Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 2nd Sunday in Advent
Readings: Isaiah 40.1-5, 9-11; Mark 1.1-8
When I was an ordinand, training for the priesthood in Cambridge, there was a Norwegian man who used to stand at a junction in the town centre. He was a street preacher, and he didn’t seem to preach on behalf of any church but only on his own authority. He styled himself “The heaven or hell man” – because his question, to passers-by, was “Do you know your destination, do you know where you’re going after you die?”
Most people ignored the Heaven or Hell Man, and a few times he was moved on by the police, after some of his more objectionable preaching was reported to them.
In Cambridge, in 2018, the Heaven and Hell man stood out – he was like a fish out of water. But he would have fitted right in, had he been alive at the time of Jesus. Imagine, if you will, that you are a Jew in the first century BC – living under occupied rule, your freedoms being taken away. Your only hope, your only thing to cling on to, is your religion – which tells you that God will send his messiah, his chosen one, to rule as King.
And so a great many people appeared, as we hear John doing, as wandering preachers, some more wild than others, but many of them proclaiming that the Messiah was coming, or – more often – that they themselves were that messiah.
We hear about some of these in the book of Acts, and the historian Josephus talks about four in detail – but describes the country as having “ten thousand disorders”.
And people listened. This is what the Book of Acts has to say:
Theu′das arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
People listened, too, to John the Baptist – we hear of the crowds going out to listen to him.
Of course, John is unusual in that he explicitly say that the isn’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or one of the other Old Testament prophets. He casts himself, rather, as the voice crying in the wilderness, prophesied by Isaiah.
John preached in the desert, by the river Jordan. Where would he be today? Perhaps he would be like one of our modern street preachers, or maybe he’d find a spot on the Ouse to conduct his ministry there?
And what would we think of him?
The Heaven and Hell man didn’t have a message of good news. The most generous thing that could be said about his message, is that he wanted to save people from a terrible fate – but mostly he was condemnatory of the way people lived.
And this is what we often think of when we see someone preaching in public – they’re doom-mongers, angry at everyone.
And yet, listen to the words of Isaiah in our first reading. If you’re familiar with Handel’s Messiah, you’ll recognise the words – differently translated – as the opening Aria. Here they are in that translation:
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
This is not the Bible-bashing, doom-mongering, angry preaching of a man preaching only on his own authority – but the consoling, loving urgings of the one God sends to prepare his way.
What does he say to us?
“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it.”
“Here is your God.”
How often this year we have longed for someone to say, “Here is your God!” How many times this year have we longed to hear the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God”, to see our Lord, to taste our Lord? And now we await him again; though we can receive his body, we await him still: we await his coming at Christmas, and we await his coming on the Last Day, when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked way made straight and the rough places made smooth.
John’s message was a message of repentance: “Repent!” he said – “prepare yourselves for God’s coming!” What would we do if we knew that we would meet God face to face? How would we live?
Advent challenges us to live life differently. Fr. Adrian has suggested making an Advent habit of midweek Mass. You see how excited John was to meet Jesus; how precious is the gift we have of meeting him day by day?
Come. Come once. Come on Mondays, when often I’m here on my own.
He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms – let us be gathered into his arms this Advent.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Advent Sunday, 29th November 2020
Gospel: Mark 13:33-37
If you are in a strange country you may well need to be alert. That is the case when visiting the Holy Land: you need to watch where you are going, I have seen pilgrims take a tumble down the steep Mount of Olives; you need to pay attention and not get lost or left behind, the crowded streets of old Jerusalem are like a labyrinth; and sometimes, unfortunately, you have to be alert to people who might rip you off, or even steal from you. It is no worse than many tourist destinations and the guides are vigilant and know who to watch out for. On one pilgrimage, our guide arranged a sign with us. If ever he said the words, ‘hot chocolate’ it meant ‘hold on to your handbags’ because there were pickpockets about. So he might say ‘there is the Dome of Rock built in the Seventh century and covered in HOT CHOCOLATE, beautiful golden tiles.’
It is always better to prevent a problem than have to solve one, better to prevent a theft not just because of the distress it would cause, but also because of the inconvenience and difficulty of replacing a stolen passport or credit cards.
Keeping awake and being watchful is a central theme of the season of Advent, which we begin today. Once the church is stripped of flowers, the purple robes and frontals are brought out it is a sign in the church that something wonderful is about to happen. As the purple of Lent is followed by the white of Easter, so the purple of Advent will be followed by the gold of Christmas; just as a purple sky precedes a glorious sunrise.
Advent comes like the bell of an alarm clock, a wake up call. Jesus says we should keep awake and be busy, like workers ready for the return at any minute of an absent boss. We are told to look for the signs of the coming of the kingdom. We can only really see all those signs if we are truly awake.
Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. Not being able to sleep might be a sign that something is wrong, that we are anxious about something. Not getting enough sleep might lead to poor concentration and memory loss.
We can also suffer from a spiritual drowsiness, when we are not tuned in to what the Holy Spirit might be trying to say to us, when we fail to see warning signs that we need to curb or modify our behaviour. In the present time of restrictions it is easy to fall into a slough of despond, of gloom and self-pity.
The prophet Isaiah complains, in a rather immature way, that God allows the people of Israel to go astray and harden their hearts against God. Why does he let them misbehave, and not prevent them? God has given us free will to choose righteousness or sin. We can equally well choose either. Isaiah sees that we are like clay in the hands of God the potter. If we would allow him to guide us then we shall be moulded into the people he wants us to be. We will be his own special creation.
Isaiah lets out a great cry for God to rend the heavens and come down. But we Christians believe that has indeed happened, the veil of the temple was rent in twain at the death of Jesus, and that which separated us from God has been removed, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. In Advent we prepare to celebrate that wonderful realization at Christmas.
One thing I notice about taking pilgrim groups to the Holy Land is that as the week goes on the people become holier; the sense of the closeness of the encounter with the Lord makes them more attentive to each other. I remember once going into the Church of Ecce Homo at the end of walking the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, the guide could tell that one of the pilgrims had had his pocket picked, because of the behavior of some youths in the street. The word went round the group that this pilgrim had been robbed, and they spontaneously organized a collection among themselves. At the end of the Mass we had to give the pilgrim bad news and good news. The bad news was that he had been robbed, but the good news was that his fellow pilgrims had collected more than had been stolen. He was quite overcome and gave the money to charity. It showed how spiritually alert and aware the pilgrims had become, they were ready to spring into action immediately. They had been moulded by the potter’s hands.
We look forward now to a certain date, the celebration of the day of Christ’s birth at Christmas, but beyond that we look to an unknown date, the day of Christ’s return.
The Lord puts us in a position of trust, to be about his business. Let us be alert and awake that we may see the work that needs doing and be active in carrying out the Lord’s business.
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Christ the King
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
There’s a show on TV – I don’t know if you’ve seen it – called the Undercover Boss. On the show, the director of a company, or one of his or her deputies, disguises themselves as an ordinary person and goes and works there. In one episode, it’s one of the directors of Paddy Power, who swaps his suit for jeans and a leather jacket, and poses as “Sam,” an unemployed IT specialist who needs a job – and goes and works on the shop floor.
And this undercover boss story is, in a way, at the heart of the Incarnation, and we hear it explained beautifully in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he tells the Christians there that though Jesus was divine, he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant, and having been born as a human, he became humbler yet, by accepting death on a cross.
Today’s feast has the wonderfully extravagant title of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and although we usually shorten it to “Christ the King,” by doing so we lose some of the awesomeness of this fact – that Christ is King not only of the Church or even this world, but of all creation.
It makes the incarnation even more dramatic. Christ, who rules over the whole universe, comes to earth and is born as a humble baby. It’s said that if you throw a handful of sand into a great cathedral, the cathedral will be more full of sand than the universe is full of stars…and yet it is to us that Jesus comes.
And in our gospel today we hear that Christ does not simply identify with humanity, but with the lowest of humanity. He tells the sheep and the goats, that when they did or did not serve the most humble of humanity – the hungry, naked, cold, imprisoned and sick – their actions, good or bad, were done not simply to the lowest of the low, as humanity might consider them, but to the highest of the high.
Although God himself does not suffer – in heaven he is never hungry, nor thirsty, nor cold, nor sick – he identifies with those who do. On earth Jesus felt all the sufferings of humanity, and on the day of judgement, he tells us that when one of his children is hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, sick or imprisoned – it may as well have been him.
We are living in a time of great suffering. It’s almost ten months to the day since the UK recorded its first case of Coronavirus, since when more than fifty thousand people have died. We have been cut off from seeing friends and family. We have lived with the fear that something we cannot see or touch could kill us or those dear to us. And, of course, our worshipping life has been disturbed. I know that some of you have not received the Blessed Sacrament since the middle of March – for those who have been able to attend church, worship since then has been stripped bare of hymn-singing, we have not shared the peace during Mass nor coffee after it.
We have been hungry for the Body of the Lord; we have been thirsty for his precious blood. We have been afraid of sickness.
But in all of this, God has not ceased his eternal reign, nor has he abandoned us to face this alone.
We have suffered much, but we are fortunate – we have suffered, most of us, in the comfort of our own homes, with as much as we like to eat and a bed to call our own at night.
We know that many have not been so fortunate. Many have lost their jobs, and have been hungry. We saw this in the half term holidays with the mighty efforts of Marcus Rashford and those inspired by him, feeding children who otherwise would go hungry. And the Night Shelter has opened once more, but in spite of its wonderful new building, government restrictions mean that they can only currently host six people per night – and so there are still people camping in the walks or in Hardings Pits because they have nowhere else to go.
These are the people of whom our Lord says, “I was hungry and you fed me; naked and you clothed me.”
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is King of the Universe. In his kingdom none are hungry; none are cold; none are sick.
Let us work to build his Kingdom, so that on the last day, he may say to us:
“Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 15 November 2020
Reading: Matthew 25.14-30
Simon Reeve is one of the best travel presenters on television, but due to the current restrictions his travelling has been rather curtailed of late, and he presently has a short series on Cornwall. You may have seen the first part. There were two lots of people I thought particularly interesting: the Taco Boys and the man who ran the Camborne Foodbank. Both of their stories have a bearing on our gospel reading today, the Parable of the Talents.
The Taco Boys were a group of enterprising young men who had set up their own business selling filled tacos, the tasty Mexican snack, from a converted horse box on the beach during the summer. The pandemic presented many challenges but also opportunities as tourists flocked to the coast. They made sacrifices for the sake of their business: they couldn’t afford to rent accommodation and so lived and slept in their vehicles beside the beach; through hard work, long hours and determination, they have now made enough money to be able to open up a café in Exeter, there being no suitable places in Cornwall. They had a great idea, and were adaptable in making it successful.
We do not know what the men who were given the five and two talents did to create such an impressive return on their master’s investment. They had been given a large amount, the equivalent of thousands of pounds, and they doubled their money. No wonder the master was so pleased with them. However we know exactly what the man given the one talent did: he dug a hole and buried it in the ground; and it made nothing.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the need to be adaptable and flexible. That may well be the key to businesses thriving or even surviving, as was the case with the Taco Boys. It is the same with life, it rarely turns out how we might like it to be. We can hope that problems will just go away, but they usually won’t. We can wish that someone will wave a magic wand and make everything all right but they don’t. We have to do what we can to face our challenges and make the most of our opportunities, for God helps those who help themselves.
This has been a difficult time for churches such as ours, and the restrictions have meant that our fundraising has been massively reduced and we have not been eligible for any government grants. We have enterprisingly managed some fundraising but we remain dependent on and grateful to those who regularly give to our churches, and continue to do so through the lockdowns.
The other remarkable person in Simon Reeve’s programme on Cornwall was Don Gardner who ran the Camborne food bank. Cornwall is often depicted as an idyllic coastal county, but the prevalence of second homes has pushed locals out of the housing market, and the seasonal nature of employment leaves few opportunities for work in the winter, and there is much poverty. Don Gardner has run the foodbank for 16 years. He set it up with his wife, and it has grown as demand has increased, feeding more than 500 families a month. Don agreed to be interviewed and filmed despite the fact that the funeral of his beloved wife of 53 years was due to take place the next day. He described his motivation in the prayer he offered each day on waking: 'Please Lord help me to make a difference to someone today'.
He had often struggled to raise the £60,000 per year to run the food bank, which must have been a cause of great worry to him. He could have shrugged his shoulders at the poverty around him, he could have been overawed by the immensity of the task, he could have buried his talent in the ground, but he didn’t because he was motivated by the need to make a difference to at least one person a day. And now, his work has been blessed with an abundant return: £160,000 donated by the public in just five days after the programme was broadcast.
As Christians we should not expect swift returns for our labours. ‘The faithful do not reap a quick harvest they have to wait for it to ripen slowly’, one early writer has said. The master of the parable was away a long time. We are each endowed with talents that we can put to use to be of service to God and neighbour. Life is not as we knew it, the pandemic continues to present many challenges, but let us not despair and bury our talent in the ground; instead let us be adaptable and industrious; let us confront our challenges and make the most of our opportunities; let us make it our prayer to make a difference to one person each day. Then we may hear the voice of the Lord say to us ‘well done good and faithful servant come and share your master’s happiness.’
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 8 November 2020 (Remembrance Sunday)
Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
In 2009 I undertook a pilgrimage to Rome, walking from Canterbury along the old pilgrim route through France, Switzerland and Italy.
About ten days in I found myself passing the part of France which played host to the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the first world war. On a deserted country road, from amidst the endless crop fields appeared a lonely cemetery – where, gathered around a cross with an upturned sword in its centre, stood about two dozen graves – victims of the British forces killed in that war.
One grave especially moved me. It read: A soldier of the great war – 5th September 1918 – known unto God.
On Remembrance Day it has, in the last century, become our custom to remember the victims of war. As Christians, as well as remembering the way in which they lost their lives, and the way in which this loss preserved our freedoms, it is our solemn duty and privilege to pray for their souls, too.
Some we know, such as those on our war memorials, and some who have died in wars have become well known in their own right, such as the poet Wilfred Owen.
There are others whose names we do not know: soldiers declared missing in action, presumed dead; bodies on the field of war that cannot be identified. Of course, the most well known of these is the Unknown Soldier of Westminster Abbey, standing for all who have died in conflict; but there are many more, unnamed, lying far from home: but they all, as that headstone reminds us, are known unto God.
On All Souls Day, this Monday past, I reminded us all that death is part of the human condition – one we cannot escape. But on Remembrance Day we must consider the reasons that lead so many men and women to conflict, both historically and in this our own day.
We often describe armed conflict as a “necessary evil” – not something to celebrate for its own sake but which nonetheless prevents a greater loss of life. And yet, we as Christians hold to the promise of God in the book of Isaiah that one day, conflict will be no more: when the reign of the Prince of Peace begins; when swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
This is a call we all must answer: to work for peace, to seek the end of conflict. This is a call that must be answered internationally, nationally, even locally – but ultimately it must be answered here: in the human heart. We, each of us, must choose to seek peace and pursue it, we must all seek to follow our God, who guides our feet into the way of peace.
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Monday 2 November 2020
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 5:5-11; Matthew 11:25-30
Today’s All Souls day commemoration comes near the end of what has been an exhausting year, and one which has highlighted the truth of this day: that one day, we all will die.
There is a Christian maxim: “Memento mori” – remember that you will die. We hear echoes of this on Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return – with the implication that we should live our lives to the full, whilst living as those who know we one day will meet our maker.
This maxim, though made more present by the events of the past eight months, is however no more true in two thousand and twenty than it ever has been. We are mortal; one day, we will die.
In the last century, as health in our country and others has improved and life expectancy has increased, there have been all sorts of attempts to avoid this fundamental truth: from the scientists of immortality, looking for the key to stop our body ageing, to the philosophers who try to explain away the end of life.
Two poems we often hear at funerals highlight this: one which tells us that “Death is nothing at all,” that it is just someone slipping into the next room; and the other, which tells us, “Do not stand at my grave and weep ; I am not there. I do not sleep… I am not there. I did not die.”
These and the many others like them are attempts – understandable attempts, to be sure – to take the power out of something that causes us so much grief.
I do not doubt the good intentions behind them – but they miss the point: that death is real, even if we turn our face away from it; and so these poems give cold comfort; firstly, because they tell us that what we have experienced simply is not real; and secondly, because they replace the simple truth of the gospel with a worldly-wise philosophy.
This is why Jesus rejoiced that the mysteries of the kingdom had been hidden from the wise and revealed to mere children: because the Christian gospel has a very simple, clear message which the worldly-wise often cannot grasp, and it is this:
Ever since our first ancestors ate from the tree from which it was forbidden to eat, this world and all that inhabits it has been subject to death; but God, in his wonderful love and compassion, embraced death and so put an end to it.
His sacrifice on the cross, his sacrifice which we re-present at the altar each time we celebrate the Mass, defeated death so that he might be God not of the dead but of the living. So those who have died have not died for ever.
Today, at this mass, and every day, we pray for those “who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again”. Our life is a pilgrimage to God’s holy city, where “we shall become like him.” To enter that city we must be perfect and free from sin – and none of us, even the most righteous, ends our life in that way. Our pilgrimage to the Holy City continues in purgatory, where, aided by the prayers of those on earth, we continue to “work out our salvation” until by God’s grace we achieve the perfection to which he calls us. Today, when we pray for those who have died, we are assisting them in that pilgrimage, we are speeding them along the road to the heavenly Jerusalem, where one day we will see our God as he is.
My brothers and sisters: let us pray for the repose of all who have died; and let us pray also for the grace to accept the simple truth of God’s saving work on the cross, by which he defeated death.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Sunday 2nd November 2020
Readings: Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a
Language is always evolving. Words become fashionable, like the word ‘iconic’ which word used to be reserved for something or somebody who stood out, whose image was instantly recognizable, like the South American revolutionary Che Guevara whose image was on the posters of so many students rooms. Now anything and anybody seems to be described as ‘iconic’. The word has become something of a cliché.
An icon is of course a religious image, of Christ, Mary or the saints; but to the Orthodox Christian, it is more than just an image, it is a powerful channel of divine grace. Icons are like opened books that remind us of God, a means for the church to teach the faith, especially to those who do not learn well from books. St John of Damascus once recommended that if a non-believer asked you to show him your faith, he should be taken into a church and placed before the icons.
The lives of the saints are also like open books of the Christian faith. They are manuals where we see how the faith is applied and lived out. The Feast of All Saints was instituted to honour all who had lived holy lives and been paragons of the Christian virtues. The church realised that though many were singled out and honoured by name, there were countless others who were equally virtuous, many who had been martyrs for the faith, who were now unrecorded. On this day all saints are honoured, known and unknown. It is rather similar to the altar that St Paul found in Athens, inscribed ‘to an unknown God.’ The Athenians did not wish to offend a deity they had overlooked.
You may well have known people whom you would consider to be saintly people, people whose were living books that spoke volumes of the Christian faith; people whom you felt brought you closer to God, whose words were imbued with the presence of God, that penetrated your soul and stayed with you; people whose innate goodness made you feel just a little bit shamed by comparison. Those saintly people might well have said the most profoundest things about God in the simplest ways.
The Catholic mystic and writer Caryll Houselander wrote about one of the nuns at her school, whom she remembered long after
Soeur Marie Emilie
Is little and very old
Her eyes are onyx
And her cheeks vermillion
Her apron wide and kind
And cobalt blue.
She recalled how she comforted generations of new children at the school, how they sat beside her to shell the peas and stone the plums for jam, how she gathered the eggs in the palm of her hand and would cry for the death of a hen. Children could sit beside her and weep without shame.
And she said:
We have grown up
And gone away
‘into the world’
And grown cold
In the service of God.
But we would love him
Even less than we do
If we had never known
Soeur Marie Emilie
With the green peas and the plums
And the hens and the beautiful eggs
And her apron as wide and kind
As skies on a summer day
And as clean and blue. 
Caryll herself might be considered an unofficial saint for the beauty of her Christian writing. She followed the tradition of saints like Teresa of Avila, who saw eternal truth most visible in the reality of everyday life. St Teresa reminded her sisters of the spiritual value of the performance of menial tasks when she said ‘The Lord also walks among the pots and pans.’
Caryll saw Christ’s life on earth as being made up of ordinary things made extraordinary by love, and aspired to copy him. She tried to see Christ in everything and everyone, She expanded on the beatitude ‘Blessed are the Meek’ by saying that in dealing with other people we should avoid the sin of pride:
we should regard ourselves as insignificant,
we should give in a hidden way.
and make few demands on others,
but value their natural gifts as the best they have
and do everything in the most ordinary way possible.
As Christians we all have a vocation, a calling to holiness, to be saints, as followers of Christ. We are children of God, St John says, our true destiny is not yet revealed but we shall be like him when we come to him. But surely, he says, we won’t want to wait until then, but have a jolly good try to be as much like Christ now, as we can, to be as pure as Christ as is pure.
We are now faced with a new challenge as we are dispersed to our homes once again. But less us support and encourage one another as best we can, and in our isolation let us rejoice in our company with all the saints, this great cloud of witnesses and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
 Caryll Houselander Essential Writings, selected with commentary by Wendy M. Wright, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 2005, pp 19-20
Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 25th October 2020
Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40
When I was at school, I spent six years studying German: first to GCSE and then to A-Level. I really enjoy learning languages, but the one thing I could get the hang of was the grammar! All the words for “the” and all the pronouns and so forth – is it dem or der, die or das?
And the Jewish law was a lot like this. When we think about the Jewish law we think of the Ten Commandments but these are just the tip of the iceberg – the full Jewish law contained 613 mitzvot, or commands.
All of these commands were binding on Jews, so when the Pharisees asked Jesus to tell them which of these laws was most important, it was a trick question to trip him up.
But the one who is the Word made Flesh knew the written word of God intimately – and so he tells us that the whole law hung on the commands to love God and to love our neighbour.
The first command is taken from Deuteronomy 6, verses 4 and 5, and they form part of the Jewish daily prayer – so this command was the greatest not only because it had the most overreaching application but because it would have been so well known.
The second command comes from the Book of Leviticus.
Pope Francis called these two commands a grammar: when speaking to a group of Evangelicals in 2016 he said that he would speak the language of the heart – a language with only two rules in its grammar.
These two rules are the basis not only of the Jewish law but of everything that we believe and hold to in Christianity.
They are simple…but they are demanding.
What does it mean for us to really love God? What does it mean to really love our neighbour as ourself?
To continue the theme of grammar: love is not a noun – something we fall into, and something we can fall out of. Love is a verb – it’s something we do. Love shows itself in works.
How do we demonstrate our love for God? By prayer, worship, study of his word – not just when it feels easy but when it feels difficult. Wearing masks makes worship harder, I know – but it is so crucial that we don’t give up on our worship together, coming to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
And what about our love for our neighbour? When we come into the presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament, we demonstrate our love for him by genuflecting or bowing towards the tabernacle.
How do we demonstrate our love for our neighbour? It’s important to remember that when Jesus tells the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, his praise for the sheep and criticism for the goats is that whenever they did or didn’t show love for their neighbour by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and, visiting the sick and imprisoned: Jesus says, “In as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me; in as much as you didn’t do this to the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.”
There are two images which bring this home, to me certainly: one is an image of Jesus on the tube; and the other is the statue, which you might have seen as it travels around the country – the statue of the homeless Jesus.
In our first reading God tells the Jews not to oppress the foreigner living in their land, because they themselves had been strangers in Egypt. Jesus, too, spent time as a stranger in Egypt – he and the Holy Family fled there as refugees to escape from Herod. We are living in a time when a great many refugees are fleeing their homelands in search of safety.
Many people have called for the Royal Navy to be deployed to stop people trying to cross the English Channel. These are desperate people – nobody would risk their lives by leaving everything they have and crossing continents, pressed into lorries and crammed into tiny boats – nobody would do this if they had any other choice. Is it loving, to greet these people with the barrel of a warship’s cannon?
When asked “who is my neighbour?”, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, the person who showed care for someone he would be expected to despise. Let us love not only those who look like us, who speak like us, who act like us – but let us love even more those who are most vulnerable, those who are different from us, those who we find it hard to love – because love shows itself not in beliefs of the mind, or even in verbal expressions of love – but in action.
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 18th October 2020
Readings: Isaiah 45:1,4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, 11th October 2020
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14,19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
Feasting is an important aspect of life in our churches. It is one thing we do very well, whether it be the All Saints Dinner at the Town Hall, the Harvest Supper, the Lent Lunches, our special lunches for Candlemas and Ascension Day or our Christmas Bar at St Peter’s. Holding these special events gave us a reason to issue invitations to people to. This was until March a very important aspect of parish life, and we hope to be able to return to it.
That aspect of parish life has had to be put on hold. At present we cannot even offer the most basic and cherished aspect of hospitality: coffee and biscuits after Mass. How difficult this is, as personal interaction is so important, especially for those of us who live alone; fellowship is a key part of church life.
We follow the example of Jesus, who is recorded many times in the gospels having meals with various people in different places. The Pharisees complained that his disciples were always eating and drinking and that he ate with tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus did so deliberately because to share a meal with someone was a signal of his acceptance of them.
During my eighteen years in ministry, I have been continually thinking of ways to bring people together, to create community in increasingly individualistic times. As one lady at Winterton used to say ‘Fr Adrian keeps coming up with ideas to drag us away from our television sets.’ It is frustrating not to be able to think like this, to be pro-active and creative in creating events for the immediate future.
However we must be thankful that we are still able to gather at the altar, the eucharistic table. That invitation can still be given out and taken up; the invitation of the Lord to come unto him all who are over-burdened and heavy-laden.
Some of our restrictions have brought advantages. The Diocesan Synod currently meets via Zoom. Instead of 100 vehicles guzzling fuel to drive across Norfolk for a meeting, we all stayed at home. These virtual meetings are increasingly used, along with other aspects of home-working. There has been some comment about how we should approach them, and complaints about people attending formal meetings in pyjamas or scruffy clothes. The way we dress and present ourselves says much about how we regard the person we are meeting whether virtually or in person. It is good to keep up standards. It proves that we still value and respect the other person and that what we are doing with them is important.
The man at the end of the parable who got the dress code wrong and was thrown out of the banquet might seem to have been harshly treated; having been brought in at the last minute, how could he have had a chance to change? Some scholars suggest that we should treat these as two parables that have been joined together over time. This man has disrespected his host, by not bothering to dress appropriately for an important occasion.
I heard recently about a special occasion where three generations of a church-going family were celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, among them the grandparents celebrating their diamond wedding. Three ministers from the team each gave a couple a blessing but the oldest couple were mortified to see their minister dressed in a shorts and a t-shirt with a stole flung over it. It showed them how much their church had changed, and not for the better. Their relationship with that church was never the same.
We should take care over both our external and internal appearance. St Paul tells us to put on Christ, as we would a garment of clothing, to dress ourselves in him, that we may be smart on the outside and equally presentable on the inside. The outside and the inside should match. If we have really put on Christ then we are dressed properly and are ready for anything.
It is not easy in these times to be hospitable, and we must inevitably be prepared for more restrictions to return, I fear. It is always important that we do not just lament what we can’t do, but think about what opportunities we actually have. We can use this time to see how well we are dressed in Christ, and ask ourselves if there is more of him that we need to put on. We can continue to display his hospitality and valuing of others by reaching out to other people with care and concern.
In God’s economy nothing is wasted. One who realised this most especially was St John Henry Newman whose feast day we marked on Friday. He wrote: “I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”