Megan Maciver, St Paul’s Athens
In the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
In today’s gospel, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, speaks of terrifying times. He tells us about world wars, famines, plagues and – maybe worst of all – being betrayed, and handed over to persecution and death, by those closest to you, by those you love.
When we meet Jesus today, Jesus is in Jerusalem and the Passover is near. Every day he is teaching at the temple. Just a few verses before this, he told us a story about the landowner who sent his beloved son to collect the fruit of the vineyard, only to be murdered by the wicked tenants. There are several recent mentions of all “stones being thrown down.” Tones of
destruction and betrayal; now, there are no more stories of wedding feasts or walking on water. And we know that these stories are some of the last he tells his disciples on earth. And to me, the stakes of these parables seem higher.
When I read today’s gospel, at first I kept struggling with how our Prince of Peace could allow these terrible things, these famines and pestilences, and terrors, to happen… Especially to his followers. Indeed many of Jesus’ disciples died horrible deaths: they were crucified, stabbed, and burnt to death; many of them preaching the good news until their last breath. Why, we ask God, do you allow this terrible suffering, especially for those who love you; who you love? Why these times of terror and pain?
Sermon preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan. St. Paul’s Anglican church Athens.
Today’s New Testament reading is part of the correspondence to a city not too far from where we are right now. Corinth had a primitive Christian community, but it also had diaspora Jews. It was a very cosmopolitan trading port.
His letter to the Corinthians contains some of St. Paul’s insights and theology of the resurrection. The words we have heard this morning are part of his extended reflections on this deep mystery of the faith.
As Christians, of course, the resurrection of Christ is central – central to the mystery of the cross and the new life offered in the Risen Christ. However Paul’s message is more subtle than this plain reading. Part of Paul’s hermeneutical style is to interpret the new faith in the light of the background circumstances of his listeners. At this he is a master.
So it is when he preaches at the Areopagus, here in Athens, he refers to the old pantheistic religion of the Greeks, focusing his attention on the tomb to the ‘unknown God’. He then preaches Jesus.
In Corinth there are community members with a Hebrew speaking, Jewish background, just as Paul had been – he is in familiar territory with this group of people.
So it is that he makes an assumption that Christians believe in the resurrection because of the resurrection of Jesus. In engaging the Hebrew speakers he goes a step further. Resurrection is already part of Jewish belief. Only the Sadducee party rejected it. So Paul adds in an interesting phrase at the beginning of his presentation on resurrection. He says this, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.’ (1 Cor 15,13). Paul already believed in resurrection – Judaism already believed in resurrection. It is what we can call ‘a priori’ argument. ‘Taken as read’.
October 6th – Sermon preached to the Swedish Church: Luke Chapter 7, 11-17
Trinity 16 2019, Habakkuk 1, 1-4; 2,1-4; 2Tim 1, 1-14; Luke 17, 5-10
Trinity 18 2019, Genesis 32, 22-31; Luke 18, 1-8
The Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan, St Paul’s Athens
In our Liturgy this morning we are giving thanks to God for the gift of Hercules – not the great mythic character of classical fame – but the Hercules who is the beautiful little son of Evie and Christopher. Known in his Greek form as Herakles, the meaning of the name is ‘gift of Hera’ who was the mythical wife of Zeus. Herakles name is what we call ‘theophoric’ in that it is a reference to divinity.
In our reading this morning from the book of Genesis, we have another example of a ‘theophoric’ name. The setting of the story is a ford by the river Jabbok. This is where Jacob and his rather substantial family plan to cross the river, which is a tributary of the River Jordan.
A bit of a wrestling match takes place in which Jacob, it transpires, fights against God, and oddly enough it is Jacob who wins, though with a lasting injury to his hip. Having become victor in the fight, Jacob asks for a blessing from his opponent. He gets more than he bargained for – he gets a new name, in fact the name Isra-el. Any Hebrew word that includes ‘EL’ in it refers to God. This is why Jacob’s new name is ‘theophoric’. Like many Greek names, especially the Christian ones, Hebrew names have an interpretation and meaning. Jacob, now named Isra-el, carries a name that means ‘one who wrestled with God.’
Preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan for the Swedish congregation
Jesus is in his home territory. He is in the region of Galilee, an area where many signs and wonders occurred in the ministry of Jesus. Largely speaking it is an area of great faith.
St. Luke tells us that Jesus has just been in Capernaum, right on the Sea of Galilee, and there he had healed the slave of a centurion. Capernaum is the home of some of the disciples, not least St. Peter. If you visit Capernaum now there is a very good excavation of this fishing village, showing just how ‘miniature’ life must have been in those far off days. The streets are narrow, the buildings close to each other and the rooms of houses small. In one such room Jesus healed the mother in law of St. Peter. Public spaces are not like the lovely open piazzas and plateias that we might be accustomed to nowadays.
As I say, the excavation work here is excellent, and if any of you are interested in travelling with me to the Holy Land next year, it is one of the places we will visit. Sadly the Catholic Franciscans, who own the site, have built a rather monstrous ‘spider like’ church over the top of the village.
From Capernaum Jesus has travelled, not a long distance away, to another Galilean town, called Nain. Everyday life surrounds the journeys of Jesus, and as he enters Nain a funeral is taking place. A mother had lost her only son. This untimely death of her son, for no mother ever expects to bury one of her children, is a double blow. She is also a widow. This means that she has lost the only two people that ensured her place in society; her ‘man’, that is her husband, and her eldest, in this case only, son. These 2 males in her life were her guarantee of stability, social status, and her future livelihood. Such is this culture, and in some cultures today this procedure will still persist. It seems archaic to us, but still a reality for millions of women world- wide.
Inevitably a crowd is following the funeral bier. A funeral, like a wedding, was not a family matter, but a community event. We could assume that the whole village had stopped its normal activity and were on their way to the cemetery, which for public health reasons would have been set apart from where people lived and worked. Besides we are not told the illness for which the man had died.
Not far from Nain was another town. It was called Shunem. This had some historic and religious significance – and maybe this is why St. Luke is relating to us this story set in Nain. Hundreds of years before the time of Our Lord, there had lived the prophet Elisha, a highly significant character in the history of the Hebrew speaking people, and in 2 Kings 4, 8-37, we are told of the death of the son of a Shunemmite woman. The prophet Elisha raises the boy from the dead.
This region, therefore is no stranger to the phenomenon of resurrection from the dead, and St. Luke is no stranger as a gospel writer to what we call parallelism – namely taking events from the the past history of the Jewish people and representing them in the life and ministry of Our Lord. It is part of the authentification process, that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfils all the historic law and the prophets.
So Jesus performs a miracle – of the sort that few, if any of us will ever witness. Someone who is dead rises again at the command of Jesus. Perhaps the best known example of this in the miraculous ministry of Jesus is the raising of Lazarus.
There is nothing rational about the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. To some extent there is no point in trying to rationalize it. It is part of the account of the life of Jesus, told in 4 gospels, including St. Luke’s, that such phenomena happened. We are told in the 2nd book that St. Luke wrote, namely the Acts of the Apostles, that both St. Peter and St. Paul raised dead people back to life. One example from the life of St. Paul is worth mentioning. (Acts 20, 7ff) Paul is preaching in Troas in an upstairs room and a young man called Tychicus is listening while he sits perched on a window ledge.
We are told that Paul preaches until gone midnight, and the young man falls asleep, falls from the window ledge to the ground below and dies. St. Paul brings him back to life again, thanks be to God, but it is a good warning to all preachers not to go on for too long!
Returning to life from death is an experience that can be described by a number of people who have what is referred to as ‘near death experiences’. Pathologically such people have indeed died, in that all organs have completely ceased. It is their experience then of some divine encounter – often described in the language of peace or light, welcome or reassurance. For no known reason they return to life. I suppose it is for the reasons of rationality that this is called ‘near death’ experience, rather than being described as a dead person coming back to life with no explanation for how that works! Science does not like to talk so easily about mystery, or any spiritual phenomena. I was speaking to a Greek chap just the other week for whom this experience was as real as him sitting there telling me about it.
This, however, by no means explains the miracles of Jesus, or for that matter Peter or Paul raising dead people to life ‘at their command’. I have no explanation either, nor do I wish as a man of faith and as a priest, to try and explain it way. It is a challenge of faith.
These stories of resurrection from the dead must not be confused with the only resurrection that truly matters to all of us. Those other resurrection stories may be important to varying degrees as a witness, as evidence, of the power of Jesus, but they are not of the same’ type’ as the resurrection that God brought about in his crucified Messiah. It is faith in this resurrection that is the touchstone of our faith, and the foundation for our hope. It is through cross and empty tomb that we find redemption, meaning and purpose, and which forms our view of life together with the saints this side and the other side of the grave. It is into this living and endless mystery that we are baptised. It is in the sharing of the death and resurrection meal that we can proclaim, ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’
This mystery is not a miracle in the sense of the specific raising of the son of the widow of Nain, for he would have had a natural death again in his later life. The mystery of our resurrection to new life is firmly to be found in the authentic experience of entering into the way of the cross.
One thing we can share with that crowd in Nain, which St. Luke tells us, “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God…”
Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan – St Paul’s Athens
Communication has never been easier than it is now, yet we live in a world of frustration about the lack of communication. We can send information about events and people within seconds of something being said, or an event happening, yet we have so much mis-information, or as one rather significant person has called it ‘fake news’.
Back in July we had an earthquake in Athens, registering 5.1 on the Richter scale – it was my first experience of an earthquake. At the time it happened I was sitting with a young couple discussing their wedding blessing ceremony. The woman is a journalist. The second we realized that an earthquake was happening she jumped up out of her chair and her mobile phone was recording the earthquake as it was happening, along with local people’s reaction. The quake lasted roughly 12 seconds, but her recording was sent to the news agency she works for in less time than that.
This is the world we live in. Photographs and quick messages that make no grammatical sense are send instantly – our experience of communication is by messages rather than letters.
This option was not available to those who lived in the time of St. Paul and the Apostles as they shared the good news of Jesus Christ among the small and fragile Christian communities of the Mediterranean.
Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan
Today the church in the West, Anglican and Catholic, celebrates the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The book of Revelation narrates the action of Michael in Heaven, as he slays the demon dragon. From this story the hagiography of St. Michael emerges, though we must always give to Christ the priority of the overthrow of evil and death.
The depiction of holy men and women slaying the dragon is commonplace in Christian story telling and iconography. Mediaeval cartographers were willing to conceal their ignorance of some areas of local geography, not by saying beyond this point we don’t know, but rather, beyond this point ‘here be dragons’.
Michael is the biblical warrior saint that we celebrate today, but our tradition records many. There is a rich tradition of saints on horseback slaying the evil dragon, illustrating the subjugation of the embodiment of evil, or the devil, to the power and victory of the Christian victor. There is St. George; and of course, here in Thessaloniki, St. Demetrios. I said earlier there were Christian holy men and women depicted in this way. When the English Crusaders returned from the Holy Land, they took with them the cult of St. Margaret of Antioch, after whom a goodly number of English churches are named. My own church when I was a priest in Crawley was St. Margaret of Antioch.