Showing posts from 2016

Word made Bread

The Word was made flesh on Christmas Day. Our Lady gave birth to a boy, not a book. From now on, the Law of God would be written not on slabs of stone, not on sacred scrolls, but in a human heart. Truly we believe, in Christ that day God Himself came to dwell among us: the prophesied Emmanuel, “God with us.” And though he only stayed a spell, living that Law of love through to death on a Cross and Resurrection on Easter Day, if we thought that He were with us no longer, we would be in error. Much has happened this year and happens every year to tempt us to think that He is not with us at all. But Christ is not just for Christmas. He is with us still. He is with us in the Spirit, He is with us in each other, but here, now, at this and every mass, He has left us His presence in a most particular way. It was no accident that Our Lord was born in a little town called “Bethlehem:” or in Hebrew, Beth Lechem, “the House of Bread.” You see, He who was made flesh in the House of Bread is made…

A commonly held thesis

Let us test a thesis.
Once upon a time, almost all of the great thinkers, artists, scientists, princes and statesmen believed with the majority of humankind in some supernatural agency, whether God or gods or Buddha. The philosophies and aesthetics of nations and globe-spanning civilisations were underpinned by these beliefs, and there is no way of understanding history or literature without understanding the religious ideas behind them. Only seldom did intelligent people ever question such ideas, so deeply engrained were they, and even more rarely did they reject them outright, rather arguing over matters of detail. Religious beliefs continue to be held by the majority of people to this day.
However, a small minority who predominantly hail from one traditionally affluent and powerful part of the globe have established beyond all doubt that these people, both ancient and modern, have been entirely wrong, and that the leaders and thinkers of the past were ultimately no more enligh…

A Prayer for Advent

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
This Collect for Advent Sunday is set for daily use throughout Advent in the Book of Common Prayer. The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon writes:
“This beautiful and moving prayer was written specifically for The Book of the Common Prayer (1549) by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Its structure, style and contents reveal just how perfectly he had mastered in English the grammatical structure of the traditional Latin Collects. It is a most appropriate prayer with which to begin the Christian Year for it is addressed to the Father, “Almighty God,” is centred upon the Lord J…

Are you ready? Sermon for Advent Sunday

Are you ready? For some people, a terrifying question in the lead up to the Advent or Coming of Our Lord at Christmas. Terrifying because of all the overtime you’ll have to work to be able to afford the children’s presents, perhaps. Terrifying because of all the preparation and cooking and shopping to do before the family descends, terrifying because of the arguments that might break out with relatives you have to see but really don’t want to. Terrifying because it’s your first, or second, or third, or tenth Christmas alone, without someone important you used to share it with every year. Plenty of reasons for Advent, the season of waiting in deep, dark purple for the shining gold and light of Christmas to be a time of dreadful rather than joyful anticipation.

Well, I suppose I could stand here and try to cheer you up about it all. That’s what a lot of clergy do nowadays in Advent, after all, representing it as a time of comfort, hot chicken soup for our wintry souls. There are modern…

Today's Taboo Ten Lepers

Talking to lepers was taboo in biblical times. By Jewish Law, lepers had to stay outside the village in their rags and bells to make their coming. But in today’s Gospel they break the boundary and cross over to speak to Our Lord.
The lepers were too scared to break the taboo completely: they kept their distance from all the respectable folk. But when they called, Our Lord doubled the taboo and went to talk to them. He made them clean but they couldn’t go back to him or to mainstream society until the priests had given them the all clear. That was the Law.
One of the lepers clearly didn’t know this, so he went back to Jesus anyway, to thank him. He was double the outcast, because he was also a foreigner, a Samaritan, which might explain why he didn’t know the rules. The taboo is broken a third time now: but Our Lord does not tell the foreign leper off. He praises him. And so Jesus himself becomes a lawbreaker and outsider, compounds the evidence that he should be crucified.
Who are th…

Guest post: Fr Gareth Powell preaches at Michaelmass

“Humanity should strive towards the Angelic life. By imitating the Angels. Who are exemplers of faithful worship, of doing good, by this imitation we too are lifted up to the generous source of all good, where all things, according to their measure, share in the infinite light of God.” - Dionysius the Areopagite
“If we imitate the heavenly angels in this way, we will find ourselves always worshipping God, behaving on earth as the angels do in heaven.” - S. Maximus the Confessor
What might it mean for you here to have the St Michael and all the angels as the patrons of this community? To some it might seem odd. Having supposed celestial beings as patrons. How might they encourage us in our Christian faith? How might they build up our common life in this place as we seek to be witnesses to the Gospel? So often we feel as though Which feels rather odd because scripture is full of angels… from the angels guarding the Garden of Eden to them in myriad form in the throne room in the book of Rev…

Warm your souls by the fires of Hades

Not very often I get to preach about hellfire and damnation. It’s tempting to go up into the pulpit just so I’ve got something to bang my fist on. I don’t think this legilium would take the impact, somehow. But hellfire and damnation it is, threatened against those who live richly and leave the poor lying at their gate. People often ask how a God who is love, revealed in the forgiveness of Christ crucified, could threaten anyone with the fires of Hades. In fact, how could there be evil in the world at all? Many of the ancient church Fathers tried to answer this by arguing that in its own right, evil does not properly speaking exist. Otherwise, if God created evil, then he would not be entirely good. Rather, they said, evil is nothing but a lack of good - a “real absence,” if you like. God made us in his image, which includes free will, and that means that we are free to turn away from goodness, to turn away from true reality as God made it towards the unreality and falsehood which…

Slaves to Mammon

People complain that our Church talks too much about money, but Jesus talks about it without blushing and often. Today is one example. “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” as our translation puts it. But Luke’s Greek, carrying on the theme from the sentence before, is rougher and more explicit: what he wrote was, “you cannot be a slave to both God and wealth.” We are in the world of the Romans, not of Downton Abbey, and there is a great difference between those paid to live in rooms below the gentry and those who are private property, owned. The Lord says that you can choose only one Master: not one squire, one liege, one employer, but one Master whose slave you are.

As much as we may protest that Britons never, never. never shall be slaves, that is what we are warned against becoming today. Slaves to that of which we naively think ourselves the masters. We say jokingly that we “slave away,” whether to buy the things the salesmen say we need or just to earn our crust and shelter; …

It's not about the 99%

This week, I've been taught a lesson in humility. The press caught wind of us applying for a  entertainment and alcohol licence, and I hoped to tell a straightforward story about a parish church trying to serve its parish’s people: which in our case includes the thousands of alternative music lovers who throng Camden Town. Putting on gigs would also help to fund our mission of service to Camden’s poor and vulnerable people, building on the Legal Drop-in to start offering debt counselling, a homeless drop-in service, addiction services and whatever else we might need to do. 
But the story ended up being about me. Flattered by a question about my own musical taste, I threw into a press interview a few kinds of music I like. Funnily enough, of those I mentioned, the genre that caught the media’s imagination was heavy metal, and out of the bands I mentioned on the spot, they managed to pick one out which in its early days released some seriously anti-Christian songs. I said that it wa…

Changing places

Rarely these days in the West do many of us find ourselves at dinners with seating plans, where we are placed in order of importance - perhaps weddings are the most common exception. But it is something I have often come across in my years of travelling to Japan. Once, when I was still not really used to the etiquette, I made exactly the mistake that Jesus describes in this parable. I had plonked myself down somewhere in the middle and ended up being politely moved further towards the end.
It’s interesting to think back to whom exactly I was sitting with at the end of the table, and who was up at the top in the best seats. Up at the other end were the men, the oldest in top place, working down towards the more junior. After the men, came the women and children – and not knowing quite where the foreigner should fit in, that’s where they put me, too. Old Japanese men at the top; at the bottom, women, children and gaijin.
We’d be fooling ourselves if we thought that these divisions, t…

Baptism at the Feast of the Assumption

As I was eating lunch on Monday, I caught the end of a fascinating programme on Radio 4 discussing the meaning of “Character.” It reminded me that this Greek word originally meant a stamp, the sort you would use to make your distinctive mark on the wax seal of a letter or parchment, for example. Your “character” is the type or mould of the person you are.
This resonates with our talk in the Christian Church of being ‘sealed with the Spirit’ or made in the ‘image’ of God, and is quite fitting today as we contemplate what it was that made the Blessed Virgin Mary worthy of such great honour by God, and by extension what that means for Baby Miles as he is imprinted with the character of Christ in Baptism today.
Our Lord appointed Mary as mother of all Christians as he went to the Cross, yet since the Reformation she has become less a figure of unity for Christians than of division. The early Protestants, even the extreme Reformer Calvin among them, were deeply reverential of the Blessed…

Tents and Transfiguration

“It is good for us to be here” (Lk 9.33) Is it?  Given recent news, you might question whether now is a good time for us be up the mountain or the altar steps contemplating divine light. Yet Peter, James and John were no strangers to persecution themselves, and still they thought that the glory of God they saw in Jesus was invaluable: worth their lives, in the end.  This is because they knew what they saw, from their own Jewish tradition. From 16 October this year, if you go into Hendon, you will see tents in many people’s gardens, out for the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkoth, where the Jewish people will camp for a week in memory of God’s command to them to set up tents in the desert during the Exodus. The “roughly eight days” that Luke mentions at the beginning of his account of the Transfiguration (Lk 9.28) was that very week of the Feast of Tabernacles. This is why Peter offers to set up tents for Moses and Elijah, too, when he sees them with Jesus. They are at the final day of the Fe…

Superessential Bread

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. 
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, 
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? 

Jesus taught us to pray, “give us our daily bread.” Ask for bread, and you will not be given stones. Knock, he said, and the door will be opened to you. All you have to do is ask: and if at first you don’t succeed, keep on knocking. 
So where’s my Mercedes Benz? Why am I still knocking around in an eight year-old Golf? Maybe I’m not praying hard enough, not knocking long enough, not persisting. 
But let’s face it, most people do not get what they ask for when they pray, even when they are asking for much more important things than a nice new motor: even when they’re asking for world peace, for a cure for their loved one’s cancer, for a roof over their head, for the security of knowing when they will get their next meal, just for their daily bread; and yet we keep on praying, so unless we …

St Michael's Church, seeking the light of the world in Camden Town

Light: an image employed in so many religious traditions to denote purity, clarity, unity. And yet, we know that light for all its purity and unity can be divided: white light into the three primary colours, and the infinite spectrum thereafter. In fact, it is the very differentiation of light that allow us to see anything at all, the different wavelengths striking our eyes ready for the brain to translate into images.

“The Lord is my light,” sang the Psalmist of the ancient Jewish Temple. And so Christians believe, with Jews and many others besides, that there is indeed just one primal light for the illumination of the world, one spiritual spiritual light that gives all things meaning, source of all insight, wisdom and vision: and that one light we call God.

Yet many centuries later came a man with challenging words. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” And so it is that those who came to call themselves …

Trinity 8: A tangible stake in the future?

“A tangible stake in the future” is how the Prime Ministerial candidate Andrea Leadsom defined having children last week, claiming an advantage over the childless Mrs May.

Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 would have agreed with her. It was a standard ancient Jewish belief, in fact maintained by the Sadducees right up until Christ’s days, that the only ‘afterlife’ was the one you lived through your offspring and successive generations. This is why the fact that they had no children mattered so much to Abraham and Sarah: the end of their ancestral line meant that their family would not live to reach the promised land. It was a very physical, earthy faith, as you might expect of an ancient farming tribe. So, Jehovah himself - the name of God translated “Lord” in the Old Testament - appears to them as three men, and Abraham duly prostrates before them, the honour due to God alone. The Lord reiterates his promise, that Sarah will indeed have a son to carry the family line to the promised l…

Heavenly Kingdom and European Union

The 1st of July, 1681. Oliver Plunkett, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, is executed at the Tyburn on the false accusation of a ‘Popish Plot,’ having spent thirteen years, many undercover to escape Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan scourges, ministering faithfully to his people. Amid all that political turmoil, when a Christian bishop feared for his life in these very islands simply for teaching the Catholic and Apostolic faith, I find a letter he wrote to his superiors quite illuminating: “God knows that I think of nothing else, day and night, than the service of souls … Political or temporal matters have no part in my life: neither in my mind nor on my lips nor with my pen are they given any place.” He wrote this after he was sentenced to death. His duty as a priest, he maintained right to the end, was not to make bold political statements, even when his life was forfeit, but to tend to the spiritual needs of his countrymen.

What a contrast with some of the senior clergy of the Chu…