In the eucharist we present in our hands the material world as a gift – the bread, the wine – and give these back to the Creator with thankfulness (eucharistia, in Greek). “Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, this wine to offer”, we say. By bringing these gifts to the altar we acknowledge that all of creation is a gift of God; and we say thank you; we acknowledge that we’re not masters of the earth, it’s God’s earth and we’re are God’s servants and stewards.
The Lord in the incarnation became material flesh, and in the eucharist the Lord becomes present again in material signs. The Church teaches this is not some spiritual airy-fairy presence, but a real presence, in the matter of the sacrament. This is so that we might in turn know that we find Christ in this world of ours. We find Christ our Lord in the stardust which composes all creation. We find him in the stardust which we share with our sisters and brothers. In this Blessed Sacrament we see the earthen, material, fragile and finite web of creation of which we are a part and God lovingly chose to enter.
The Eucharist is the lens through which we view all of reality, that reality of a cosmos where God is fully and really present. May we approach Christ in the Eucharist with a renewed sense of the ecological significance of the sacrament we share, the divine gift we receive, the communion in which we are called to participate and the duty we have as members of the body of Christ to “care for our common home”.
Sermon preached by Fr Stan Evans – Chaplain – in Puerto Del Carmen and Playa Blanca on 10th November 2019 – Remembrance Sunday
Remembrance Sunday PDC and PB 2019
For me and for many others I am sure this is a very moving occasion. Remembrance Sunday has always been an important day in my calendar from a child. Today brings back childhood memories of attending the service alongside my grandfather who had fought in Flanders fields, and had been invalided out following serious injuries. Then at his death I remember the lowering of the British Legion colors at his graveside.
Then many years later the pride when our daughter was selected to be one of the Royal Air Force color party at the Royal Albert hall for the annual Remembrance service ..a true reminder of the commitment of so many to secure freedom and peace.
And then I found myself working between the UK and Ireland trying to bridge the gap between communities as peace was so elusive but paramount. The Good Friday agreement was that instrument to bring that peace, and for the past twenty years we have seen peace on the island of Ireland and young people have been able to embrace that peace without fear of reprisal.
Then in 2014 the final and most important seal was placed on that peace by an incredible act of remembrance and reconciliation that changed lives forever. Our beloved Queen Elizabeth visited Dublin on a State visit. She is the most wonderful peacemaker.Head of our Church she demonstrated that she understood the pain inflicted over centuries and also acknowledged the tens of thousands of Irish who had fought to secure freedom and peace alongside their British comrades. However, by doing so on returning from the war they were ostracized and banished for life, many committing suicide or never returning home; their bravery never being acknowledged. – until the Queen stood in the Peace garden off O’Connell Street in Dublin , laid a wreath at the memorial, took two steps back and bowed her head. No words could tell what that meant to so many and grown men cried. Recognition at last as a true act of remembrance.
In the town of Ypres in Belgium, there is a nightly ceremony at the Menin Gate. Last post is sounded at 8.00pm, followed by the reading of Laurence Binyon’s ‘Ode to the Fallen’ and then the Silence before the sounding of Reveille. The Menin Gate is a stone arch upon which are engraved 54,896 names of those soldiers who fell in the battlefield around Ypres and who have no known grave. Fifty four thousand names cover a lot of space.
It is important to remember individuals, all of them; it is important to remember names, because when we remember people and not numbers we retain a sense of human dignity and we retain a sense of the horror of war.
At the heart of our Gospels we are always reminded of the importance which Jesus placed upon an individual, it is about the worth of an individual that matters. Jesus condemns those who do not value the ordinary little people.
Translating Jesus’ condemnation into terms appropriate for the remembrance of war, Jesus condemns those who were obsessed with their own importance; those who expected acknowledgement wherever they went; those who had no regard for the plight of the ordinary man on the front line.
Jesus watches the men of importance and power and he watches the poor widow. A wonderful example is the story of how the poor widow gave all that she had, but her offering counted for very little in the human scheme of things. Whether she had contributed or not would not have been a matter of indifference to the keepers of the temple treasury. Her contribution, her life, didn’t figure in the calculations of the powerful.
How close the attitude of the religious leaders in Jerusalem comes to the attitudes of those who threw away human lives with reckless abandon. The individuals did not figure in the big scheme of things, their small contributions would have gone unnoticed. There can have been little sense of human dignity or worth among politicians or military leaders who would throw away hundreds of thousands of lives in pointless onslaughts.
Remembrance, if it is to be truly Christian, is to remember people as Christ saw them. Remembrance is to remember with a sense of their dignity, because, like each of us, they were created in the image of God. Remembrance is to remember with a sense of their worth, because, as he did for each one of us, Christ died for them.
Remembrance if it to be truly Christian is about individuals because in God’s eyes we belong to no nation, we belong to no army, we belong to no regiment, we belong to no-one’s side, in God’s eyes we stand before him as individuals, created in his image and loved by him.
We remember today all who gave all that they had. Even when the last memory is gone, when the last memorial has crumbled, when there is no one left to tell the story, God remembers.
‘We will remember them’
Sermon preached by Fr Stan Evans – Chaplain – in Puerto Del Carmen and Playa Blanca on 18th August 2019 – 9th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Epistle: Letter to the Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Gospel: Luke 12: 49-56
In this Gospel reading Jesus expresses his frustration at those who are following an ungodly agenda. In the passage the writer tells of the stress that Jesus is under to get his listeners to move from these earthly agendas to focus and interpret the message he is bringing.
Jesus’ frustration is evident when he confronts the people when he points out in no uncertain terms he chastises them for not recognising the signs and message he brings. They know how to forecast the weather, but they cannot forecast, or even watch for signs of the coming of God’s kingdom.
From our Epistle …. so ‘Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’.
So how are we going to run this race? How do we set our hearts on fire with faith – how as your Chaplain do I take you forward here on this island?
Should I preach in an old-style Redemptorist way with hellfire and brimstone?
Perhaps this is the sort of sermon some people may expect this Sunday from the readings we have just heard. I think not.
What we must proclaim is governed not by might but by forgiveness, not by fear but by courage, not by power but by humility.
But it is easy to be lured by the temptations of wealth, status and power rather than the promises we made at our Baptism.
There is a fashion in the church today for ‘fresh expressions of Church’ that blow where the wind blows. They seek to be fashionable and claim that they are relevant.
This week a friend sent me a link to a Sky News item ‘ Helter Skelters and mini golf ….what should our church buildings be doing in 2019? A Helter Skelter in the wonderful nave of Norwich Cathedral or a mini golf course in Rochester Cathedral… do we really have to make the church a theme park to attract. You may agree – but we are not all about ministry to the young – here on Lanzarote we are always very aware of those in their twilight years who need peace, and comfort, and love.
Sometimes, you may not know whether you are in a coffee shop or in a church, whether you are in the guiding hands of a barista (someone who serves coffee) or a priest. The old forms of church have been abandoned, and with it we may ask whether they have thrown out the core content as well.
I visited one of these churches some a couple of years ago. Yes, there was a rambling sermon of 35 minutes or more, Yes, there was a time for fellowship where people turned around their chairs and were chummy with one another, in a clumsy sort of way.
There was one reading, but no Gospel reading. There was no confession or absolution, no creed, no Trinitarian formula in the prayers. The prayers focused on those present and those like them, but there were no prayers for the multitudes on the outside of the walls, no prayers for a world divided and suffering, no challenge or judgement for those who have created the plight and suffering s of wars, refugees, racism, economic injustice and climate justice.
In this smug self-assurance, without any reference to the world outside, there was no challenge to discipleship, or to live up to the challenges of our baptismal promises.
And needless to say, there was no Sacrament, and no hint of there ever being a Sacramental ministry. Jesus did ask us to ‘do this in remembrance of me’
Content had been abandoned for the sake of form. But the form had become a charade. For the sake of relevance, the Church had become irrelevant.
We can be distracted by the demands and fashions of what pass as ‘fresh expressions of Church’ and never meet the needs of a divided and suffering world.
So dear friends, this is the challenge of ministry in this Chaplaincy, as part of the household of faith. It is the challenge of the whole Chaplaincy. Week by week there are those who sit in our congregations from all shades of the Christian faith. We encompass all. I have to be true to myself, and my calling. We are truly blessed with the constant flow of visits that arrive on our island seeking refreshment.
All that we do must be faith driven and be reflected in our worship and our welcome. As members of the Family of the worldwide Anglican Church we must be all embracing, have common sense, not take ourselves too seriously as part and parcel of the Anglican’s approach to life in general, celebrate our faith with generosity of spirit – so that we are trying to reproduce the life of Jesus of Nazareth in a diverse world-wide community as we enter this third millennium.
As a church we must do things properly – a major ingredient of the glue that has held us together through all these centuries.
Finally, that we, despite all the pressures, go on doing things we’re always done. A worldwide Church of all colours, all shapes, all sizes – over 80 million of us, all called to serve our Lord and saviour – and called to discipleship to serve and love Him.
And if you want to offer yourself in service – Jesus calls you – it is an exciting journey……….just come on the journey with us.
As Anglicans we learn to be people on the move, emerging from safe positions to take hold of truth and of life with quiet, unassuming confidence. This is indeed the hope that God has set before us.
Licensing Service of Fr. Stan // April 10, 2019
Matthew 20.20-28 Lanzarote 10 April 2019
It is a real joy to be here today as a new chapter in this chaplaincy begins. The last year and a bit have not always been easy but with the support, care and guidance of Bill and Michael in particular, nut also with the help of some excellent locum priests, you have emerged from what were fairly dark days to be a brighter, more united and committed community eager to serve our Lord and to love him and your neighbours. So thank you all who have persevered through these months and for your determination to ensure that the chaplaincy not only survived but now begins to show signs of growth and potential for full flourishing.
The Licensing of a priest at the beginning of a new ministry gives us all an opportunity to consider what is our calling as Christians. We are called to share the good news of God’s Kingdom and this is something we do not only in words but also by what we do. Remember the words attributed to St Francis of Assisi: ‘Go and preach the gospel and use words if you have to. In other words it is the way we live our lives that matters most of all.
Our aim as Christians must be to become more Christlike and we shall do that, quite simply, in so far as we are enabled by God’s grace to serve. Christ teaches this fundamental truth by what he says, by what he does and by his whole life, his incarnation and his death.
Jesus teaches us of the importance of service in words in his response to the question which we heard in today’s gospel: ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.’ Greatness, as God understands it, means laying aside concern for status and using one’s gifts in the service of one’s fellow human beings. That is why, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: ‘Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.’
Jesus reinforces this crucial teaching in action when he washed the disciples’ feet on the night before he died and which many of our church re-enact every Maundy Thursday. Though I must admit the full power of this symbolism is not easy for us to appreciate as our feet stay reasonably clean in shoes (and I guess most volunteers on Maundy Thursday make a special effort to ensure their feet are pristine clean before coming to church!)
But people in Jesus’ day despised feet: dusty, grimy, smelly and filthy as they inevitably were. This sort of service was the lowest of the low but it is what Jesus disciples are called to: ‘Do you know what I have done for you? ‘ he asks. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’
Jesus teaches of service in word and in action but also by who he is, through his incarnation, his life, and his death. The foot-washing is an acting out of that magnificent hymn from the letter to the Philippians where we read that Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.
In the account of the foot-washing in St John’s gospel, the ‘table’ can be seen to represent heaven which Jesus leaves; the ‘outer robe’ to represent the trappings of divinity of which he strips himself and the towel which he dons a symbol of both human nature and of service. And, ‘being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.’
Your new priest comes to you as a servant. Stan is called to be a servant and a focus of the work of this Christian community. Your vocation Stan, is to hold these members together so they can act together and collaborate with other Christian sisters and brothers in the great work of spreading Christ’s love in the world. The tools you have at your disposal to build up the community for this task are the tools that the Church throughout all ages has used. First the sacraments through which the Gifts of God flow into this people, so that they receive the new life in Christ which comes in baptism, so they are fed with none other than Christ himself in the eucharist, so that they may know the power of the Holy Spirit in the times of blessing, healing and reconciling. Then your ministry will centre on preaching and teaching the Word of God, so that Christ, who is the Incarnate and living Word can truly take root in their hearts and minds. But all this you are doing so that this community can live, act, minister, witness and worship as part of Christ’s Body.
This means, dear members of the Chaplaincy of St Laurence, that Fr Stan is here among you, not to do all the work of ministry, but to stimulate you, lead you, inspire you and pray for you. You are the members of the Body, you are the ambassadors for Christ in your daily lives, and your calling is to bear fruit in your lives, to build the kingdom, to love your neighbour. A priest’s job is not to do the work of ministry, but to make sure you do that work. Rather like the coach of a football team, keeping an eye on all the members of the team, exploiting the talents and gifts of all the players.
Dear friends, you are welcoming an excellent priest and coach. He is deeply devoted, hard-working, a sensitive pastor, and a person with a warm embracing heart. He comes with such great enthusiasm, love and commitment the like of which I have rarely witnessed before.
But let me tell you a little secret: A loving, caring church can turn a good priest into an extraordinary priest. That is your role. All pastors are dependent on the prayer and moral support of the people of God. Fr Stan is in one of the loneliest and trickiest jobs there is. The loneliest and most dangerous parts of the job are the weariness that comes from trying to satisfy conflicting demands, from being on call day and night, from not knowing when the next pastoral crisis will come, from listening to criticism when confidentiality demands that you can’t say everything you know, and from dealing too often with the huge gap between expectation and reality.
So it is your task to be good to him. Not only because he’s my colleague and because I care for him, but also because you will never know when he most needs some encouragement from you.
Of course, he is not perfect. There are no perfect priests. And there are no perfect congregations either! So if Stan tells you something you don’t particularly care for, or asks you to stretch and grow as a team in a way that you might find uncomfortable, pay attention. He may not be right 100% of the time, but probably it will be something you need to hear. And Stan, when the parish does the same thing for you, for there may be times when you should pay attention to them, I know you will be listening.
Fr Stan, in a moment I will give the Bishop’s licence, which is really a licence to love and serve your people. Enjoy leading them in the celebration of our faith, never tire of teaching them the wholesome doctrine of Christ, the faith passed on from the apostles, and constantly remind them of who they are: the Body of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit of God moves among them to strengthen and guide them in their mission as servants of God.
And my friends, I am not giving you a licence, but nevertheless love your priest and pay attention to his coaching, for her is here to help you grow in your discipleship. Forgive him when he is less than you want him to be, as he is only human. Together with him I want you to build a wonderful community that humbly serves our Lord, reaches out to those in needs, transforms your lives and the lives of others and builds up God’s kingdom of Love, and justice and peace.
The sermons below are quite old (dating back to 2016), preached by the Ven Geoffrey Arrand when he was our locum during interregnum and are linked to and underpin our discussions on the Diocesan Strategy.
In order to give the church council and congregations a starting point when looking at the Diocesan Strategy “Walking Together in Faith” I decided to address three subjects during Advent which link into the strategy. They are Worship, the church and the world.
Advent 2 WORSHIP. ( sermon precis )
Many years ago when celebrating the Eucharist in a cold church early in the morning with just one lady present I had a moment of awakening. I disliked this early encounter with my one attendee and suddenly as I said “therefor with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name….” I knew that it was not about me and her but about our relationship with God. We were in the presence of the whole company of heaven, angels and archangels, those who had gone before us and those the world over who worship with us. There can never be just two of us, we are always a part of something eternal and bigger than we are able to imagine.
Worship is directed to Almighty God. Did you enjoy the service? is not a question that we should ever ask because worship is not about me and what I get out of it, rather it is about what I put into it so that God may be glorified. Of course we will always get something out of it, for as we worship and God becomes real to us, so we will be nourished by him.
Worship must always be directed towards the holiness of God. A couple of years ago my wife and I entered an orthodox church in Russia. Candles flickered in the gloom, the icons looked down on us from the screen and the walls, the air hung with incense and the deep tones of the choral liturgy reverberated around us. “This is the gate of heaven”, was my response. Worship must make that connection for us, worship must bring earth to heaven and heaven to earth.
When people come to the island as holidaymakers and they join you here in worship what do they find? A place where heaven and earth meet or just a group of nice people who have come along to be entertained for an hour. Worship is not entertainment, worship is an encounter with the holiness of God and a meeting with the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the second Sunday in Advent we are challenged by the prophets and the challenge is how we respond to the holiness of God. Read any of the prophets and that is what they are about, the holiness of God and how people respond to it in their lives, in society and in worship.
The prophets point to Bethlehem where we meet the angels and their song of worship, “Glory to God in the highest.” Where we meet the Magi, whose response to the child is to fall down and worship.
The question we need to have always before us is simply this, does our worship draw us and those who come to join us from time to time to an awareness of the holiness of God. Do we sense the wonder of the living God and the presence of the risen Christ in our midst?
Advent 3 The Church…..for better and for worse !! (Sermon precis)
We have a garden which we love. In my dreams and visions I see that garden as I hope for it. Pristine manicured lawns, roses with no hint of mildew or leaf rust, weed free flower beds and evenly trimmed shrubs. Needless to say the reality is somewhat different.
I play golf. In dreams and visions I play perfect golf. My drives soar down the fairways, my approach shots hit the green just beyond the flag with enough backspin to ensure two easy putts or one really good one. Needless to say the reality is somewhat different.
So it is with the church.We know what the church should be. We say it every time we recite the creed. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
The church is one because it is God’s church and bigger than our petty divisions. The church is holy because it belongs to the Holy God, the church is catholic because it is universal, of all and for all, the church is apostolic because it is rooted in the teaching of the apostles and called to be a missionary church.
We know that is what we are, one in God’s eternal love, enveloped in the holiness of God, made up of all peoples and for all peoples, created from missionary faith and committed to missionary faith.
But we also know that the church is a mess. It is not one, not holy, not catholic and not apostolic. The church, we, are more often divisive, judgmental, unforgiving and arrogant. The church, we, are in constant need of repentance and forgiveness.
The history of the church over 2,000 years is horrific. Yes there are shining examples of holiness, goodness and truth. There is also pain and horror. We don’t need distant history. The last 50 years is enough to make the point. The abuse of children and adults which we still have to deal with. The pain caused to women who were until comparatively recently denied any vocation other than the tea towel or the nunnery. The refusal still in many parts of the church to accept gay men and women as equal members of the church. A church which so often fails to stand with the poor and oppressed.
The church is a mess and a failure, as an institution, in its local gatherings and in its individual members. You all know of stories of how the local church has been judgmental, unforgiving, unloving, ungracious and torn by division. The church is a mess and we each of us contribute to that mess. Please don’t ever make excuses for our failure to be what we are called to be as a church. Please don’t make excuses for failing to be what you are called to be as a christian person.
So to John the Baptist. John came calling people to repentance and told them to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance”. In other words to do something about the mess of their lives whether as a religious community or as individuals. To defeat bitterness and division, greed and animosity, anger and hatred with the weapons of love and forgiveness, of holiness and faith.
Let us look at our failures, at all that we have done and still do to make a mess of things. Let us look at what may be done to bring peace and goodwill to our church and all people.
Advent 4 Suffering (Sermon precis)
We cannot avoid hearing the cry of the suffering. Here, in this community, I have met so many in recent days. A lady who nursed a disabled for thirty years and lost him and their daughter within two months of each other. Two couples returning to the UK following the death or critical illness of children. People being treated for cancer and other illnesses. So much pain and sadness.
In the world natural disasters which kill and destroy communities. The horror of Syria and Aleppo, crimes of religious hatred in Egypt and Afghanistan. The evil and bloodletting seems endless and insoluble.
Today we remember Mary, mother of the Lord. The suffering mother. A pieta is a painting or statue of the grieving mother holding the dead Jesus. My favourite pieta is the Michelangelo in St Peter’s, Rome. The figure of Christ is of a strong thirty year old, Mary is still the young woman who bore the babe. When a mother loses a child she is still the mother who bore it, the child is still her babe. The pieta speaks of suffering at the heart of the divine revelation.
We celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas, God taking flesh and becoming a man so that he shares in all that it is to be human. Incarnation begins in a filthy stable, he is despised and rejected and the Holy family flees to a foreign land to escape persecution. This is not a God identifying with the comfortable and wealthy, this is a God who walks with the refugee and the homeless.
The story of Incarnation ends on a cross. God in Christ is ridiculed, tortured and crucified.
He is powerless and at the mercy of the powerful.
Whether as a babe, a wandering homeless teacher or as a dying victim God in Christ is one with his suffering creation. Understand this please; God does not send suffering, it is not a test or a judgement. It will ever remain for us a mystery. It will ever be the reason for great heroism and struggles, it will ever be the cause of tears and great anger. At the heart of it is the God who enters into the world and shares in it, who says to us, I know your pain, I understand your loss and your desolation for I have been there. At Bethlehem and at Calvary God became man and walked in the darkness alongside his suffering people.
Geoff Arrand (locum in Dec 2016)