13 April, 2014

Short Homily for Palm Sunday (A) 2014

Palm Sunday Mass may appear as suffering from a split personality disorder. We began our service with the blessing of palms and the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem. Yet, soon after this the tone became darker through the recounting of Our Lord’s Passion. But if we look closely, we can see that the joy of the first Palm Sunday and the sorrow of the Passion are two aspects of the same life-changing week. 

The people who hailed Jesus with shouts of joy are the same ones who screamed at the top of their lungs, ‘Let him be crucified!’
The disciples who followed Jesus, complacently feeling part of his privileged entourage, are the ones how desert Him in his hour of need.
We, who often claim to be following Christ, are the ones who daily become despondent, petulant, condemning Him with same indifference shown by Pilate, and disowning Him as St Peter did.
We are all part of the story; here, today, this Holy Week.

Silence and contemplation are key features of the week we begin today. We are invited to still ourselves and to enter with great humility in the mysteries of Christ’ suffering. This in turn will give us greater, truer joy in celebrating his resurrection on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Every day of the week there will be an occasion for corporate prayer and meditation, with the most important celebrations of the year taking part in the Easter Triduum, that is in the three holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. On Thursday night we will witness to the birth of the Church out of Jesus’ self-giving love in the institution of the Eucharist. We will have a meal together, we will re-enact the washing of the feet, we will celebrate the Eucharist, and we will watch for some time with Jesus.
On Friday afternoon, we will gather at the foot of the Cross to hear St John’s account of the Passion. We will venerate the cross, make solemn intercessions for the whole world, and receive Holy Communion.
On Saturday night, we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by carefully listening to the Scripture, by blessing the new fire, by blessing the paschal candle (symbol of the risen Christ), and by renewing our baptismal promises.
Sunday will come as the climax of our celebrations and our Parish Mass will see us gathered around Our Risen Lord in worship of Him who rising from the dead has brought hope of unending life to all creation.

This week is the most important week of the year, the most important week of your life.
Consider well how the disciples behaved during this week and see yourself as one of them. Consider this week as a retreat; still yourself before the Lord; and commit yourself to the life-changing events we will celebrate.

04 April, 2014

The House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance and the Problem of Heresy

In the last few weeks there has been a lot of fuss in some Church of England environments about the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage

The Pastoral Guidance quotes Canon affirming that every clergy “shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ”, then it goes on saying that it is “particular responsibility of clergy to teach and exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church”; concluding with a not-so-veiled threat, “at ordination clergy undertake to 'accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.' We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.

However, how it is that the members of the House of Bishops have taken the time to express themselves so caustically on the issue of marriage equality (not same sex marriage, as they call it) when the same words could be used about the widespread disregard for points of Doctrine among clergy?

Recently I have encountered problems relating to the teaching of heresy within the Church – and when I say “teaching” I mean just that, not the casual overlooking of flaws in theological arguments, but the systematic and institutionalised support for heretical doctrines relating to core beliefs of Christianity. In my limited experience as a priest I have encountered (a) refutation of the Kingship of Christ; (b) Pelagian views and (c) low-Christology, bordering on Arianism; and (d) the breakdown of orthodox ecclesiology, particularly with regards to the role of threefold ordained ministry.

Crucially, I have not included the filioque clause and I have left out of the list those contentious issues which have historically divided Anglican faithful, such as the significance of the Eucharist and the role of the Mother of God. In fact, the errors listed above can be rejected simply through Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer.

(a) is not a Protestant move against Rome who introduced the feast in the Western calendar in 1925; rather it is the ridiculous thought that Christ cannot be king because history is full of kings who have acted wickedly towards their people. It is a simplistic idea championed by Canon Keith Lamdin, principal of Sarum College and goes against the testimony of Scripture. “The Lord, said to my Lord…” and all that.

(b) and (c) Are the most worring errors in this lot. They often are the trademarks of distorted all-inclusive theologies. Pelagian views are often propounded on the back of fuzzy readings Celtic Christianity and the irrational revival of resentment for the Synod of Whitby.
*soft, patronising voice* “Not original sin, but original blessing”.

(d) is symptomatic of the Church’s loss of confidence in herself and in the ordained ministry which serves her. The threefold understanding of ordained ministry is at the heart of orthodox ecclesiology, including Anglican ecclesiology and it ensure continuity in the faith. Oh yeah, and it is the pattern on which the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has settled since the early patristic age.

To my knowledge, the House of Bishops, which at the moment appears hell-bent on alienating a considerable portion of the clergy, is not spending half as much effort in stamping out doctrinal issues – particularly in the field of Christology. 
Why is that? Why are they hasty to threaten clergy with CDM on the subject of equal marriage, but they turn a blind eye to heresy? If it is a “particular responsibility of clergy to teach and exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church”, why some individuals are ordained and allowed to minister even though they are actively promoting error?

31 March, 2014

AAB bookshelf - Pedagogy of the Bible by Dale Martin

A critical review of Dale Martin's Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal.

In this small volume Dale Martin provides a coherent argument for "dethroning" the historical-critical approach to Scripture within ministerial training. In the latter part of the book Martin also proposes a model curriculum for (protestant) seminaries.
However, is Martin's analysis of the problem relevant in any way? How viable is his attempt at reshaping ministerial training? 

30 March, 2014

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent - Mothering Sunday (A) 2014

John 19:25b-27
Jesus said to the beloved disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:27).
Today we celebrate mothers and motherly love. It’s a joyful occasion which breaks the pattern of Lenten self-discipline for one day. On Mothering Sunday we think with gratitude about our own mothers; we may also want to think of those women who have recently become mothers for the first time; and we may want to celebrate all the mother-figures we have encountered through the years. Maybe we want to express our thankfulness and love in some special way – a lovely meal, pretty jewellery, whathaveyou. Here at our church we give away blest flowers as a sign of our thankfulness.
However, Mothering Sunday may have uncomfortable aspects, and this celebration may be a less pleasant occasion for many other people; for bereaved parents, for people who have lost their mothers, for women unable to conceive. It is fitting that our prayers and thanksgivings for motherly love should enfold these people with special care.

Today the Church turns towards Calvary looking for the best example of motherly love in the most unlikely of places; looking for the model-mother to hold up to the world. The Church finds this example at her source in Mary, and in the Blessed Virgin she also finds the list of unconventional mothers, numbered in Scripture. These are women who loved their children with boundless affection and trusted in God without any reserve. Among these remarkable mothers we find Sarah the mother of Isaac, Jochebed the mother of Moses, Hannah the mother of Samuel, and Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi.
But if Mary is the best example of motherhood, why do our readings focus on such a terrible moment? Why do we have to look for a model of motherhood in such a desolated place as Calvary? Well, because it is in this place, at the foot of the Cross, that Mary is pointed out by Jesus as “the” mother-figure for all – not at Bethlehem, not at Nazareth or in the Temple, but on Calvary.

This is not the motherhood of the most conventional, soft, cuddly stereotype. Mary is a widow whose Son has been condemned as an outlaw. Her position has become very precarious in a society that does not care for women without male relatives. At the foot of the Cross, Mary finds herself to be a nobody for ancient society. She also finds herself powerless, speechless at impending, painful, undignified death of her Son.

Jesus’ friends, some of which she knew well, have all left apart from the youngest of them – he is little more than a youth. The adoring crowd who often stood between her and Jesus have gone as well. Those who are left do not care for her, they are there to bully her Son; to taunt Jesus even as He hangs from the Cross.

In this moment of absolute desperation, Mary’s motherhood is changed for good.
In this moment of total desperation, Mary is provided with a gift from God.
In this moment of complete desperation, Mary is given as a gift of God to his people.

Mary may feel devastated, forsaken, and useless as she watches her Son; however, in this profoundly dark night of her soul Mary receives from Jesus a new motherhood, the gift of a new son. The beloved disciples becomes her son, and with him Mary receives all followers of Christ in her motherly embrace.
In this profoundly dark night of her soul, Mary is given a mother to John, and with him, she becomes mother to each of us and to the whole Church.

So today, as we celebrate with joy our mothers and motherly love, the Church invites us to do a twofold task; to take Mary in our homes as our Mother as John did, and also to pray for those mothers who, like Mary, find themselves in difficult, painful situations.

Today and everyday may we hear Jesus saying to us, Here is your mother (John 19:27). Amen.

07 March, 2014

A thought on the Most Holy Eucharist

O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee, 
Who truly art within the forms before me; 
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee, 
As failing quite in contemplating Thee. 
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived; 
The ear alone most safely is believed: 
I believe all the Son of God has spoken, 
Than Truth's own word there is no truer token. 
 - from Adoro te devote by St Thomas Aquinas

05 March, 2014

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2014

Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51:1-2)
Every year the readings set for Ash Wednesday should cut through our daily living as a flash of lightning in a dark night. All of them recall the faithful to assess their lives in the light of God’s judgment and to make amend.
We all sin and these readings give us a chance to realise just how much we have strayed away from the proper path. Like the writer of Psalm 51, I am personally only too aware of my own faults and shortcomings…

At the beginning of this psalm there is a bit of “stage directions” that says, A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. This phrase is omitted by our lectionary; it’s a descripti
on, a note, to set the psalm in its proper context. It tells us why David speaks as he does, why he pours out his heart to the Lord.

So, how many of us do remember the story of David and Bathsheba? It is not often taught at Sunday school, as David does not really come across as the model King. In fact, this tale witnesses to David’s first falls as he turns away from God in order to pursue his own selfish interests.
Let me recap the events in a few lines. David is alone in his palace, possibly bored and wired. He spots a remarkably beautiful woman. Immediately, he decides to take her and have her. The woman is already married to David’s best officer, Uriah, but the king doesn’t seem to mind at all. He takes her and seduces her.
After the affair which produces a child, David has to cover up his deeds; he deceives Uriah many times with bigger and bigger lies until the man is about to discover the truth and David sends him off to the fight on front-line, making sure that Uriah gets killed by the enemy.
It is at this point the story that prophet Nathan comes to David, unmasking the plot; demanding

Today, our readings come to us as the prophet Nathan did for King David; regardless of our status, they unmask our silly little plots and they demand repentance.

But there is another point to the story of David and Bathsheba. Crucially, up to the point when the king seduces Bathsheba, David had never “taken” anything selfishly for himself, but the Lord had “given”, had provided, him everything out of his faithful love. So we see that as soon as David stops waiting on God disaster strikes. David stops waiting on God’s steadfast love and obeys his own selfish desires – regardless of who gets hurt.

Of course, we wouldn’t do anything like that. I wouldn’t behave as David did, would I? I wouldn’t get anyone killed out of my own selfishness. I wouldn’t have to wait for a prophet to warn me… I would be able to see my wrongdoing for myself. I, I, I…

The mantra of contemporary society is to follow our own impulses; not only privately but collectively too – regardless of who gets hurt. From depriving the poor of fair wages in order to wear cheap new clothes, to raping creation, to pursuing our own personal happiness to every cost, we all do it, and we all need repentance. And so, like King David, we have to make Psalm 51 our own prayer.

The great Anglican theologian Austin Farrer once said that sin is not just an action but rather a state of being, which numbs and blinds us until we repent and we turn to God once again.

May we keep a holy Lent assessing our lives in the light of God’s judgment and making amend.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

26 February, 2014

Homily for Benediction - Second Sunday before Lent (A) 2014

Genesis 2:4-10
John 6:41-63

The post-Communion prayer for this morning Mass said,
God our creator, 
by your gift
the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise,
and the bread of life at the heart of your Church…
This prayer highlights two parallels; one between the earthly paradise of Genesis and the Church, and the other between the tree of life – which stood in the middle of Eden – and the Bread of life – the Eucharist which is the food of eternal life.

The first parallel shows the Church, both in terms of a community and in terms of a sacred space to be the true Eden Project designed by God for the redemption of the entire creation. In the Church, God gathers more and more samples of redeemed humanity calling them to live a new kind of life, the reconciled, reconciling life of the children of God. In the Church, God manifests his plans to redeem the whole of creation, calling us to be prophetic signs of the life which is to come.
This community, this divine Eden Project, is a fragile environment that often may appear artificial and contrived to those outside, but in it, we know that real life is present here – the life of all creation. This Church, this gathering of redeemed specimens from all corners of the world, needs constant attention, constant ventilation, and constant feeding. For this reason God never leaves her, He provides the powerful wind of the Holy Spirit to regulate her climate, and feeds her with the Body and Blood of his Son.

Like the tree of life in Eden, Jesus is at the heart of the new earthly paradise, the Church. Jesus is in the midst of our redeemed life as food, as refreshment, as medicine, and as Lord. His Eucharistic presence allows us to thrive and to flourish offering life, shelter, and hope to the world. Jesus, living in the Sacrament of the altar, is at the heart of the Church. Without Him, without his Body and Blood, the Church withers and drying out she breaks into lifeless splinters.

God our creator, 
by your gift
the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise,
and the bread of life at the heart of your Church...
The last few weeks have tested the faith of many in the Church, especially faith in a Church that is meant to be the divine Eden Project, a sign of hope and life for all. However, if anything, the current situation, full of wrangling and political games, should make us all the more aware of our need for the constant ventilation of the Holy Spirit and of the life freely offered to in the Eucharist.

As we welcome Our Lord Jesus in our midst for Benediction, let us turn towards Him who alone is the true source of life. Let us make silence in his presence – and is words have to be spoken, let them be words of adoration, love, and intercession of the whole Church. Let us pray,

God our creator,
by your gift
the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise,
and the bread of life at the heart of your Church:
may we be transformed by the power of the Eucharist
and become prophetic signs of your love in the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Jesus, living in Mary,
Come and live in thy servants,
In the spirit of thy holiness,
In the fullness of thy might,
In the truth of thy virtues,
In the perfection of thy ways,
In the communion of thy mysteries.
Subdue every hostile power
In thy spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.