Sunday, 28 October 2007

All Saints Sermon.

Here is a copy of my sermon delivered today for the All Saints Mass at St Cuthbert's, Darwen. Alas, there are no pictures because my camera is very unwell. Fr Lee will post soon to tell you all about it, however.

‘Do you know who these people are, and where they have come from’?

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I always wonder, when I talk, how many people believe what I am telling them, out of the half who are listening. How many believe it all, or half of it, or just go away with a tiny glimmer of what I have said, for good or for ill. Do not be distressed, I feel exactly the same, after a funeral I attended recently, the Priest asked what I thought of his sermon, I smiled and said ‘lovely, very moving’, or words to that effect, what I actually wanted to say was ‘how can you peddle so many lies, half truths and presumptions so openly’. I wonder about the Mass as well, do you believe what is said, do you digest every doctrinal nuance and subtlety or do you think ‘no, I am not sure about that bit’? Either way, again, you are in good company, doctrine has been questioned and argued over for centuries. Wither the maniple. Wither the statues, we could go on for ever. So am I going to stand here for the next hour or so waffling interminably while you sort your money out for the offertory and wait for the star attraction, or is there a point in all this….. is there something of deep significance for us all, as a Church, to learn from this great festival?

First of all, I would counsel us all not to be afraid of doubt, of uncertainty. Do not be alarmed if you feel that your faith is not as deep as that of your neighbour. Since the formulation of the canonical Gospels since people first sat down and compiled the New Testament, there has been space for dissention, this is why we are given four Gospels, each one full of grace and truth, yet each telling a story in quite alarmingly different ways. There were four saints who wrote four gospels, as the truth appeared to them.

Here in those saints, Matthew, Mark Luke and John and others like them, is no roll call of past heroes. Rather they are our sisters and brothers; they are with us on the way - alongside us as companions and guides, sustaining us with their prayers and guiding us by their example and their very public witness to Christ. And it is here in the celebration of these holy and awesome mysteries that in those words of the author of the Apocalypse we see a great number waiting to be judged- we are called to stand before that throne, the judgment seat of the altar, each person in this Church, and to ask God for His mercy and to shout ‘Victory to our god and to the Lamb’ as though our lives depend on our devotion, our belief and our actions to others, as they most surely do. What a contrast to that dull, pedestrian, committee-speak and committee-bound, utilitarian view of the Church which all too frequently I experience and which is hardly likely ever to inspire or convert anyone to anything. What a long way from the PCC that is.

We desperately need to recover this vision of the Church which is God's and not ours; where yes, we recognise readily the brokenness and sinfulness of our frail humanity - knowing our need of God - yet at the same time rejoicing in the abundant mercy and grace of the God who in Christ has come among us and alongside us; who accepts us just as we are, and whose Holy Spirit is already at work in and through each one of us in this sacramental celebration, for transformation and change; the dust of all our feebleness, frailty and sinfulness - into the sight of His glory.

And we are blessed by the sight of His glory, at this Mass, Eucharist, love meal, call it what you will, God is present here in this bread and wine and if you choose to debate the whys and wherefores of that, so be it, but you are wasting your time and God’s. You are blessed! You are blessed by His presence and by his grace.

"Blessed are you!", he says, "all you who are poor in spirit, gentle and merciful, you who mourn, who care for what is right, who are pure in heart, who make peace, you who are persecuted! Blessed are you!" But the words of Jesus may seem strange. It is strange that Jesus exalts those whom the world generally regards as weak. He says to them, "Blessed are you who seem to be the losers, because you are the true winners: the kingdom of heaven is yours!" Spoken by him who is "gentle and humble in heart" (Mt 11:29), these words present a challenge which demands a deep and abiding metanoia of the spirit, a great change of heart, a realization that the orientation of this world is often wrong, that we are journeying to new life, not running away from death.

In the end, Jesus does not merely speak the Beatitudes. He lives the Beatitudes and calls us to do the same. He is the Beatitudes. Looking at him you will see what it means to be poor in spirit, gentle and merciful, to mourn, to care for what is right, to be pure in heart, to make peace, to be persecuted. This is why he has the right to say, "Come, follow me!" He does not say simply, "Do what I say". He says, "Come, follow me!" This is a call that all the Saints have followed to this day, and a call that transcends differences in Churchmanship and speaks to our very souls on this great feast.

You hear his voice on this hill, here on the Holy Mountain of God and you believe what he says. But like the first disciples at the Sea of Galilee, you must leave your boats and nets behind leave your prejudices and fears, and that is never easy - especially when you face an uncertain future and are tempted to lose faith in a Church which seems to be in a state of constant flux but which will never fail. To be good Christians may seem beyond your strength in today's world. But Jesus does not stand by and leave you alone to face the challenge. He is always with you to transform your weakness into strength. Trust him when he says: "My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" So to those of you who hope for a better life, for schooling which gives your children some hope of a better future, for a city which houses the poor and does not pander to the rich, for regeneration in our towns and lives, for those of you who mourn loved ones who are only there, on the other side, for those of you who hurt, this is your day, this is your chance to trust fully in God. This is your day to offer all those worries up to the risen Lord and say ‘in you, I trust’, as the saints have done for centuries. Lift up your hearts. Lift them up to the Lord. Trust in Him, and your soul shall live.

The perspective then today must be forwards and onwards. Our forbears in the catholic movement were zealous for the transformation of the Church and conversion of England. That task remains, and if we are at all to address ourselves to it then we need not only to recover the full meaning of catholic - in the sense of wholeness and inclusiveness, rather than issue driven and exclusive, quite irrespective of whether we consider ourselves to be of the affirming, traditional, integrity variety or any other for that matter. All of us are Christian, and it is as Christians in these islands today that we are being called to look to the vast and increasing numbers of folk for whom the Christian message is either of little importance or simply irrelevant. Together, as one body in Christ, reaffirm your faith with the saints who have gone before you. Offer the sign of peace as though you mean it, sharing in the body of Christ. Give thanks for the great witness of this church and that we can worship here without the secret police knocking on the door ready to take us away as happened in the past and as happens to our brothers and sisters who are living saintly, scared lives in other parts of the world. Go out these and show your joy for you are close to God and he is close to you. Show that you are blessed by the closeness of all souls, that your loved ones will one day extend a hand to you and say ‘welcome home’. Rejoice and be glad at your celebrations. Offer up your lives to God and be blessed, blessed that he has called you here.

‘Do you know who these people are, and where they have come from? These are the people who have been through the great persecution and have washed their clothes clean in the blood of the Lamb’. These saints are our brothers and sisters and this is who we are all called to be, this All Saints Day and every day of our lives.

In the Name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.