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

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