Monday, January 31, 2011

Epiphany 4 - Ian Boxall

The Senior Tutor, Ian Boxall, preached at the Mass on 30th January 2011, Epiphany 4.


It is an awful lot of wine. Two or three measures per water jar, is what St John tells us about the wine produced by the Lord at the wedding at Cana. Which doesn’t sound a great deal, until one calculates that one measure was approximately 40 litres, or 9 gallons; meaning that each water jar could contain 18 to 27 gallons, or 80 to 120 litres; leaving us with a supply of wine of between 108 and 162 gallons, or between 480 and 720 litres, or up to one thousand and twenty-eight bottles of wine. That would go some way towards clearing the shelves in Tesco’s. So the sign of Cana seems to be pointing beyond the unbelievable amount of wine to the sheer liberality of God’s gift, a sign of what was promised at the end of John’s Prologue: ‘From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace’ (Jn 1:16). This sheer abundance of grace is accentuated by the fact that the servants of the feast, at Jesus’ behest, fill the water jars right up to the brim, in danger of flowing over and being wasted. When one considers how precious water is in such a dry climate, this becomes a foolishly extravagant action.

But it is not only the lavish amount which John emphasizes. It is also the quality of the wine. Now this is not perhaps something that modern pilgrims to the Holy Land appreciate. If you visit the traditional site of Cana of Galilee, then after visiting one of the two ‘wedding churches’, your tour guide will invariably take you to one of Cana’s souvenir shops, in order for you to stock up on bottles of ‘genuine Cana wine’. Yes, it’s still freely available. But the thick, sickly sweet liquid on sale has more of the consistency of Sanatogen, or Buckfast tonic wine, than the Ch√Ęteau Lafite, or Petit Chablis, of the Cana miracle. The wine of Cana is truly excellent wine, the very best which has been kept until last. So perhaps the heart of the sign is the quality, the sheer goodness of the gift Christ offers. The disciples not only see the water flowing over the brim of these vast water jars. They taste the excellence of the resulting wine, see Christ’s glory revealed, and believe in him.

Except that John never tells us either that the disciples saw the servants filling the water jars, or that they knew what had happened to the water. The servants who had drawn the water knew. Perhaps (although not even this is stated) his mother knew. The steward tasted the final product, but not even he knew where it had come from. The bridegroom was blissfully unaware of anything that had happened. The transformation of the water into wine happens off stage, in the background, without Jesus leaving the table. Indeed, it is only because the evangelist tells us that the steward tasted the ‘having-become-wine-water’, that we the readers are let into the secret of what had happened.

So when John tells us that Jesus revealed his glory, and that his disciples believed in him, we still might ask: how exactly did he reveal his glory? What did the disciples see or know? Did they slip backstage after overhearing Mary’s words, and catch a glimpse of the water being poured? Did they taste the excellent wine and then rely on the waiters’ gossip to fill in the gaps? Whatever they saw or knew, it seems to be their abiding with Jesus, the days they had now spent in his company, which enabled them to glimpse what not even the wine waiters seem able to have glimpsed: that in these ambiguous, partly off-stage events, the glory of God was being revealed.

The miracle at Cana, John tells us, is a sign. But it is not an unambiguous sign. It is not something that one can straightforwardly point to as unambiguous evidence. As St Paul tells the Corinthians in our second reading, ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:22-24). For John, as for Paul, if we are looking for unambiguous signs, if we are looking for spectacular signs and wonders, then we will always be disappointed. Even in this great Epiphany at Cana in Galilee, Christ’s glory is not visible to all who see him, even those closest to the action. It can only be seen by the eye of faith.

It we are honest, we would probably prefer it to be otherwise. We would prefer the dazzling clarity of unambiguous glory, lighting our way as we follow him, and especially those among us who have committed not only their lives but their livelihoods to following him in the ordained ministry. Yet Christ’s glory is revealed at Cana only for those with eyes to see, for those who have spent time with him, abiding with him, praying with him. It is this which will enable us, with John, to see Christ’s glory revealed in a dying man lifted up on the Cross, a stumbling-block to those who seek signs and foolishness to those who desire wisdom. To spend time with him, so as see the glory, and to follow where he calls, requires a certain kind of God-given foolishness, like the foolishness of servants filling water jars to overflowing with precious water, at the risk of losing that which is precious; like the foolishness of the Cross, which is wiser than human wisdom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Monday Reflection – Dominic Keech

This homily was given by Dominic Keech, a first year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 24th January 2011.


When God called Abram to leave Ur, he wrapped the call in a lofty promise: Abram’s line would carry the power to bless generations to come. Abram did not reply with eloquent thanks, but simplicity of obedience. He went, as the Lord had told him. When God appeared to him again, promising the land of Canaan to his descendants, he built an altar and called God by name. He then carried on toward the desert. God had given the sign, but perhaps at first it seemed of limited significance, hardly worth commenting on; best first to act and later understand.

On the other side of the desert, Mary of Magdala anointed the head of Jesus with sweet perfume: a commonplace act done out of anxious attention. But the doubtful rebuke of the disciples brought her an assurance of worth: she had embalmed for his grave the one who still sat at table. Christ drew out the purpose from her ignorance, and made her confusion into devotion. Wherever he would be remembered, she would too, something Mary could only fully understand in front of the empty tomb.

We, each one of us, have been called, and our daily work is one of attempted response. We will build our altars at the stopping-places, praise the name of the Lord, and find that we still have to journey on. The true lengths of our travelling are, however, known only to God. We will have to wait for the falling of our own grave clothes to see that we, too, poured out fine perfume on the head of Christ. That, when it comes, will surprise and delight us.

St Francis de Sales worked to bring Christians in the Chablais to a Catholic faith, by the end of the sixteenth century the stronghold of Genevan Calvinism. His work, in its time, was for the unity of the Church. When he died, Protestantism remained in eastern France, but we remember his obedience today. With catholic apologetics he combined a supreme gift of counsel. To a young woman he wrote, ‘I would have you remember that sometimes we amuse ourselves in playing at being good angels, till we forget to be good men and women. Our imperfection must cleave to us till we rest in our grave: we cannot walk without touching the ground… It will be a precious imperfection if it makes us acknowledge our weakness, strengthens our humility, self-depreciation, patience and diligence. Through it all God looks upon “the preparation of the heart”’

This is why our work and prayer for the union of all Christians must continue, no matter how small, frustrating or seemingly fruitless it is. Ours is a life of hope, trusting that we shall see our labour, and ourselves, for what they truly are, when Christ shall be all in all.

Let us pray.

O God, who hast made divers nations to be one in the confession of Thy Name: Grant us the will and power to perform thy commandments; that those who have been called to eternal life, may be one in the soundness of their faith and in the piety of their actions; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Epiphany III - Mrs Lucy Gardner

Homily given by Mrs Lucy Gardner on Epiphany III, 23 January 2011. (Readings:Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-12; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)


For all that it is wonderfully made

and contains much that can point us to its Maker,

our world is undoubtedly a murky place.

Distorted love – our own and others’ –

obscures what should be a breathtaking view.

As we allow all manner of good things to take God’s place in our lives,

those things block our view of God;

they themselves become only distorted shadows and silhouettes

which in turn cast shadows everywhere we try to look.

And because we see shades and shadows in every direction

we cast our neighbours as our enemies

and fail to see them as our brothers and sisters.

Insofar as we fail to love and worship God

as the source and goal of our lives,

insofar as we fail to love our neighbours as ourselves,

we are people who walk in darkness.

Insofar as we sin,

and we all do,

we do indeed dwell in the shadow of death.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Or you could say that we are fish,

who live in what should be a beautiful, crystal blue sea

which has been turned foul by the oily, cloying, grit-filled pollution of sin.

And yet, into these murky waters, the light of Christ has shone;

we have seen a great light;

and this shaft of light, as it hovers and swirls before us,

appears as a powerful stream

promising to carry us up out of the murk and shadows

into a cleaner, lighter, more vivid and more joyful place.

For some the promise is too fearful and we turn away,

preferring the well-known shadows

in which what we fear we have become

might lurk and hide, alongside very present,

but in some sense comfortingly well-known,

dangers and troubles,

to the startling, frightening, unknown, untried new light of life.

Many of us need more than a little persuading.

The bright light catches our attention,

but we fail to trust ourselves to the uplift of its current.

We need to be pushed and pulled and dragged into our own salvation.

To the fish struggling in poisoned waters,

to the fish already perishing,

the hook or the net does indeed appear as folly –

you might say

not so much “out of the frying pan into the fire”,

as “out of the boiling pot onto the plate”.

But for the fish being carried to cleaner, safer waters,

to the fish being saved,

the hook or the net is truly the power of life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christ goes fishing for souls;

and often the Church has been understood as his fishing boat,

the ark.

But if the Church is the community of those being redeemed,

it might be more helpful to see ourselves

as the fish who have been caught in the drag nets,

we are still being dragged through murky waters.

We do not always come quietly,

and we are not always grateful.

Often we are squirming and jumping,

bickering and quarrelling,

with ourselves, with each other and with God.

Which is a shame,

because as we jump around,

some of us will fall out the nets;

some of will be knocked out.


those of us who have been caught and drawn in

are commanded to go fishing in our turn;

we are instructed to bring others in.

But while we are quarrelling,

we cannot get on with the task

which will contribute to our salvation;

while we are jumping around,

not only will some of us fall out,

others will not be brought in.

And this is why Paul warns the Corinthians about

quarrelling and bickering over claims to be the true Church

in opposition to each other.

At a time when the Anglican Communion

seems to be straining against itself,

when parts of the Church of England

seem to be seething with argument and discontent,

when Churches and parts of Churches seem to be in competition with each other,

and when people are facing tricky and painful choices

about staying within or leaving the net of a particular church,

Paul’s warning is as pertinent as it is uncomfortable;

we are in an uncomfortable, sometimes murky place.

We should not be surprised, for

we cannot go fishing from the safety of the boat;

we are sent out,

and, like Christ himself, must plunge ourselves into the murky waters

and pursue our work there, carrying His light with us.

Since the Church is indeed divided

and does indeed descend into quarrelsomeness,

she often seems just as murky as

the polluted waters around her,

if not more so,

for where the light shines,

the shadows show up more clearly.

But we must not let the Church herself,

neither as a whole nor in her various parts,

take Christ’s place in our lives

and so blot out His light

that we fall into casting our fellow Christians as our enemies

and fail to see them as our brothers and sisters.

We need to get on with fishing,

with preaching the Gospel and serving the world,

learning to share Christ’s mind,

allowing him to draw us ever deeper into his light,

ever deeper into his love,

ever deeper into his mission and service,

just as we get on with drawing others in.

And we shall only be able to draw others in

if they can see that this light is indeed the power of life in us,

if we allow the power of Christ’s love to show in our lives,

and refuse to let it be shut out and obscured

by self-interest, rivalry and jealousy.

It is only this unity of purpose,

this sharing in Christ’s work and the love of Christ –

our love of Him but even moreso His love of us –

which will make us one in Him,

and never our efforts or intentions,

or beliefs or practices.

So, perhaps we should see the many churches

the many parts of Christ’s Church

as Christ’s many nets and fishing devices;

they might be thrown by Peter or Paul, by Apollos or Chloe,

or by any other of Christ’s followers,

but the nets are all Christ’s, thrown for Christ and in his work.

And so, when it comes to the rather tricky business

of choosing Churches,

and the more painful business

of choosing to stay in or depart from a Church,

or the equally painful business of watching others do so,

we should perhaps think not so much of heroes crossing rivers,

nor of traitors jumping ship,

but of so many fish jumping about in and between so many nets,

and of so many fishermen switching between so many different tools of the trade;

if all are following Christ,

then all are travelling in the same direction,

working in different ways on the same task.

We should bear in mind and pray that

choosing between churches

should never be a question

of where we might feel most comfortable

or most at home;

if churches are nets,

then they are simply not meant to be comfort zones;

the question for each of us to answer

is about where we feel called and drawn to be,

about where we shall be most able and most fully

to play our part in Christ’s work

of fishing souls out of the murky waters of sin.

To pray for the unity of the Church, as indeed we must, is to pray just this:

that each of our Christian brothers and sisters

will accept the particular grace that is offered to them

and find the place in and from which they can best serve Christ and thus be saved

and that we shall thereby all come to share together in Christ’s resurrection life.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

House Lecture - Canon Andrew Shanks

Revd Canon Andrew Shanks will give a House Lecture on Hegel and religious Faith.
Couratin Room, Thursday 3rd February at 4.30pm. All Welcome.


Andrew Shanks is the Canon Theologian, in charge of the Cathedral’s educational programme. He has been at Manchester Cathedral since 2004. Previously he worked as a parish priest in Leeds, an inner city parish and a housing estate, and in rural North Yorkshire; and as an academic theologian at the universities of Lancaster and Leeds.

He has also lived and worked in Ethiopia and in Upper Egypt. His published books include Hegel’s Political Theology (1991), Civil Society, Civil Religion (1995), God and Modernity (2000), “What Is Truth?” Towards a Theological Poetics (2001), Faith in Honesty (2005), The Other Calling (2007), Against Innocence: Gillian Rose’s Reception and Gift of Faith (2008). He is married to Dian Leppington, who is also a priest.

The Revd Canon Andrew Shanks:

Adey Grummet talks about he book and her experiences

* Couratin room, 7.30pm on Wednesday 26th January

Adey Grummet, author of Suddenly He Thinks He’s a Sunbeam, will be coming to talk about the book and her experiences, throughout her husband’s training at St Stephen’s House
and the reality of married life to a Church of England vicar:

“It is the story of what happened when her husband, ‘a perfectly normal, angst-ridden, atheistic, socialist hippy actor’ underwent
a metamorphosis into a Church of England priest. It was initially commissioned as an aid to couples who are now undergoing something of the same process but it has become a core text on many theological colleges’ reading lists, was preached upon at the opening of Synod by the Bishop of London...”

All Welcome.

And afterwards in the common room when the bar will be open.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CALL AND RESPONSE - Fr. Damian Feeney

image from google

Homily given by Fr Damian Feeney, vice principal of St Stephen's House, on Epiphany II,16th January 2011. (Readings: Isaiah 45.1-7, 1 Cor 1.1-9, John 1.29-42)


At some point we who follow Jesus are called to examine the nature of that call and its origin. The stories of others who have had the courage to follow someone or something beyond themselves in the search for truth are a great encouragement, and so I offer you two people quite outside the structure of the churches who have articulated thoughts about vocation which have struck many chords. Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary-General to the United Nations who was killed in a place crash in 1961. He wrote:

I don't know Who -or What- put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or Something- and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. ... As I continued along the Way, I learned, step by step, word by word, that behind every saying in the Gospels stands one man and one man's experience. Also behind the prayer that the cup might pass from him and his promise to drink it. Also behind each of the words from the Cross[1].

Our sense of vocation, if we are blessed, diligent and careful with it, grows and blossoms throughout our lives. It can also be blighted by the all too human failings of frustration, impatience and envy. We can so easily forget the fundamental truth that our vocation often leads us into places and situations we had not imagined, and if we are not sufficiently grounded we can waste much time and energy in thinking that our response would be so much better if only we were somewhere else. In his book Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, the Romanian author Mircea Eliade tells the story of an obscure Jewish Rabbi, Isaac ben Jekel, who several hundred years ago, lived in great poverty in a single-roomed house in Cracow. One night he dreamt vividly of a treasure buried beneath the bridge leading to the royal palace at Prague. Three nights running he dreamt the same dream and, unable to dismiss it from his mind, he determined to make the long journey to Prague on foot in search of the treasure. But when he reached the city he was bitterly disappointed to find the bridge guarded by soldiers and the treasure, if indeed there was a treasure, totally inaccessible. As the Rabbi stood there in dejection, the captain of the guard took pity on him and asked him what his trouble was. So he related his dream. The captain of the guard laughed.

'You should not pay any attention to dreams. Why, only the other night I had a dream about treasure. It was buried in the house of a man I had never even heard of, a Rabbi named Isaac ben Jekel, who lived in Cracow. But no sensible man pays any attention to dreams’.

The Rabbi listened with inward astonishment; he bowed low and thanked the Captain. Then he set off with all haste back to Cracow and when he reached home, he at once began to dig in the corner of his room behind the stove. Eventually he unearthed treasure sufficient to end his poverty.

We grow up with our treasure; it is near to us all the time, but so often we do not recognize its value.

This has many implications. First of all, whatever our situations, and our feelings about them, one things is sure. God has called each and every one of us, by name, to minister for him to others. It is so tempting to look at the gifts of another, the achievements of another, the situation of another, and pine, if not with envy or jealousy, then maybe with a certain degree of wistfulness, for the things others can do, achieve or enjoy. We waste a good deal of time looking for our treasure in unrealistic places, places where it is not accessible to us. One result of this fruitless journeying is that we become unhappy with who we are, our regard for our own gifts diminish, and we become less and less fruitful for God.

Our treasure is within us. It is so often what we grew up with. If God has called me, then I know at least that there is something within me that God can use. George Herbert alludes to this in his poem ‘The Priesthood’

...only, since God doth often vessels make
Of lowly matter for high uses meet,

I throw me at his feet,

There will I lie, until my Maker seek
For some mean stuff whereon to show his skill:
Then is my time.

‘Our time’ – our calling, our life – is now. Our treasure is within ourselves, the gold of the gospel and our gifts - and it has been gathering and collecting every day of our lives. Rowan Williams earths this understanding of the paradoxical nature of God’s call when he writes:

‘God chooses where he wills: there is no set of conditions for his grace. We are to rejoice in the fact that, weak and sinful and silly as we are, God has chosen us for the privilege of loving and serving him.’

But with that rejoicing comes a balancing responsibility, a pain, if you like, when our loving and serving becomes unbalanced and we are unable to hold on to the burden and privilege of this calling. Rowan Williams continues:

‘And so our crises occur at those points when we see how unreality, our selfish, self-protecting illusions, our struggles for cheap security, block the way to our answering the call to be’.

The treasure is under our feet, it is within us, and therefore it is the very thing most likely to be taken for granted. I gain tremendous encouragement from that passage in Mark 6, where Jesus returns to Nazareth, to be greeted by those who knew him when he was but a lad – and they decided that no-one who came from their town could possibly be anyone special (‘We knew him when he had nowt’) – ‘and he could work no miracle there….and he was amazed at their unbelief.’ In my native Lancashire, it is said that the reason people go to church is to to stop other people going; some people, without realising it, manage to limit God and limit others at the same time. Perhaps they – and we – have every right to be concerned. Jesus came among us, and through him we discover a very human side to God that we had never suspected, and wonder whether God can really do this thing this way. For those on the way to faith this particularity can be hard to fathom, and how we preach it and proclaim it a most sensitive issue.

But this, after all, is the treasure at our feet, carried in these earthenware vessels. What we have to offer the world is Christ crucified and raised from the dead – the action of a God who will stop at nothing to redeem his people, redeem his creation. That miraculous action continues this morning and every day in the Mass and its outworking in our daily living, as we seek to discover and rediscover the treasure at our feet.

Damian Feeney
Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House


Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Reflection - Graham Lunn

image from google.

This homily was given by Graham Lunn, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 17th January 2011. (Readings: Genesis 6:11-7:10, Matthew 24:1-14)


Genesis 6:22 is one of my favourite verses in the Scriptures, as it testifies to Northern Irish involvement in the composition of the flood narrative. For, if we render this verse literally, it translates as, "and Noah did according to all that God commanded him, so he did". Of course, the NRSV committee did not wish this best-kept of biblical secrets to be revealed, so they translated as follows: "Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him".

One of the most striking features, for me, of the flood account in Genesis is the emphasis placed on Noah's obedience to God. Both the background traditions which seem to have come together to form the narrative we now have are clear on this: the reason that Noah pleased God, that the Lord accounted him righteous among a corrupt generation, was that he was willing to listen to God and obey. Indeed, the presenting cause for the flood being sent to cleanse the earth had been a discernible lack of obedience to the Lord's commands, shown in the marriage of the "sons of God" to the "daughters of humans" (do see me afterwards if you which to discuss this interpretation).

So it is that Noah is the one with whom God chooses to establish his covenant, the first covenant in salvation history. I wonder how it might be if we reminded ourselves that we, too, are children of a covenant. Ours is the dispensation of the new and everlasting covenant, established and ratified by the supreme obedience of another middle-eastern man to the will of God. Yet the fact that it is the Son of God who established this covenant by the shedding of his blood does not exempt us from our duty to obey. Indeed, as those being formed to be priests of this new covenant, we must always be mindful of our obligation to live as Christ in the world, righteous among a corrupt generation. In this we do nothing more than fulfill our baptismal vocation; but there may come a day for many of us when, God willing, we shall have to administer the sacraments of the new covenant to the People of God, and we can do this only in his strength and in obedience to his command.

May God therefore grant us the courage and power to do his will, to work towards those things which would please him. May our love never grow cold, that we may be counted among those who endure to the end, and thus are saved.

Let us pray.

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.