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Trinity 10 2020 – 16th August 2020: Romans 11, 1-2, 29-32; Matthew 15, 21-28

Fr Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Athens

 

The same coach that drew into the lay-by to let all of our pilgrim group get a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee had picked us up at Ben Gurian Airport in Tel Aviv. You may recall what I said last week about the Sea of Galilee – if not there are ways you can double check. From the moment we start our visit the official Tourist Ministry guide is offering us much valued information.

We are travelling from Tel Aviv towards Jerusalem. We begin in the flat plains of the Mediterranean coastline and the journey to Jerusalem is all up-hill, because the city is set in the mountains of the Judaean wilderness. Its height is more noticeable on the day we journey to the Dead Sea – such a descent to the lowest point on earth that your ears actually ‘pop’.

Anyway, this first journey has some interesting commentary from our guide. ‘Look to the right’ he says. No much good really because it is night time. ‘You can’t see what you are looking at because it is dark’ stating the obvious! ‘To your right is the ancient land of Canaan.’ He informs us. This land was occupied by many tribes generally referred to in the bible as the Canaanites. This area of land is also called Syro-Phoenicia where there were cities like Tyre and Sidon.

It was this land to which Moses sent two spies to survey the land to bring back a favourable report. One of the two spies was Caleb, the other was Joshua, the only two people of the original group of the 40 year Exodus, to be allowed to enter this ‘promised land’. It was this land of Canaan. Both these characters are shown in the stained glass windows in St. Paul’s Church (Athens).

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Trinity 8 Sermon 2 August 2020: : Romans 9, 1-5; Matthew 14, 13-21

Fr Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Athens

 

Jesus feeds the 5000. All four of the gospels record a feeding miracle on a massive scale, though often with the statistics understood in different ways – well, that is the thing with statistics, isn’t it. Sometimes it is 4,000, sometimes 5,000 – sometimes it is just men, other times it is only men recorded, but with a codicil – and women and children as well.

 

Whatever, it is catering on a massive scale with not much of a food supply – many a Greek Mother or grandmother will know the feeling as she creates a tasty meal from almost no ingredients. But this is undersupply on a serious scale. A few loaves, and maybe a few fish, depending on which version you read.

 

Imagine if Jesus were to try and do this in our own time – I guess a fine of €20,000 would be slapped on him, especially if there were no masks, social distancing, and sanitizer, and how much cling film would be needed to wrap each piece of bread before distribution. I am jesting of course – because what we have recorded here in scripture is truly feeding on a miraculous dimension.

 

On the one hand we have the record of the miracle, and it stands for itself; on the other hand we have the joy of how to interpret this. We don’t have a dilemma, by the way. I will not be trying to explain away this glorious miracle, but it in the preacher’s job to give some interpretation for our own context.

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Sermon Preached at St Paul’s Athens Sunday 19th July 2020

Dr. Julia L. Shear

 

Take my mind and think through it, take my mouth and speak through it, take our hearts and set them on fire.

 

Two weeks ago, we read to a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans in which he talks about the difficulties of following the law.  I have in mind especially his phrase ‘with my mind, I am a slave to the law of God, but, with my flesh, I am a slave to the law of sin’.  The difficulties of following the law, of course, do not excuse us from working on putting it into practice!  Today, I want to think about what it might mean to put the law into practice on a regular basis.  When I say the law here, I have particularly in mind how it is articulated in one version of the order of service for the Eucharist in the Anglican church.  At the beginning of the service, after the prayer of preparation, we have the summary of the law:

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: the first commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.  You shall love the Lord your god with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.  There is no other commandment greater than these.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

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Trinity 5 – 12 July 2020 : Romans 8, 1-11; Matthew 13, 1-9, 18-23

Sermon preached in St. Paul’s Athens and for the congregation at Thessaloniki. Revd Canon. L Doolan.

 

The other day we had some water melon – karpouzi. The word it comes from karpos just means fruit generally, and karpoferos means fruitful.

As always with water melon there is the negotiation of all the juicy fruit with the ubiquitous black seeds. A Water melon is indeed fruitful in every sense. Having made on the side of my plate a little collection of the seeds I casually cast them into an unused but soil filled flower pot near me on the balcony of our apartment. I covered them with a bit of the soil and gave them a bit of water. I have to confess I then rather forgot about them, but I didn’t neglect them. Every 2 or 3 days they got a little watering. I am not green-fingered, so I had little or no expectation from my actions.

To my surprise, about a week later, there was suddenly a clump of new seedlings crowded together, with no social distancing, in the centre of the pot. As the seedlings grew and became a bit willowy looking, I gathered up several other pots, all of which had soil in from previous plants that had long since died off. The soil in each of the pots was of varying quality. Some was so dried out it broke into big clumps when I applied the trowel, but more recently filled pots had better quality of soil.

The time came for me to divide up the seedlings before they competed against each other too much for space. I can report that the progress of the seedlings is very variable. Some just didn’t survive the transplant, others look as if they are struggling, a few appear to be doing quite well.

Of course they were different heights and different levels of strength before I planted them out, but the key thing for the growth of all of them was the quality of the soil. The seedlings had an equal amount of sunshine, water and heat, but across the 4 pots the soil was not of consistent quality.

I will tell you if I ever manage to grow a full size karpouzi plant that fruits successfully. Will the karpouzi  plant become karpofero?

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Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Trinity – 5 July 2020: Romans 7, 15-25; Matthew 11, 16-19, 25-end.

Revd Canon Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Athens

 

Over these last few months and seemingly endless weeks, Deacon Christine and I, between us, have provided worship on Facebook, printed and recorded sermons, a Zoom service on Sunday, followed by a Liturgy at Noon since May 17th, a mid-week Zoom Evening Prayer, a Friday bible study by Zoom,  and phone calls and emails to try and stay connected with our widely spread congregation.

We have done our best! I know that a good number of people have expressed their thanks already. If there have been any failings, we seek your understanding. These have been times that have impacted on everyone, and at all levels, including our emotional and psychological well – being.

There have been surprising successes and achievements during this time, and there have been deep disappointments. The pandemic has brought out the best in some people and the worst in others. It shows the differences in our human characteristics. For some, the strain of the pandemic just reached out to their baser instincts.

We have all tried to negotiate this season to the best of our mixed abilities – and more will be demanded from us, for ‘normal’ is a long way off, and anyway, people speak of a ‘new normal’, realizing that things will not be exactly the same again – indeed some things we must try to ensure are not the same as before., since some human patterns have given the oxygen that this virus needed in order to thrive so dramatically and tragically.

 

We will all want things to be different, yet we will all want things to be the same. It is a dilemma – a human dilemma. St. Paul approaches this dilemma in his letter to the Romans. Paul is surprisingly perceptive, if not shockingly frank, because in addressing his own ethical decision making processes he touches each one of us. What he experiences and describes is what we all experience, and we can each describe it in our own way, with our own narrative.

Paul frames the human dilemma around the law (that is the law that is inherited around the Ten Commandments), the spirit, flesh and the spirit, our human actions and sin.

To try and put it bluntly – no matter how I try to do good, which would always by my first choice, because I am a sinful human being, I will often do something that turns out to be the opposite. I would love always to do good – but there are times when despite my intentions – I will end up doing the opposite.

Can you and I relate to that? I think we probably can, because basically we are good and well intentioned human beings, but it is because we are human beings that we will often fail ourselves. We can hear that phrase that we dread – ‘he meant well’. This usually means that the person has let himself or herself down quite seriously.

 

St. Paul hits it on the head – it is the human condition, capable of aspiring to great and kind things, but capable also of terrible atrocities and cruelty. We can’t always control our own will, so we are dependent on the gracious action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Shortly afterwards Paul extols life in the Holy Spirit of God, and says, ‘When we cry “Abba”, Father! It is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.’ (Rom 8, 16-17).

It would be all too easy for us, who perceive the presence and power of sin with us – and who can identify with that very human dilemma as Paul describes it – to feel that we just can’t win, so why try. You could be lying down in the mud, and you would be facing the wrong way for someone.

Clearly when comparing John the Baptist and Christ we experience this human ambivalence. Jesus tells us that John lived an ascetic life, a life of personal disciplines, and he neither ate nor drank. This evoked the response that he was possessed in some way – so that particular model of life didn’t endear itself to the people. Jesus, on the other hand, referred to in the gospel reading as ‘the Son of Man’ engaged in wedding parties, was invited to dine with people, ate with the ‘low-lifes’, joined in with wealthy pharisees’ supper parties. In some ways he was the life and soul of a party, yet the people wanted to brand him as a glutton and a drunkard.

Neither one model nor the other seemed to satisfy the opinions and prejudices of the people. Neither John nor Jesus could win. So what should we do if we feel the constant inner conflicts that are the natural partners of being human. Easily we could feel crushed and despondent. But no – we cry out ‘Abba, Father’ a cry in the Spirit, for the Spirit.

Words of comfort in this human dilemma ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ We are not alone; we are never alone; we don’t have to face the dilemmas of frail human life alone, for all our life is lived within the life-giving fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We cry out Abba – we invite the Spirit – we turn our burdens in the direction of the Christ who lived and died for us.

So – take heart. Hold fast to what we know is good about our faith. Live as much as you can in the Spirit and the Spirit will give life. But when we want to do what we would wish to do, but don’t do it because of the sin that is in us – to use St. Paul’s language – walk humbly to Christ and he will receive us as we are, and in his love and grace we will be transformed into the people that God wills us to become.

 

 

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Sermon preached for the Third Sunday after Trinity – 28th June 2020: SS Peter & Paul (Anticipated!)

Revd Canon Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Athens

 

June is a month of what we might call ‘big hitters’. St. Barnabas, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter and St. Paul. All of these apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ – sent out to preach, share and live the new life as followers of the risen Jesus Christ – inspiring for their courage, their energy, and their faith despite hardship, persecution, imprisonment, and even death itself.

Our Lord tells us, as we heard in last week’s holy gospel, ‘whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 10, 37-39).

These are deeply challenging words to us, and unless we study them deeply and understand them in our own context in our own generation, we would be tempted to give up and just stick with the comfort of our own family life. But we are called directly to be more than just this – called to be the family that gathers around the cross, the family that is called to be dispersed and to live the gospel life within our families and communities.

 

Among the June ‘big hitters’ of those who took up the challenge of living the life of the cross, we celebrate SS. Peter and Paul. Their feast day in our calendar is tomorrow, 29th June, but we are ‘anticipating’ this by one day, so that we can be infected by their outstanding witness to the Church of Christ. These two martyr saints are truly twin foundations of the Church of Christ.

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