Monday, May 31, 2010

The Most Holy Trinity - Ian Boxall

The Senior Tutor, Ian Boxall, preached at the Mass on the Most Holy Trinity. The gospel was John 16:12-15:

One of the many advantages of spending my childhood holidays in Croydon, is that I have very vivid and happy memories of long summer daytrips to London. Normally my aunt came with us, and one of my earliest memories is of her stern warning about watching our step as we walked the London streets. ‘Make sure you tread carefully in the middle of the paving stones,’ she would say. ‘Under no circumstances step on the lines, otherwise the bears might get you.’ She, of course, was of that generation which had absorbed the verse of A.A. Milne, best known as the creator of Winnie the Pooh, and Milne provided the mantra as we made our way very gingerly along the pavements:

Whenever I walk in a London street,

I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;

And I keep in the squares,

And the masses of bears,

Who wait at the corners all ready to eat

The sillies who tread on the lines of the street

Go back to their lairs,

And I say to them, "Bears,

Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!" (A.A. Milne, Lines and Squares).

Now it is possible to treat the doctrine of the Trinity in a similar way, as a perilous journey down the assault course of a London street. Stray a little too far to the left, and you might find yourself crossing the line into Modalism; go too far to the right, and you could step over the border into Monarchianism. Go a bit too fast, and your foot might slip into Adoptionism; trip up on a loose paving-stone, and your whole body might topple over into Macedonianism. If we keep on the street too long, there is a strong danger that we might be exposed as Unitarians or Tritheists. All around us, meanwhile, there are threatening bears waiting to gobble us up: with names like Arianism, Sabellianism, and Apollinarianism. Apparently, the only way to get through is to keep your head down, watch out for the lines, and keep repeating the mantra: ‘Not three eternals but one eternal’; ‘not three uncreated but one uncreated’; ‘not three incomprehensibles but one incomprehensible’.

Yet Christian faith in God as Trinity is perhaps not best imagined as a set of military manoeuvres designed to provoke anxiety. On the contrary, the precise definitions and rules about what can and can’t be said about God are there to make the journey easier for us; to free us from the trap of worshipping a God who is just too small, or too remote, too unfit for purpose and ultimately unable to save us.

This is underscored when we turn to today’s scripture readings, and learn that the doctrine of the Trinity is cause not for anxiety but rather for delight. Our first reading from the book of Proverbs offers us a highly poetic alternative to the account of Creation at the beginning of Genesis. Wisdom calls out, describing how she was present with the LORD in the beginning, as a master-builder, intimately involved in the construction as the wisely-planned creation began to unfold. Or alternatively (to read the Hebrew a somewhat different way), Wisdom is depicted as the creator’s child, playing with the creation like a new toy of which she thoroughly approves. Whatever the translation, we hear this passage on Trinity Sunday in recognition that, as early as the New Testament itself, Christians have seen in this figure of Wisdom a vision of Christ: present with the Father before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills were formed, when the heavens were established and he drew the lines between the land and the sea (Prov. 8:22-29). Far from the vision of an unmoved mover, we see a God who delights in what he has made, who draws circles as well as lines between squares as he brings order out of the chaos of the deep. More importantly, however, the Father delights in Wisdom, and Wisdom in turn delights in the world that is coming to be, and especially delights in the human race which has emerged as the pinnacle of that creation. It is a vision of mutual delight which issues forth into delightful creativity.

Then, in St John’s Gospel, we hear that the Spirit of Truth is also intimately involved in this divine delightfulness. ‘He will glorify me,’ says Jesus, ‘because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ The Spirit doesn’t take away honour from the Son, anymore than he offers some new revelation which upstages that provided by Jesus. The Spirit glorifies the Son just as the Son has glorified the Father, and as the Father is about to glorify the Son in the hour of his death and resurrection. All that the Spirit does and says is to enhance the Son’s reputation. Picking up on the language of Proverbs, which John has already exploited in the Prologue to his Gospel, we might even say that the Spirit is that delight which the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father.

What about us? What implications might this divine delightfulness have for our own lives together in this place, centred on the worship of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Timothy Radcliffe puts it this way:

‘The persons of the Trinity are not three ‘imaginary friends’, in the words of Dawkins, three people with whom I can have fantasy conversations. Rather friendship with the Triune God reshapes my perception of the world. Believing in the Father, the creator of heaven and earth, I see everything with gratitude. Believing in the Son, I delight in its intelligibility and seek understanding. Believing in the Holy Spirit, I am thrown beyond myself in love’ (Timothy Radcliffe OP, Why Go To Church? London and New York: Continuum, 2008, p. 72).

There is perhaps a certain irony for those of us in this community, that we celebrate Trinity Sunday at this time of the year, when our leavers are about to depart and a new community formed. For in St John’s Gospel, from which we heard today, it is precisely in the context of a departure that we are given the most explicit glimpse into the life of Trinity. In the Upper Room, as Jesus takes leave of his disciples and prepare them for what lies ahead, he opens up as it were the heart of God. In the dynamic relationship between Father, Son and Spirit that Jesus reveals, we see an overabundance of delight, with no hint of self-absorption or selfishness, nor rivalry or jealousy or one-upmanship. At the very point of departure, albeit in a scene tinged with sadness and apprehension, John invites us to listen into a dialogue at the heart of God: the God who is love, who so loves the world that he gives his only Son, whose parting gift to us is the love between them which is the Spirit. And bound up with this glimpse into the God who is love, is the new commandment, that ‘just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (Jn 13:34).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

RIP Peter G Cobb, Priest

Pray for the soul of Peter George Cobb, priest (SSH 1964-5), sometime Senior Tutor of St Stephen's House (1971-6) and its historian; sometime Master of the College of Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Jesu mercy; Mary pray.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dr. John Jarick

We congratulate John Jarick on his appointment as Departmental Lecturer in Old Testament for three years from 1st October 2010. His duties will comprise lecturing and teaching in place of Professor John Barton, who is absent on a Leverhulme fellowship for the period. The association of this post is with Regent’s Park College, so John will leave St Stephen’s House after nine years in post at the end of September. We wish him well on his appointment and express our thanks for everything he has contributed to the life of the college during his time here.

-The Revd Canon Dr Robin Ward.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Monday Reflection - Adrian Furse

This homily was given by Adrian Furse, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 10th May 2010. The readings was 1 Peter 4:1-11.

‘The end of all things is at hand’ 1Peter 4:7

For those of us who live between the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His Second Coming, this is what we are to have in mind: that we inhabit a liminal space, looking to the completion of all things in the mercy of God.

As a community we have to live with this uncertainty in a number of ways – staff and students are preparing to leave – for work elsewhere and ordination, some are preparing to sit examinations, and all for the glory of God in a world whose economic and political spheres are uncertain, for a church where old certainties give way to new crises. But lest we think that we are alone or unusual in this, it is salutary to be reminded that this is exactly the situation faced by the addressees of the First Letter of Peter.

The advice in this evening’s second reading (1Peter 4:1-11) is quite clear: we are to be in the world, but not of the world. The Christian faith which we proclaim in both word and deed is to be radical, profoundly counter-cultural – a sign of hope, of new life, and victory, in Christ’s breaking the bonds of Hell and being raised to new life in the Spirit. Not for us the revelry which meets its end in dissipation, but in the sober and prayerful cultivation of the virtues.

Our growth in holiness together as a community is founded in the love which we have one for another. This love is a reflection of the life of God as Trinity in Unity and the source and perfection of all human virtues. It is this love which makes Jesus lay down His life freely and in obedience to the will of His Father. It is this love which raises Him to new life and through the Holy Spirit strengthens and encourages His Church. We respond by living lives in this world though not of it, founded on and infused by love which covers a multitude a multitude of our sins. It is shown in our common life together and our hospitality towards our guests in this place.

As a mixed, varied, and diverse community, we take the gifts and talents which God has given to us, to use them to build up our common life together. Everything which we do, from pouring a Gin & Tonic, to sweeping up dead flies in church, organising liturgy, writing an essay, taking an exam, or offering the Sacrifice of the Mass, all these things are done for the glory of God and to build us up in love.

All that we have, all that we are is directed towards these aims, this is what living the resurrection life means. The world may not understand it, yet it cannot fail to be moved by our witness to the love of God in word and deed. This then is our end, our proper function, the goal toward which we press.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Monday Reflection - Gavin Cooper

This homily was given by Gavin Cooper, a second year ordinand from the Diocese of Peterborough, at Evening Prayer on Monday 26th April 2010. The readings were Deuteronomy 9:1-21 and Ephesians 4:1-16.

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

I am sure that there is not one person in this room who has not felt anxiety in the past few weeks, or, indeed, is anxious now. The BTh exams are looming, the BA exams are in sight, the MTh essays are being read and re-read, some of our community face not only the run up to ordination (which in itself is something to be anxious about) but they are also thinking about their new situations, a new house to furnish, a new community to join. It is inevitable in a situation such as ours that we are all under a lot of pressure - and I speak of the staff as well - Fr Robin has his book being published, Fr Andrew is looking ahead to his new appointment - we are a community of anxious people.

I know, only too well, how annoying it can be to be reminded of coming exams and the things that need to be checked off the list before they arrive, and therefore, I apologise for bringing the subject up again.

This is, though, a funny term - and I think that those of us who have been through a Trinity Term at St Stephen’s house will tell you different things about the way in which the community changes throughout the ten weeks we will be here. Daniel reminded us in Chapel Practice, for example, that the dynamic in Evening Prayer will change. We are after all a community that is constantly changing shape - mainly due to the way in which we are being formed and the things we learn about each other as our time here passes. In a few weeks we will be a smaller community and that will take some getting used to - in a way, we will be starting from scratch in terms of being a new group. A cause for anxiety? During this term we will be welcoming more people on interview here and encouraging people into our community? A cause for anxiety?

There is a lot to be anxious about. And whilst we are right to be anxious, we are reminded tonight of our purpose and calling. Paul begs us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are constantly reminded of what we are called to do and in our studies are being directed towards ways in which we can fulfil that calling in the best way we can- however, as Fr Damian said yesterday, this is about walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

In our growth, we are to approach this calling with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, but most importantly, we are to use our gifts and talents to build up the body of Christ. That is, after all, God’s will for his whole church.

There is one body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father, by whom we were called to the one hope of our calling. We are given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift and that is where our anxiety and fears are dispelled as we grow in unity and faith to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

So as we approach exams, deadlines, new jobs, ordination and anything else that might be causing us to be anxious, remember that we are all working to the same end - that the body of Christ might be built up; and that it might be built up in love.

SS Philip & James - Christopher Johnson

This homily was given by first year ordinand, Christopher Johnson, at Evening Prayer on Monday, the feast of SS Philip and James.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8f.)

Following the example her Head, the Church’s mission is to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to help the blind to see, and to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18). Easier said than done; and rarely is the Church bold enough to employ this literally, though the kingdom, especially for St. Luke, was one that could be (at least partly) realised in this life, as well as something promised and waiting to be experienced. Tonight’s reading from Deuteronomy reminded us of the values of that kingdom: ‘Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue’ – a poignant reminder, in fact, of the Christian vocation when it comes to casting our vote this week. Still, general elections are not the only time when we might pursue justice. The Greek of the New Testament relates the concept closely to righteousness – which is not so much an abstract reality, but is an aspect of God, and, as St. Matthew informs us, can be shared and must be pursued by mankind. ‘Blessed are those’, he writes, ‘who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’, ‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom’ (Matthew 5:6, 10, 20). Righteousness and justice are values of that kingdom, and Christ’s Church and disciples are called to live out those values here in our earthly pilgrimage.

Ss. Philip and James lived lives which embodied these values, and died deaths which exemplified them further. Their deaths cried out the words of St. Peter – ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading’ (1 Peter 1:3). Philip and James were privileged to share in such blessings as their earthly pilgrimage ended and they took their place in the Church Triumphant. Moreover, they provide an example to us of Christian witness; the end and beginning of which is the greater glory of God. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’ (1 Peter 1:3). Unlike Philip and James, though, whose witness may have been strengthened by that close encounter with our Lord as He walked on earth, our eyes have not seen Him – at least not in the same way. Yet, our own witness should still be motivated by love: ‘Although you have not seen Him’, writes Peter, ‘you love Him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy’ (1 Peter 1:8).

As we were reminded by Fr. Peter not so long ago, like Philip and James, like the English Martyrs we celebrate tomorrow, and like St. George our country’s patron, we must face our own martyrdom. As visible witnesses of Christ and His Church, we are called not only to account for His Gospel, which is difficult enough in a world with values that are often in complete contrast, but we are also called to account for our own behaviour in light of that Gospel message. And as we have been reminded again recently, the two do not always tally. Yet our witness must continue – our Lord insists: ‘Go’, he says, ‘and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19f.). Go, he says, evangelise, incorporate, offer the Sacraments, teach the faith. Fight the good fight, for salvation is what is at stake; and however difficult modern society sees the Cyprianic dictum (ad Jub.), confirmed in the Council of Florence (1442), that outside the Church there is no salvation, the imperative to draw people in to Christ’s flock is still there, and more so now, for ‘salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers’ (Romans 13:11).

When, therefore, we are casting our vote this week, let us call to mind the true love of God manifested in all His Holy Martyrs. Let us offer ourselves, and our votes, to furthering Christ’s kingdom on earth, not only acknowledging that each person is created in God’s image, but that each is created in His image, ‘according to His likeness’ (Genesis 1:26). Let us, as St. Irenaeus explained (Adv. Haer., v:1), grow in that likeness by conforming ourselves to Him who is Truth, and let us do it with a passion to see His kingdom grow. Then we may hear the loud voice from heaven which proclaims: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’ (Revelation 12:10-12).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Easter V - Fr Andrew Davison

The Theological Virtues - Faith, Hope, & Charity.

You may have come across the latest book by Philip Pulman, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. The title is not something that I like to read out in church, but there you go, that’s what the book is called: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Pulman has the good grace to label his book ‘a story’. I doubt that will prevent it from dragging souls away from God. After all, The Da Vinci Code is only ‘a story’ but it’s turned untold thousands of people away from the Faith. In Pulman’s story there are two brothers: Jesus, a good man, and Christ, a scoundrel. Jesus teaches an ethic of love; Christ complicates things with his overlay of theology and big ideas. Pulman makes his point in an inventive way but his argument has been around for a hundred years and more: Jesus was a good man but his message and example were hijacked by the Gospel writers. They ruined the simple ethical teaching of this rabbi with their theology and its insinuations that Jesus was divine. The main culprit among them, of course, is John.

Except that sometimes the villain is Paul. For other detractors it was Paul who took Jesus, an itinerant teacher, and spoilt his simple ethical message with theological additions. That was AN Wilson’s line, until he recently saw better of it.

These points cross my mind this morning because I read John yesterday, and St Paul. I do not find a simple ethical imperative obscured, as the hostile critics say. If anything, John and Paul concentrate on a message even simpler, even more imperative, than Christ as we find him in the other Gospels.

Does John deflect us from the real Jesus, that simple preacher of love and forgiveness? Here is what he writes for us today: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another… By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ It is John, of all New Testament writers, who is obsessed by love – the simple ‘ethical’ message of love – here in this Gospel and throughout his First Letter [There is an argument to be made that the ‘ethics’ of Jesus are so revolutionary that they should not be bracketed with other systems under the world ‘ethics’. I have sympathy for this idea, but I will not pursue it here.]. And Paul devotes a whole chapter to the supremacy of love. His message is strikingly similar to that of Jesus in today’s Gospel from John.

Today’s Gospel passes over all the miracles that the disciples were to perform and says instead that it is love, love supremely, that will distinguish them as Christ’s disciples. [The point is St John Chrysostom’s, as quoted by Aquinas in the Catena Aurea commentary on this passage.] ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples’ – not that you perform miracles, although you will, but – ‘if you have love for one another’.

That is so much like Paul: what matters for the Christian is not miracles, speaking in tongues, or prophecy, or supernatural insight, or faith to hand our bodies over to be burned, but love [cf. 1 Corinthians 13]. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another: the more excellent way. That means we can certainly agree that Jesus offered his first hearers a message of charity, expressed in words and examples such as they had never heard or seen. But we need not accept that this was soon obscured beneath theology, philosophy and abstraction. Love, charity has been the golden thread running through Christian writings ever since: Paul, John, Augustine, Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Theresa of Avilla, and others down to the present day.

The burning flame of charity is everything. And that should cause us to stop in our tracks and search our souls. I have one more sermon left here after this one. In that sermon I can be upbeat and cheerful. That means today I can afford to be tough. What is wrong with the Church of England that we are so lacking in charity? You will think that I refer to the lack of charity in our dealings with one other when we disagree. And yes, I suppose, I do. But more than that, and most of all, I mean why are Anglicans so often content to live middling Christian lives? Why are there so few saints among us?

Christ said ‘I have come to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled’ [cf. Luke 12.49]. That fire is the fire of the Holy Spirit; it is the fire of charity. I look at the Church of England and, with the exception of some evangelicals, it does not seem much like the body of him who came to cast fire upon earth. This should be the cause of profound uneasiness.

The Church of England is making decisions that are deeply unsettling for some of us. I am not, of course, going to address those here. But to those of you who are troubled by them, I want to ask, is it not also troubling that there is so little heroic charity among us, any of us? And to those of us for whom the path the Church is taking is a cause of sorrow only at a remove, in that it distresses others, I ask this: we’re cheerful about what we see as positive developments – should we not, however, be anguished that the Church is not more aflame with charity? I for one cannot be satisfied that the average Roman Catholic I know is ardent, and the average evangelical I know is ardent, but that Anglo-Catholics have hardly been ardent for seventy-five years.

So that is a programme for each of us, and for our church, and for our movement as Anglo-catholics, if we can talk on one movement any longer. It is simply this, to be aflame with the flame of charity. In my first sermon here as tutor in doctrine I said that doctrine matters but most of all we must have charity. And in my penultimate sermon I am saying the same thing.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says that he is going away. He refers to the passion. Given to us today as an Eastertide Gospel, our minds skip ahead to later departure, the Ascension. That can give us hope. The Son ascends to send upon us the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the charity of God. If what I have said this morning at all chimes with you, then make these days leading up to Pentecost days of prayer that God will pour his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit he has given us.

There may need to be scholarly refutations of Pulman and the rest. That should not be our first priority. What matters is what Jesus lays before us in our Gospel: ‘by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’