Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A 35 year old sermon - Worship and Spiritual Renewal

When circumstances forced me to prune back my possessions a few years ago, that included my filing cabinets. In one of them I had a file for each Sunday of the Church's three-year cycle, begun when I was made a deacon in 1979. Over the years, every sermon and pew sheet went into the appropriate Sunday file. Well, I had to be ruthless because of the unaffordable storage fees. So I discarded almost all of those files, rescuing just a handful of sermons preached on particularly historic occasions. (To be honest, I now regret not having worked out a way of keeping all of them, as I have been conscious recently of starting from scratch to prepare homilies and addresses, where recourse to what I had already done over the years would have been very useful!) A few days ago, however, I rediscovered the following sermon, inadvertently put with some other papers. It was preached just over 35 years ago for Epiphany 1980. 

I share it with you because, in fact, I STILL BELIEVE EVERY WORD OF IT. And it conveys what was still in those days a widely felt sense of hope and godly optimism in the various ways God was moving by his Spirit. 

I was not alone back then in being unable to see the storm clouds gathering over the Church (and I mean right across the traditions). We thought that the things taking place in ECUSA would be quarantined there and not - as eventually transpired - spread like a cancer through much of first world Anglicanism. It is now clear to me that during my lifetime the Church has squandered many blessings showered upon her by God.

But God is still God. And his Church is still his Church, though she is far more wounded, sick and broken than we once thought possible (and I don't just mean "Anglicanism"). 

Anyway, I thought I'd share with you what a young Deacon Chislett preached about renewal in early 1980.

Sermon at Solemn Evensong for the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday 6th January, 1980  
Christ Church S. Laurence, Sydney 

When the history of the Church in our time is written, it will contain many paradoxes. Not least of these will be the fact that alongside enormous crises of faith, in society and even in parts of the Church, there have been significant movements of spiritual renewal – movements described by the Belgian Cardinal Leon Josef Suenens as “surprises of the Holy Spirit.” 

It was ever thus. Think of the early nineteenth century. Thomas Arnold spoke for most of the intelligentsia when he said that “the Church of England as it is, no human power can save.” But God the Holy Spirit, who – as we know from Ezekiel 37 – works mightily in graveyards, raised up a company of men and women whose hearts were on fire with love for the Lord and a vision of his glory, and who were, humanly speaking, responsible for the great Catholic Revival within our Church which is all about worship, prayer, evangelism and transformation of communities. 

The spiritual movements of OUR day include: 

1. THE RENEWAL OF CATHOLIC THEOLOGY that climaxed in the Second Vatican Council, enabling us to understand grace, Church and sacraments not in institutional and juridical terms, but as dynamic, personal, communal and spiritual realities. Like our brothers and sisters in the early Christian centuries, we now believe that we live under an open heaven and we know that in our gatherings we encounter Jesus who comes to us in all his love and risen power, transforming our lives and enabling us to be his witnesses. That’s what the Council was all about!

2. THE OPENING UP OF SCRIPTURE to Catholic Christians so that we now expect to be nourished at “two tables” in the Eucharist. The “table of the Word” has come back into its own alongside the “table of the Sacrament.” In urging us to read the Bible for ourselves and rediscover the power of God’s Word in our daily lives, the Council document reiterates St Jerome’s conviction that to be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ. Like the companions of Jesus on the Emmaus Road, our hearts now burn within us when we hear the Scriptures read and proclaimed.

3. THE LITURGICAL MOVEMENT, which has expanded, deepened and enriched our worship, emphasising the one-ness of the royal priesthood with Jesus our great high priest, and with each other. We are learning that to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness – and the holiness of beauty! – is a gathering up of the community into the flow of love between Jesus and his Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. It is not just grand and triumphant; it is also intimate and deeply personal, and is itself a sign of the new community of love which is the Kingdom of God.

4. THE RENEWAL OF THE CONTEMPLATIVE AND DESERT TRADITIONS OF PRAYER in which “run of the mill” Christians like us are rediscovering the classical masters of the spiritual life, from the East as well as from the West. We know that this is happening here because of the astonishing number of books by writers such as Metropolitan Anthony, Carlo Carretto, Thomas Merton and Catherine Doherty being sold through the bookstall in the porch.  

5. THE CHARISMATIC RENEWAL, overflowing upon Christians of many different traditions and Church communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, a movement that has so nurtured our faith to the point that we now expect the healing gifts and other supernatural actions of the Holy Spirit to be experienced within the praying life of the Christian community for the blessing of all. The healing ministry of this parish under Father John Hope was the main precursor of the charismatic renewal in this city.

6. THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT, in which so many barriers separating Christian brothers and sisters from one another are tumbling down, and we are learning a new humility as we recognise that all the traditions – including some we don’t like – have held certain of God’s gifts “in trust” for the whole Church. This movement, emphasising the “koinonia” – “participation” in and with each other in the life of God himself – has gathered momentum from the beginning of the century, and as we pray together, work together and learn together – “converging toward Christ” as Father Harry Smythe expressed it in this pulpit – we look forward to the fruition of that unity for which Jesus prayed “so that the world will believe.” 

7. THE NEW MOVEMENT FOR CATHOLIC RENEWAL IN THE ANGLICAN CHURCH with its emphasis on theology, worship, personal holiness, evangelism and the social dimensions of the Gospel. 

So, I want to ask: What is a renewed Christian? What is a renewed Church? How does “renewal” affect our worship? In fact, I don’t think that enthusiastic participation in any of the important renewal movements necessarily indicates that we are personally being renewed by the Holy Spirit. When we examine our hearts we know how even then (perhaps especially then!) it is so easy to become static and entrenched, judging everyone else by the kind of experience of his grace that God has given us. What I’m saying is that it is not “renewal” merely to move our tent along the journey a bit, set it up again, and create a new fortress around it! 

Surely, to be a renewed Christian – or a renewed parish – is to be truly open to God for him to work with great freedom and originality. Renewal is when we are so wanting God’s perfect will that we simply allow him to be God. We take the risk of inviting the Holy Spirit – “God the Disturber” as Alan Walker calls him – to come afresh in love and power to disturb US, so that we are continually open to being recreated in the image of Jesus. And we keep our bags packed from now on. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world of ours, journeying forward, the new community of his love, following Jesus wherever he might lead. And as Pope John Paul is always telling us, WE ARE NOT TO BE AFRAID. Such a way of living is, from the human perspective, precarious indeed. But only then can we be that living sacrament of God’s love, the Body of Christ in the world. 

Of course, the amazing thing about the Holy Spirit is that – most of the time – he is gentle and docile, and he does wait to be invited. The other side of that, of course, – and this is a warning – is that he WILL allow us to completely freeze over as individuals and as a community if that’s what we really want. But if we mean the things we say in our prayers, if we try to be open to God’s disturbing love and power in an ongoing way, if we are returning often to the well to be filled with his life and love – that is, if we are people of renewal – I believe that our worship will be affected in four ways:

FIRST, WE WILL INCREASINGLY PERCEIVE WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON WHEN WE WORSHIP THE LORD. We will grow in our understanding of the real significance of worship. We will become aware at various levels of what Jesus our great High Priest is doing as he leads us in the worship of the heavenly Mount Zion. We cannot help this Christ-centred perception, for Jesus himself said about the Holy Spirit, “he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

The Christian community that is truly being renewed receives from the Holy Spirit a revelation of our being united with Jesus in the heavenly worship. Our worship in this holy place ceases to be merely something we “do” on earth, or even the life of service we are living here. It becomes the gathering up of mankind, creation and all things into heaven, the “adding up” of everything into Christ, into his praise of the Father. It is a celebration of all things in heaven and all things on earth being drawn into a unity of love through the power of the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary. The Church’s worship is not centred on her earthly altars; these earthly altars of wood and stone are icons of the heavenly altar, the REAL centre of worship – which is truly cosmic – in which we and all whom we represent are incorporated into the prayer of Jesus, and are . . . “caught up into the movement of his self offering” (ARCIC). This point was well made by Vatican II:

“Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father . . .

“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army . . . we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.”

This, then, is the meaning of the Mass. In his priestly love for us, Jesus “through the eternal Spirit” gathers us and offers us to the Father “with, in and through him”, one single living sacrifice of praise. This is the dynamic at the heart of a truly renewed catholic community. 

SECOND, and based on that reality, WE BECOME INCREASINGLY AWARE OF OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS WITH WHOM WE WORSHIP. This is so elementary, but it must be said, because in some Anglo-Catholic circles there is as much a “me and God” approach to prayer and worship as there is among the most individualistic protestants. Such Anglo-Catholics seem to be unaware that sacramental worship is by its very nature corporate and communal. It is in the community – even when that is just “two or three” gathered in his name – that the Lord makes his presence most deeply felt by the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacramental signs he has appointed. Praise God for the growing sense of community among us here, so that the Peace exchanged in the Mass, far from being a ritualized greeting of those we want to avoid afterwards in the hall, has become a real sign of our belonging to the Lord and one another. This is in contrast to some other places I’ve been where people want to encounter Jesus in the proclamation of the Word, and to receive him in Holy Communion, but are vehemently unwilling to participate in a simple, beautiful, loving and holy acknowledgement of his real and sacred presence in each another. 

The Catholic Faith teaches us that we are a community of freed slaves who have passed from darkness to light, foreshadowed by Israel of old being freed from the bondage of Egypt. Through the living water of baptism (our Red Sea) we were joined to the new people of God journeying together to the promised land. Jesus leads us, he protects us, he supernaturally feeds us, he manifests his presence “tabernacling” in our midst. “Once we were no people; now we are the people of God.” Changing the image somewhat, it also says that together we are “living stones” being fashioned into a temple for his glory. (1 Peter 2 9 ff). So, we need each other. We are companions. You are to help me on the journey; I am to help you. You are to support me; I am to support you. Each of us needs supportive caring relationships in which our joys and sorrows can be honestly shared, for in that sharing we not only grow as human beings; we grow in God.

Sometimes, though, you and I think that if we get too close to others they might find out what we’re really like and then reject us. Of course that is the risk of being alive. Who among us hasn’t been wounded by others . . . or done the wounding? But our faith journey is all about taking risks. In one sense, the greatest risk we take is opening ourselves to God in the first place. Who knows where HE might send us, or what HE might want us to do with our lives? Being open to each other is not a separate risk; it is part of that same risk, for as St John says, it is not possible to grow in our relationship with God while at the same time pushing the brothers and sisters away from us. The genuineness of our walk with God is measured by the reality of our love for one another.

In any case, we often find that having taken the risk of opening up to others we are not rejected at all. The honesty involved in such a process is reciprocated. (Then again, on the odd occasion when we do experience rejection, we have something real to offer the Father in union with the suffering and rejection of Jesus; and, like any pain, it even becomes redemptive if we offer it lovingly to the Father for the blessing of the person who has hurt us!)

We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:11) and members in particular. It is as scandalous for us to gather for the Eucharist today and not discern the body as it was among the parishioners in Corinth of old (1 Corinthians 11:29). We are the body of Christ, called into being as an effective sign of the reconciliation and love at the heart of the Gospel. We are not just an assembly of individuals. All our gatherings – Sunday High Mass, as much as weekday Masses and the Friday night prayer fellowship – should reflect that.

THIRD, WE WILL JOYFULLY ACCEPT A GREATER VARIETY OF WORSHIP AND PRAYER WITHIN THE PARISH COMMUNITY. After all, we know from our experience here at Christ Church that there is nothing at all incongruous about some for whom the beauty, mystery and transcendence of the old High Mass (which you know I love so deeply) is absolutely central to their spiritual lives finding great help and sustenance in less structured kinds of worship such as house Masses, mission services, healing services, prayer meetings, TaizĂ© gatherings, and even those huge ecumenical charismatic rallies we had at the Horden Pavilion. Human beings are frustratingly unpredictable, and each of us has been influenced by such a range of culture, music and spiritual practice, that we dare not disparage expressions of worship that demonstrably help others journey more deeply into God. So, within the general framework of our parish life, such diversity should be encouraged, even if it occasionally attracts criticism. (I was so embarrassed after the last Mary Rogers healing service when in front of a group of people who had experienced the Lord’s healing power very strongly, an extremely snooty Anglo-Catholic – NOT from this parish, thank God – remarked at the “dreadful music” – he meant the singing of one of those gentle choruses while the sick were being prayed for. He went on at length complaining about the “general lack of aesthetic appeal” in the way the service had been conducted.)

In this age of ecumenism and (in many places) liturgical muddle and liberal theology, we must stand for principles that matter. There IS a danger of losing aspects of our heritage that are precious gifts of God. But we must also accept with grateful humility – as I said earlier –  that within different Christian traditions and cultures the Holy Spirit has inspired ways of praying and living that are also gifts held in trust for the whole Church – indeed, I believe, held in trust for this moment of history when Jesus wants us to be one. Furthermore, we just need to accept that not all Christians are going to find exactly the same expressions of worship equally helpful. So, in parishes like ours, we look forward to an even wider spectrum of Eucharistic and other worship to help people where they are in their walk with God, and to help them use their gifts and talents in ways that give glory to God. That does not mean getting rid of anything or dumbing down the worship we love so much; it means adding to what we already have so as to hold an even greater diversity of people together, and to reach out more effectively and in new ways into the subcultures around us.

FINALLY, OUR WORSHIP WILL PROPEL US INTO THE WORLD IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT TO LIVE AND WORK FOR GOD’S GLORY. I know that there are times of depression and stress when we drag ourselves along to Mass in order to receive the grace we need just to get through another week. (I’m not knocking, that, because in my own life sometimes that’s the best I can do!) On the other hand there is a sense in which we’ve not really understood anything about the Christian life if Holy Communion is just our shot of religious inspiration for the week.

Dr Eric Mascall wrote that 

“. . . Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction which Christ offered throughout his life and on Calvary, and which is now a perpetually efficacious reality in the heavenly realm, is made a present and active power of redemption and sanctification in our world of time and space, and by their sharing in it the members of Christ’s Body the Church are sent out to their life in the world renewed and strengthened for their share in the work of the world’s transformation.” (The Christian Universe, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1966, p. 163)

We are inspired and blessed when we come to Mass, but God expects us then to go forth, filled with the Holy Spirit and nourished by the Bread of Life, to be a blessing to those around us in the Monday to Saturday world. We are called to be signs of his holiness and love in real life, and not just when we worship together here. We are called to go into our world laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and giving ourselves away for others, especially the poor and the powerless, allowing the ministry of Jesus to be continued through us. 

So many of our heroes in the Catholic Revival took up this mission; they strove against social injustice and institutionalized evil; they worked tirelessly for a renewed world which includes a more just and equitable sharing of wealth and other resources, in which all are valued equally. We must do the same. And that’s exactly why quite a few people from here share in the round-the-clock roster at St Laurence House. Many of the young people and others who live at the House or hang around it (some of whom have been homeless since before becoming teenagers!) have nowhere else to go. But they feel loved and accepted by YOU, and for some of them that is a completely new experience. You love them with your love, but also with the love of the Lord, and I know that is sometimes hard work, sacrificial hard work. It can be messy, dirty, confronting and disheartening. Sometimes it is tragic. But you persevere out of love for Jesus and these precious ones for whom he died, who are “at risk”, and they gradually come to know his love for themselves, even sometimes becoming part of our gathering at the altar.

There is no such thing as the “social gospel” over and against the “spiritual” gospel. The real Gospel is social! It demands that, filled with God’s love, we roll up our sleeves and get involved in the real problems around us, bringing the light of Christ to bear on them.

So, “renewed” Christians, open to God the Disturber in our day, cannot help but to be disturbed by the destruction, suffering, unemployment and emotional breakdown happening everywhere as we enjoy our relative affluence. It is the Holy Spirit who keeps pouring the love of God into our hearts, and that love constrains us to care for those around us. If we don’t see things in that way, we need to re-examine the reality of our walk with God and the authenticity of our worship.

Some sixty years ago, Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar spoke these words to thousands of people like us at a great Anglo-Catholic gathering in London. They have since become well-known. I conclude with them tonight, for they express very powerfully what I believe with all my heart is imperative fin the daily life and ministry of those who encounter the Lord in the glory of Catholic worship:

“I say to you . . . that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum . . .

“. . . If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. 

“. . . You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.” 


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