Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trinity III - Fr Andrew Davison

Homily given by Fr Andrew Davison, on Trinity III, 20th June 2010.

‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.’

In the name of the + Father and of the + Son and of the + Holy Spirit.

You may remember that I preached towards the beginning of term. It wasn’t a cheerful sermon. It revolved around a question: why is the Church of England is so lacking in charity? Why is our zeal is so faint and our commitment so thin? Why are there are so few saints?

I will come later to today’s reading from Galatians. Paul introduces this chapter with a question of his own:

‘O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?’

It’s the same question as I was asking in my sermon, put a different way. How can we be so apathetic in face of the Incarnation? Do we really believe that God came to us and went all the way to death on a cross?

before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified

Is our church art so much decoration? Does it not speak to us to see Christ extended upon the cross? We had these words of Isaiah, taken by the Fathers as a prophecy of the crucifixion:

I held out my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;


This last week many of us shared in our apologetics summer school. Stephen Bullivant’s lecture has been in my mind as I’ve been writing this sermon.

Stephen told us about twentieth-century responses to atheism, from people who didn’t them off as ‘a perverse and adulterous generation’. Stephen’s heroes asked why the Church was not more attractive, why the children of their time were more inspired by atheist Marxism than by the Catholic faith.

It was French theologians who had the right idea: any response to atheism must take two forms, one inward and one outward. Yes, there is work to be done in mission, but there is also work to be done renewing the church herself. Yves Congar puts it perfectly: ‘since the belief or unbelief of men depended so much on us, the effort to be made was a renovation of ecclesiology.’

Those tasks remain, and they fall to us. There is the external work of presenting the faith with passion and clarity. We have thought about that, many of us, over the past week.

Then there is the internal work. It seems to me that it falls into three parts: catechesis, charity and ecclesiology. There’s preparing a church that knows its faith; there is enflaming a church that puts its faith into action; and there is inspiring a church to know and rejoice in what it means to be the church.


My penultimate sermon it revolved around a question: why does the Church of England look so little like the body of He who came to cast fire upon the Earth?

That is a ‘why?’ question. Its solution will be a ‘who?’ question. Who will burn with charity? There is a simple answer: it is to be us; it is to be you. It is you who must build the Church up: teaching it, stirring it up, inspiring it to be itself.

From those great mid-century theologians we have three tasks: to teach the faith, to live the faith and to understand the Church. In each you have such a role to play, but it is a servant’s role. The clergy of the Church of England cannot save it: you cannot put in enough hours; you cannot meet enough people to preach the Gospel; frankly, you cannot provide the money to keep the lights on.

The hours, the evangelistic contact and the finances will come from the laity or they will not come at all. As future clergy, your task is to reconnect the laity with their faith, to renew their passion: to hold out before them the incarnate God, as he was held out to us upon the cross.

We need catechesis because the problems of the Church and the world need theological answers, not general answers. The Church and the world need Christians who know the truths of their faith and live by them.

That would be a revolutionary thing. Stephen’s lecture contained an oblique quotation that I’ve been able to track down. In his introduction to Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness (the founder of the Catholic Worker movement) the peace activist Daniel Berrigan describes her as someone who lived ‘as though the truth were true’. Dorothy Day responded to the dire needs of Depression Era American. She accomplished remarkable things, and her work carries on to this day – just round the corner from us in fact. She might simply reply that she took Christian theology seriously and lived as one who believed it to be true.

We have already moved on, since catechesis and charity go together. Conversely, to life without charity may as well be life without faith. Thomas says that charity makes faith Christian. The selfish, uncharitably Christian may not really believe in God at all. The American New Atheist Daniel Dennett stopped going to church as a young man when he decided that people do not believe in Christianity; they believe in believing in Christianity.

And finally to ecclesiology, or understanding the Church. That might seem like the odd one out: catechesis, social justice and ecclesiology? It is not. As the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England put it in more confident days, ‘the church is part of her own proclamation’: we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Rarely has the Church been under such attack. In the face of terrible scandals, the church is in some places an object of scorn and everywhere the object of derision. But more corrosive than external scorn is internal apathy. The Church of England has spent so much time worrying about the problems of the Church that she has begun to see the Church as part of the problem. But it is not: the Church is God’s solution. The Church is the Body of Christ, the place of salvation. The Church is the beginning of the recreation of the world.

One of my favourite lines of twentieth century theology comes from one of those French men, de Lubac: the Church is the new universal community in embryo. In other words, the Church is already the beginning of the reconciliation of all things.

To see that, our passage from Galatians is the perfect passage:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The Church is the first fruits of salvation. The Church is where reconciliation happens: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – and whatever other hostilities we need to add in our own day.

Keep the theology of the Church in view, and love the Church. Salvation is the communal reconciliation of all things in the Body of Christ. As you might perhaps read for yourselves in a forthcoming book, we believe in a church-shaped salvation. But that is not abstract idea. Church-shaped salvation means that we must work and pray for a salvation-shaped church. We are all in this together. This is work and prayer we share, wherever our paths will take us.