Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sermon for 23rd November 2014

Sermon for 23rd November 2014.
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key FL
Ezekiel 34:11-24; Mathew 25:31-46

“Why are we are we here today?” The obvious answer, on the tip of our tongues is “for worship”, or for a “service of worship”. That is not so.

In fact, the very notion that our Sunday morning activity, set apart as a discrete religious event, but un-connected with the rest of our lives is “worship” is offensive to God.

I can just about hear the Holy One saying “oh that again, I am utterly bored, I am not interested”. “Sing and pray away as much as you like if that’s what floats your religious boat, but I won’t be logged into your live streaming.  I am too busy standing alongside Syrian refugees in Turkey, and persecuted Christians in Iraq, and little children dying of Ebola in Liberia”.

The hymns and prayers are not for the sake of God. In truth they are for our sake, to inform our minds; to teach us the faith; and to challenge us and our ways of life.

I quote from a book called “Ancient Christian Worship” by The Revd. Dr. Andrew B. McGowan. He is the head honcho at our Episcopal Seminary at Yale University. 

Andrew writes “In ancient Christian communities  worship was not about services, but service; not about gestures that signaled belief or allegiance, but about allegiance itself”. (“Ancient Christian Worship” by Andrew B McGowan, Baker Academic 2014).

 The Sunday Eucharist is a renewal of our pledge of allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, and our commitment to a way of life which is counter-intuitive, a life of service in the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. Every Sunday we reaffirm that allegiance. 

The congregation enacts that renewal of our pledge of allegiance to the Lord in at least three sacred acts.

First: We act it out when we exchange the sign of Peace.  The Peace is not a time to greet our friend: it us much more solemn and important than that.  For you see, in any given congregation there are people we don’t like, there are people with whom we have disagreements, there are people whose economic backgrounds and current wealth or poverty are beyond our ken, there are people whose political views are diametrically opposed to ours. We know that they are wrong!

It is at the Peace that we declare, to hell with all our differences and disagreements; we are bound together by something which is sublime – we are bound together by the Peace of Jesus Christ. That is awesome. That is counter-intuitive.

Second: We act it out when we place our gifts in the offering. We sometimes say this is in response to the generosity of God.  We sometimes say that this is to support the Church.  This is half well and good. 

In truth we make the offering to teach ourselves. It is at the offertory that we declare “as a member of the Body of Christ, as a part of a counter-intuitive movement I will see my money as a tool, not as a weapon, as a servant, not as a master”.  We give: - not to God (do we really think that God needs our grubby dollars!); - nor to support the Church; we give because in giving we declare that our relationship with money is determined by obedience to the Lord Jesus who said “you cannot serve God and money”.

Third: We act it out when we receive communion. Our thinking has been dominated with the idea that in communion we are receiving holy bread and mystical wine. That’s all very well but it does not go far enough.

 St. Augustine gives us a richer context. He writes “So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: "You are the body of Christ, member for member." [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying "Amen" to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear "The body of Christ", you reply "Amen." Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that your "Amen" may ring true! (Sermon 272, as published on line “Early Church Texts”)

St. Augustine is teaching that the solemn reception of Communion is yet another affirmation that we are a part of this counter-intuitive movement -  the Body of Christ.   Thus the “Amen” should not be muttered or whispered when we receive the bread. It should ring out loud and clear:  “AMEN I am what I receive, I receive what I am”.

 It follows that “worship” is not a pleasant Sunday activity.  Worship is a life of service in the Body of Christ, and of life in service for the world. Today’s Gospel reading is all about service.

Matthew’s Gospel was most likely composed, perhaps as early as A.D. 70 to serve the needs of the emerging Greek speaking Christian communities in Syria.  They, like we, were learning what it meant to be a counter-cultural community. In passages we have read recently, Matthew has railed against hypocritical religious leaders (a word which ever needs to be spoken); and has warned the Christian groups to be alert and ready for the coming of Christ “Watch therefore”, he says, “for you know neither the day or the hour”.

That “coming of the Son of Man” is not necessarily a cataclysmic event at the end of time. It refers also to those crisis events when our true values and actions are placed under God’s judgments.  That judgment has nothing to do with what we believe; it has to do with how we act.  It raises the question -  are we with the sheep or are we with the goats?

Matthew teaches that we, who renew our allegiance to the Lord Jesus at every Eucharist, are given a mandate to serve.

The mandate is the call to generous hospitality: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked; visiting the sick and the imprisoned. These actions are not optional extras for Christians who “like that kind of thing”.  They are intrinsic to what it means to be Christian.

Nor is this mandate merely a matter of private and personal acts of charity. There is a social and societal element in the King’s judgment.  In Matthew’s account, it is the nations are called to judgment.  Thus it is that Christians are required to call their rulers into account.  We must remind them that they will be called to judgment by the Christ who is the King in today’s Gospel reading. 

They will be asked “what did you do to feed the hungry, to ensure pure water for the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, and to take care of the sick and the imprisoned”?

God will sniff his nose at our Sunday words unless our weekday actions are characterized by radical hospitality for the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned.  
That’s the gospel. And it is tough. It’s hard to swallow. 
But as St. Augustine * said in another of his writings “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

(Widely attributed to St. Augustine, but none of the sources for the quote identify where it is to be found in Augustine’s writings).

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Bean sprouts and such

I like bean sprouts, mostly 'cause they look like healthy food (even if this is not the case).  Also because they have a decent "crunch".

They are sold here in wee plastic packets.

But unless I use them all in a stir-fry, they soon begin to rot and decay.  No one likes decaying bean sprouts  -  at least no one that I know.

FEAR NOT  I have devised a solution to the cosmic problem of rotting bean sprouts.

I place them in a bowl, and then mix in a wee bit of mayonnaise. ("Duke's" brand in the U.S.A. is the best).

Then I add some finely chopped green onions (in the U.K. they are called  spring onions).

Good crunchy food, with the onions providing an unmistakable flavour (which the bean sprouts do not have).

They last for days, and make a good side dish to accompany cold meats, or home made  savoury sandwiches.

My good Bristol U.K. cousin Janet was at my home for lunch today with her partner Steve. They scoffed the bean sprout and green/spring onion side dish.   I served it with "make your own" ham and cheese sandwiches, using Ciabatta rolls, (and with "sides" of tasty tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and potato chips/crisps).

Goodness gracious, it was a good lunch,  (even though I say it myself!).

Now Janet and Steve are on their way back to LHR after their customary two week November holiday in South West Florida.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Cats and Pianos

I was awakened at 2:45 a.m. this morning (Nov 21st) by the sound of my junior cat Adelaide as she trotted along the keyboard of my piano, (our so I thought).

But when I became fully awake I remembered that I do not own a piano.

What I had heard was the nine fold (three quarter hour)  chimes of my mantle clock.

And I heard those chimes again:  at 3:00, 3:15, 3:30, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15 and 4:30.

I am certain that I was dozing/sleeping in between these quarter hour chimes.

But by 4:30 a.m. I'd had enough.

It was the time to get out of bed, and then to greet and enjoy a new day.

That I have done, but now (almost sixteen hours later) I am more than ready for bed and a good night's sleep.

Sleep tight
Mind the bugs
Do not bite"

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Preaching again - but who wll give a rat's ass about what I say.

I will be preaching this Sunday at the 7:45 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Eucharists at St. Boniface Church on Siesta Key in Sarasota FL.

This is my first Sunday gig since May 2014.

I will preach from the assigned passages (Ezekiel 34:11-24 and Matthew 25:31-46).

I've been studying and musing on the passages and on the sermon possibilities for at least three weeks.

I began to craft the sermon today, using the notes which I've made in recent weeks.  It's taken me about half an hour to craft each paragraph, after which I've taken a break to walk with my dog, or to eat, or to nap. So it's been a whole day effort.

Now I have a full text. It is very far short of a C- marking.  So I will spend much of Friday, and some time on Saturday to try to bring it up to a B, or maybe a B+.

I fear that it could be nothing more than a gentle rant,  rooted in my religious hobby-horses.

So I am trying hard to craft something which is cogent, and is also faithful to the bible passages and to the traditions of the Church. 

It's all hard work (maybe one hour of study and reflection for each minute of the sermon).

By Sunday morning it will be in the lap of the gods.

It will be too late to make changes, so I will trust the one HOLY GOD to take my stammering words and use them to edify (build up) the St. Boniface congregation.


On the other hand I am wise enough not to fret, nor to con myself into believing that my sermon will be "life changing" or vitally important.

I know this from my own experience.  Last Monday I underwent an endoscopy, thanks to  the training, education and experience of my gastroenterologist Dr. Constantine M.

When I left the hospital I was given strict instructions not to drink coffee for 24 hours.

Guess what?    Just as soon as I got home I made and drank a cup of coffee!

Since I was all to ready to ignore the strictures of my well educated, wise, and experienced  gastroenterologist, why do I imagine that anyone will give a rat's ass about my well educated, wise and experienced sermon!

But like Dr. M.  I will give it my best.