Ss Peter & Paul, Wantage:
Church Street, Wantage, OX12 8AQ
Holy Trinity, Charlton:
Charlton Village Road, Wantage
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Who is your hero?
Who are the people who you would look up to as ‘role models’?
Your hero might be someone who is actually ‘heroic’ such as a fictional superhero – I asked this question in the school this week and spiderman and batman were particular favourites! Or a historical hero. Last weekend we were celebrating King Alfred, and the weekend before was Trafalgar Day when we commemorate both the victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson and next week of course we will be remembering members of the armed forces. Many people look to the world of sport – Figures such as Sir Bobby Charlton who died this past week. But more likely our real role models are closer to home people who make us think,maybe I could do that, maybe I could be like them.
There is a phrase “if you can’t see it you can’t be it”: The argument that we won’t see girls going into jobs in the tech industry, or people of colour being called to the bar, if we don’t have public role models showing them that ‘people like us’ do ‘things like this’ – although there is also something to be said for the bloody-mindedness of wanting to be the first! But certainly it’s something that I’ve been thinking about in my role as Women’s Vocations Champion for this area – there’s a big difference between knowing it’s possible and being able to imagine what it would be like for you. We know that the lack of positive role models can have harmful consequences. Young people who don’t see positive, relatable examples of how people like them can live a good life can end up turning to toxic role models online, such as those who espouse violent extremist ideologies, who glamorise eating disorders and self-harm, or who normalise misogyny.
Christianity is sometimes described as a religion that is ‘caught not taught’ – it’s all about following the example of our supreme role model, Jesus of Nazareth. The Beatitudes, which we hear in our gospel passage today, are a particular focus for this diocese under the leadership of Bishop Steven, and were the basis for our Lent course earlier this year. What really struck me about the Beatitudes is that they take the place of commandments
but they are not commandments. We are not told “thou shalt be merciful, thou shalt be meek”. Instead, blessed are those who are merciful; blessed are those who are meek. It encourages us not to think about our religion as a list of do’s and don’ts but rather in terms of, what kind of person do I want to be? What kind of life leads to blessedness? We don’t learn to live as Christians by following a list of rules or a recipe but by being around the blessed and learning to be more like them.
Now generally, we don’t generally consciously pick someone, and say, you are my role model. They might actually be rather embarrassed if you did that! Rather, it is those who happen to be around us in our own family and acquaintances who are our role models, for better or for worse – in fact when I asked the children for their heroes, even more than superheroes, they mentioned their parents and their friends. Whether we realise it or not, we are role models to others around us – and that is especially true for parents. Whether consciously or accidentally, we are teaching our children what matters and what doesn’t, what it means to be an adult, a human being, a man, a woman.
One of the things I really value about bringing my child up in the church is that he gets to meet lots of different grown-ups and to learn that there are lots of different ways of being a grown-up – that it’s okay to not live your life exactly the way your parents have done. It’s also a good argument for why Christian children have godparents as well as parents. If friends are the family we choose for ourselves we might say that the saints are the family God has chosen for us.
We’ve just finished our preaching series on the creed but if you like today we are revisiting the clause on ‘the communion of saints’. We believe in the communion of saints: that we are one family, one community, uniting those of us who are alive today with the generations who have gone before. Many of us have pictures of our ancestors: that might be a black-and-white snap of your great-grandparents wedding or it might be the grand family portraits – Sir Winston Churchill, we are told, had a portrait of his own role model: his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, the first owner of Blenheim Palace, who was himself a famed war leader in his time.
If we were in an Orthodox church, we would be completely surrounded by pictures of the Saints, on all the walls and in front of the altar; here in our more English church, the saints are to be found mostly in the stained glass. But the effect is the same – we are surrounded by reminders of our ancestors in the faith.
But this is a family which does not limit what we can be or imagine ourselves being: rather, the saints are from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”. Within this great multitude there are as many different ways of being a saint as there are saints: St Elizabeth of Hungary, a mediaeval princess who spent her money on building a hospital where she cared for the sick and leprous with her own hands or St Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, who was murdered in 1977 by the notorious regime of Idi Amin;
St Symeon Stylite who spent his entire life living at the top of a pillar in a desert or St Thomas Aquinas, Dominican friar and scholar, a famously well-padded saint who liked his grub and his creature comforts! St Claire who fled from the prospect of marriage and family life and St Monica whose sainthood was exercised in putting up with her son St Augustine!
There are saints who lived brief lives and saints who lived long lives, Saints who were celebrities in their own days and saints whose lives were quiet and hidden. Saints who were celibate clergy and monastics, and saints who embraced marriage and family life.
Occasionally you even meet them: I’m pretty sure that Fr Timothy Stanton, who was a member of the community at Mirfield when I was a student and had formerly been imprisoned in apartheid South Africa is among the saints. Because the saints are not fictional superheroes with special superpowers or even with the exceptional abilities of a great sports player or military leader but people of every type and in every walk of life who are used by God.
Right now, it seems as though the examples set before us show us the worst rather than the best of human potential: every day the news is filled with mutual hatred and violence in the middle east, in Ukraine, in many parts of the world and closer to home we are being treated to the unedifying spectacle of the covid inquiry: whilst perhaps none of us were at our best during the pandemic, it has certainly been a stark reminder that our leaders too have feet of clay. Also on this fifth of November, we ‘remember, remember’ the violent, divided, and sectarian heritage of this nation, and how religious conflict, terrorism, and torture, have been part of our story here too.
It seems more important than ever that we choose our heroes with care and that we remember that our citizenship is in heaven. Our family, our tribe, our nation – the communion of saints - is drawn from every people and culture. There are as many ways of being a saint as there are people: haloes come in every size! – indeed if you are in the children’s corner, big people and little people – you can try making your own tinsel halo!
So as we give thanks for the communion of saints and look to their example let us pray that we too may be saints in this generation. Amen.
Clothe yourselves in love.
Sunday 29th October 2023 (Bible Sunday)
Katherine Price, Vicar.
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week I paid a visit to the Jane Austen House in Bath. Much as I am a fan of Jane Austen’s writing, I have to admit that my main motivation for visiting was simply that it’s the only museum in Bath which is open on a Monday. It is rather a silly place with lots of dressing up in Regency attire – although now I’ve appeared on the cover of the local paper pretending to be a Saxon, maybe I can’t really comment!
Jane Austen can perhaps take much of the credit – or the blame – for our conventional romantic idea of a happy ending. In every one of her novels the ‘happy ever after’ in the final chapter is a wedding or an engagement. It is rather ironic, of course, that the only happiness she could imagine for her characters was marriage, since she herself not only never married
but indeed, as I learned on Monday from a tour guide purporting to be Captain Wentworth,
she actually broke off an engagement.
Jane Austen may be associated with a classic romantic stereotype but in fact her characters are very pragmatic about what makes for a happy marriage. She recognised that it wasn’t just about romance but about the life that you choose to have, the person you choose to be,
and most of all about family. Marriage for Jane Austen is never just two people’s business but the foundation of family and community.
The Bible is also a love story. Over the past several weeks we’ve been studying and reflecting on the creed - our statement of faith as the Christian family and community. But what has struck me about the creed is that it also has, like a story, a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s not just a list of things we believe. It is if you like a synopsis, a precis, a back-cover blurb for the whole story of the Bible. Our faith is a story: the story of what God has done, what God is doing now, and what God will do in time to come.
The Bible is a love story, but unlike a Jane Austen novel this story doesn’t end with an engagement but begins with it. In Christian tradition, we split the books of the Bible into two sections which we call the Old Testament and the New Testament. And that word Testament means the same as ‘Covenant’ – it means a commitment, a promise, a vow. It is the story of God’s loving commitment to his people and how that has been lived out over the generations.
If the Bible is a love story, then of course, as in any good love story, the course of true love does not run smooth. Time and again, human behaviour threatens to rupture that relationship with God, and time and again God’s faithfulness remains steadfast. The Christian understanding of marriage is that it is a covenant not a contract – it is not conditional on each side fulfilling their part of the bargain but rather it is an unconditional commitment which endures in spite of the inevitability that we will fall short. Covenant means that God never simply gives up on us – not that we can never mess up his plan but that there is always another plan; that God’s creativity, God’s imagination, God’s resourcefulness
is never spent.
I’m reminded of another book – rather less elevated than Pride & Prejudice but perhaps equally well-loved: Michael Rosen’s “We’re going on a bear hunt!”
In that story, every obstacle the family comes to is greeted in the same way: we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we have to go through it! And that is true of the obstacles in our own family lives, In our marriages, in our relationships, and also in our relationship with God: we cannot bypass our struggles but only find a way through them together.
In the words of St Paul from our reading today, “bearing with one another, forgiving one another”. It’s not so much that marriage is a model for our relationship with God as that God is our model for how we should approach marriage and all our relationships: with hope, and creativity, and an openness to the possibility that not all happy endings look alike.
But there is also a very specific and perhaps a surprising model of marriage which is to be found within the Bible, and it is the story of Mary and Joseph. In light of the ongoing debates about so-called ‘biblical marriage’ It might be instructive to take a look at this particular marriage which is perhaps uniquely biblical because it brings together the threads of this love story that is the Bible.
Mary is often depicted in art, reading the bible: Reading the bible as a child with her mother Anna, and reading the bible in the garden when the Archangel Gabriel comes to call.
In mediaeval tradition, it is often speculated that she is reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah
from whom we will hear a lot during Advent and who most of all foretells God’s promises for all the peoples and nations of the earth.
And then we have Joseph – the descendent of King David. David the hero of the books of Samuel and Chronicles and the traditional author of the Psalms.
In this marriage of Mary and Joseph is found the archetype of God’s plan of salvation: that the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, are to be the guardians and protectors of his promises for the whole world.
The story of Mary and Joseph could not be more unlike the romance of a Jane Austen novel,
or indeed our modern notions of what marriage is all about and yet this is the family God chose to be born into and Joseph is the stepfather that he chose for himself. The relationship of Mary and Joseph is not exactly what we would expect of marriage, and to be totally frank it probably wasn’t exactly what Joseph was expecting either! but it was no less ‘made in heaven’ for all that: a marriage not for the personal fulfilment of two individuals but in the service of others and the service of something greater.
The Bible is a love story, the story of a very long engagement, an engagement which is never broken off in spite of everything and which awaits its final fulfilment in the glorious marriage banquet of the lamb. And whilst we wait for that glorious fulfilment there is some dressing up to do - not in Regency bonnets or indeed Saxon cloaks – but that we clothe ourselves with love. May we choose each morning to ‘put on’ the character of Christ and to take our place in the ongoing drama that is our love story with God. Amen.
Abiding power: The Holy Spirit in the church
Sunday, 15th October 2023 Benji Tyler, Curate.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power”
Attached to the side of the Norfolk Church of St Nicholas, Blakeney is a tower that rises up in miniature imitation of the great, west-end tower. Its original purpose is unknown and it may have had several functions – including acting as a lighthouse for the nearby port. One theory that I find particularly persuasive is that it is a form of tunnel that, when a flap is opened, allows a rush of wind to enter the building at the precise moment that the priest invokes the Holy Spirit over the elements of Bread and Wine, thus causing the candles to flicker and the incense, thick in the air, to stir.
This is just the sort of liturgical theatre for which we go in for here, on occasion. And whether it be Blakeney towers or Wantage party canon neither are the Spirit, but both help us to imagine the reality of the Spirit, even as the scriptures say “there came a sound like the rushing of a violent wind”.
The verses we have heard together today challenge us to hope for, and work for, the fulfilment of all that is good and of the Kingdom, through the power of the Spirit in the time to come.
As the atrocities in Gaza have unfurled these past few days the Church becomes ever more conscious of the need to pray continually for peace, for the kingdom of God to come in earth as in Heaven. In Jerusalem. And being in this church today, we must remember that every Church outside of Jerusalem is built as a Jerusalem. From the earliest of times, the meeting places of Christians were in loco parentis of Jerusalem, and so we should feel that it is not just the physical Jerusalem that is suffering now, but every manifestation of that holy place, ‘whither the tribes go up… to give thanks to the name of the Lord’.
As we gather here today, we stand in solidarity with our Jewish neighbours and we pray for peace to abide in that land.pp
Today’s theme of the ‘abiding power of the Holy Spirit’ invites us to consider two things in relation to the Holy Spirit.
Power, and his abiding-ness, his with-us-now-ness.
Firstly let’s look at what is this power.
After attempting to describe the way the Spirit came from Heaven, Luke records more than fifteen different jewish and non-jewish nations and languages who all heard them speaking in their own language ‘about God’s deeds of power’. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly than this the nature of God’s power in Christ than that the new Kingdom of Christ was multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual.
The power on which Luke chooses to focus was not the like-wind, or like-flame of the Spirit’s coming but on the significance of the breaking down of racial, national and linguistic barriers.
So the power of God was made known then as a new unity within incredible diversity. Something which the letter to the Corinthians reiterates: that the body of Christ is made up of a variety of gifts, services and activities all of which emanate from God, by the power of his Spirit and are held together through a common baptism into one body.
It is important to notice that St Paul does not say the members make up ‘the church’ but rather that they make up Christ. However, in order to accomplish his saving work, Christ had to have flesh and blood at a moment in time. And in order to complete that work today he has to have a body of human beings, the church, who are all in effect, baptised by Christ through the ‘element’ of his Spirit.
This is the abiding-ness, the now-ness of that power. The Spirit re-presents Christ in real time on earth.
To live as a Christian is to recognise that we are living -in real time’ with Jesus Christ and to allow the indwelling Spirit of God to speak and pray within us as though we were in that same room with the Disciples who first received the Spirit. For with the Spirit in us, God is in immediate communion with us. And to live as a Christian now is to remember that, through the Spirit, we are connected to those first Christians who received the Spirit in Jerusalem, which binds us inextricably to that nation now, in all that they are suffering. Their pain, must be our pain. The prayers of the Spirit-inspired Psalms, must be our prayers – pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
At Pentecost, Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the Spirit was given to his friends and followers with the promise of perpetual indwelling of the Church.
Today, you may not be feeling totally overwhelmed by the Spirit. You may wonder if you have ever ‘had an experience’ of the Spirit. You may be wondering if the Church, and in particular the Church of England, is genuinely experiencing the holy Spirit as it fights out same-sex blessings.
Well, just as we need air around us to survive, we also need to take that air within ourselves to live. And that air we breathe comes to us naturally. We aren’t taught to breathe – the act of breathing is innate. So it is with the receiving of the Spirit. We accept it as the reality for us because Jesus the baptizer has given him to us and if we long to be more like Christ, and point others to love Christ too, we will be taken into the deeper daily - continuous – now of the fullest life.
As I finish, let me leave you with a challenge. That challenge is as fresh as the day of PENTECOST. It is to be heard to speak about God’s power. Speak about that power in your prayer, in your conversation, in your workplace, in your home and in your church. Become thte person, become the church that is known to be ALWAYS oing on and on about God’s power to transform life.
Be like that tower on the side of the church in the cold, coastal village of Blakeney - a reminder to the people both inside and outside the church that the power of the Spirit is abiding in you in everyone giving us ears to hear God speaking to our hearts, anointing the winds of our prayers – at this time especially for the peace of Jerusalem - and preparing us to dwell together, in all our rich diversity, as one body, in Christ, his Church! Amen.
Sunday 24th September 2023 by Katherine Price, Vicar.
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Judgment Day has come – at least this week for one man.
If you watch or read or listen to any news, you won’t have escaped the story about the former comedian and presenter Russell Brand and how his past has finally caught up with him. But for Christians in this country, our reaction to this sad and sordid spectacle may be rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I recall when Brand was at the height of his fame being infuriated that such a man was being given a platform for his ego and his deliberate offensiveness and it is a cause for hope that we may now be in a time when the women who have made these allegations may finally get justice.
And yet, more recently, it was reported that Brand had repented of his past behaviour.
More than that, he was using his fame to promote prayer and spirituality, most of it at the least Christian-flavoured. Only just over a year ago - in an article I expect they will now be in a hurry to take down - Premier Christianity magazine described Russell Brand as someone that church leaders could learn from.
So is he a repentant sinner or just a sinner who knows how to cash in on the spirituality bandwagon? The jury is still out… Not that it is likely to come near an actual jury. It is sad and significant that these women looked for justice in the court of public opinion, because they did not expect to get it from an actual judge. That is itself a sad judgment on the justice system we are supposed to rely on.
We seem to be living in a time which is quite confused about the whole idea of judgment.
On the one hand, we pride ourselves – in the twenty-first century – on our tolerance. It is a compliment to call someone non-judgmental and an insult to describe them as judgy. And yet we are hardly a non-judgmental society. Quite the contrary. Some would say we are living in a time which is particularly quick to condemn and slow to forgive. We are not very inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.
As Christians, we are on the receiving end of this contradiction. One of the main criticisms levelled against us and our faith, and indeed our God, is of being ‘judgmental’; people who otherwise give no authority to the Bible like to quote the verse ‘judge not lest ye be judged’! And yet one of the main reasons people often feel unable to accept the Christian God is that bad things happen to good people whilst bad people go unpunished. In other words, God is not judgmental enough. For many people’s tastes, there is rather too much smiting in the Old Testament and rather too little in our own day.
The idea of God as judge seems obvious – The idea of Jesus as judge, perhaps less so.
It has been one of the ways in which we have sometimes risked straying into heresy as we try to hold together the perennial tension of justice and mercy: We think of God the Father as the judge, only with a long white beard rather than a long white wig! Whilst God the Son gets to take credit for all the nice modern stuff about forgiveness and not judging one another.
But our creed doesn’t let us get away with that. As usual, and as perhaps we are beginning to see in this series on the Creed, the Fathers of the Church do not let us get away with believing something that is easier than the full truth. We are told quite explicitly that Jesus will be our judge.
In the Old Testament, one of the key characteristics of Israel’s God is that he is a God of justice, a God who cares about right and wrong. We are even told that his intention for his people Israel is that they should be known as his people by their system of justice. By their law codes, and by the protections they give to the poor and weak, they were to witness to God’s justice before the face of the other nations around them. To say that God judges us means that God takes us seriously: That human sin, and human choice, and human accountability matter.
If you are suffering injustice, then a judge is exactly what you long for! Someone to uphold the rule of law, to protect the weak, to bring the truth to light. When the people of Israel longed for their Messiah they longed for him to come with judgment. A desire for fairness seems to be part of human nature. We want the good to be rewarded and the bad to be punished - whether we are children, resentful that we got told off when it was someone else who was talking to adults protesting against global inequality, but perhaps even more than good things for good people and bad things for bad people, what we want is understanding: for the truth to be known, and to be taken seriously; for an acknowledgement of the wrong that has been done and the pain that has been caused.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that the Word of God judges ‘the thoughts and intentions of the heart’. Justice is not just the application of law but finding fairness in the complexity of real human situations.
One of British history’s most celebrated judges, Lord Denning, was famous or perhaps notorious for his creative ways of making the law fit what seemed right! And at its best, our legal system in this country – which is sometimes described as ‘judge-made’ law – reflects that incarnational principle, that the law has to be built not on abstract ideas but on real cases and real people.
And another principle of justice as it is understood in this country is that we are to be tried by a jury of our peers. So in the same way God has promised that we will not be judged by one who does not know what it is to be human, or who has not been held to those same standards. And so the God who judges us also pardons us. This isn’t the kind of ‘presidential pardon’ used by Trump and his ilk to get his cronies off the hook – The pardon and forgiveness we receive from God and the pardon and forgiveness which he expects us in turn to show to others is not about ignoring or denying that any wrong has been done. Quite the opposite. God’s judgment and his pardon happen in one and the selfsame act: on the cross. What could expose more vividly the seriousness and consequence of human wrongdoing than that it took the death of God himself to deal with it and what could show more clearly his mercy than that he was prepared to accept that cost to set it right? It is this costly forgiveness we are called to share, when we are commanded to ‘judge not’: to utterly reject vengeance and all forms of ‘justice’ which are built on the proliferation of violence but not to shrug off human wrongdoing as ‘not my business’. Rather, we must start from the costly recognition that we ourselves have been pardoned.
But Jesus is more than the judge who hands down sentence based on law. Jesus is the judge and the law and the sentence. As the model human being, Jesus is the ‘plumb line’, the standard by which we are measured, the representation of the best that we can be.
And this is the judgment: that that light came into the world, and the world loved darkness more than light. On the cross, Jesus suffered the death penalty – But it was the world and not him who stood condemned. If a judge is one who makes the truth known, then what could shine a starker light on the wrongness of human thinking than the execution of a truly good man? And that is the same judgment we each face: Whether we embrace Jesus Christ in the hungry, in the sick, in the stranger, in the prisoner, and so embrace the pardon he offers or whether we choose to reject him and bring judgment on ourselves.
It is we who must make that judgment and every day is judgment day. Amen.
One Lord, Jesus Christ: part 3 in a sermon series on the Creed
preached on 10 Sept 2023 by Fr Benji Tyler, curate
Imagine, if you will, for a moment that – a bit like when you go to the supermarket to get milk only to find that there is now a worldwide shortage of milk – you have come to church this morning to be told that Jesus Christ really is dead. He has been discovered to be all just a complete hoax; that there really was no such person who rose from the grave and ascended into heaven…
“Jesus Christ is DEAD!” read headlines all over the world. “2000 years of gullibles proved wrong!” “the Good news is a lie: Church is no more!’
What would you do? What would we do?
Would we meekly believe it, having had a hunch all along that this was really true? Would we close the doors on our buildings and nail a sign across them reading “no use for this building – push off”?
Our heads might, in time, receive this, but our hearts? Could our hearts simply cut off everything we had known, felt, experienced since first we were introduced to the Christian Faith?
[This has, of course in one way or another, been the experience for many people throughout history – one has only to think of Japan in the 19th Century or Russia in the 20th where the state forbad private or public worship and belief.]
Because, for Christianity to be real you need a Christ. Christ is 100% the essence of Christianity – not 33.3%, shared with the other two persons, God and the Holy Spirit but 100%. You may have heard me quote Archbishop Ramsey before when he said that “in God there is no unChrist-likeness”.
And this essence of Christ is found in the first and shortest of all creeds – that found in Philippians 2:11 : “Jesus Christ, is Lord” “Kyrios, God”. Every tongue should confess it, to the glory of God the Father.
The simple reality is that it is impossible to be a Christian without confessing that Jesus Christ is the son of God, revealed in human flesh – God incarnate. And for Christian teachers it is not simply enough to know about Christ but to know Christ. Knowing Christ is what has ensured the remarkable continuity of faith throughout the world, knowing that Jesus really happened and knowing the effect that this happening was to have on the universe. For if it really happened, it is the greatest love story that ever entered the universe. If it did not really happen, then it is the greatest fantasy that ever entered the universe of human thought.
I want to be clear. No one is truly converted to Christianity by the reasonableness of the incarnation. Impossible. Because the incarnation is, in itself, not a reasonable story! But rather generation after generation is converted by being introduced to relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ.
The creed, as the statement of faith of the ecumenical Church, is keen to introduce this person pretty quick and then to dwell on him, as in for example The Apostles’ Creed, for nearly two thirds of the words.
This is because of that love story – the story of God’s love for humankind. It is the crazy story of the one, creator God, infinity perfect and lacking in nothing, becoming mortal flesh, suffering torture, death and hell for our sins.
Our sin can be summed up as a lack of love.
Redemption can be summed up as an EXCESS of love.
Which is why, when we look at Jesus on the Cross, either on crucifix or in mind’s eye and know who that is what he is doing and what love made him do it, we ourselves melt into a fervour of love.
So there I have focussed on the why we might believe in God as revealed in Jesus Christ and I want to now say just a little on how we might come to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
And the how is so simple. For the how is how about prayer. God has reached out to us in Jesus Christ to enable us to come to him, in prayer.
When we begin to utter any prayer we must already have recognised something of the beauty of God and been attracted to it, attracted to God’s beauty as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
And for us to respond to this, we recognise that it is God who has initiated this response; it is God who first reached out to us in Jesus; it is God who calls us out of self-involvement, self-centredness into dynamic relationship with true love, true beauty.
Another Archbishop, Rowan Williams, said that “prayer is what God does in us when we are close to Jesus”. Being close to Jesus, reciting his name, claiming his name in prayer brings to us a taste of eternity but also accustoms the pray-er to an acceptance of all that this life brings too.
The name of Jesus is not just to be invoked when we need that car-parking space or when we are sick, but we invoke it in order to bring us into a transformative relationship with him and with the world around us.
Each time we repeat the name of Jesus, be that in prayer, in Liturgy, in hymns, in music we are opened up to the possibilities of transformation. Our time, becomes God’s time. We surrender our all to his all, we become bound up in his love and we are sent out to do His mission, as his hands and his heart.
[Now the creed, of course, is concerned with the communication of right belief, of doctrine, of universal truth. And truth, like goodness and beauty, is understood most fully when we look at Jesus. Jesus, sent by his Father and receiving sonship in the Spirit to return to the Father. It is in that sonship, that becoming human, that WE are caught up into relationship with God. This dynamic energy of the Trinity is given to the world in the sending of the Son]
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us” to draw us into the goodness, the beauty of God.
Put simply, God’s love is a giving of nothing less than his being, since his being is love.
Next week we will begin to turn our attention towards the details of the life of Christ whilst on earth and the crucifixion which is that vivid demonstration that even suffering can be turned to blessing when the heart is filled with God’s goodness.
So. I’m pleased to tell you that, even if we DO turn up to Church one day and suddenly discover that Jesus Christ is DEAD! I for one would find it impossible to believe.
For the testimony of faith that is inherited and lived out by each and every saint, living and departed, has built up too compelling a story for it NOT to be true, And, even if, at times I/we struggle to confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” or to pray “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner” it is in the repetition of that blessed, Holy Name that we come to know, and will be assured, that there is no greater story of Love than that Jesus Christ became man so that we might become fully alive, now and for all eternity. Amen.
The Maker of Heaven and Earth: part 2 in a sermon series on the Creed
preached on 3 Sept 2023 by the Vicar, the Revd Katherine Price
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.
I wanted to share with you today a book I’ve been looking at: God made the dinosaurs! It’s a book aimed at primary aged children, all about the story of how dinosaur fossils were discovered and the role of Christians in that story. And I actually ordered it because there is a little boy being baptised later today who is absolutely fascinated by dinosaurs.
I can just about remember being into stegasaurus and triceratops, but nowadays to keep up with the dinosaur crowd you need to know the difference between an allosaurus and a carnotaurus! When Jesus teaches us that, to enter the kingdom of heaven we should be like little children, I think of children just like that, who are fascinated by the natural world, who are hungry for knowledge, who never stop asking questions.
Far too often we imagine that the dinosaurs are an embarassment to Christians in relation to the doctrine of creation, and in general that curiosity about the natural world – what we now call ‘science’ - is somehow a problem for our faith, and especially for our faith in God as creator. That couldn’t be more wrong. Professor Tom McLeish, who died earlier this year, had the rare distinction of being a professor of Physics, a lay minister in the Church of England, and a medieval historian. He wrote a lot about the history of the relationship between religion and science. It is worth knowing, by the way, that early Christians didn’t interpret the six days of creation literally, and that they never thought the world was flat! Tom McLeish says we’re wrong to think science is all about having the answers. Scientists are people who ask questions, who are fascinated by the wonders of the universe. And very often what has motivated that questioning and that wonder is the faith in a creator God.
To say we believe in God the Creator is not just a statement about God, or about something that happened in the past, but more significantly a statement about the universe and about ourselves: that we are created. It is because we believe that the universe is created by a creator that we believe it is worth studying: it isn’t random or illusory or irrelevant. Rather, it makes some kind of sense and we have some chance of understanding it better through the use of our God-given senses and our reason.
I read once in a book on childrearing that the first thing a child needs to know is that they are loved. And the second is that the world is interesting,
because if they do not take an interest in what is around them, they are not going to learn. The first thing our creed teaches us is that we are loved – God is our Father. And the second is that the world is interesting – the good creation of our good God.
And we can see something of God through his creation. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” – so says our psalm today. If you are a classical music fan you might be familiar with these words, set to memorable music – if rather mangled English! – by the composer Haydn in his oratorio ‘The Creation’. One day pours out its song to another: it’s an amazing image of the world around us joyfully shouting the truth of God, if only we take the time to hear it.
St Paul says something very similar in his sermon in Athens, which is recorded here for us in the book of Acts. Speaking to a Greek audience, people who did not believe in “one God, the Father” and had never heard of Jesus Christ, he tells them that God is nevertheless close to them, that they too have a relationship with him as their creator, and that he is already making himself known in their lives through the beauty of the world around them and in their own human nature.
In Genesis we hear a hint of our world’s extraordinary biodiversity: ‘every kind’ of beast, ‘every kind’ of creeping thing, ‘every kind’ of tree with the seed in its fruit. In the middle ages, the cutting edge textbook on animal biology would be the ‘bestiary’ or book of animals: each animal would be described both according to what was then known or believed about its physical characteristics and behaviour, but also what it might teach us as Christians. Amongst my favourites are the entry for the cat: the enemy of mice, likes to sit in hot places and is often too lazy to move! Or that for ants: they are given both as a good example of co-operation but also – in the way they select and store food – an analogy for the critical and intelligent way we should approach the ‘nourishment’ provided for us by the Bible! Modern biologiests estimate there are 8.7 million distinct species of animals and plants… of which a surprisingly high proportion are beetles. This is a wonderful and often strange universe which speaks of a wonderful and strange God.
To believe in creation is not just to believe that the universe was created, but that it is created: that it is God’s good creation. The Christian and Jewish creation story is not the only creation story which humans have told but many of the older stories involve some kind of conflict: squabbling Gods, sacrifices, murders. The world might even be created out of a dead body! By contrast, the stories that Jews and Christians tell of what it means to be created are of a God who brings order out of chaos, complexity and diversity out of the swirling void. Jesus’ friends know him to be more than mortal not so much by his miracles of healing as by his stilling of the storm. Creation obeys its creator, and peace is brought out of violence.
Paradise, as it is described in our reading from Genesis, is so peaceful that even the animals only eat fruit. This is not nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. Christians can never use ‘nature’ as an excuse for violent or selfish behaviour. Rather, to believe in creation, is to recognise how far we have fallen from all God hoped for his creation, and to long for its fulfilment.
Just as God did not create the universe in some kind of competition, nor did he create it to serve any need of his own. Again, St Paul is absolutely clear about this, “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.” In fact there is no reason for God to create the universe except out of the sheer love of creation. This is a universe created not for violence nor as a means to some other functional end but purely out of love and for love. And it is in this love that we find our meaning and our purpose: that God made us and delights in us.
We said last week that the creed says nothing about our behaviour or morality, about how we should live. That’s true. But the answers to those questions have to start with creation. Because it is only created things that can be said to have a meaning or a purpose, or to be good or bad.
If you pick up a rock, you cannot say whether it is a ‘good’ rock or a ‘bad’ rock or whether it is doing its job as a rock. But you can say whether a kettle or a printer or a car is good. I wanted to buy a new kettle I might look at online reviews, or I might check out Which? Magazine, where I could find kettles scored against all the things a kettle is meant to do, such as heat water quickly and not leak and look cool in my kitchen. And in a different way you can say whether a book or a TV series or a painting is good.
So if I am to ask, am I a good person, I first need to have an idea what is a person, what I was created to be. And fortunately our Creator has given us an example – the prototype, if you like – of exactly what a human being is meant to be. That is what we will be exploring in next week’s sermon
When the creed introduces us to Jesus Christ.
So today let us pray that as we adore God as the creator, we may be filled with wonder and curiosity and delight in our world, and in ourselves as his creation. Amen.
The Parish of Wantage with Holy Trinity, Charlton
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Butler Centre, Church Street Wantage OX12 8BL