Sermon this week

Pentecost Eucharist

 "As the cut ribbon and the silken ends fluttered, the eye of the trout that had lived as quick and light as water itself, stared sightlessly as though at something finally arrived, then rolled loosely back. The dome of the sky looked down at it. And the applause rang out."

 So end’s Brian Clark’s deeply moving book The Stream, an account of the destruction of a river  by the forces of apathy and materialism. There are no villains in the book - only ordinary people seeking to live comfortable lives -and in consequence not noticing life and love and God. The waters of life are destroyed because the stream is neglected, drained, poisoned.

 Jesus cries out urgently: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Out of your hearts will flow rivers of living water: he said this about the Holy Spirit.

 The great Feast of Pentecost is a celebration of what God is about: God seeks through creation and history to restore us and our world to be whole and new once again in God’s love. The goodness of God’s creation has been marred and muddied by greed, apathy, sloth, lust - and , like the trout in Brian Clark’s book, we ourselves, we humans, are in danger of being smothered  in a miasmal mist of  evil. - except, unlike the trout , much destruction is of our own making. The feast of Pentecost celebrates that God  the Holy Spirit is  breaking down the barriers that divide us - barriers of gender, sexuality, class, race, belief, fear, greed and  custom. God longs to set us free to be fully human in God. The feast of Pentecost celebrates that God is acting to unblock the ancient springs of living water and to refresh us again.

 Jesus cries out urgently: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Out of your hearts will flow rivers of living water: he said this about the Holy Spirit.

 There is a story of a little French village high in the mountains. Up on the top of the mountain lived an old man who was employed to keep all the little streams free and fast flowing. As he did his work year by year so the river that ran through the village sparkled clear and supported  fish and birds, trees and flowers - and a substantial tourist trade and so the life of the village. One day a  town councillor noticed that the old man had been paid a paltry sum for his work of keeping the streams flowing and clear. Why this waste? , cried the councillor . we cannot need to pay an old man for this. And so the old man was retired - and the streams clogged up and the river became foul and death-dealing and the village began to die.

 Our vocation as the people of God is to keep open the fresh streams of the living water of the Holy Spirit. What are those springs? how have we been watered by the Holy Spirit for the good of our society, for the good of the whole of creation?  The springs are many and numerous - here are a few; our worship together Sunday by Sunday, day by day , especially the holy Eucharist. Our daily prayer, our shared and deep study of Holy scripture, music in all its rich variety, the performing and visual arts, gardening, cookery, story-telling, walking, our friendships -  through all of these the Holy Spirit summons us to new life, to joy, to creativity, to healing and wholeness.

And we need  to ask the Holy Spirit to open the springs of our hearts and minds and souls so that we can discern God in our world and gently help others to discover God.

 Jesus cries out urgently: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Out of your hearts will flow rivers of living water: he said this about the Holy Spirit.

 Back in the C12th and C13th the Spiritual life of the north of England was at a low ebb. Churches were falling into disuse and disrepair. Many people were almost entirely ignorant of the gospel. A new St. Aidan was needed to unblock the springs and open up the free flow of God’s healing. A movement arose which looked back to the earliest life of the Church, back to Scripture, back to a life of simple prayer and service. This movement was focused on the Augustinian canons. Augustinian houses were founded at Carlisle, at Hexham at Ovingham, at Brinkburn and elsewhere. Little , simple groups of men committed to a life of disciplined prayer and worship and evangelism. They lived a simple common life open to the world , reaching out to the broken and tired world around them. The Augustinian canons lived a life that was neither cut off from the daily life of those around them nor indistinguishable from it.  The Canons took earthly things and redeemed them, their practical service of the sick, the old and the poor, their preaching of the gospel, their lives lived simply and generously for Jesus, their care for prayer and Spiritual growth and formation all these things led to  renewal of the Spiritual life of the North of England. The streams were unblocked and the new life-giving water of the Holy Spirit poured through. What was done then God is doing again now, here in our parish and throughout our country. Pray that you are open and that you can be used by God to unblock the streams and allow the Holy Spirit to flood through us once again.





Lent 2 Evensong

 "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple"

I’ve suggested in the Evensong notes for thsi evening that Jesus would have been all too aware of the utter horror that is the Cross. As a small boy he would have seen hundreds of crosses along the lanes of Galilee as the Roman Empire made certain that there would not be another Galilean rebellion. Death on the Cross was beyond imagining : the victim  could take several days to die of thirst, of pain, of blood loss, of asphyxiation, all the while suffering the most terrible cramps, losing control of natural functions, stripped naked and the flies buzzing.

 So far as I know there is almost no depiction in Christian art or iconography during the first couple of hundred years of the Church’s life of a  cross. It was too horrendous. The only depiction I know of is an insulting graffito drawn most probably by a Roman slave making terrible mock of a fellow slave Anexamenos. The graffito depicts a  crudely drawn cross with a man nailed to it - but the man’s head is that of a donkey. Another man stands, head bowed before the crucified figure. Underneath is scrawled “Anexamenos worships his god”. That’s’ what the early world was bound to make of the cross, of Jesus crucified. All of which suggests to me that the Gospel stories simply must be true - or otherwise they could never have been invented.

 Through Lent we follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross. To follow Jesus is  to take part in a love story, an eternal, infinite apparently impossible love story. God so loved the world says St. John and at the very start of his Gospel  he takes us deep into the Mystery of Love which we shorthand as God: in the beginning was the Word … the world was made though him … he came to his own .. the Word, the Love of God,  was made flesh and dwelt among us. Our calling as disciples of Christ, says St. John is to grow steadily more aware of the Love of God, to see through the signs of God to the Mystery of love beneath. As disciples of Christ we are to look beneath creation to see the Love of the Creator. As disciples of Christ we are to look beneath water and wine at Cana to see the Mystery of Love that brings about new creation. As disciples of Christ we are to look beneath the mystery of Christ healing the blind, the deaf to see the eternal Love of God which longs for us all to see and hear and know. As disciples of Christ we are to look beneath the sign of Christ’s sufferings, the thorns, the nails, the spear, the burial and to see the breaking heart of God. God so loves that he gives his Son – we are to see beneath the mystery of the Word made flesh the eternal Mystery of the living truth of God. That is why we follow Jesus through Lent – to see, to hear, to learn, to grow, to be formed into Christ whose Body we are, to see beneath the mystery of the Church the companions of Christ and to perceive the glory of the Holy Spirit at work within the life of prayer, worship, service and faith. 

 Many years ago I happened to say to a wise priest that I did not always feel like going to Church: “But my dear boy” came the reply, “do you think our Lord felt like going to the Cross? Imagine if he’d woken up on the first Good Friday and said, oh, I don’t feel like dying for humanity today, we’ll give it a miss and let someone else do the job. You see, dear boy, there was no none else - only Christ was Christ to give God praise in His way  –and there is only you who is you to give God praise in your way.”

 Our lives, our relationships, our fears, our sufferings – all are part of our companionship with Christ in the community of  the way of the Cross. Our Lent journey is a gift to help us be more acutely alert to Jesus  in the day to day round, daily to perceive the deeper reality of God who is hidden, who is revealed, who is Love. In the end for us all comes the tomb   – and then,  only then, comes Easter but always there is the love of our Lord supporting you , suffering with you , dying for you, holding wide his arms in the Mystery of eternal Love.