Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes in Southwark Cathedral. 
Andrewes is shown wearing the mantle of the Order of the Garter 
and he carries a small book which may represent his Preces Privatae, 
the famous collection of prayers he composed.

Today Bishop Lancelot Andrewes is commemorated in the Church of England. He was born in 1555 in Barking, and studied at Merchant Taylors’ School and then Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. After ordination, he held several posts before accepting, in 1601, the appointment of Dean of Westminster, where he gave much attentlon to the school. Andrewes was present at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, which sought to bring peace between different schools of thought in the Church of England. He was also a translator of much of the Old Testament of what is known as the ‘Authorised Version’ (or ‘King James Version’) of the Bible. His preaching and his writings proved highly influential and his holiness of life and gentle nature endeared him to all who met him.

Andrewes was appointed bishop, first of Chichester, then of Ely, and finally, in 1619, of Winchester. He died on 25th September, 1626 and his remains lie in a church which was then in his diocese of Winchester but now is the cathedral for the Diocese of Southwark.

Go HERE for Marian Dorman’s excellent Web page on Andrewes 

Go HERE for Bishop John Hazlewood’s reflection on Andrewes

Go HERE for T.S. Eliot’s essay on Andrewes


If all the creatures in the world should offer themselves 
together with me to praise thee, O Lord, 
yet is it certain that we could not give thee sufficient thanks 
for the least of thy mercies; 
and if together we cannot sufficiently praise thee for the least, 
how much less can I alone perform so great a duty, 
for such inestimable blessings, as I have at this time received; 
for vouchsafing to visit me, comfort me, and honour me 
with acceptance and admittance to thy blessed table. 

If Elizabeth, the mother of John Baptist, 
(upon the Virgin Mary’s entrance to her house) said, 
Whence is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? 
What shall I say, whom the Lord himself hath visited and united to him, 
by his blessed Sacrament, 
being a vessel and receptacle of all impurity, 
who hath so often affended, despited and neglected him? 

King David wondered why God should so esteem of, or visit man; 
but I wonder much more, why he should be made man for man, 
abide with him, suffer death for him, 
and give himself to him for spiritual food. 

Solomon, after he had built a temple to God, reasoned thus: 
But will God dwell indeed on the earth? 
Behold the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, 
how much less this house, that I have builded? 
May not I much more marvel, 
that God will not disdain to come and abide 
in this my poor and wretched soul? 
What greater benefit or grace, 
what greater argument of his love is there, can there be showed to me?

Oh my soul, if thou wouldest but thoroughly conceive 
the happiness that cometh to thee by this holy Sacrament, 
then consider and well weigh, what benefits it bringeth with it. 
By it the sons of men are made the sons of God, 
and all that is earthly or carnal in us is mortified, 
that the Deity may live and abide with us. 
What therefore, O my Lord, shall I do? 
What thanks shall I render to thee? 
With what fervency shall I love thee? 

For if thou, so mighty  a Lord, hast vouchsafed to love me, 
poor wretched creature, 
how should it be, but that I should return love again to thee? 

And how shall I express my love better, 
than in forbearing those things which thou dost abhor, 
and following those things which thou dost command? 

Give, O Lord, to this end thy concomitant grace to me, 
whereby I may return a reciprocal love to thee, 
and love those things, which are acceptable to thee, 
and avoid those things, which are to thee unpleasing.

Give me a heart, which may love thee 
with so true, faithful, and constant affection, 
as that nothing under the sun may separate me from the love of thee. 

Let me not follow the love of the world, 
or delight in the vanities of it any longer: 
but give me power to kill and quench all other love and desires, 
and to love thee only, desire thee only, and only think of thee, 
and thy commandments: 
that all my affections and thoughts may be fixed on thee; 
that in all temptations and adversities, 
I may have recourse to thee only, 
and receive all comfort from thee alone, 
who livest and reignest, one God, 
world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
at All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, Australia

Go HERE for the story of Walsingham

Joy to thee, Queen, within thine ancient dowry -
joy to thee, Queen, for once again thy fame
is noised abroad and spoken of in England
and thy lost children call upon thy name.
Ladye of Walsingham, be as thou hast been -
England’s Protectress, our Mother and our Queen!

In ages past, thy palmer-children sought thee
from near and far, a faith-enlightened throng,
bringing their gems, and gold and silver love-gifts
where tapers gleamed, where all was prayer and song.
Ladye of Walsingham, be as thou hast been -
England’s Protectress, our Mother and our Queen!

Countless the signs and wonders that men told there,
for not in vain did any pilgrim kneel
before thy throne to seek thy intercession
but thou didst bend to listen and to heal.
Ladye of Walsingham, be as thou hast been -
England’s Protectress, our Mother and our Queen!

The Martyrs’ blood, like heavenly seed, is scattered;
the harvest now is ripe for us to reap;
the Faith dishonoured now is held in honour;
O help thine own this precious gift to keep!
Ladye of Walsingham, be as thou hast been -
England’s Protectress, our Mother and our Queen!

Unto thy Son - unto our sweet Redeemer,
Source of our Hope, our Life, our Joy, once more
we bring the love and loyalty of England
and in his Sacrament we him adore.
Ladye of Walsingham, be as thou hast been -
England’s Protectress, our Mother and our Queen!

Tune: Pilgrims, by Hen­ry T. Smart (1868)

The first time I had the honour of celebrating Mass 
in the Holy House at Walsingham - Eastertide 1989

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Our worship is "put on" for God

One Sunday morning during my time at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace in Brisbane, a group of students from the local theological college came to High Mass as part of their experience of different worship traditions. It was a very traditional liturgy (“streamlined and adapted Cranmer”) a la the English Missal. The choir sang the propers, motets and setting from the gallery. The congregagtion sang their hymns and said their prayers with zeal. It was an old fashioned “eastward” celebration with clergy and people facing the altar together. It was mystical and transcendent, but surging with life, love and colour, even as the noise of the traffic going down Ann Street - with the occasional sirens of police, fire and ambulance vehicles - reminded us that the Sacrifice of Praise was being offered in the heart of a modern Australian city. I have to admit that some of the students found it “quaint” and were amused. But others were moved. A young woman among them actually used the “A” word. She told a couple of us over morning tea that it was “awesome” to find Anglo-Catholics who “put all this on for God.” She likened us to the Greek and Russian churches on the south side of the Brisbane River where God was the object of worship, and in which worship had “no ulterior motive.”

I was indeed able to help her see that for us worship is an end in itself and not a means to an end; that the liturgy is - as the Orthodox say - “the earthly heaven” in which by the power of the Holy Spirit and through sacramental signs we are swept up into the eternal movement of Jesus’ love for the Father.

It is to express this that worship is beautiful, liturgical, mystical and homely all at once. It is ordered without being stuffy. It is overwelmingly exuberant in joyful praise, while also - like the Psalter - it contains a deep note of lamentation signifying that our woundedness and pain as aspects of the suffering of creation - which will one day itself share the glorious liberty of the children of God - are part of the offering being made to the Father.

I have been thinking about these things over the last couple of days as the result of two blog posts by Frederica Mathewes-Green. She writes from the Orthodox tradition. Here are the posts:

A pastor in the UK wrote me asking, “What is worship for?” He said that his denomination was encouraging pastors to make worship more “user-friendly” in order to attract new members, and that this initially seemed to him a reasonable evangelistic strategy. A scripture cited in support of this approach was Acts 15:19, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” But as he read this scripture in context, it looked to him like it was written of people who were already Christian believers, and would not be required to accept Jewish practices. It didn’t address the case of people entirely outside the faith. He wrote to ask, “Who are church services for? Believers or unbelievers?” CONTINUE READING  

Yesterday I wrote on “What is Worship For?”, but I forgot to answer the question. I said that it is not the time for evangelism, and shouldn’t be designed with non-believers in mind. But what is it for?  Worship is for God; we could expand that and say worship is for believers to offer to God. But even once we’re clear that worship is the work of the believing community, there’s a possible confusion. We might think the purpose of worship is to give believers a good worship experience. CONTINUE READING

In fact, from an evangelical Anglican perspective, the late Peter Toon had similarly written in 2004 that American and English Christians have a range of wrong ideas about the “purpose” of worship.

One idea, he said, is that we worship “in order ‘to create community’, a ‘community of faith’ and a ‘community of celebration.’ Here the coming together to sing, pray and listen is seen as combating alienation, individualism and an inadequate view of self-worth.  In the presence of God, it is believed that there is affirmation and healing for all.”

Another idea is that we worship “in order to ‘to prepare for mission’ - to be a mission-shaped church, to be a people who obey the command of Jesus to go into the world to preach the Gospel to all the creation.”

A third idea is that we worship “‘to becoming a caring people’ -  to be transformed through the songs, prayers and ritual into a people who care for those in need and learn to love their neighbor as they love themselves.”

A fourth idea is that we worship “‘to teach & learn the Faith’ – in the context of word and song to offer and to receive instruction in the Christian life, in faith and morals.”

A fifth idea is that we worship “‘to bring the world to God and God to the world.’”

Toon agrees that all these are things are characteristic - and MUST be characteristic - of Christian communities. But he also says that WORSHIP ITSELF exists for no human, practical purpose, even an exalted and noble human purpose. Worship has only the one purpose of seeking to please the Triune God in his holiness and glory.

Peter Toon draws attention to the description of the the Divine Liturgy at Byzantium experienced by the Russian emissaries immediately before the Orthodox Church was invited into Russia.

“What impressed them as onlookers about the Liturgy was precisely ITS UTTER LACK OF AN ULTERIOR PURPOSE, the fact that it was celebrated for GOD and not for spectators, that it sole intent was to be before God and for God, pleasing and acceptable to God . . .”

Today I had the great joy of going to a High Mass at St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, which has been a favourite church of mine since my first visit in 1989. The parish was once pastored by the legendary Fr Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton. (I took the photo above on my iPhone at the offertory today!) The occasion was the festival Mass for the parish’s Fraternity of Our Lady de Salve Regina. The Mass setting was the Missa Solemnis Op55 of Max Filke (1855-1911) and included the singing of Rossini’s O Salutaris and Salve Regina. The preacher was Armenian Orthodox priest, Fr Garegin Hambardzymyan, currently resident at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, while he completes his doctorate at Shefield University.

I was so moved by today’s Mass, which was, quite clearly, “awesome” and “put on for God.” The liturgy itself was nearly identical to that which we had at All Saints’ Brisbane, and the music, though perfect in every way did not take over as if it were mere “performance.” The sermon was stunning, and all about Our Lady’s response to God’s grace. At one point, Fr Garegin even quoted the paragraph of Fr George Florovsky published permanently in the sidebar of this blog:

“The Church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second.”

I’m sure that’s right.

So, whatever our cultural background, and whether we are traditionalists or moderns, or even “fresh expressionists”, let’s make sure that whatever inventive ways we create to reach people with the Gospel message, and however we operate pastorally to support and grow our parish communities, our worship itself is, in fact, worship, and that it is primarily “put on for God.” 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Big Heart Open to God - Fr Antonio Spadaro’s interview with Pope Francis

I have written down a few thoughts on the interview Pope Francis gave to Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La CiviltĂ  Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal. But, instead of posting them, I’ve decided to hold fire, and instead simply provide a valuable link to an easily downloadable A4 size PDF of the entire interview so as to encourage friends to read it right through rather than respond to bits and pieces of it taken out of context.

Pope Francis is, I believe, helping the whole Church at a critical time of our engagement with the secular world to “turn the corner”, becoming more focused on Jesus, the Gospel and the journey to wholeness (“salvation”) not just of ourselves (and not primarily of ouselves) but of all whose lives we touch along the way.

All Christian traditions (and I mean "all"!) have so much to learn from him.

If - after reading the interview in full, of course, - you would like to read a first rate Anglican reflection on it, go HERE for the initial response of Fr Anthony Chadwick.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Bishop of Quincy's Message to his people

I have been in the Diocese of Quincy three times, and have stayed twice in the retreat house of the Benedictine Community at Bartonville, a real hub of prayer, ecumenism and evangelism. In terms of population and far-flung parishes, the Diocese itself is not unlike Ballarat (Australia) where I was ordained. Quincy has had a succession of godly Anglo-Catholic bishops who have taught and lived the fulness of the Faith, and proclaimed the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. During the time of Bishop Keith Ackerman and his successor Bishop Alberto Morales, the diocese has prayerfully stood firm against enormous odds in the battle in which so many of our North American brothers and sisters have reluctantly found themselves. The following anointed message of Bishop Morales to his people is, in fact, a real encouragement to orthodox Anglicans all over the world, especially in those places where evangelicals and anglo-catholics have been completely marginalised. I love what the Bishop says about enduring the night. May the Lord continue to pour out his Holy Spirit on the Diocese of Quincy!  

The Diocese of Quincy has become a city of faith, 
not of revenge or political fights or rivalries

By The Right Reverend J. Alberto Morales, OSB 
September 15, 2013

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,


Let me begin this letter by quoting from Psalm 46: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth shall change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea."

This Psalm is known as Luther's Psalm, because he sang it during difficult times. We do not know the context in which it was written, but it seems to have been in a time of political, social and religious instability. Perhaps it was a time of war and the city of Jerusalem itself was threatened. In the life of the Church and in her pastoral ministry, we face many moments such as these: difficulties in our ministry which demand a solid Christian witness, family difficulties, personal difficulties and congregational difficulties. These are all times where our faith is tested. The apostle John tells us that it is faith that gives us victory (1 John 5, 4-5). But, what kind of faith are we talking about? Pure faith, which consists of knowing God. The Psalmist stresses the many things that he knows about God: God is strong, God is a refuge, God is our strength, God is our helper. Many times the difficulties we face paralyze us. But the Psalmist tells us that we need not fear any adverse situation, "Though the earth shall change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea..." When we become people of faith, not of fear, our faith becomes living faith. Faith that reveals to us the secret of security in God.

The Psalmist had no doubts. In faith, there is no place for doubt. We know that God will give us, his holy people, His help. But we must also know that that help will come at the dawning of the day, that is, in God's time. There will be a night which will be a time of uncertainty, of difficulties, of despair, of persecution; when the city of God is "not helped." Faith must sustain us during the night, knowing that in the morning the Divine help will come. God is with us. God is our refuge. God gives us security. Beloved in Christ, the Diocese of Quincy has been through that night. A night in which the faith in each of our hearts has nurtured the hope and revealed the surety that God will bring us joy in the morning. It was in that morning, on September 10, that I received the great news from our Chancellor, Tad Brenner, who said: "Look what God has done. We won the court case." My mind went immediately to the Psalm we are sharing: "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth shall change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea."

In this Eucharistic Liturgy let us first of all, give thanks to God for his generosity towards us. Let us also thank all of those who have dedicated so much time, money and effort for this cause. Let us give thanks to God because the Diocese of Quincy has become a city of faith, not of revenge or political fights or rivalries. It has become a city where God is God.

In times of great difficulty, it is our nature to act, to run here and there, to try to do something to help ourselves. But the key is to be still and to wait upon the Lord. The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 

In Christ and St. Benedict, 
The Right Rev. J. Alberto Morales, OSB 
Quincy IX

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Refreshing music on web-radio

Quite by accident I came across a wonderful Dutch website with a choice of two web radio channels, one devoted to continuous traditional choral music ("Musica Religiosa"), and the other to pipe organ music ("Orgelradio"). I've had it playing in the background while I work, and it's just beautiful - a tonic to the soul. The URL is:

Here are screenshots of the site:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Prayer - the words that we say

Prayer is, quite simply, our friendship, our daily relationship, with God. It is responding from deep within to his love, bringing before him our worship and our hopes, as well as our brokenness and our fears. It is listening for God as well as speaking. In prayer, God strengthens and supports us as we open our hearts and minds to him. 

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
Our watchword at the gates of death,
We enter heaven with prayer.
- James Montgomery (1771-1854) in The English Hymnal, 474

Because prayer is essentially “being with God,” it does not consist primarily in the words we say.

Words are important, of course, especially in the communal prayer of the Church. And some words have been hallowed by centuries of use. They are the “mantras” of the Christian tradition, having come to us across the centuries laden with their ancient power to raise our hearts and minds to God.

It is sad that arguments continue in churches of various traditions about whether set prayers or spontaneous prayers are best. Some regard utter spontaneity as the best indication of particular closeness to God. Others would never dream of departing from the set words of a prayer book.

Set words are very useful in public worship, for the celebration of the sacraments, and for landmark gatherings such as weddings and funerals. Ancient liturgical services in poetic language that is truly beautiful, help us to enter the great river of prayer that has formed and refreshed our community through the centuries. 

In private prayer, however, there are no hard and fast rules. It’s a matter of what is appropriate and meaningful for us personally. That can vary in different circumstances and at different points in our spiritual journey. Some people just “chat” to God; others like to sing hymns, psalms, worship choruses or simple TaizĂ© chants; others use a prayer language (“speaking in tongues” ) the Holy Spirit has given them; still others stick to their books of devotion.

Anglican clergy, like those of other traditional churches, are committed daily to a set structure of psalmody, readings and prayer that (with the Eucharist) forms the scaffolding of the spiritual life. I observe growing numbers of lay people incorporating abbreviated versions of these forms into their own life of prayer.

The reality is that the daily prayer life of most Christian people is a blend of silence, spontaneity and set prayers. This ought not surprise us, for the Gospels clearly indicate that such was the experience of Jesus in the days of his earthly sojourn.

Fr Robert Llewelyn (1909-2008), a much loved Anglican spiritual director, puts this into perspective and expresses perfectly the relationship between even the most beautiful of our words and the movement of love which is the essence of our praying: 

“The important thing is that the intention to pray remains, ourselves meanwhile attending gently to the words as the Holy Spirit enables us, knowing that the heart is at prayer even though the mind may wander from time to time. We have to remember that the real prayer lies beyond the words in the inclination and the offering of the heart, and the function of the words is to set the heart free to pray. The words may be seen as banks of a river enabling it to remain deep and flowing. Without the banks, the waters would scatter and become shallow and even stagnant. A similar danger is open to prayer when the framework in which it freely flows is removed. Yet the prayer is not the framework, but lies beyond. And just as when the river flows into the sea, the banks are left behind, so when prayer flows more deeply into God, the words, having served their purpose, will drop away.”
- in With Pity Not With Blame, p. 54-55

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is traditional worship an impediment to evangelisation?

People searching for God today have a huge array of “worship experiences” available to them. Different Christian traditions and contrasting cultural contexts have contributed to the growth of this dazzling variety. And all the churches can justify theologically what they do, at least to their own satisfaction. St Paul told the early Christians at Corinth that “No-one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). So, from a Christian point of view, the Holy Spirit clearly works through all the means by which people end up making that profession of faith. 

A generation ago it seemed that liturgical worship was experienced by many as an impediment to real evangelism. And the more traditional the worship, the less “culturally relevant” it was for the work of the Gospel in our time. Many Christians opted for the newer kind of services that abound today. In recent decades, however, something else has been happening, and that is a surge of interest in traditional worship, not least in the USA among younger people from non-liturgical backgrounds and even from the evangelical mega-church scene. This is evident in the strong movement of people from those backgrounds joining the various Anglican Churches. It is also evident in the way that evangelicals and pentecostals are migrating in considerable numbers to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.  

Last month, Carl R. Trueman, a Presbyterian, who is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, USA, posted the following article on his website HERE. It is well worth reading, for his observations - from a non-liturgical angle - call into question the wholesale rejection of traditional liturgical worship in the name of cultural relevance. Dr Trueman’s latest book is The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012).


- Carl R. Trueman

I have had the pleasure on a couple of occasions of sitting next to a girl wearing a hijab.  Typically, this has occurred in departure lounges of airports or on the platforms of railway stations. Never has it happened in a place of worship at the time of a service. Never, that is, until recently.

On the last Friday in June, I happened to be in Cambridge with my youngest son and decided to expose him to one of my alma mater's true delights: choral evensong at King's Chapel. We dutifully queued in the pouring rain (for me, those blue remembered hills are definitely English and cloud covered), and, when the chapel finally opened, we took our places at the far end of the aisle. It was then that I realized that the young girl sitting to my left was wearing a hijab. It was an interesting, if unlikely, juxtaposition: the middle aged Orthodox Presbyterian and the twenty-something Moslem waiting for the Anglican liturgy to begin. I assume that - rather like me - she was probably in the chapel for aesthetic reasons rather than religious ones. King's choir is famous; the preaching in the chapel was, at least in my student days, at best, infamous. Sermons then were the ultimate Schleiermacherian nightmare: rambling reflections on the religious self-consciousness by the irremediably irreverent. It may have improved in recent decades but, not being remotely postmillennial, I have no confidence that that is the case.

Once the choir had entered and taken its place, the service began. For the next hour, the sardonic Presbyterian and the attractive hijabi sat, stood and on occasion knelt together as the congregation worked its way through the Book of Common Prayer's liturgy for evensong, modified to take into account the appropriate Feast Day (as a good Presbyterian, I have erased the detail of whose day from my memory). The singing, both corporate and choral, was beautiful; and the austere elegance of Cranmer's liturgy seemed to find its perfect acoustic context in the perpendicular poise of the late Gothic Chapel. Then, at the end, we filed out in silence, having, at the level of mere aesthetics, heard one of the great male choirs singing words of deep and passionate piety. Outside, the rain continued and my son and I left the young hijabi chatting on her phone as we headed off to Don Pasquale's, a favourite haunt of my student days. Indeed, it was the place where one took a girl on a date if one wished to appear sophisticated while still operating on a budget. (For any would-be sophisticated but impoverished Cambridge bachelors out there, I can confirm that it is still there, and still a prudent balance of atmosphere and good value for money).

Sitting in Don Pasquale's, my son and I indulged in a little thought experiment. What, we wondered, had the girl in the hijab made of it all? Culturally, it may not have been a completely alien environment. She was a Spanish Moslem, and, with the exception of the hijab, dressed in the casual attire of any fashion conscious Western girl. So the look and sounds of a Christian church was possibly not as alien to her as, for example, I had found the Blue Mosque in Istanbul while touring Turkey in the 80s. Yet she was still a Moslem. The service itself would have been foreign territory.

So what exactly had she witnessed, I asked myself? Well, at a general level she had heard the English language at its most beautiful and set to an exalted purpose: the praise of Almighty God. She would also have seen a service with a clear biblical logic to it, moving from confession of sin to forgiveness to praise to prayer. She would also have heard this logic explained to her by the minister presiding, as he read the prescribed explanations that are built in to the very liturgy itself. The human tragedy and the way of salvation were both clearly explained and dramatized by the dynamic movement of the liturgy. And she would have witnessed all of this in an atmosphere of hushed and reverent quiet.

In terms of specific detail, she would also have heard two whole chapters of the Bible read out loud: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Not exactly the whole counsel of God but a pretty fair snapshot. She would have been led in a corporate confession of sin. She would have heard the minister pronounce forgiveness in words shaped by scripture. She would have been led in corporate prayer in accordance with the Lord's own prayer. She would have heard two whole psalms sung by the choir. She would have had the opportunity to sing a couple of hymns drawn from the rich vein of traditional hymnody and shot through with scripture. She would have been invited to recite the Apostles' Creed (and thus come pretty close to being exposed to the whole counsel of God). She would have heard collects rooted in the intercessory concerns of scripture brought to bear on the real world. And, as I noted earlier, all of this in the exalted, beautiful English prose of Thomas Cranmer.

Now, I confess to being something of an old Puritan when it comes to liturgy. Does it not lead to formalism and stifle the religion of the heart? Certainly I would have thought so fifteen or twenty years ago. Yet as I reflected on the service and what the girl in the hijab had witnessed, I could not help but ask myself if she could have experienced anything better had she walked into a church in the Protestant evangelical tradition. Two whole chapters of the Bible being read? To have one whole chapter from one Testament seems to test the patience of many today. Two whole psalms sung (and that as part of a calendar which proceeds through the whole Psalter)?  That is surely a tad too old fashioned, irrelevant, and often depressing for those who want to go to church for a bit of an emotional boost. A structure for worship which is determined by the interface between theological truth and biblically-defined existential need? That sounds as if it might be vulnerable to becoming dangerously formulaic formalism. A language used to praise God which is emphatically not that employed of myself or of anybody else in their daily lives when addressing the children, the mailman, or the dog? I think the trendy adjective would be something like 'inauthentic.'

Yet here is the irony: in this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware - than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. Yes, it was probably a good thing that there was no sermon that day: I am confident that, as Carlyle once commented, what we might have witnessed then would have been a priest boring holes in the bottom of the Church of England.  But that aside, Cranmer's liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God's word seriously in worship I fall.

Of course, there were things other than a sermon which the hijabi did not witness: she did not witness any adults behaving childishly; she did not witness anybody saying anything stupid; she did not witness any stand-up comedy routine or any casual cocksureness in the presence of God; she did not see any forty-something pretending to be cool; in short, she did not witness anything that made me, as a Christian, cringe with embarrassment for my faith, or for what my faith has too often become at the hands of the modern evangelical gospellers.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Conversion - real and ongoing

We come here each Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, to celebrate the newness of life that Jesus gives us. 

St Paul wrote to the early Roman Christians, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)

Did you hear that? “Newness of life!” Through faith and baptism the power of Jesus’ resurrection is released into the Church, the community he gathers around him. We are new people.

This is a work of God’s grace. It is nothing less than a miracle. 

St Paul wrote to the early Christians in Corinth: “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (1 Corinthians 5:17)

This morning I want to share with you some things about conversion. 

There are those who turn to Christ as adults whose conversion experience is sudden, perhaps as the result of one single act of worship or an evangelistic gathering during which the scales fall from their eyes. It is as if they are overwhelmed by grace, and they just know that the Lord is real and wants to come into their lives. 

But for others the whole journey - while no less a work of God’s grace - is much more gradual, involving years of picking through difficult philosophical questions and emotional problems, and working through the accumulation of probabilities that indicate the existence of God.

Every priest and pastor can testify that even in our tough anti-God culture there is a constant trickle of people from all walks of life being converted to Jesus. Such conversion experiences, whether sudden or gradual, especially in adulthood, are nothing less than revolutionary. Theologian Bernard Lonergan wrote: 

“. . . conversion occurs in the lives of individuals. It is not merely a change or even a development; rather it is a radical transformation on which follows, on all levels of living, an interlocked series of changes and developments. What hitherto was unnoticed becomes vivid and present. What had been of no concern becomes a matter of high import. So great a change in one’s apprehensions and one’s values accompanies no less a change in oneself, in one’s relations to other persons, and in one’s relations to God.”  

There is a third group of adults – perhaps some of you here today – who have been brought up in the Church and who can never remember a time when they didn’t believe or when they didn’t feel close to God. It can be difficult for these people to understand the excitement of new converts.

And sadly, - not in this parish, but in many others! - “cradle believers” have occasionally been known to behave in a very snooty and snobbish way towards the newly converted. 

But just as sadly, it is not completely unknown – not here, but in other places! – for zealous new converts to treat “cradle believers” as if their faith is second rate because they haven't got a "capital T" testimony of conversion. 

Let’s not fall into either trap. We should be thankful to the Lord for the great blessing of a conversion experience, as well as for the equally great blessing of having been raised in the community of faith and love, and never to have strayed. The same Lord is the giver of both blessings. 

But, whether we had a dramatic conversion experience that changed the direction of our life, or whether we have always been among the Lord’s converted people, we have one really important thing in common: THE LORD CALLS US TO AN ONGOING CONVERSION OF LIFE.

This means not just being thankful for our baptism, our conversion, or other significant events of the past, but being open to God and his love NOW, seeking his will, obeying his Word, and discovering the gifts he has given to us so that we can be fruitful in his service. It means dealing with sin. It means, in the words of Jesus, denying ourself, taking up our cross daily and following him. (Luke 9:23)

It means living in the reality - as they knew even in the Old Testament - that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are NEW EVERY MORNING; and great is his faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
But when we think about conversion we need to be careful not to see it just in terms of ticking the boxes against a list of propositions about God that we have come to believe in our heads. There is a kind of evangelism and Christian witness that is OK in its place, but which seems to forget that CONVERSION IS NOT JUST A MATTER OF CHANGING WHAT YOU BELIEVE; IT IS ABOUT CHANGING WHO YOU LOVE MOST.

Didn’t the Master say: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength . . . and your neighbour as yourself? (See Mark 12:29-31)

Ticking the doctrinal boxes – understanding the nuts and bolts of the Christian faith – is, of course, important . . . VERY important. You know that. We spend a huge amount of time and energy teaching the truth about God the Father, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about the Bible, about the sacraments . . . all the things God has revealed to us.  But on its own, ticking the doctrinal boxes is NOT “conversion.” Nor is our ongoing conversion primarily a matter of learning more doctrine or understanding the Bible and the Church’s teaching better, although we should be doing those things as well. 

Ongoing conversion is a continuing surrender of ourselves to the love that sought us from all eternity, the everlasting love we see in the Saviour hanging on the cross for us. Ongoing conversion is about allowing the newness of life Jesus gives us - the power of his resurrection - to surge through us daily, to continually re-fashion every aspect of our being, our priorities and our loves. 

Hence the words in today’s Gospel when Jesus says that “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

What terrible words. Heartbreaking words. We cringe when we read them. Clergy hope they’re not on the preaching roster when those words come up in the readings! 

They are, of course hyperbole, a form of speech very much in vogue among the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. What the Lord is telling us is that real conversion of life means that he is our first love. Of course, he also wants us to love our families with a truly sacrificial love. That is spelt out in other parts of the Bible. But every now and then – and you know this as well as I do – there is a situation where someone, in order to respond to the Lord, has literally to give up everything, and that can mean being cut off from family and friends. It is a hard thing to cope with, and there is heartache all round.

I think of St Perpetua, converted to Jesus in second century Carthage in North Africa, who, in spite of her father’s love and tears remained faithful to the Lord, and died a martyr’s death.

I think of St Francis of Assisi in early 13th century Italy whose response to Jesus meant estrangement from his wealthy father. (But it also meant the renewal of the Church in the Gospel!)

I think of Edith Stein, the brilliant Jewish girl who became an atheist before then being converted to Jesus. Her mother was deeply hurt by her conversion, but Edith knew she must respond to Jesus, and, indeed, eventually died a martyr’s death in an Auschwitz gas chamber.

I think of so many young men whose parents have not wanted them to respond to the call of Jesus to be priests, but they responded anyway.

I think of young men and women who heard Jesus call them away from family businesses, worldly success and even their inheritances in order to go into isolated poverty-stricken places as missionaries, incarnating in their lives the love of the Lord Jesus for the people to whom they were sent, so often paying the price of rejection by their own families. 

Well, that’s the first thing. We love him most.

The second thing is that ongoing conversion means allowing the newness of life we have in Jesus to impact on all our relationships, with sometimes surprising countercultural results. 

That is the message of today’s second reading, a very short letter written by St Paul to his friend, Philemon, who lived in Colossae.

Philemon and his wife Apphia were well off, and the church met in their house. One of the household slaves – Onesimus – had run away, possibly stealing from Philemon to help finance his escape. But, like many other people, Onesimus was converted to Christ through the ministry of St Paul who was under house arrest, most likely in Rome. Not only that, but young Onesimus was formed in the life of faith by a cluster of the early Church’s most notable leaders, including Mark and Luke (Philemon 23-24; Colossians 4:7-14). 

What could Paul to do with Onesimus, who was technically a criminal, and who could expect to be severely punished for running away?

In his letter, Paul calls Onesimus “my child”, and says that Philemon is to welcome Onesimus back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 16). If the conversion of Onesimus is remarkable, no less remarkable is the ongoing conversion of Philemon, who, despite the social arrangements of the time, faces this Gospel challenge to his household relationships. 

According to early church tradition, Onesimus was set free when he returned to Philemon. He became a preacher of the Gospel, and forty years later, by the time Bishop Ignatius of Antioch writes to the Church at Ephesus, Onesimus had become the Bishop there (Ignatius to the Ephesians 1.3; 2.1; 6.2).

All because St Paul urged upon Philemon that the newness of life we have in Jesus, and the love which has touched our lives in him, be reflected in our network of relationships and in our treatment of others, specifically recognising the new lines of kinship that are established in Christ. 

In fact, in the early Church, the greatest impact for the Gospel was made, not so much by the actual preaching of the apostles or those who came after them, but by the quality of the fellowship, the communion, the shared life, of those who had been converted. People could see evidence of the love of God and the power of Jesus’ resurrection being released in these communities. Many ended up responding to the Gospel, so as to be drawn into the same life, and experience the same realities. Sociologist and historian Rodney Stark makes this clear in his recent studies on the nature of early church growth.

What about us? Surely the Lord is calling us to embrace the challenge of continuing conversion, not just - or even primarily - for our own blessing, but so that we as a community of faith are being changed from glory to glory into a magnet of love and new life for those around us who are seeking the reality of God.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Archbishop of Sydney's statement on Kevin Rudd's Q & A Gay Marriage comment

In terms of the Australian Election, I am much more concerned about the brutal policies of both major political parties on assylum seekers than anything else. As far as I can see, we have in Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott two political leaders who sincerely profess and practise the Christian faith but who are on a race to the moral low point in order to tap into the layer of fear and racism thought to lie just under the surface among swinging voters. Christian people from right across the traditions are endorsing the heartfelt letter from Bishop Hurley to Mr Abbott. Read it HERE.

Another great disappointment in the campaign is the answer Kevin Rudd gave regarding gay marriage on the ABC’s “QandA “ programme on Monday. Now, I think Kevin is a good bloke, but he seems to have adopted, not just the completely subjective hermeneutic of liberal Anglicanism, but also the smug and sneering arrogance of liberal church leaders towards those who argue for the Christian understanding of marriage (or anything else, for that matter). So, I was pleased to read this statement by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, about what Kevin said:

“Kevin Rudd was profoundly wrong in his understanding of the Bible. He misquoted the Bible and attributed to the Bible something that Aristotle said (that slavery is a natural condition). The Bible never says that. The Bible sees slavery as the result of fallen and broken relationships in society and it is crystal clear in its condemnation of the slave trade.

I was disappointed by Mr Rudd’s comments last night in the same way that I was disappointed by the position he announced in May despite, as he said, after much reflection. Unfortunately in my view he has not been reflecting on the teaching of Scripture.  

By the way, readers who have no view on this matter, those who are still making up their mind, and all who want to hear a reasonably conservative but “open” Christian scholar speak about his own wrestling with the gay marriage issue, should watch this video of Bishop Tom Wright. It is valuable because towards the end, he shows how for Christians our understanding of marriage is connected to a raft of other issues that really matter. 

Da Pacem, Domine

Father Anthony Chadwick posted the following on his blog yesterday, in light of Pope Franncis' announcement that Saturday will be a Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace in Syria. May all Christians everythere take this to heart. We remember before the Lord our brothers and sisters in Syria, and all men, women and children who will suffer if the present conflict becomes full scale war. 

Listen to the the Song of Thanksgiving set to music in 1944 by Vaughan Williams, carefully looking at the images. The text from the Sacred Scriptures and our favourite English poets is helpful, so is included.

The BBC asked RVW to write a “Thanksgiving Anthem” to mark the end of the war and this is the result. Originally called “Thanksgiving for Victory”, it was later re-named and has been recorded several times. A lesser composer might have regarded such a commission as a mere ‘job-of-work’ - an occasional piece that would be performed once or twice and then forgotten; but Vaughan Williams, of course, gave it his all and came up with a work of poignant sincerity; patriotic but never jingoistic or triumphalist. He selected the text himself from the bible, Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling.

This performance is to be found on a Hyperion disc. Matthew Best conducts the Corydon Singers and the City of London Sinfonia, with Sir John Gielgud (speaker) and Lynn Dawson (Soprano). Children from the Choir of the London Oratory sang Kipling’s ‘Land of Our Birth’.

Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers;
and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
And blessed is thy glorious and holy Name;
and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.
Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory;
and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
Blessed art thou on the glorious throne of thy kingdom,
and to be praised and glorified above all forever.
Song of the Three Holy Children, vv. 29, 30, 31 & 33

O God, thy arm was here,
And not to us, but to thy arm alone
Ascribe we all. Take it, God, for it is none but thine.
Henry V, Act IV, Sc. 8

Thine, O Lord, is the greatness,
and the power and the glory.
Thine is the victory, and the majesty;
for all that is in the heaven and earth is thine.
Thine is the kingdom, O Lord,
and thou art exalted as head above all.
I Chronicles XXIX, v. 2

O give thanks unto the Lord because he is gracious:
For his mercy endureth for ever.
Song of the Three Holy Children, v. 67

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to comfort all the mourn; to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Isaiah, LXI, vv. 1, 2, 3

Go through, go through the gates,
prepare ye the way of the people;
cast up, cast up the highway;
gather out the stones.
Lift up a standard for the people.
Behold, the lord hath proclaimed
unto the ends of the world,-say ye,
“Behold thy salvation cometh,
Behold, his reward is with him and his work before him.”
And they shall call them the holy people,
the redeemed of the lord:
and thou shalt be called “Sought out,”
a city not forsaken.
Isaiah, LXII, vv. 10, 11, 12

And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations. And they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations
of many generations.
Isaiah, LXI, v. 4

Violence shall be no more heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.

But thou shalt call thy walls Salvation,
and thy gates Praise.
Isaiah, LX, v. 18

Land of our birth, we pledge to thee
Our love and toil in the years to be;
When we are grown and take our place
As men and women with our race.
Father in Heaven who lovest all,
O help thy children when they call.
That they may build from age to age
An undefiled heritage.

Teach us the strength that cannot seek,
By deed, or thought, to hurt the weak;
That, under thee, we may possess
Man’s strength to comfort man’s distress.
Teach us delight in simple things,
The mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And love to all men ‘neath the sun.

Land of our birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
O Motherland, we pledge to thee,
Head, heart and hand through the years to be.
Rudyard Kipling

The Lord shall be thine everlasting light,
And the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Isaiah LX, v. 20