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Sermon preached for the Second Sunday after Trinity, 21st June 2020: Jeremiah 20, 7-13; Matthew 10, 24-39

Revd Canon Leonard Doolan

‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song: in a strange land?’

Across the world the year 2020 will be remembered for the devastating effect of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, over a million people affected. Those near to death have had to pass from this life without the nearby comfort of family and loved ones; health services have had to deal with unimaginable numbers of sick people. From global companies to small corner shops businesses have been brought to the very brink of financial viability. For some countries, such as Greece, the reliance on tourism has been shown to be too fragile a dependency for a national economy. Let’s pray that the need to kick start tourism is not done at the expense of human health.

As the pandemic is global, so are its consequences in every aspect of life. St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Athens has not escaped the devastating consequences of the virus.

The income from our core congregation alone is nowhere near enough to maintain our church and ministry year by year, though we are grateful for continued generosity from our membership.

We have a dependency on income from hiring out the church for concerts and cultural events. Our monthly patterns of Coffee Mornings and Quiz Nights provide lovely opportunities for social gathering for church members and friends but are also essential sources of income. Our Spring and Christmas Bazaars are fundamental to our financial health every year. Our dependency on income from all of these has proved to be our highest risk, our greatest liability. Longer term, radical changes will be needed to ensure we survive and thrive.

2020 will be a financial catastrophe for us. 2020 will be a catastrophe for so many millions of people – but also for us. We will remember 2020 as a disaster at so many levels.

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Sermon preached at the Zoom Service for the First Sunday after Trinity – 14th June 2020: Exodus 19, 2-8; Matthew 9, 35-10, 8

Revd Canon Leonard Doolan

 

Who would have thought we would be making a link between the death of a black African American and the statue of Winston Churchill being clad in protective boarding. Who would have thought we would be making a link between the death of a black African American and the dumping of a statue of an 18th century slave trader into a Bristol river, Edward Colston.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of an America policeman is sickening. ‘I can’t breathe, officer’. How many tens of thousands of times will such a death have happened down through history. How many more? As we look on shocked at this ugly scene, it did not take long for the recorded action of some rogue policemen to ripple into a torrent of consequences.

His death touches on a sense of guilt that we harbour for things that have happened in history; things, events, people that are now being remembered in public art, but for whose actions in life we have formed a convenient forgetfulness. We are making all sorts of connections with the uncomfortable side of our national histories. We can now live in comparative comfort on the prosperity that some of these people created in time past.

George Floyd’s life matters. Black lives matter. All lives matter. Certainly no one formed in the Christian tradition can take any other view than this, because human life is a sacred creation of God, and each life is created to reflect the light and truth of God – no matter whether we each make a good or a bad job of it.

 

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Sermon preached for the Trinity Sunday Zoom Service: Matthew 28, 16-20

Revd Canon Leonard Doolan

‘Today week you will have to repeat what you have learnt today. Your godparents are responsible for teaching you…No one need be nervous and so fail to repeat the words. Do not worry, I am your father. I do not carry a strap or a cane like a schoolmaster’.  (St. Augustine, De Symbolo, see Awe Inspiring Rites of Initiation, Yarnold, p13).

Well, that’s a relief to all of us. These are the words of the 5th century St. Augustine of Hippo regarding baptism candidates learning the words of the Creed. No caning if we can’t recite it from memory – but I hope most of us can, and if not it is not such a bad exercise to attend to if you don’t know the Creed. The Credo (Latin) or πιστέυω (Greek) lies at the centre of the delivery and transmission of Christianity. However, it has to be more than that, and it is. It is the core summary of our faith, and it is what holds together the life of baptism, the life of faith, life itself.

We will all be aware that when a candidate for baptism reaches the very high point of baptism in the water of the font, that the words to accompany this deep action are: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Creed that we are meant to learn without getting a beating, according to St. Augustine, is but the statement of the church, a sacred statement, as to how we understand these words at the administration of baptism.

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Sermon preached at the Zoom Worship for Pentecost Sunday 31st May 2020

Deacon Christine Saccali

 

May I speak in the name of the living God Father Son and Holy Spirit Amen

I have not preached on zoom before so here goes. So many things are different from usual at the moment, aren’t they? And we don’t know if or when the world will return to how it was before this COVID pandemic. I don’t want to use the word normal as what is normal anyway and who is normal?

Interestingly enough, one of the novels I have caught up on during lockdown is Normal People by Sally Rooney which was made into a very popular BBC TV series shown recently. It is an extraordinary book for its ordinariness- nothing really happens but it is relational describing the ongoing relationship between Marianne and Connor against the background of their young lives. Now I am just reading the young author’s first book Conversations with Friends. On the fly leaf there is the quote,’ In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again who we love.’ Again there are many references to normal in the dialogue.

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Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 31st May 2020: Acts 2, 1-21; John 7, 37-39.

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Church Athens

 

‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horse and all the king’s men, couldn’t put humpty together again.’

Today is the crowning moment of the Easter season – Pentecost. In St. John’s gospel we are told nothing of the 50 days between the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. We depend on St. Luke for that in the Acts of the Apostles. We’ll return to that event described by St. Luke in a moment.

If we were to sum up the 4th gospel, St. John’s gospel, it would be the word, ‘glory’. This is the sentiment of great priest theologians like Michael Ramsey, an illustrious Archbishop of Canterbury last century.

‘Out of a believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. Now Jesus said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. ‘ John 7 39 (today’s gospel).

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

There may be many times in our lives when we might feel that we may as well be speaking to Humpty Dumpty than to the person we are actually speaking with. Few of us have the rare privilege of speaking to the original Humpty Dumpty, as Alice did, in Lewis Carroll’s  Alice through the Looking Glass.

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Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter – 24th May 2020: Acts 1, 6-14; John 17, 1-11

Revd Canon Leonard Doolan, St Paul’s Athens

 

There is a chunk of chapters in St. John’s gospel referred to as the ‘Final Discourses’.  In St. John’s ‘real time events’ these occur between the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, and the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.

This material is unique to St. John. You won’t find it anywhere in the other three gospels. Who heard all this unique material and how was it recorded? The transmission of this material is as much a mystery as the cross itself! It is a rich resource of sayings, and it reflects the author’s absolute conviction that Jesus is not just a carpenter’s son from Nazareth who could tell a good rabbinical story, or achieve a miracle like so many other miracle workers, or thaumaturges that abounded in this culture.

These discourses of St. John are the words of the Christ who inhabits the kosmos and is Pantocrator. We might say that it is all the difference between the Jesus of history (however well we can redact and recreate this person), and the Christ of the Church who is Logos (the Word) and Second Person of the Trinity. Either there is a huge gulf between these two realities, or one is so integral to the other that it is not possible to find anything in the hinterland. This is the final conclusion that the early church concluded, and is now formulated in our Creeds. Faith alone can interpret, calibrate and reconcile these two poles, the human and the divine. To accept, or even at a push to understand the Christ mystery, nothing is gained by making a choice between one pole and another; but everything is to be gained for the human individual and society by simply living with the paradox of both. A rich, fertile, imaginative, and well-formed mind, or even a humble mind, can comfortably achieve this. We don’t have to be ‘psychotic’ to live creatively with Jesus, and the Logos of God made flesh.

Within these Final Discourses, Jesus speaks to his disciples. It is all during that final meal. He tells them about love and service, and washes their feet; there is a new commandment that shifts faith in God away from ‘doing religious rituals’ to love of God and neighbour; he is the Way, the Truth and Life; and he is the True Vine. No mention of any flask of wine or a cup, but rather the vine from which the wine comes – it is he, and he alone. He tells them of the forthcoming ‘Pentecost experience’ but this is a churchy shorthand, because for St. John there is no waiting period of 50 days.

After vouchsafing this material to his disciples, Jesus then addresses God, his Father. This is the chapter set for our gospel reading today. We often refer to this as the ‘high priestly prayer of Jesus’. The words are an anointing in their own right. They crown humanity in their priestly vocation. You, me, each of us, through baptism and in the faith of this Christ who would be crucified and raised, become ennobled, dignified, anointed, ‘coronated’. In short we become what God intends us to be. We are called to live in the world, rooted and grounded in creation, yet we are all called to share a priestly life, a life of sacrifice and offering.

I repeat what I said in last week’s sermon, because it is so good, so right, so meet. In a little monograph Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says this, ‘We may regard man as an animal that weeps and laughs; or with the Stoics, as a logical or rational animal (λογικόν ζώον); or with Aristotle as a political animal (πολιτκόν ζώον). But we come closer to the heart of the matter if we think of man as a Eucharistic or priestly animal…endowed with the vocation of offering the world back to God… in a continuing act of joyful doxology.’ (The Beginning of the Day, Kallistos Ware, Akritas, 2007 p45)

It is this humanity that Christ offers in prayer to God our Father and his supreme intercession is that we should be united with God our Father as he and the Father are united. His prayer is that we should be fully reconciled with our Creator, the one in whose image of glory and love we are created; fully reconciled to the one who has given us ‘dominion’, a special vocation to care for the earth and all that has been given to us in the continuing creational love of the Father.

 

It is not only that he lives and prays for this unity with God, but he also dies on the cross for this unity with God, so that we may also die to ourselves and be ‘reborn’ as participators in the new creation and with the first-born of this new Creation, Jesus the Christ. Our unity with God the Father is our returning home to the household from which we have estranged. It is to this home that Christ representationally returns when he is said to ‘ascend into heaven’ – he is in effect entering home again.

This COVID-19 period in our lives has brought much heartache, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, mental stress, sickness, loss of loved ones and death on a global scale. It has also created some space, ironically, for humour – thanks be to God! To the question, ‘What is the Ascension of Jesus all about?’ this COVID-19 period answer is, ‘that’s when Jesus started to work from home’.

The high priestly prayer of Jesus, John 17, is worth reading and reading again. It conveys to us the very core of humanity’s calling and purpose.

We are always told that a good sermon takes a text of scripture and shows its contemporary application – otherwise the sermon may fall into the danger of being arcane and irrelevant. To borrow a phrase from the world of German biblical criticism, we should give a text a contemporary sitz im lebena real setting.

Today, it might seem, we have dipped a toe into the pool of the theology of the ‘high priestly prayer’, and so far there has been no practical application, no sitz im leben but I would beg to differ.

This prayer of Christ takes us to the very heart of who we are in relation to the one who creates us. It takes us to the deepest meaning of who we are in relation to the creation of which we are such a crowning glory. It takes us to a deep understanding of who we are in relation to the ‘other’. To quote the great phrase of St. Ireneus, (Bishop of Lugdunum [Lyon]) in the 2nd century, ‘The glory of God is man, fully alive.’

How else can we apply ourselves with full passion to the environmental issues facing us in this generation; how else can we form a truly noble self -image in a world whose advertising and obsession with celebrity and wealth contributes disproportionately  to the perception of who we are and what we should have; in a world where the ‘selfie’ has a higher profile than the self,  how else can we hope to have  any coherent sense of healed community and whole relationships founded on the most profound understanding of the very identity of humanity.

Surely a study of John 17, Christ’s prayer for us, can only be the most relevant of exercises for us; and with these sacred insights surely there can only be a more informed and more impassioned relationship with God, the creation, with ourselves and one another. How can we begin to respond to the major global challenges if we don’t start from where Christ is. ‘Father, may they be one, as we are one’. (John 17, 11).