Thursday, 25 October 2012

Lighten Our Darkness - 25.10.12

A Homily for Holy Communion on Thursday, 25th of October, 2012, 7.30 p.m. for the Parish Church of SS. Mary & Nicholas Littlemore, Oxford Readings: Psalm 33:1-6 & Luke 12:49-53 The Earth is full of the goodness of the Lord + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. Maybe some of you know what it is to suffer from the seasonal depression that comes with the shortening of the days, the dark mornings, the dreary onset of winter. A day like today is very typical of the sort of thing that some of us find very oppressive, but we have had rather a lot of them lately, both here in Oxford, and also in Sussex, where I’ve also been staying, and doubtless in most parts of the country. But in the midst of them, there are graces. No one can deny the beauty of the autumn leaves on the trees, and on the pavements, and footpaths. Yes, if the rain falls they can get slippy and treacherous, but let’s just appreciate the colours for a moment, especially in those scant moments when the sun shines on the trees, and we can imagine ourselves in the midst of the famous “New England Fall” – I saw it once, in Connecticutt, and some of the views in Oxford just now are equally wonderful. Tonight’s readings remind me of this – grace amidst gloom. For once, though, it is our Old Testament reading, from the Psalms, which casts the light in the darkness of the alarming things that Jesus is recorded as saying in the New Testament. We are used to thinking of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, as we tell one another at Advent and Christmastide, but here he is threatening dissent and upset, families divided, fire set on the earth, and no peace at all! Oh my! That is a dismal winter indeed. But the Old Testament reminds us to hold these things in balance. Jesus would not have said these things for nothing, for effect; he must have known that his message would cause immense disruption to all the vested interests of his day, from the religious authorities of the Temple, to the ingrained values of everyone’s family life. He warns his followers that it’s not going to be an easy ride. When you challenge vested interests, when you challenge assumptions, when you try to do something new, at the very least people’s noses are put out of joint; at worst, war follows. And Christian people have a very sorry history of causing those wars. So, for comfort, we reach out for once to the Old Testament, tonight the Psalms that Jesus would have known – he never heard a word of the New Testament, as his own words were written in Greek, not the Aramaic in which they would have been spoken, nor the Hebrew with which he would have been familiar in the synagogues. And here we find a promise of God’s faithfulness, his truth, his righteousness and his goodness. There is judgement too, but we can sometimes forget that the reason why the Old Testament writers rejoice that God is going to judge the earth and its people, is because God is just, unlike people! A Christian writer, Christopher Bryant, one of the Cowley Fathers, an Anglican community of monks founded here in Oxford, wrote once that in the midst of the gloom, the drear dark days of our personal winters, we might strive to find something for which to be thankful. He is not glib, he doesn’t say it is easy to do, nor does he dismiss the hardness of some parts of all our lives. But he points us to words like this from the Psalm – “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord”. The challenges of Jesus are not in conflict with that goodness, but they grow and flourish in the middle of it. God, give us your light, in the dark days of winter, to see the goodness with which you have filled this glorious world. Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford October 2012

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Saint Francis of Assisi

A Homily for Holy Communion on Thursday, 4th of October, 2012, 7.30 p.m. for the Parish Church of SS. Mary & Nicholas Littlemore, Oxford Saint Francis of Assisi Readings: Psalm 8 & Luke 10:1-12 + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. Saint Francis is perhaps best known for two things, although, like many great people, he did many other things besides. The first is that he was the first person recorded as having experienced the “stigmata”, receiving in his own hands and feet, and side, the wounds experienced by Christ on the Cross. The second is his deep commitment to explaining and exploring the love of God through the created world. Saint Francis was not an easy person to know. He came from a rich family, but when challenged by his own father with Christ’s words “if your enemy demand you coat, give him the shirt off your back too”, he took him quite literally, and paraded about the village square, naked. What was there to be ashamed of, in what God had made, and his Son had commanded? It is hard to question the evidence that some people have indeed experienced the “stigmata”, but equally hard to question the evidence that most people have thought them, as they thought Saint Francis, mentally unbalanced. Francis was by no means normal. He was actually rather shocking. He lived his faith in Christ with a vivacity that puts the rest of us to shame. He rejoiced in all of creation, the sun and the moon and the stars, the creatures with whom we share this world, and even death who kindly lets us go when our time here is done. For such views, he would have been thought an astrologer, a necromancer, a hippy, an extremist, someone bent on “bringing down society as we know it”. And yet, amongst his followers he created a third order, which exists to this day, of people who could seek to follow his rule – approved by the church authorities of his time – in their own homes, and within their own families. This was a practical radical. Shocking, alarming, extreme, prepared to undergo all manner of hardships, and certainly to forgo the luxury to which he was born, but utterly faithful to God in Christ, to the Church, and to his brother and sister Christians for whom he sought to make things better, not worse. His is not an easy example to follow, if we choose to take it all at once. But let us start a bit at a time. Let us dare to travel the road we’d rather not, and risk welcome or rejection when we arrive; let us rejoice in God’s good creation, and share everything we dare to share, with those whose need is greater than our own; let us idle in the sun, or the rain, and know that our good God has sent them both to us in love. And also – and I am not a radical – keep your kit on, whilst you do it – Assisi is warmer than Littlemore. Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford October, 2004

Harvest

A Homily for Holy Communion on Monday, 24th of September, 2012, 9 a.m. for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford Luke 8:16-18 “So Take Care How You Hear” + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. These words leapt out at me from today’s gospel reading – I had never noticed them before. In fact, and in view of what I’ve thought of to say, it’s ironic, I thought “oh, it must just be the Missal, I’ll check it in a proper Bible”. But no, the translation was the same “take care how you hear”. It’s interesting that it’s not “take care what you listen to”. There are warnings in the New Testament about false prophecies for twitching ears, and rumours of wars, but that’s not what Jesus says here – “take care how you hear”. I wonder if it’s about paying attention? My late father was a man of agile mind, much experience, and many opinions, and an argument with him was always a bracing intellectual journey, but at times he would also say with an acute self-awareness, “I’ve made my mind up, don’t confuse me with the facts”. Examples of this sort of selective hearing abound in politics, my other love, but we find them in religion too. There was an astonishing, and thought-provoking time, it just occurred to me in the vestry, when I was working at S. Giles-in-the-Fields Church in central London. It was just a little weekday evensong, and we had – O! the holy grail! – not only newcomers there, but young newcomers! And by miserable chance it was the evening of the month when we had to say Psalm 137, which, you may recall ends badly: “O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery: yea, happy shall be be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us. Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children: and throweth them against the stones”. And just as we were starting out (admittedly tentative) “glory be”, one of our young visitors stood up and shouted “this isn’t the Bible, this isn’t the word of the Lord!” I remonstrated, gently, that it might well not be the word of the Lord, but it was certainly in the Bible and had been there for a very long time. But she was not to be placated, and marched, with her friend, down the aisle of the church, singing improving hymns at us. Of course, she was right, and her rightness made us old lags think again about those words we’d used so glibly. We had a lesson “take care how you hear”, and maybe we all learned something that evening, in our different ways. It is all too easy not to see what the light illuminates, not to hear what the words actually say, and instead see and hear what we have already decided must be there. So, these few words are a challenge, but a permissive one. Jesus says “by all means hear – but take care how you do so”. Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford September 2012

So Take Care How You Hear

A Homily for Holy Communion on Monday, 24th of September, 2012, 9 a.m. for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford Luke 8:16-18 “So Take Care How You Hear” + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. These words leapt out at me from today’s gospel reading – I had never noticed them before. In fact, and in view of what I’ve thought of to say, it’s ironic, I thought “oh, it must just be the Missal, I’ll check it in a proper Bible”. But no, the translation was the same “take care how you hear”. It’s interesting that it’s not “take care what you listen to”. There are warnings in the New Testament about false prophecies for twitching ears, and rumours of wars, but that’s not what Jesus says here – “take care how you hear”. I wonder if it’s about paying attention? My late father was a man of agile mind, much experience, and many opinions, and an argument with him was always a bracing intellectual journey, but at times he would also say with an acute self-awareness, “I’ve made my mind up, don’t confuse me with the facts”. Examples of this sort of selective hearing abound in politics, my other love, but we find them in religion too. There was an astonishing, and thought-provoking time, it just occurred to me in the vestry, when I was working at S. Giles-in-the-Fields Church in central London. It was just a little weekday evensong, and we had – O! the holy grail! – not only newcomers there, but young newcomers! And by miserable chance it was the evening of the month when we had to say Psalm 137, which, you may recall ends badly: “O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery: yea, happy shall be be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us. Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children: and throweth them against the stones”. And just as we were starting out (admittedly tentative) “glory be”, one of our young visitors stood up and shouted “this isn’t the Bible, this isn’t the word of the Lord!” I remonstrated, gently, that it might well not be the word of the Lord, but it was certainly in the Bible and had been there for a very long time. But she was not to be placated, and marched, with her friend, down the aisle of the church, singing improving hymns at us. Of course, she was right, and her rightness made us old lags think again about those words we’d used so glibly. We had a lesson “take care how you hear”, and maybe we all learned something that evening, in our different ways. It is all too easy not to see what the light illuminates, not to hear what the words actually say, and instead see and hear what we have already decided must be there. So, these few words are a challenge, but a permissive one. Jesus says “by all means hear – but take care how you do so”. Amen. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford September 2012