Prayer and Forgiveness

A sermon preached on The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 28, 2019 11:00 am

The readings for the day were Colossians 2:6-15, Psalm 85 and Luke 11:1-13.

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Well, given these readings, shall I talk about prayer and forgiveness?

The disciples ask Jesus about how to pray. In the Gospel according to Luke he responds with one of the two version of the Lord’s Prayer. There are two versions in the New Testament, the one here in Luke, and another in the Gospel according to Matthew, and while they are not exactly the same they are close enough, and the slight differences suggest that they are rooted in an oral tradition that probably goes back to Jesus. The traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer which we use is a merger of these two, and in the English language tradition we add a doxology: For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Postures

There are traditionally two positions for prayer, as described in scripture.

  1. On one’s knees. It is a position of humility and vulnerability. You cannot see well, your hands are fixed and you cannot defend yourself. It is very similar to kneeling before one’s lord and sovereign. One demonstrates one humility because when the Queen (or perhaps, more often these days, the Prince of Wales) knights you, a sword goes on either shoulder – when presumably the Sovereign could just as easily chop off your head. There is vulnerability, but also a possibility of receiving honour. From being vulnerabile one is open to things, to being taught.
  2. Standing with hands outraised. This is a position of receptive power, of joy and praise. It is something both Catholics and Charismatic Protestants do.
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Of course, nowadays, we most often pray sitting down, it seems. It used to be that Anglicans were distinguished for the amount of time they spent praying on their knees during the liturgies, but a more relaxed attitude has emerged. Where we used to claim we had callouses on our knees, old age and a lack of kneelers leads many congregations to adopt being seated as the norm.

For What Do We Pray?

And what do we pray for? In Luke we read:

  • Your kingdom come. We are not satisfied by what the world gives us, whether it is politicians and liberal democracy, economic well-being and the consumer society, or the distress of the world around us. Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you, O God, as St Augustine put it in his Confessions (written 397-400 CE). The kingdom comes in Jesus, the kingdom of God is at hand, but it is not to be identified with the kingdoms of this world, nor is it identical with the institution of the church (although the kingdom is active within it). It is present whenever two or three gather in Jesus’s name, but it is also at the same time not yet here. In Matthew we also pray that God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven, and that implies that God’s will often is not done. So as Christians we are uncomfortable, restless, strangers in a strange land, legally citizens of the UK or Greece or Ireland or Canada, but in reality citizens of another place.
  • We pray for daily bread – minimal sustenance. We also have confidence that it will come. We are no longer faced with famines. We do not pray to be wealthy or powerful or famous.
  • We ask to be forgiven, about which I will say more in a moment, and God’s forgiveness of us is paralleled by our forgiveness of others.
  • Finally, in Luke we ask God to not bring us to the time of trial. Reframing this, we ask that those soul-challenging occasions where we are tempted are avoided, that we are not pushed to the breaking point.
  • Jesus then tells his disciples, in a brief parable and a few illustrations, to persist in prayer – presumably for these things.

The Power of Prayer

I often hear people talk about the power of prayer, as if it is the case that if we have enough faith God will do anything for us. But prayer is not about manipulating God, as if the Almighty is subject to the whims and will of human desires. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is positive, and they are granted. As often as not, the answer is a no. And then there are all those situations in which the answer is vague and uncertain. It is because we project our human malleability upon the divine, when it is in fact quite wholly other. No, the power of prayer, in my experience is different from this.

  • Fundamentally, the point of prayer is that it changes us. It may sound as if we are trying to change God’s mind, but it is actually our minds which will be transformed.
  • It is a spiritual habit and a practice. Just as if you change your diet you will see a change in your body, so if we pray we will see changes in our selves, our souls and bodies.
  • If we kneel in prayer we will feel humble and vulnerable, and open to teaching.
  • If we enter into contemplative prayer or meditation we will find ourselves becoming all too aware of the narcissistic monkey chatter of our minds. If we persist, we quiet the voices, and perhaps become attentive to the still, quiet voice of God.
  • If we pray for our enemies we will find ourselves moving from anger and vengeance to dispassionate analysis and wishing their welfare. This is not to say that we give up on bringing the consequences of their action upon them, but we so in order to force them to refrain from malevolent action, and perhaps to turn and repent.
  • If we meditate and reflect on the words of Jesus and the prophets in scripture, and think about the stories we hear and read about them, we will find our hearts shaped like that of the prophets and Jesus.
  • If we stand to praise God in Christ in voice and action we will find ourselves moving into joy and gratitude.
  • And so, forgiveness becomes a spiritual practice, similar to and complementary to that of prayer.

Now of course, many of us have been grievously hurt by others. So how can we forgive our offenders, especially if they do not acknowledge their suffering they have caused, if there is no repentance? Let me tell you a couple of stories.

[Trigger warning] A friend of mine back in Canada was sexually assaulted by her father, and needless to say, this was deeply traumatic. She told me about this – how she made a complaint to the police, and he was tried and convicted and sent to jail for a time. Then, after this, she said that she was able to forgive him?. “How?” I asked. “I had to forgive him, or else that suffering would continue to keep a hold on me. Only by forgiving him was I able to be free from the awful effects of his abuse.” Forgiveness is about us dealing with the past, not forgetting it but reducng its destructive power over us.

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A funeral procession following the West Nickel Mines School shooting in 2006.

One of the more horrific aspects of American gun culture is the frequency with which people kill children in schools. One example is the West Nickel Mines School shooting back in 2007. It was no different from so many other of these school shootings, except that in this case the victims were all Amish children, between the ages of 7 and 13. The Amish are a type of radical Anabaptists. While many of them accept some modern technology for farming and carpentry, they reject much that we take for granted – electricity, smartphones, television, automobiles, and factory-made clothing. They drive horse and buggies. They are radical pacifists, speak a form of German, and do not participate in national programs of social welfare.  When this tragedy came upon them they responded with sorrow and grief, and tore down the school and built a new one. The perpetrator, who was not Amish but was known to them, killed himself after shooting the children. Astonishingly, many members of he Amish community, including parents who had buried their daughters the day before, attended the funeral of the murderer, and expressed forgiveness. They even raised some money for his widow and children. A counselor who worked with many of those grieving, believes that

because the Amish can express that forgiveness, and because they hold no grudges, they are better able to concentrate on the work of their own healing.

This forgiveness is rooted in the Amish knowledge of Jesius’s teaching about forgiving others, and the fact that any undertaking begins and ends with the Lord’s Prayer.

The Power of Forgiveness

We are changed by God’s forgiveness given to us in Jesus. Likewise, we are changed by forgiving others.

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This became an influential part of modern political life with the rise of  “Truth and Reconciliation”. While it arose in parts of Latin America, it became very prominent when  a commission was set up in South Africa by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the request of Nelson Mandela. As the Wikipedia article states, its purpose was to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as offering reparation and rehabilitation to the victims. It was grounded in the Christian principle that a confession of violence could be forgiven, and it was a means for the nation to heal beyond the traumas of apartheid and violence committed on both sides. This became a model for other nations, including Australia, Chile, and Germany. My home country of Canada has had one as well, relating to the genocidal traumas of the Indian Residential Schools. An apology is not enough – there needs to be some form of reparation, to make things right, and an intention to do things to make sure that the damage is never done again. It is a slow, painful, and challenging process, and often fraught with controversy. That said, most places that have had one affirm the importance of truthtelling in the process of achieving justice.

Some people cannot see themselves as forgivable. And, indeed, it may be that some people will not forgive others. But God will always forgive us, and will not deny us. It does not erase the sin, there’s no forgive and forget, but there may be forgiveness and transformation.

Some people they read the version in Matthew quite literally – forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us. Whether in the ancient world or the 21st century, the chronic persistence of debt is seen as an injustice. Bankruptcy was a novel concept that only came about in the modern era, and allowed individuals to get out from under the crush of owing money – or avoiding debtors prison, or quite literally becoming slaves.    or simply the redistribution of accumulated wealth, there is a sense in which our relations with others cannot be defined by economics. While now it may seem to be associated more with crooked politicians and large corporations, bankruptcy was originally an act of justice and forgiveness.

And so . . .

God calls us to pray, as Jesus prayed.

God calls us to be people of healing and reconciliation, grounded in being forgiven and forgiving others.

By the grace of God’s Holy Spirit may we be remade in the image of God, may we be vulnerable enough to be teachable, so that we may be living icons of the kingdom of God to this broken and fragile creation.

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The Eagle Has Landed

A Sermon Preached On The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 21, 2019 11:00 am

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Well, fifty years ago yesterday humanity arrived on the moon, and today, going by Greenwich Mean Time (which is God’s time, right?), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out and walked on the lunar surface. It was my was seventh birthday that July 21, 1969, and it was a thrilling thing to watch. I had grown up with the Space Race, following the exploits of the Gemini project and then the Apollo.In 1967 I went to Expo 67 in Montreal, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Confederation, and there I saw in the US pavilion artifacts from NASA.

The moon landing was the culmination of a decade’s incremental advances in astronautics, involving 400,000 people, from the human calculators such as Katherine Johnson, featured in the movie Hidden Figures, to Chris Craft, the ubiquitous head of Mission Control in Houston, Texas. The computer software on the spacecraft was built from the ground up by a team headed by Margaret Hamilton, and never demonstrated any bugs or errors – which was a good thing, as there was little margin for error.

It was a tremendous achievement. While many people criticized it then and now as an unnecessary extravaganza, for others it demonstrated what humanity was capable of doing when it put its mind to it. As a child born in the ‘sixties it was a symbol of progress and human ingenuity. While an American endeavour, there was a real sense that all humanity was involved. It still fills me with wonder every time I look at the moon over these Cretan hills and thing, “Wow, we really went there.”

But first things first. When the Eagle had landed on the Sea of Tranquility the first thing Buzz Aldrin did was take communion. He had brought the elements from his Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder, and gave thanks to God for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Later, on Apollo 15, astronaut David Scott left a Bible on the Lunar Rover Vehicle, where it remains today.

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The Bible left by David Scott is shown in the red circle. Photo: NASA via St. Christopher Episcopal Church

 

These things came to mind this week as the media was filled with the fifty year anniversary, and I came across the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke, our gospel for this day.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? It is so easy to be distracted from the divine. Do we pray? Do we meditate? Do we read our scriptures? Do we reflect on our faith in Jesus Christ? Do we attend to Jesus and rest in his presence? It is commendable that in the midst of the moon landing that some of the astronauts took the opportunity to focus on God, in the person of Jesus Christ.

But the optimism and excitement I and so many others felt fifty years ago is a stark contrast to the way we feel today. different today.

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Taken aboard Apollo 8 by Bill Anders, this iconic picture shows Earth peeking out from beyond the lunar surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon. NASA

  • From Apollo 8 we saw the photograph of the Earth-rise and realized in a single picture, just one glimpse, the interconnectedness and fragility of creation. And today we find ourselves spoiling our planetary home, as the climate gets warmer and the weather more unpredictable. Politicians argue as they deny the science or acknowledge it, and find themselves trying to balance the immediate concerns of economics and jobs versus the long-term issues of global warming. And this comes home to us. Will we pay for the billion-euro power line to connect Crete to the continent of Europe, so that our power will not be generated by the burning of oil? Will we pay carbon taxes to encourage us to shift to renewable resources? Are we willing to forgo our flights on jets?
  • Or think of the leadership in our nations. I was probably naive then, or maybe I am getting old, but it did seem we had better politicians in days past. The words of the psalm might have been written today about them, rather than 2700 years ago:

Your tongue is like a sharpened razor, * O worker of deception.
You love evil more than good * and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that hurt, * O you deceitful tongue.
“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”

Or the words of the prophet Amos:

you that trample on the needy
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

  • Or consider the role of religion in our societies, so long in decline:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

To address all of these we need to keep first things first. God calls to us, in the midst of all of our distractions , not to simply dwell on these things and run to and fro trying to fix these things, but to set time aside to attend to God. There is time enough to attempt great things, necessary things, but as Christians we begin with Jesus, by gathering here, by listening and reflecting on scripture, by praying to God, and by sharing the meal that Jesus his son left us. Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we pray and read and preach the gospel in word and deed throughout the week.

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The recently communicated Buzz Aldrin.

We do these things, and through the faith that is in us we are changed, and so we are made capable of doing things that would have seemed impossible for us. And yet Jesus said in the Gospel of John that we would do greater things, and Paul writes that God, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine.

So, while we may want to be Marthas, may we, for a time, be Marys, that the better part may not be taken from us.

 

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“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

A Sermon Preached on The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 14, 2019 11:00 am

One of the nice things about living in a small village in Crete is that we have the opportunity of getting to know our neighbours. I know by name the folks on either side of the house in Gavalohori, and the folks I meet along the roads all seem to know me. This is such a difference from any decent sized city where people are anonymous and our relationships are so often merely transactional, where a bank teller is indistinguishable from an ATM. In multidimensional relationships we know people as living, breathing human beings, and we go beyond the instrumental. We get together not just to achieve ends, but simply to enjoy each other’s presence. It was like this in the town I grew up in, in Quebec, and it was like this in the small island parish I worked in when I was in my thirties. The bank teller was not just a source of money, but the parent of a child who was friends with my kids, nd someone involved in the community choir with me, and I knew where she lived and who her parents were. It was like this back home for many of you, I know, and I imagine many of you live here in the villages of Apokoronas for just that reason.

Capernaum

Capernaum

It was the same in Jesus’s time. In the villages of Galilee everyone knew each other. But there were outsiders: the Greek-speaking settlers of the empire that were set up in the twons founded by Herod Antipas, Sepphoris and Tiberias. There were the people down from Jerusalem, the scribes and the pharisees sent by the Jewish rulers in Judea to ensure their influence over the peasants of Galilee. And it was one of those who approached Jesus in today’s gospel reading, a lawyer, not as we might understand a barrister or a solicitor, but someone trained in the Law of Moses as understood by the Pharisees.

Was it a serious question? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “And who is my neighbor?” Was he trying to find out whether Jesus was orthodox? Was he trying to find a way to trap Jesus? We do not know. Jesus responds by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

 

But what is most interesting is how, at the end, Jesus turns the question around from, “Who is my neighbour?”, to “What kind of neighbour are you?” And just as the two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor are connected, so the lawyer’s failure to know who his neighbor is, suggests that he did not really know who his God was, either. In the parable Jesus suggests:

  • True neighbourliness jumps in the ditch to be with the wounded.
  • True neighbourliness is sacrificial, offering to pay the cost without expectation of recompense.
  • A true neighbor is not valued in terms of money, but by what they will do from compassion and concern.
  • A true neighbor breaches the apparently major difference between a Samaritan and a Jew.
  • A true neighbor lets go of their positions of privilege – even if they are a priest or a Levite – to help another.
  • In the end, a true neighbor is someone like Jesus, who in his self-giving discloses to us the nature of God.

 

We are not always good neighbours, of course. The power of darkness and the kingdom of this world is so very seductive. It tells us that the other is dirty and diseased and will distract us from our real work or God. It fills us with fear of our neighbours, so that we no longer see a common bond but rather something different and alien from us.

The worst situation is when the ways of the world overcome otherwise good people, so that they think they are doing God’s work when in fact they are simply justifying abuse and even genocide with theology.

  • My dissertation on the Indian Residential Schools deals with just this issue, and names seven ways in which Christian theologies were used to justify the taking of land and power from indigenous peoples and then used again to try and eradicate them through assimilation or death.
  • We submit to the idol of nationalism, fearing our neighbours rather than getting to know them, much less helping.
  • We become more focused on our own security and comfort rather than the needs of others, or deny that we have any responsibility towards anyone else. The heresy of libertarianism raises the value of property and self so high that the other is nothing but a threat.

Of course, some Christians are like this. They follow a gospel that is all about fear. Jesus is not like this. As the American pastor John Pavlovitz recently said, his Jesus is

  • the one who touched the hand of the leper,
  • the one who fed a starving hillside multitude
  • the one whose family fled political genocide soon after he was born,
  • the one who said he and the forgotten prisoner were one in the same,
  • the one who dined with both priest and with prostitute,
  • the one who lived off the kindness of those he met as he traveled,
  • the one who said our neighbors and enemies, deserve the same love we give our families and ourselves,
  • the one who preached the scandalous goodness of a despised Samaritan.

 

The love of God works in us to give us faith, and it is so great that it cannot help but continue to pour out of us.

We hear the words of the psalm:

3 Save the weak and the orphan; * defend the humble and needy;
4 Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.

And our faith, inspired by love, responds with works of love, and through these works we come to know eternal life, the divine life, a Christ-shaped life, in this very broken and fragile world.

As we heard from Colosians, it bears fruit among us from the day we heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.

So, as Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” – may we hear and be doers of the word.

 

 

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Until the Apocalypse

A Sermon Preached on The Third Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 7, 2019 11:00 am

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I have two pieces of good news about the coming Apocalypse (and when I say Apocalypse, I mean it as a good thing, the Christian Apocalypse, which is the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God in his return to Earth, and his establishment of the kingdom of God – not the various other types of apocalypses, such as global warming, nuclear disaster, Brexit, Trump, or anything written in the “Left Behind” series).

First, when the Son of Man comes in power and glory and the Kingdom of God is established, there will be no need of preaching, because everyone in the kingdom will already know God and will not need to have anything explained to them. There will simply be praise. Yay!

Second, for much the same reason, there will be no need of evangelism. Again, there will simply be praise.

But we’re not there yet. Until then, we will need evangelism and preaching.

So how do we do it?

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How not to be before or during the Apocalypse

First, the simpler the implementation the better. There is a blessing in having buildings and paid staff, but that is not the essence of church. The essence of church is people entering into relationships with other people, and into a relationship with God in Christ.

When the Communists took power in China in 1949 one of the first things they dd was force all the foreign missionaries out. There was great concern across North America and Europe that the Communists would try to destroy the Christian faith in China, and, indeed, many were persecuted, and Mao Tse-Tung and the Communist Party sought to erradicate all religion, including Buddhism, Taoism, and traditional Chinese religions grounded in Confuscius. When China began to open up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the western world was astonished to find that not only had some Christians persevered, but they had thrived. They did not have buildings and clergy as we would know them, but they did meet in small groups in private homes. Whenever the churches got too big for the house, tempting attention from the Communist authorities, they would split up. Thus, over time, the Christian communities, without seminaries or General Synods or parsonages or endowments, slowly grew, so that they were more in the 1980s than in 1949. Some estimates put the Christian population in China at up to 80,000,000 people.

So, while having a priest, these buildings, and a car is all helpful to the mission of the gospel, those are not the things that make up the gospel. Proclaiming the kingdom of God is.

Second, real evangelism deals with the evil in the world.

  • There are wolves out there who would attack the lambs of God.
  • Satan has fallen like lightening from heaven, but is active here on earth in the lies told by the powerful, in the comfort so many have with oppression and violence, and that tells us that we just need to take care of ourselves and not pay attention to the needs of others.
  • The powers of evil tell us that there is no hope, and that creation is doomed, whereas we proclaim a new creation beginning with Jesus and acting is us, the body of Christ.
  • The powers of evil tell us that there is nothing but cold chaotic matter with no rhyme or reason to human life, whereas we celebrate the world transfigured by the Spirit and the offering of Jesus in the world, no matter how much that world rejects him.

Finally, we work in pairs, or larger groups. I’ve never really understood why clergy are sent singly into parishes and congregations – I’ve always preferred working as part of a team. In a sense, with the ordination last week, we have returned to a biblical model. As laity, too, we need each other when witnessing to the gospel in word and in deed.

So, as we enter these summer months, let us not just rest and be complacent, but may we consider the tasks before us. May we work together, keeping the gospel simple and straight forward, and not shrink from facing up to the evil that would thwart us.

As Jesus has done, and as the disciples did, so may we continue.

 

 

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Spring Cleaning and the Ordination of Deacons

A Sermon Preached by the Reverend Christine Saccali,
Deacon of the Anglican Church of St. Paul, Athens, Greece
(Diocese in Europe, Church of England)
at
the Ordination of Julia Bradshaw to the Diaconate
by the Right Reverend David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe
on Sunday the 30th of June, 2019, The Second Sunday after Trinity
at the Anglican Parish of St. Thomas, Kefalas, Apokoronas, Crete, Greece.

Texts for the liturgy were: 1 Samuel 3.1-10, Psalm 119.1-6, Acts 6.1-7, and Matthew 25.31-46.

 

I speak in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is an enormous pleasure, privilege and a time bursting with pride to be present with you all here today and to be invited to preach at the ordination of Julia to the Distinctive Diaconate. Indeed it is such a day of joy and jubilation due to the fact that I feel as if my ministry and that of St Thomas here in Kefalas has been intertwined along with that of Julia’s path. Also, Registrar, folks gathered here – this could also be a historic occasion in the Diocese in Europe since we have three distinctive deacons present – Deacon Frances, myself, and Julia to be ordained today.

Forgive me if I introduce myself to those whom I don’t already know and I hope to chat with you all later over refreshments. Next month is my fortieth anniversary of being in Greece. I am married to a Greek and we have one married son and a granddaughter.I was present at Frances’ ordination in Cologne just over 10 years ago [Frances Hillier is the Suffragan Bishop’s Chaplain and Personal Assistant, and was present at the ordination, serving as the deacon of the mass]. I was ordained in St Paul’s Athens three years ago on the feast of St Thomas 3rd July, the patronal festival of this church, by Bishop David; Julia was there to support me and Frances preached a sermon that I remember well all about the calling of a deacon, based on scripture. As a Reader and active in ministry I was present during a consultation in Pendeli monastery in the mid noughties when Tony Lane stood up and said “I will build a church” – this very church, and the then Archdeacon of the East was rather taken aback, I seem to remember. Here we are today in that church – your church, St Thomas. Tony your vision was mighty and we thank you for that, dear friends, and wish you and Suzanne all the best in the UK.

I attended Tony’s licensing as reader here, on a day or rather overnight boat trip rather like the voyage acting Archdeacon Adele [Keham] undertook to get here today. Tony’s Deaconing was in Izmir by Bishop David when we were attending Archdeaconry Synod there. I had the honour to be Bishop’s Chaplain for Tony’s priesting here again by Bishop David. I recall it all well and the priests and their spouses who were subsequently appointed. But today is not about me or the history of this church although some of the latter may explain Julia’s emerging vocation to the Diaconate among you the congregation and the wider community. And let it be clear there can be no ordination without a community to emerge from. The word in Greek koinonia is one and the same for communion and community after all, to embrace and serve. It is a two way and liminal process so deacons can then take the gospel message out into the world.

Deacon Frances follows my ministry in the church and I have been closely following what Julia has been up to, in a supportive way I hope. But let us remember that all of us disciples here have a calling and a collaborative ministry as the body of Christ wherever we serve.For we do not follow each other as Master but we follow our Lord Jesus Christ wherever he calls us, and there may be a persistent call running through your life, a holy niggle as I call it, just as we heard in the passage from 1 Samuel. And it may mean leaving family and friends to devote yourself to that call. Certainly it means having good support structures around you as you care for others, as, in order to do that you must try to practice self care.

And don’t doubt that the path to ordination is a tough call – just to go through selection on a diocesan and national Church of England panels and then study for three years going back and forth between darkest Norfolk and this sunny Isle of Crete is a huge commitment, challenge and undertaking. And I am just talking about the travelling, let alone the academic and spiritual side.Sometimes I think the only thing in common between ERMC [Eastern Region Ministry Course], the college where most ordinands from Europe train, is the capital E at the beginning of each title although in our case we also belong to the Archdeaconry of the East, don’t forget, Capital E. Seriously Julia, I admire you tremendously for the resources you have found within you to pursue and support your calling. You will need to draw on these admirable qualities as you go forward into your ministry and life to flourish with all God’s given potential in you as a deacon. I would like to remind you that you have remarkable attributes of resilience and practical talents that will be required in your diaconal ministry. So do not neglect the dusting. Yes, I did say dusting. Deacon Frances, I think you may have missed out on one aspect of a description of a deacon’s role. That is diakono the verb to minister in Greek is originally from diaskono which lies at the root of the word skonizo to dust. We deacons need to dust within and without and give our spiritual selves a good spring clean and bring that freshness and light to Christ’s church as we minister.

So, Julia, enjoy this day, remember the charge given to you yesterday by Bishop David, the words of the ordinal and store it up in your heart and stick the words on your fridge or above your desk to always remind you of your calling and job description. There is more training and travel to follow but we will not dwell on that now. You have Bruce as your training incumbent at your side who is so supportive of the deacon’s role. Learn to lean on his wisdom.And going forward in your ordained ministry may you always be open to where God and the Holy Spirit are leading you.

Matthew 25 sets out some of the marginalized places where a deacon is to be found on the edges often pushing at boundaries and furthering God’s kingdom on earth. I know you have already identified some local initiatives of which you may feel called to be a part of during your curacy.But be prepared to be called by some surprising names in your ministry. I have become and am known as Deacon Chris but I have also but been called Rev, reverend, sister, mother all good things but the most startling and unusual epithet came from the lady in the coffee shop which we frequent over the road from St Paul’s Athens and where a lot of my ministry takes place after services. She is Armenian and upon seeing my clerical collar, which she noticed for the first time, she exclaimed in Greek : “Ah den ixera egines patera.” “Oh, I didn’t know you had become a Holy Father.” Now I know ordination confers many things but that was jaw dropping”

Above all, Julia, enjoy your ministry as a clerk in Holy Orders. Enjoy learning what new surprises God has in store for you, keep yourself focused on Christ and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Keep your humour and wits about you as your call deepens and may God be with you and in this place where you are called. AMEN

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We are the New Jerusalem

A sermon preached on The Sixth Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, on May 26, 2019 11:00 am.
Readings may be found here.

If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  Acts 16.15

Where is home for you?

Is it the place you were born?  Was it where you were raised, too? Or is it the country you come from – England, Wales, Ireland, the United States, or Canada? Is home the city you last lived in – say, Liverpool, or Norwich? Is it a county, like Lancashire? Or is it here, in Greece, in Crete?

Of course, for some people, it is the case, as a song that came out a few years ago said,

Home is wherever I’m with you.

The Home of God

In today’s gospel, we are told that God’s home is with us. Jesus says in the gospel reading,

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

When God makes us a divine home, we are transformed as a community, and as individuals. What does it look like?

New Jerusalem

The Chapel of New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

The clue is in Revelation 21 and 22. While this might be read literally, and I have seen stained glass windows that do just that, the best way to read this passage is metaphorically. As you probably know from living in Greece, a μεταφορά is a transport truck, or that cart in airports that you put your luggage on – it takes your stuff and carries it from one place to another. So it is with words – a metaphor transports you into a deeper meaning from where you begin.

We know these last two chapters of the Bible are largely metaphorical because at one point (Revelation 21.1) it states, “and the sea was no more.” For the land-lubber Jews the sea represented the violence of chaos, and the absence of chaos in that verse suggests that the terror of the ocean is no more.

So when God dwells with us, we are that New Jerusalem. When God through the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we become the Body of Christ, a new and different incarnation of the Word from that which walked on earth. We are the new creation, transformed by grace.

  • We are the New Jerusalem, beautiful, as if a bride on her wedding day.
  • we are a city centered on the divine, for the Temple is the Father and the Son, and its light is not a sun but the Lamb of God.
  • The gates of the New Jerusalem are always open, and the whole world comes to that city.
  • It is described as being massive, far larger than any existing city, suggesting a generosity of forgiveness by God.
  • There is nothing unclean in it, suggesting that it is pure and without sin, even as Christ was.
  • The river flows from the throne, gives life.
  • The tree of life is there, bountiful in every season.
  • And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.

And so we have a list of characteristics of what happens when the divine makes us home.

  • Healing
  • Bountiful
  • Life-giving
  • Pure
  • Generous
  • Forgiving
  • Open and inclusive
  • Beautiful
  • Centered on the Divine

As the gospel would remind us, all of this is due to love – the love of God we know in creation, in Christ, and in the reflected love of those around us. Jesus leaves us with a peace, which is not simply the absence of violence or conflict, but the creative and recreative love of God which overcomes violence and death by love.

Has God Made us a New Jerusalem?

So, is this us? Does God make God’s home with us? Have we invited God to be with us, even as Lydia invited Paul and his companions to come to her home?

Perhaps we need to do an inventory of ourselves at St. Thomas, Kefalas, and look at the ways we are healing, bountiful, life-giving, pure, generous, forgiving, open and inclusive, beautiful, and centered on the Divine.

  • Is this an issue for our next church council meeting?
  • As we prepare to welcome Bishop David Hamid in a month’s time to ordain Julia Bradshaw to be a deacon in the church, how will her ministry in the diaconate assist us to be that divine home?
  • For that matter, how does having me here as a priest or presbyter help?
  • How does your ministry as the baptised people of God make us a New Jerusalem?

As we work this out and prepare in our souls and bodies a home for the divine, as the Psalm today says,

May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

 

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The Glory of Love

A sermon preached on The Fifth Sunday of Easter at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete, on May 19, 2019 at 11:00 am.
Readings may be found here – we used the Psalm, Revelation, and the Gospel according to John, but not Acts.

Titles

I never used to give titles to my sermons. Giving the titles always seemed to me to give them greater importance that they deserved. Part of it is that I usually write them in 24 hours before the service. Other people would ask me, sometimes weeks in advance, for the title, and I never knew what to do.

However, now that I have been posting my sermons on my blog, I’ve had to come up with titles. And today, it’s “The Glory of Love”. Now, that sounds rather clichéd, like some sort of pop song. And, indeed, there was a song with that name back in 1986 with that name by Peter Cetera, the lead singer of Chicago, right after he went solo:

I am a man who would fight for your honor,
I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of.
We’ll live forever, knowing together
that we did it all for the glory of love.

Takes you back three decades, doesn’t it? I apologise if this gives you an earworm, sort of.

Glory and Love

The two words come from the very short gospel reading this morning. In Greek the word for the verb “to glorify” is δοξάζω and the word here for the verb “to love» is αγαπάω, and the corresponding nouns are αγάπη and δόξα.

What I find striking is how things move quickly here.

  1. First, Judas goes out to betray Jesus.
  2. Next, Jesus says that he, the Son of Man, has been glorified, and that God has been glorified in him.
  3. Third, he informs the disciples that where he is going they cannot follow.
  4. Finally, he tells the disciples,

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

What the heck is going on here?

Okay, Let’s start there and try to parse this.

First Judas leaves, and then Jesus declares that he has been glorified, and God in him.

  • Jesus in the Gospel according to John is always in control of what is happening. It may look like Judas, the Sanhedrin, and Pilate are all acting to destroy Jesus, but in fact Jesus and God in him is the one who wills what is happening, both as a human and as the incarnate Word.
  • The eternal Word of God has assumed all the attributes of a human being, except sin, and having accepted the lowliness of a simple Galilean Jew, he is now ready to suffer with humanity as the wicked and corrupt powers of the world seek to kill him.
  • But, as the one without sin, Jesus is going to a place that his disciples or anyone else can go – to offer, as both human and divine, to pass through death. When the infinite encounters that epitome of finitude death, it appears, again, that finitude overcomes the Word made flesh, that darkness overcomes light. But the light shines in the darkness, and is not put out, but shines even more brightly from the cross and in the resurrection.

All of this is an action of love.

  • The Word becomes flesh to shine among us because of love.
  • Jesus calls the Twelve and forms them into disciples because of love.
  • Jesus turns the water into wine, feeds the five thousand, heals the man born blind, and raises Lazarus from the dead, because of Love.
  • Jesus challenges the evil forces that possess individuals, and drives them out, because of love.
  • And Jesus willingly goes to death on a cross, like a slave, because of love.
  • And his resurrection to new life is a sign of God’s love.
  • And his resurrection is the beginning of the remaking of the world into a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem – because of love.
  • God will dwell with humans, and will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more – because of love.

That’s why the conversation shifts to the giving of the new commandment, to love one another as Christ has loved us. It’s because everything flows from love, and the glory of God is love made manifest in Jesus Christ.

We are to share in that glory. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are now Christ’s body in the world. What Christ has done we are now called to do.

We may not have to die as he died, for that is a sacrifice once offered and which was, as the Prayer Book says, is “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”

A Calling to Show the Glory of Love

So what are we called to do?

  • Love God, and love our neighbor.
  • Proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world, baptizing and making disciples, teaching them everything Jesus has taught us.
  • Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, visit the imprisoned.
  • Seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
  • Sometimes, be led to places you do not want to go.
  • Feed my sheep, feed my lambs.

There are many examples in the lives of modern saints of this love:

Listen, then to these so familiar words: ““I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How will you – how will we – show forth the glory of love?

 

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