Monday, 31 July 2017

The kingdom of heaven is like ....

The boat in St. James’ Piccadilly and the kingdom of heaven

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Now of course heaven is not a mustard seed, nor yeast, nor a treasure, nor a pearl nor a magic net and nor is the lover a summer’s day. For as Shakespeare says:

“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
And often is is golden complexion dimmed
And every fair from fair sometimes declines.

Now, Jesus knew about heaven, he knows it in every detail but he does not tell us expressly what it is, or where it is; he does not define it but even with all his certainty and intimate perfect knowledge contents himself by  saying what it is like. He is aware that heaven is so beyond our understanding, that we can only marginally approach it and then  by signs, symbol and allusion. By looking and thinking of things we know and which we can see and do comprehend we can be helped to touch the ineffable. For this we need language - it may be the language of art, of music, of poetry, it may be traditional, abstract or modern and then more often, it seems to me , it is what is not depicted, not sung, not said, the mystery in cadence, in the spaces that speak to us of the ethereal. But our world is so noisily attuned to “faster”, “more” and “what’s next” that there is no room for spaces and we rush on. To think about heaven we need to go “slower” do “less” stay in the “now” - we have to wonder -

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

St. James Piccadilly is a big London church set in the bohemian world of Soho with artists of all sorts, creatives from all walks of life  among the congregation. Last Christmas they strung from their roof a real, recovered, refugee dinghy - it was very large, mainly bright orange and it bore the scars of a Mediterranean crossing, a craft brought up from the Italian shore. In a church designed  by Christopher Wren it stood out  and at that season flavoured the story of Mary and Joseph without a bed, of Jesus being born in a stable and of the family fleeing to Egypt.

I thought this was great!  [Pause to look at the roof] we could get something smaller perhaps?
But then I thought “but this is OK for St. James’ they are used to such things, these men and women of theatre land but we Streatley folk are of less gaudy cloth not given to large gestures.   I tracked down the reverend Lucy Winkett and asked her

“How do I prepare my Christmas congregation who have come for carols and candles, how do I prepare them for a boat in the roof?”

She looked intently and penetratingly at me and said “You don’t - just let the image speak on its own!”

And so I am not going to unpack our Gospel, not give my explanations of the symbols but am going to ask each of you to choose the image that resonates most with you - think about it - savour it - give it space to speak to you.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Paolo becoming a priest

Paolo becoming a priest

What I am just so pleased about is there is no delay, no gap, no waiting. Only yesterday we were in the Abbey watching and listening as Bishop Alan placed his hands on Paolo calling down the Holy Spirit to ordain him  a priest. And now here we are at the first possible opportunity joining Paolo as he celebrates his first Holy Communion with us. Our Gospel which is taken from the instructions that Jesus is giving to his disciples says

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Or using a slightly different translation :

Jesus says “To receive you is to receive me and to receive me is to receive the one who sent me”

As we receive Paolo this morning it is it seems to me as if we are receiving directly from the Bishop’s hands, who received from the Holy Spirit, who was sent by the Father. And so we welcome Paolo newly elected and invested into the Holy priesthood.

Paolo, you remember the first stirrings of your calling, how a still small voice spoke in you, then visits to vocations advisors, the time with a mentor, the preparation, a director of ordinands, the discernment and study for the Bishop’s Advisory Panel, the joy of being selected - not to become a priest but selected for training , the three years as an ordinand in that training, lectures attended, essays composed, residency at far flung Ditchingham late nights at the bar pondering the  hypostasis   
- all these things and even a year of curacy have been endured on your journey but they are neither toll nor tithe.

We read in Matthew that Jesus gave his disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits, to cure every kind of sickness and disease, to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, even to raise the dead.
Now this was not because the disciples had somehow earned these powers, they were given them - it is a source of wonder to me that Christ should bestow his power, to bless, to forgive sins, to celebrate the Lord’s supper on anyone for we are  vessels made of clay, but you (and I) are a priest today not through the process and the study but because of the unlimited generosity of Jesus Christ. It is this unbounded giving, the giving that led him to open hs arms wide upon the cross, the giving of the sacrament that you will shortly celebrate for us that we give thanks this morning.

And so Paolo we welcome you as a gift - a gift to us all - a blessing to us all