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Trinity Sunday (June 16th) 2019

Fr James Harris

 

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’

 

Would that more preachers would heed these words, especially on a day like this – this Trinity Sunday on which we celebrate and explore the mystery that is God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

 Trinity Sunday – the culmination of a story that began last Advent and which will lead us back there again in due course. The Christ we anticipated then is now returned, risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, where he ever intercedes for us, and from where the Spirit overflows into a thirsty and broken world.

 This is the essence of the life of the God we worship: life-giving, mutually interdependent, engaged with his creation, listening, responding, loving.

I had a friend at theological college, called William, who lived for this season of the Church’s year, which we call Ordinary Time. The green season. It’s been a while since we last saw green. Before Lent, in fact and then, because of the vagaries of the calendar, only for a few short weeks after Epiphany.

We used to tease him but William was unmoved: he loved the sea of green which stretched almost unbroken through the Sundays after Trinity, all the way through to All Saints All Souls, Advent again.

 He used to explain how he loved the ordinariness of life lived without big festivals and dramatic events, life lived in the daily overflow of the divine energy into the world. An extraordinary ordinariness. Divine wisdom and spirit engaging with the world by the wayside, at the crossroads, at the town gate – as our OT reading reminds us.

 Humble, earthly, mortal life grounded in the soil of this bit of rock we call home, and yet life charged with the presence of God, hallowed by his footsteps, the promise of restoration hanging in the air, the soundtrack of Heaven playing on repeat in the background: holy, holy, holy.

 Timeless ordinariness, which was and is and is to come.

 Timeless extraordinary ordinariness.

You need a particular perspective, you need to be particularly observant, to notice that sort of simple ordinariness, because it’s so unexpected, so counter intuitive and altogether different from the extraordinary, complex tangle we’ve made of the world; the things we have decided are life-giving, or exciting, or divine.

 

One poet, Wallace Stevens, puts it this way.

 

Rationalists, wearing square hats,

Think, in square rooms,

Looking at the door,

Looking at the ceiling.

They confine themselves

To right-angled triangles.

If they tried rhomboids,

Cones, waving lines, ellipses –

As, for example, the ellipse of the half moon –

Rationalists would wear sombreros.

 

As humans we’re constantly trying to draw in rational, manageable squares when God creates in circles, or ellipses, or waving lines – shapes which are perfectly recognisable and intelligible, yes, but which stubbornly refuse to accommodate themselves into the square holes we would like to engineer.

The misterion – the icon – of the Trinity is just such an unsquareable circle. It is real, don’t get me wrong. I have no truck with those who suggest it’s just a metaphorical device, or that the depths of its mystery cannot be plumbed or explored.

Rather, in its reality, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is truly sacramental; in other words, it contains in recognisable, visible forms (parental and filial relationships, loving embraces, circular dances, waves of energy) an invisible, intangible, spiritual truth – and that truth is that God, even God, is intimately connected with the creation he has made in his image, through his Son who came and went about among us, through their Spirit who joins with them in the life-giving work of re-creation, restoration, redemption.

Dante, in Paradiso, the final part of his epic trilogy, describes a heavenly vision thus (in a translation by Alison Morgan):

In those depths I saw,

Bound with threads of love into a single volume,

Everything that is scattered through the universe;

Substances, accidents, flowing together

Into something like a simple light.

 

In the deep, clear substance of this light

I saw three arches, each of three colours,

One reflected from another like rainbow from rainbow

And the third seemed like fire, breathed from the other two.

 

And in the centre of this light, painted in its colours

I saw the image of our own human form.

I saw the mathematician struggling to reconcile

Square and circle, and failing to find the formula;

I wanted to define the image within the circle

Yet finding my mind, flightless, struck suddenly

By a flash of light and grace.

 

I fainted, overcome

But my mind and my heart were left turning

Like wheels in constant, even motion,

Powered by the love which moves the sun and other stars.

Circles, not squares. Rainbows in darkness. Humanity reflected in God. Trying and failing. Overcome but inspired by light and grace.

 Ultimately, the truth of God the Holy Trinity is not a mystery to be explained but a reality to be lived. Every day in every circumstance, however ordinary.

 Because God’s life is ordinary for us his children: the normative, ordered, sustainable way in which humanity will flourish and find its true self.

 Ordinary life has been lived out in this place for close to 200 years now, as people have celebrated birth, fused families, committed souls to rest, joined in the worship of Heaven. Acknowledged the extraordinary ordinariness of God in the fruitfulness of the land and the changing of the seasons, the very passage of life.

 

Today, let us don a sombrero and rejoice in the privilege and the richness of a life lived in the extraordinary reality of God.

 

 

 

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Ascension Sunday and visit of Rowan Williams to St Paul’s Anglican Church Athens

Fr L W Doolan

 

They say ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’. Open for debate, I think.  A few years ago I had the privilege of preaching at St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral in the centre of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.  The preacher the Sunday before my preaching engagement was none other than one Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Follow that.

Well I find that I am in the same situation again. Bishop Rowan Williams preached here last Sunday, so I find myself in a somewhat unenviable situation again. ‘Lightning doesn’t strike twice’.  If I put a positive spin on this, I could be grateful to Rowan Williams as my ‘warm up’ guy.

Bishop Rowan was with us in Athens for 5 days, and we had a varied programme, a programme devised by me to exploit the world-wide prestige of this man, and the esteem with which he is held by the Orthodox Church here in Greece.

 

The consequences of this highly significant visit will emerge over the months and even years ahead, and I believe some excellent seeds were sown that will mature into good fruits.

 

It was my privilege to be in attendance throughout, and I wanted to take some time to share with you all the ingredients of the visit. There will be sequels to this historic encounter. Throughout it was the crucified, risen ascended and glorified Christ who was at the centre of the visit.

 

So we turn our attention now to today’s celebration of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven.

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Easter 2 2019

Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan in St Paul’s Athens

 

Being Easter Christians means not standing still. Any serious reading of the resurrection narratives in the gospels shows that we are to be people on the move – on the move for our risen Lord.

The last few chapters of each gospel are full of movement, of journeys, of personal change and development. ‘Go into Galilee’, ‘Go into all the nations and baptize’, ‘While they were walking to a place called Emmaus’, ‘Peace be with you, as the Father sent me, so I am sending you’, all of these imply a physical movement, travelling with the risen Christ and in the power of the risen Christ.

The journey can also be a journey in and of faith – an interior journey. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’.  Jesus said to Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands’. ‘Thomas answered him “My Lord and my God’.

Thomas makes a personal journey of faith a journey of doubt to belief.

 

St. John’s gospel begins with the Word of God being en-fleshed, of being incarnate, and the association is immediately that this Word made flesh is Jesus of Nazareth. St. John, through his gospel account, presents Jesus as the one who is sent by God, who performs signs and wonders, who says, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life’, ‘I am the bread of life’, ‘I am the vine’, I am the Good Shepherd’ and so on. In his final chapters St. John’s intentions are crystallized in the words of St. Thomas.

This is the highest point of St. John’s gospel. Not only is Jesus Lord – he is God!

 

There is a strong tendency towards Thomas’s doubt in all of us. The slightest small incident, or even a great tragedy can throw us off course. It might be as simple as a word mis-placed by someone else in the Christian household, or it might be a catastrophic tragedy like the pointless innocent deaths in Sri Lanka.

If I am to be certain about my belief in God how can I find my way through these terrible things, performed by twisted and distorted humans  in God’s name.

St. Thomas’s journey is not always an easy journey, it is not always a straight road into deeper faith. Without the evidence that was shown to Thomas we have to take a step of faith. The risen Lord prepares us for this. ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’.

We believe without the certainty presented to Thomas and the first disciples. Yet we will do well to reflect on the words of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who said this: the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.

 

So we journey on in faithful hope and hopeful faith in the life of the resurrection. It will always be challenging. ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side’. The risen Lord brought his wounds of crucifixion with him when walked from the tomb. He did not leave the marks of cruelty and injustice, pain and heartache behind him. Easter Christians don’t believe in a Lord who was never crucified. The Easter faith is about the mystery of the cross.

We may not be able to put our finger into the wounds, or see his hands ripped apart by nails, but when we put our hands forward to receive our Holy Communion, we are receiving the bread of the wounded Christ, and the cup of the wounded Christ, and as we receive with outstretched hands the sacraments of our Lord we receive in communion with our sisters and brothers, wounded and dead in Sri Lanka, and with all the martyrs and faithful down through the Christian epochs.

 

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Easter Sunday 2019 – Third of THREE SERMONS PREACHED BY THE REVD. CANON COLIN WILLIAMS – EX ARCHDEACON OF THE DIOCESE IN EUROPE

These last weeks have been a bit nostalgic for me.  I have stepped down from my role as Archdeacon within the Diocese in Europe.  At various points I’ve been asked what are the things I most remember about my time as Archdeacon here.  And each time I’ve been asked that I’ve looked back to a March Tuesday in 2016 when I headed from Frankfurt where I live to Brussels for the day.

 

I set out on the train from Frankfurt at around 6.30.  It was 9.40 on Tuesday morning when I first realised something was wrong.  I had got up early that morning to catch the 6.30 train from Frankfurt to Brussels.  I had been invited  to preach at the service which was takes place during Holy Week every year  at the Church of England’s cathedral in Brussels .  It’s a service  at which clergy renew their ordination promises and Holy Oils are blessed. Clergy and laity were coming from all over Northern Europe to be part of the service.

Before I set out , I had updated the status on my FB page to say that I was on my way to Brussels to preach the sermon at this service.  At 9.40 I checked FB on my Smartphone to see if there were any updates.  Someone had commented on my status that I was going to preach in Brussels to say that he was praying for the people of Brussels. Cheeky so and so I thought – praying for the people on whom I was going to inflict my sermon. But then I realised that there might be more to this than met the eye.  So I logged on to the BBC news site.  – where news was emerging of explosions at Brussels Airport – and it was already clear that my day in Brussels was going to look rather different than I had imagined.

 

I arrived at Brussels Midi station and took the decision that I would be best setting out on foot rather than getting on to the Metro as I normally did.  As well I did.   Because in fact, unknown to me, just as I was making that decision a bomb went off further along the Metro.  And so as I walked from the station to the Cathedral, the city began to close around me.  Entrances to the Metro were taped off.  The streets became increasingly empty of traffic.  Shops closed down.

As I arrived at the Cathedral messages were coming through to say that those coming from Helsinki, Copenhagen, London were being turned back. And the thought did go through our mind too that on a day of terrorist action it wasn’t inconceivable that the terrorist might have their eyes too on an English pro-Cathedral.

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Good Friday 2019 – Second of three Sermons preached by the Revd. Canon Colin Williams – ex Archdeacon of the Diocese in Europe

Jack was aged about seven years old.  He loved going to school.  He had lots of friends there.  If you went past the school you could see him playing together with his friends in the school yard at playtime.

But his parents were worried,  Because he had so many friends, most weeks once or twice he was invited round to  one of his friends’ house to play and to have a meal with them and their family.  But he never invited any of his friends back to his house to come and play and eat. His parents noticed that.  And they got more and more worried.

Finally one day Jack’s dad took him to one side. ‘Son me and your mum have noticed that you never ask any of your friends back to come and visit you here and to have their tea. Is it because of your mum’s hands?  Jack looked a bit sheepish and just nodded.

You see Jack’s mum’s hands looked horrible.  They were black and scarred and misshapen.  And Jack had obviously worked out in his mind that if his friends came and ate with him and his mum and dad, then they were bound to see his mum’s hands. It couldn’t be avoided.  And so he never asked anyone to come.

 

It all went quiet for a few seconds.  And then Jack’s dad said well son I need to tell you how your mum’s hands got to be like that.  You see when you were a baby in the house we were living in we used to have a log fire.  And one day when your mum was busy she put you down in front of the fire whilst she was doing the ironing.  But she put you too close.  And a spark came out of the fire and it reached you and your clothes started burning.  And your mum didn’t think twice.  She ran up to you and put the fire out with her hands. And that’s how your mum’s hands got to be like that.

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Maundy Thursday Sermon 2019 – First of Three sermons preached by Revd. Canon Colin Williams – ex Archdeacon of the Diocese in Europe

It happened on a winter’s Sunday afternoon about fifteen years ago.  Quite a long time ago.  But still an occasion which I recall with relish.  At the time I was living and working in the NW of England.  I was an Archdeacon then too. But in those days my title was Archdeacon of Lancaster

 

In my official capacity as Archdeacon of Lancaster, I had  been invited to a special service at our local cathedral One of the privilege that I had been given for that afternoon was a parking space marked ‘Archdeacon of Lancaster’ So I drove round the car park until I: could find it . and then I moved into the space

Now my car wasn’t anything special  in fact it was small, it was a few years old  and certainly in need of a good wash.   The car park was being patrolled by a woman who turned out to be rather officious. And when she saw this dirty beaten up old car being driven into this special place she obviously thought I was some sort of yokel up from the sticks, trying to steal a place which wasn’t rightfully mine.

As I got out of the car she came to me and wagged her finer ‘You can’t park there she said, that’s reserved for the Archdeacon.

Well, the chance was too good to miss.  I took my time.  I turned away, locked the car, got my stuff out of the boot and then drew my self up to my full five feet 11 and a half, looked her in the eye and said something I had been dying to have the chance to say for years.  Madam, I said, Madam,  I am the Archdeacon.

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Palm Sunday 2019 (Lent Series on the Liturgy – 5. The Sacrament of Mission)

Sermon preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan.

Over these weeks in Lent I will be offering 5 sermons based on the Liturgy – the weekly offering of the church in which God’s glory in Christ, and in us, is celebrated. This is the last in the series.

Each week the subject will be preceded by the word ‘sacrament’. I am using this word in its loosest sense because I do not want to confuse what we are doing with the 7 formally recognized Sacraments of the church. This ‘looseness’ of the word ‘sacrament’ I discovered recently when reading a book on the Eucharist by the great Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann.

I am working with the basic meaning of ‘sacrament’, namely ‘the outward visible sign of a hidden invisible grace’. In other words, a mystery revealed.

To recap – in the first week we thought about the nature of the church focusing on the image of the ‘household’ and then into thinking about the Sacrament of the Gathering of the household of faith, and the immediate need for repentance, Kyrie eleison, followed by the outburst of Gloria (except in Lent and Advent). In week 2 we reflected on the Sacrament of the Word, balancing the word of God in scripture, and God in Christ as the Word made flesh. We  considered the Sacrament of Prayer, looking at 5 points in the Liturgy when prayer is the task of the household of God. Last week we reflected on the Sacrament of Offering, ending with a quote from Dom Gregory Dix.      (full text in previous sermon).

The Dom Gregory Dix quote from last week is a good starting point for us today as we think of the Sacrament of Mission. His was a reflection on the dominical words in the great Thanksgiving Prayer, ‘Do this in memory of me’. These words are recorded in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. The words constitute one of the two ‘great commands of Jesus’. Dix ends his reflection with the words, ‘Was ever another command so obeyed?’

The other ‘great command’ of our Lord is to be found at the end of St. Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28, 19). In this he commands his followers to ‘go out’ to all the nations πάντα τά έθνη and to do to all peoples what he has done in the mystery of his death and resurrection, namely the creation of the household of faith. The household is created, not through birth right, so quite distinct from Judaism, but by baptism in the name of the divine Trinity. One bishop I once knew used to say that ‘you can be born in a garage, but it doesn’t make you a mechanic’. Christians are not born, they are adopted by the grace of baptism into the household of faith, and Our Lord clearly links baptism with that command to ‘Go out’.

So if, as I suggested last week, the Liturgy revolves around the great offering or anaphora, so the consequence of the Liturgy is to be found in the Sacrament of Mission.

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Lent 5 2019 (Lent Series on the Liturgy – 4. The Sacrament of Offering)

Sermon preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan

 

Over these weeks in Lent I will be offering 5 sermons based on the Liturgy – the weekly offering of the church in which God’s glory in Christ, and in us, is celebrated. This is the third in the series.

Each week the subject will be preceded by the word ‘sacrament’. I am using this word in its loosest sense because I do not want to confuse what we are doing with the 7 formally recognized Sacraments of the church. This ‘looseness’ of the word ‘sacrament’ I discovered recently when reading a book on the Eucharist by the great Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann.

I am working with the basic meaning of ‘sacrament’, namely ‘the outward visible sign of a hidden invisible grace’. In other words, a mystery revealed.

To recap – in the first week we thought about the nature of the church focusing on the image of the ‘household’ and then we moved to thinking about the Sacrament of the Gathering of the household of faith, and the immediate need for repentance, Kyrie Eleison, followed by the outburst of Gloria (except in Lent and Advent). In week 2 we reflected on the Sacrament of the Word, balancing the word of God in scripture, and God in Christ as the Word made flesh. Last week we considered the Sacrament of Prayer, looking at 5 points in the Liturgy when prayer is the task of the household of God.

 

As we think of the Sacrament of Offering, of course no greater offering could be made that the offering of Christ on the Cross. It is this self -offering that characterizes Christianity. It is an offering that in the Reformed language of the 1662 Prayer Book refers to Christ’s offering as an ‘oblation’  which makes a ‘full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world’.

This language is intended in the Anglican tradition to guard against the Roman Catholic dogma of the ‘Sacrifice of the Mass’ in which there were tendencies to think of Christ being repeatedly sacrificed each time the Mass was celebratd. Anglicans have none of this, and with sound scriptural understanding accept that what Christ did on the Cross, he did once and for all. There is a Greek word hapax, which means ‘only once’, and it occurs only once in NT Greek vocabulary in the Letter to the Hebrews, and in fact has been absorbed into English grammatical language. If a word occurs only once it is referred to as a hapax legomenon.

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Lent 3 2019 (Lent Series on the Liturgy – 3. The Sacrament of Prayer)

Sermon preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan.

 

Over these weeks in Lent I will be offering 5 sermons based on the Liturgy – the weekly offering of the church in which God’s glory in Christ, and in us, is celebrated. This is the third in the series.

Each week the subject will be preceded by the word ‘sacrament’. I am using this word in its loosest sense because I do not want to confuse what we are doing with the 7 formally recognized Sacraments of the church. This ‘looseness’ of the word ‘sacrament’ I discovered recently when reading a book on the Eucharist by the great Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann.

I am working with the basic meaning of ‘sacrament’, namely ‘the outward visible sign of a hidden invisible grace’. In other words, a mystery revealed.

To recap – in the first week we thought about the nature of the church focusing on the image of the ‘household’ and then we moved to thinking about the Sacrament of the Gathering of the household of faith, and the immediate need for repentance, Kyrie Eleison, followed by the outburst of Gloria (except in Lent and Advent). In week 2 we reflected on the Sacrament of the Word, balancing the word of God in scripture, and God in Christ as the Word made flesh. This week we will consider the Sacrament of Prayer.

 

To help us focus, we will consider five points of prayer that occur in our Liturgy: the Trinity, the Collect, the Intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Dismissal. In case you are wondering about the Great Thanksgiving Prayer when we place before us bread and wine, I will include this in 2 weeks’ time, when we think of the Sacrament of Offering.  And so to Prayer.

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Lent 2 2019 (Lent Series on the Liturgy – 2. The Sacrament of the Word)

Sermon preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan.

 

Over the next few weeks I will be offering 5 sermons based on the Liturgy – the weekly offering of the church in which so much of God’s glory in Christ, and in us, is celebrated. This is the second in the series.

Each week the subject will be preceded by the word ‘sacrament’. I am using this word in its loosest sense because I do not want to confuse what we are doing with the 7 formally recognized Sacraments of the church. This ‘looseness’ of the word ‘sacrament’ I discovered recently when reading a book on the Eucharist by the great Orthodox theologian, Father Alexander Schmemann.

I am working with the basic meaning of ‘sacrament’, namely ‘the outward visible sign of a hidden invisible grace’. In other words, a mystery revealed.

To recap – last week we thought about the nature of the church focusing on the image of the ‘household’ and then we moved to thinking about the Gathering of the household of faith, and the immediate need for repentance, Kyrie Eleison, followed by the outburst of Gloria (except in Lent and Advent).

 

Now we move on to think of the Sacrament of the Word, in which we will include the Collect of the day, the scripture readings, and, because we cannot cover everything in one season of Lent, I intend to say nothing about the Creed, but I think the Creed will make another very good sermon series at another time.

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